Outdoor Place Based Learning

What happens when you take a class of 30 students out doors?

  • laughter
  • deep thinking
  • exploration
  • getting messy
  • challenging assumptions
  • hands on learning
  • experiential learning
  • place based learning
  • happy students
  • smiles
  • All of the above?

I had the opportunity to take my practicum class out for two different outdoor education trips in late May and early June

My first was a trip to Campbell Valley Park that did not get off to a great start but ended up being a valuable experience for both my students and myself.

“I have had the opportunity to go on a few field trips as part of my practicum. I have planned a field trip for next week and am hoping that everything will go as planned. Field trips in my class have ranged from skating lessons, to plays, to nature activities. I have seen trips go off without a hitch to ones that very nearly did not happen. Our trip on Friday was one of the second type. When I arrived at school Friday morning, everything looked like it would turn out well. Everything was organized on the back table, the room was organized and everything we needed was ready. The adults from our school were all in the classroom before the bell and the students arrived well prepared. Our day was off to a great start. Then a challenge struck, our guide and presenter for the day cancelled. The other adults and I scrambled to figure out what to do next. As my SA and the school Aboriginal support worker rearranged the day’s logistics including our now cancelled bus, I worked with the students and planned a nature walk and games to take with us. I was able to use materials in my classroom to try some of the activities we learned in our science methods course. I am very thankful to the assistance of a dear friend and mentor of mine who was able to help me at the drop of a hat or in my case the ring of her cell phone, and sent me a wealth of activities and information to share with my students. My students and I thoroughly enjoyed the activities Shannon shared with us. My favourite moment of the day was playing a nature tag game and one of my students yelled “Miss Younger’s it”, I was going to watch the game but I can never say no to students pulling me into the game and I was our “Heron”, I did catch most of my ” flies”. Over all Friday turned out well and every one had a good day. I could tell through my student’s blogs and the looks on their faces that they had learned a lot and had a positive experience.” – From http://itec-ubc.ca/wordpress/pltpracticum/2015/05/28/field-trips/#comments

Reflecting back on this experience a few weeks later I now know that it is up to me to have a backup plan at all times for all field trips. For this trip, the bus was booked through a district program and I think that in future I will take care of my own bus bookings so that I am in control of my own arrival and departure times as well as controlling any cancellations. The nature activates went well and was an eye opening experience for all, I got to share my love of the outdoors and knowledge of our local area with my students and was surprised to learn how many of my students had never spent the day exploring a forest! After learning that I think that in future I will make it a goal of mine to get my students into the forest as much as possible for different activities and let them get to know their natural world. As people, we need to be connected to our natural world for more than the time, it takes to walk from the car into the school building or recess and lunch breaks. Nature can inspire wonder in our students and encourage deeper thinking and creativity. As well, many students are not getting enough time outdoors and in nature, while they may be outside at recess and lunch how natural are the school grounds? I am intrigued by what has been termed “Nature Deficit Disorder” and hope that I will be able to bring enough nature experiences into the classroom that my students do not develop this disorder.

My students and I also had the opportunity to spend a day at Crescent Beach and enjoyed a guided exploration of the beach with a very knowledgeable guide. I was very pleased with the program from Birds On the Bay  they did an introductory session in which they brought both specimens which my students loved and various information cards and books that became key resources in our animal and coastal research projects.  My students enjoyed the hands on nature of the trip to crescent beach and finding the animals and plants for themselves. My students were rushing to show my SA and I the animals and plants that they found and asking me to help them with their search for some of the more elusive creatures. The beach was full of happy shouts and excited faces, my students were sharing their discoveries with the adults and with each other, they were happy to discuss their understandings and leanings and wanted your feedback and questions.

In my student’s words:

1) I really liked Crescent beach because we saw lots of crabs!

2) I liked having lunch on the grass with my friends!

3) I loved walking through the water and looking at sea life! ”


  1. We got to dig in the sand to look for sand dollars.
  2. On the bus ride we listened to music on the way to the beach.
  3. I got to touch a crab but i was sacred to hold one.

The beach was awesome. I found a lot of crabs. When I went bare feet it felt so weird. Me and K went bare feet.[THE BUS DRIVE] The bus drive was so cool we listened to country music. I really enjoyed the day.

My favorite part at crescent beach was catching the crabs. It felt so weird when eel grass tangled in my feet. It was so slimy. I saw sand dollars and it was really small compared to the one we saw in class.

I thought the beach would be warm but it was so cold

On June 4 we went to the beach. I found 4 crabs and some clams. I love that there was so many different types of animals. I found some sea stars and i got to feel one. I’ve never got pinched by a crab before and yesterday I got The bus ride was great to. It was almost as good as the field trip! I was singing and dancing to EVERY song. #best bus ride EVER!


The Crescent beach day was a great day not only for learning but also for making relationships. My students were more relaxed on the beach then they were in the classroom. As a class, we bonded singing country music that the bus driver played in the bus on the way to and from the trip. We also had the opportunity to eat lunch as a group, which let us, bond; this was one of the few times this year I got to eat my lunch with my students. At the beach, I also noticed that my students were willing to get a bit wet and dirty to explore the world around them; they were wading in the water and digging in the sand to discover the world around them. Conversations wandered from the life forms we were finding in the sand to the sand itself and how the sand got to the beach and the movement of the tides. Sadly, this trip was my second to last day of practicum and I did not get to recap the day the way I would have liked to. The questions that came up at the beach merited further investigation and discussion. In future, I would schedule trips with more time to discuss them and have a meaningful debriefing session about the trip and have the students do deeper responses than what we did as a quick reflection on Padlet where the quotes above are from.

I feel that field trips were very valuable learning experiences for my students because it brought the in class learning to life and allowed for a deeper level of inquiry than occurred in class because it was the real thing, not a sample or images. By giving our student, the real thing the learning becomes authentic and real along with being place based and developing students Sense of Place.


For more on Sense of Place see here.

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