Engaging students in hands-on learning through the engineering design process is the norm in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) lab at Providence Elementary, but recently the STEAM teachers had a new group of students; engineering teachers and professors from across the state.
STEAM Teacher Chrissy Brownson presented a workshop at the Virginia Children’s Engineering Conference in Roanoke, VA. Around 800 educators attend to learn about best practices and new innovations to take back to their classrooms. Brownson presented on combining the engineering design process with outdoor learning.
She first became passionate about outdoor education after reading Richard Louv’s book, “No Child Left in the Woods”. This book and subsequent studies explain that our culture has shifted so that children are spending more and more time indoors, to the detriment of their developing brains. Taking them outdoors for learning opportunities helps organize their brains, leads to greater engagement, and gives them all the benefits of fresh air and sunlight.
In her workshop, teachers worked in pairs to create a solar oven capable of cooking a s’more as well as experimenting with different amounts of ingredients to concoct the perfect bubble solution. Teachers who had never met before the workshop made up team names, shouted and cheered, and gave high fives as they improved. Everyone came away with an excitement to try moving their classrooms outdoors and with fresh ideas for engaging their students in the engineering design process.
At Providence Elementary, they have an incredible courtyard with several different learning areas. There is a covered pagoda with picnic tables, a full weather station, and an outdoor white board to make it easy to teach new concepts. There are raised planting beds that students fill each year with vegetables and herbs that they help care for, harvest, and eat. There is a small pond that has hosted a family of brand-new ducklings for the past several years. There are also three other areas set up for classrooms to be able to work outdoors. The students benefit greatly from the opportunities they have to learn in this environment.