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Can outdoor schooling work for everyone?

Outdoor schooling poses several equity challenges including finding green spaces in certain cities and accessibility issues for children with physical and learning disabilities. Kate Gardoqui, educator and senior associate with Great Schools Partnership joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss creative solutions to these problems.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As we've just seen, finding space for outdoor classrooms in urban areas is much more challenging than it is in places like Portland, Maine, where the city has appointed a coordinator to work with schools on creating outdoor learning options.

    I recently spoke with educator and senior associate with Great Schools Partnership Kate Gardoqui from Maine, who acknowledges that with some ingenuity the challenges can be met.

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    When we talk about outdoor learning, we talk about a tremendous equity challenge across the country because we have many schools that really have so little access to any kind of green space. And I think this is a challenge that our cities already should have been working on.

    And I think if this current crisis pushes every city in the country to say, how can we make sure that every school child has access to a green space in which to learn, that will actually be a really positive outcome.

    However, if a school has even a dirt play yard or a parking lot, those kinds of areas can have more potential than we realize. And I think looking at your parking lot in your school and asking how can we make this into an exciting and inviting learning space, that's an amazing novel problem. And if you bring your students into the solution of that problem, there's your first unit.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, you mentioned equity. And I also wonder, how do you make sure, for example, kids with either learning challenges, physical disabilities, have access to whatever these work arounds are as well?

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    You know, we want to make sure that we are making other spaces, which are accessible, which are very close to, you know, close to the doors of the building and where students can gain access, no matter what their physical disability might be in in terms of other kinds of challenges, in terms of like attention, challenges or emotional challenges. There is quite a bit of research.

    And I know from my own decades of experience that students often gain tremendous social and emotional benefits just from being outside, and they can gain tremendous benefits if they're engaging in nature based learning where the teacher has actually said, how can I use nature or the natural surroundings to build the learning experience?

    But they can also benefit just from being outside. So even if they're sitting in a circle outside and learning calculus or talking about history, there are still social and emotional benefits that can really accrue both to the students and to the teacher, to everyone in that situation.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Sometimes when people hear these kinds of ideas, it's, oh, well, this is the nature stuff. That's really nice. I'm glad you're teaching environment related content. But what about the rest of school? How would kids get the necessary curriculum they need outdoors?

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    So when we talk about outdoor learning, we can talk about two different things. One is simply learning outdoors. So I think for many teachers in this context, outdoor learning is simply going to mean taking as much of the curriculum as they can that they would have taught indoors and just teaching it outdoors. The same discussions, the same texts, the same problems.

    I know that presents particular challenges for teachers who need equipment like science teachers. So I know not all of the curriculum can translate.

    But for many teachers, outdoor learning might just mean learning the same things but in an outdoor space, however, when we talk about nature based learning, so lessons, activities, experiences which are rooted in having students connect with nature, it is absolutely true that we can make those experiences as academically rigorous as anything that students can do indoors.

    No matter what questions we are investigating, say, in a science class or history class, no matter what we're asking students to create, say, in an art class or an English class, we can have them read very complex texts that discuss those questions or that present ideas about that art. And we can ask them to produce academically rigorous products, even if the context for their work is an outdoor exploration.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Okay Kate Gardoqui thanks so much for joining us.

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    Thank you so much. Very appreciated.

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