On Thursday, June 2, 40 educators gathered at East Jessamine Middle School in Nicholasville for a day of learning, connections, and fun. The event was Kentucky Association for Environmental Education’s annual Outdoor Learning Symposium, which inspires and activates K-12 educators and administrators to integrate outdoor learning and environmental education into their existing curriculum and school day routines.
“It was so refreshing to gather again in person for this annual event full of collaboration and learning,” said KAEE outreach director Katherine Bullock. “It’s always a delight to meet the ‘boots on the ground’ teachers and administrators who care deeply about connecting their students to the outdoors and finding new ways to integrate environmental education into the lives of their students.”
The event has two separate strands, one designed for classroom teachers, and one for administrators, such as principals, assistant and associate principals, department team leaders, professional development directors, school district leaders.
This year, the teacher strand included sessions about the many ways environmental education can support three-dimensional learning and the Kentucky Academic Standards for Science; how to manage place, time, materials, and behavior expectations when teaching outdoors; active water projects taking place in Kentucky and how local river basin coordinators can support (and visit) teachers’ classrooms; and how to simplify the gardening experience by using seed mats, which make it possible for students to participate in both the planning and planting process.
Teachers spent much of their time in the outdoors, getting first-hand hands-on experience with environmental education lessons. Activities included modeling of outdoor classroom management skills, demonstrations of interdisciplinary uses of the school grounds, practical turn-key lessons that can be adapted to any age group, and ways to effectively pitch the idea of outdoor learning to school administrators.
As part of the administrator strand, attendees learned about the research-based benefits of outdoor learning and EE at school; how to identify and fund outdoor learning opportunities for their schools (including how to write grants, crowdfund, and seek community sponsorships); administrator perspectives on the benefits of using the outdoors as a classroom; and how experiences in the outdoors can help facilitate the instructional practices and emphasize the three-dimensional thinking needed to demonstrate understanding of the science KY Academic Standards.
Delivering the keynote was Rae McEntyre, K-12 Science consultant at the Kentucky Department of Education. Rae been at the Department of Education for the past 13 years, after spending 20 years teaching high school biology and earth science. Rae is a member of the KAEE Board of Directors and a certified professional environmental educator. Rae discussed the ways outdoor learning and environmental education are distinct but intertwined and how hands-on, interdisciplinary learning is crucial to both. The final session of the day was “Community Partner Speed Networking,” where attendees had the opportunity to meet with representatives from EE organizations around the state. Those who were present to share information about their work and how they can help teachers and administrators incorporate EE into their schools were Bluegrass Greensource, EcoGro, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Division of Air Quality, the Kentucky Environmental Education Council, Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute, Lexington Parks and Recreation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Kentucky is so lucky to have such wonderful resources to enhance outdoor learning and EE in the classroom,” Katherine said. “We so much appreciate all of the volunteers from our various community partners who came to share ways they can support classroom teachers and school districts.” The Outdoor Learning Symposium was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under §319(h) of the Clean Water Act and in partnership with the Kentucky Division of Water as the state host for the Project WET program. A special thanks to our site hosts, East Jessamine Middle School and Emily Sorrell (sixth-grade science teacher at East Jessamine Middle).