Students Learn through Teaching in an Outdoor Classroom

Article excerpt

Byline: Beverly Fleming

Although we may still experience a few more really cold days, spring has definitely arrived in our parks and along the roadways.

Sweet smelling wild honeysuckle azaleas are blooming, yellow jessamine is twining through the trees, the swamps are filled with Walter's viburnum. There are birds, bees and squirrels are scurrying all over the place.

In Alpine Groves Park, students from Switzerland Point Middle School and Hickory Creek Elementary School are enjoying the transition through an outdoor classroom where they learn about the environment.

"These are our definition words for the day," explained Deirdre Irwin, education coordinator for the St. Johns River Water Management District, to some students on a Feb. 24 outing. "As we walk along the path and go down to the river, we will look at different habitats, we will explore the environment and we will find out what makes up a woodland forest."

The two groups of students are participating in the Legacy Program, which is funded by the Florida Service Learning Institute and coordinated by the Water Management District. The program calls for sixth-grade students from the Switzerland Point PACE program to experience cascade learning by instructing second-graders from Hickory Creek on the meaning of succession.

After explaining it and showing examples in the woods, one student told his teacher, "I get it now. I totally get it. This is what we were talking about in class!"

"The best way to learn something is to teach it," said his teacher, Nicky Schotman. Sue Benes of Hickory Creek said she also believes some of her students learn better in an outdoor classroom. "It provides an opportunity for the younger ones to learn from the older ones," she said.

Irwin said the Legacy Program also introduces the concept of service learning to the younger students even though they are only 7 and 8 years old.

The two schools have been working on the concept all year although this was their first combined visit to the park.

As they walked along the path Friday, students were also introduced to ferns, bamboo, the concept of invasive species, and lichens. …