First grade students at The Learning Center Charter School used nature, reading lessons, and E-STEAM to make holiday ornaments as part of their studies leading up to Christmas break.
E-STEAM stands for entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering, art and agriculture, and math.
The students read books as a class and independently on winter and winter animals for days leading up to the project. Students then collected berries, leaves, moss, and flowers from the school’s Outdoor Learning Center. While foraging for these supplies, students learned which plants and berries stay alive during winter and what characteristics they have that allow them to do so. They also learned which animals eat berries and use moss and leaves for nests.
First grade teacher Katie Grider said, “Each school day we spend as much time as possible outside and finding ways to teach lessons and engage students in hands-on learning outside the four walls of our classroom is key to a deeper understanding of the subject matter.”
Grider added that not only does being outdoors encourage physical activity, fitness, and health, but it also provides a living laboratory for students to explore, experiment, interact and collaborate.
After collecting the items from outdoors, students made ornaments by filling cups with the items and water and allowing them to freeze. The ornaments were then hung on a tree on campus.
Ask a first grade student at The Learning Center Charter School where their favorite classroom is and they will tell you outside. That is because students at the school spend time outdoors daily learning everything from math and science to social students and language arts.
Elementary science teacher Emily Willey takes her students outside at every possible opportunity. This fall she has had her first grade students outside participating in fall activities as students planted pansies to learn about cold weather crops. Students also donated old clothes and helped make a scarecrow for the garden by gathering leaves and stuffing the scarecrow.
“Being outside engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn,” said Willey. She added that even though students loved playing in the leaves and getting their hands dirty in the garden, the time was also spent learning about weather, why some plants can withstand cold temperatures better than others, and autumn cultural activities.
“Our E-STEAM curriculum is taught using Project Based Learning activities that take place in a variety of spaces, both indoor and outdoor, on campus,” said Willey.
First graders spent time in one of the many school gardens collected marigold seed. This gardening activity was part of science class where they were learning about what plants need to live and grow. They also were learning about the life cycle of a plant.
Students at The Learning Center Charter School are outside a portion of each school day. The school has an official screened room dubbed The Outdoor Learning Center as well as numerous gardens and trails.
Students regularly can be found doing art, reading, learning science, participating in PE, learning math, gardening, or having recess outdoors.
“Having our students outside is just what we’ve always done,” said Shelley Farmer, physical education staff and STEM coordinator at the school. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.
“Our campus sits right near the river and Cherokee elders have told us that it would have been prized Cherokee land,” said Farmer. “That in addition to the Cherokee people and culture so prevalent in our region, we make it a point to study the tribe, their language, culture, and traditions each school year.”
Farmer added that students are learning new Cherokee words each week. Students recently learned that osiyo means hello in Cherokee.
The school also includes traditional crafts in their studies. Students recently made Dream Catchers from natural materials found around the school’s Outdoor Learning Center.
“Being outside engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn,” said Farmer. “Layering on the culture of the Cherokee Nation enriches those experiences.”
Students at The Learning Center Charter School are accustomed to being outside during the school day because teachers use the outdoors as an extension of the classroom as often as possible.
“Learning outdoors is a cornerstone of our educational philosophy,” said Ryan Bender, head of school. He added that the great outdoors provides the perfect setting for all subjects. “Most people will tell you that being outside is the perfect place for teaching a science lesson. And, they are right! But, the outdoors is also hugely beneficial when teaching reading, social studies, math, and art.”
According to National Wildlife Federation, American Institutes of Research, and the Sierra Club, when children are taught in the outdoors, better test scores, higher grade point averages, decreased behavior problems, and improved health are the result.
“We have an Outdoor Learning Center at our school that is a screened classroom,” said Bender. In addition to the classroom, classes also meet around the fire pit, among the school’s many gardens, and along the trails around the school.
Let’s face it. The 2020-21 school year is looks vastly different than years past. Masks. Social distancing. A and B schedules. Remote learning days. However, one thing is not different. TLC students get outside often!
As often as possible, classes will be outside and our Outdoor Learning Center will be utilized to it’s fullest potential.