Taking Science Outside

The possibilities for science learning extend beyond the classroom and school laboratory.

Teachers and administrators want to provide meaningful opportunities for students to engage in scientific inquiry in their local outdoor environment so they can understand the multifaceted nature of our ecosystems. Many rural schools have rich but underutilized assets to support this work, with fields and forests as part of their schoolyards.

student drawingFor this project, the Museum developed science units for pre-K-8 students in which data collection and inquiry take place outdoors: in schoolyards, in local communities, and on the Montshire Museum’s 110 acres along the banks of the Connecticut River. We partnered with teachers to provide the professional development and curriculum resources needed to successfully engage students in investigations and data collection that will help them better understand the habitats in their own schoolyards as well as the complex interactions that drive an ecosystem.

Our objectives included:

  • Increase teachers’ comfort, confidence and knowledge about incorporating the schoolyard and other outdoor environments into their science curriculums.
  • Provide K-8 teachers with supplemental curriculum materials and lesson plans to support inquiry-based student investigations outdoors, focused on Earth and ecosystem sciences.
  • Engage K-8 school groups in outdoor science investigations in the Museum’s 110 acres of woods, meadows and riparian habitat.
  • Increase the amount of time students are engaged in high-quality, rigorous inquiry-based science instruction in outdoor habitats.

Program Components

student drawing outdoors

I.  Montshire Museum developed and piloted four curriculum supplements that support the teaching of ecology and Earth sciences in schoolyards and other outdoor environments that are easily accessible to teachers and students. Each supplement consisted of three to five lessons and inquiry-based science investigations that are aligned with the NGSS. 

  • Discovery Outdoors: Encourages observing skills so as to a gain a greater understanding of the plants and animals that live in the schoolyard. Grades K-2.
  • Decomposition: A series of investigations into nutrient recycling, decomposition, and soil fertility. Grades 3-5.
  • Measuring Patterns in the Environment: Students will investigate patterns in the environment and use scientific tools and other resources to connect the Earth’s rhythms with the culture and ecology of their community. Grades 5-7.
  • Soil Science: Using soil corers, nutrient testing and agar plates, students will gain an understanding of the life that is found in healthy soils. Grades 6-8.
  • Exploring Outdoors: Nature Observation for Pre-K. Help students explore in nature while fostering observation and communication skill development. Pre-K

II. Montshire created a series of five ½ day teacher professional development workshops, one for each curriculum supplement. Thirty teachers participated in these workshops with the majority being pre-K through 2nd grade teachers.

III. Like many rural schools, the Montshire Museum has a tremendous asset just outside the doors of its building to engage school visitors more deeply with its diverse natural resources. For this aspect of the project, we developed four 1.25-hour science workshops that engage students with the Museum’s outdoor landscape. The workshops are valuable to schools as a discrete learning opportunity, or as an introduction to each of the new curriculum supplements. The workshops are facilitated by a member of the Museum’s education team and used as model lessons for the classroom teacher.

Visit Plus Workshops:

Exploring the Outdoors: Young students will immerse themselves in the study of nature in this outdoor workshop on the Montshire’s 100 acres. We’ll start off by doing a silent walk to sharpen our senses, then use microscopes and other tools to collect and examine insects, plants, and soils found in the meadow and forest. Grades K-2

Decomposition: Using the forest as our lab, students will explore the ecological process of decomposition.  We’ll dissect and record what we find in a rotting log and examine the forest leaf litter to gain a greater understanding of the process of organic matter breaking down into soil. Grades 3-5

By the Numbers: Examining Climate Patterns: In this workshop students will examine local data sets, and the stories that go with them, to discern patterns in climate. We’ll also discuss how we can be citizen scientists and use phenology, the study of the timing of natural phenomena, to study changing patterns in our own neighborhoods. Grades 5-7

From the Ground Up: Students will start an ecological investigation by using quick surveying and mapping techniques to explore a small plot. Then we will learn how to take soil cores and use those cores along with our surveys to compare in small groups the biotic and abiotic factors acting on different habitats. Grades 6-8

student examining pond life

This project was generously funded by the Dorr Foundation