During the instructional planning stages, the teacher may wish to read About the Watershed: Instructional Framework, especially parts II. Geology of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, IV. Elements of a Watershed, V. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed as an Ecological System, VI. Conservation, Restoration, and Stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and VII. Chesapeake Bay Watershed Issues and Trends: Alternatives and Consequences.
Selecting a Location
Where should the outdoor classroom be? Consider the following questions:
- What kinds of activities will be conducted there?
- What kinds of learning activities are important to us?
- How much space is available?
- What areas are accessible to all students?
- What are the special features (e.g., rocky area, hillside, big trees, pretty view, stream, sunny field)?
- Are there places with safety hazards that must be avoided, or can these safety problems be solved?
Considering Themes for an Outdoor Classroom
- Gardens for native plants, such as grasses and wildflowers
- Nature trail
- Weather study area with equipment to measure weather changes
- Bird feeding station
- Flower or vegetable garden
Focusing on one such idea is good if the area is small.
Writing a Proposal for Permission
Permission and support from the principal and the grounds staff are essential. Develop a written proposal with a description of the plan for the outdoor classroom. Include the answers to the following questions:
- Why is this study area important for our school?
- How will it enhance student learning?
- What supplies do we need to construct it?
- Where will we get them?
- If we need money to purchase supplies, how will it be raised?
- What people in the community will help us?
- Who will take care of the area after it is built?
- How will we make sure that the area is safe during construction and after it is open?
The proposal should define a primary goal and purpose for the project. For example, if students are creating a nature trail behind the school, the written statement might read as follows:
"The goal of our outdoor classroom project is to construct a .25 acre nature study area in the woods behind the school playground. The purpose of the area is to provide a place for students at all grade levels to observe plants, animals, and other natural features, topics that are covered in our curriculum. The trail will be safe and accessible to all students in our school. We will plan the construction of the trail so that we do as little harm as possible to the natural area."
Getting Assistance from Local Sources
Whatever project idea you choose, there are many resources available to help you plan and carry it out. Some of the places you might contact for help are listed below:
- Local libraries
- City and county parks and recreation offices
- Forestry, biology, horticulture, and science education departments at a local university or college
- County agriculture extension service
- National or state parks, forests, wildlife refuges
- Science centers, science museums, botanical gardens
- Gardening and landscape centers, greenhouses, and garden clubs
- State wildlife department
Implementing Phases of Project Development
Developing an outdoor classroom will probably take most of at least one school year. Different types of sites will require different plans, but most plans can be approached in phases.
- Phase 1 (one month). Survey site and prepare map showing location and special features. Develop budget and fund-raising plan. Review plans with principal and grounds maintenance supervisor; revise as necessary.
- Phase 2 (two months). Present final plan to principal (and to the school board, if required). Write a press release about the project and send it, with principal's approval, to local newspaper, television, and other media. (See Preparing a Press Release.) Begin contacting people who will help with construction. Begin fund raising. Work with group to draft the site study guide. Design explanatory signs.
- Phase 3 (one month). Continue fund raising and work on study guide. Schedule construction date. Make explanatory signs.
- Phase 4 (one month). Acquire materials for construction, such as mulch or landscape timbers. Draft interpretive material.
- Phase 5 (one month). Construct site. Complete plantings. Plan dedication ceremony (including speakers, guest list, press coverage). Establish schedule for routine maintenance. Check site at least weekly and correct problems. Complete interpretive materials and print.
- Phase 6. Hold dedication ceremony. Enjoy the new outdoor classroom.