"Some of my most memorable and exceptional teaching moments have occurred at Outdoor Lab. I think that’s because the impact of the week at Outdoor Lab is nothing less than transformative to my students. More than learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, or the types of trees that grow in the Montane Forest, Outdoor Lab is about discovering things about ourselves. Those lessons happen for students, High School Leaders, and teachers.
It’s the unanticipated nature of these discoveries that brings significance. While we are busy hiking and learning about ecosystems and history and astronomy, we are always learning about stewardship-- taking care of ourselves, our community, and our environment. Sixth-graders absorb the lessons taught at Outdoor Lab in a different way than they absorb the lessons I teach in my classroom. The hands-on nature of the program resonates with all kids, and learning does not feel like a chore. More than content knowledge, however, are lessons about themselves. At the end of each day, we ask kids to write about what they “really” learned. Here is a smattering of thoughts straight from the 6th graders:
- “I learned that being outside/more active makes you happier because you are proud of yourself.”
- “One other thing that I learned was that lots of kids have many different opinions on many things. Communication is also a big part of teamwork.”
“I also learned that when we do anything in nature it affects many things.”
- “Plus, turns out I like to be really bold and I want to try everything. So, I guess I learned that I’m just proud to be myself.”
Working with High School Leaders turned out to be something I treasure about the Outdoor Lab experience that I did not anticipate valuing so highly. High School Leaders are the special people who, while growing themselves, make the magic of Outdoor Lab happen for sixth-graders. The transformation I witness with High School Leaders is almost more intense than what the 6th graders experience. Watching someone go from the role of the student, where you are the one being directed to the one who is making decisions and doing the directing is discovering leading by influence. When I ask High School Leaders about what they really learned, I almost always hear a realization about their impact and influence on other people.
I grow as a teacher every trip I take to Outdoor Lab-- the unexpected question on the trail, the unplanned discussion at class meeting time-- cause me to stretch my teaching skills. Sometimes not anticipating what a child might struggle with and having to think on your feet and struggle alongside that kid is an opportunity for both teacher and student to grow. I have to collaborate with my teammates in ways I do not at school, and it strengthens our learning community. Even teachers come home as slightly different people after our week at Outdoor Lab.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn new lessons from Outdoor Lab every time I get to go. Because it is a unique place, special types of learning occur there- sometimes about content, sometimes about our environment, but more often we really learn lessons about ourselves, whether we are sixth-graders, High School Leaders, or teachers."