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“Do mosquitoes prefer one color over another?” Additionally, I noticed changes in our approach to

science. First, the recess field transformed from a play area into a laboratory as students went out whenever they needed to work on their science.We prepared the learning environment by having clipboards, field guides and a variety of drawing tools always on hand.We discussed expectations and responsibilities with students so their time outside would be safe and productive. With clear expectations, teachers noticed more responsible behavior and worried much less about sending students outside to work independently. A second change we noticed was that students

From Theory to Practice in My Class

Several years ago I signed up for a walk in the woods with my local land trust group. I wasn’t sure what I had signed up for, but a wonderfully knowledgeable guide led us across a field and into the woods through a narrow path. Although the lot was located well within the limits of two towns and very developed areas, we only crossed two paved streets during the entire three hours of our walk. I later learned that the field was called Beaver Brook North

Reservation, part of the Western Greenway, and had recently been acquired by the cities of Waltham and Lexington, the towns where I live and work respectively. Unfortunately, the road to theWestern Greenway had no sidewalks and there was no safe access from the school. A few summers later, I noticed activity on the busy road

– a crew from the town of Lexington was pouring tar and creating a sidewalk. Now, the path from the school was not only clear but safe for children.With a few simple additions, the road crew had unlocked theWestern Greenway for the children at our school. When the school year started, I wasted no time in intro-

ducing the idea of “going out” the very first week to our class of 50 students ages 9 to 12 and the 5 teachers at our Montes- sori school. I let students know that I wasn’t sure how we were going to use these outings and they agreed to give it a try. We used the first Friday as a test, walking the entire way without any time pressures. I made a few copies of maps (one for each walking/working group), gave each teacher a few first aid items and made sure teachers had charged cell phones with them. I let the school secretary know we were headed out … and off we went. Each Friday that Fall we went out. As teachers, we

observed an improvement in student’s level of preparation: there were no flip-flops on feet, people brought spoons for lunches and didn’t bring food that required heating. There was also an improvement in student attention: we noticed students sitting quietly, heads down or bodies prone investi- gating, observing and looking closer than they had the week before. Journal questions included “How do bees acquire material for hives?”, “Do trees have to have branches?” and

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chose to work on science more often than they had in prior years.We weren’t focused on an end product such as a lab report or completed worksheet to assess their learning. Instead, we watched them bring bugs, caterpillars, leaves and mushrooms into the class, then talk about them incessantly with their friends. Students recorded spontaneous, unassigned observa- tions in their journals. Once again, this affected the

way we prepared the environment. Small animal friendly containers were collected and stored where all could use them. Community meetings were used to develop rules about the catch and release of critters. I spent my weekends searching for books and curriculum

about natural sciences. I presented some of the information and activities from “Science through Multiple Intelligences” by Robert Barkman. I found the books and website of Jane Kirkland, whose writings encouraged us to create a field guide for our school and study the nature in our city. My class was excited about creating a field guide for the Beaver Brook North Reservation, but insisted they did not want to create a hard copy book. They wanted to put it on the internet in order to save resources. In the next few weeks we collected every published field guide we could get our hands on. Using notebooks, cameras and field guides, each student created a page identifying one species and in November, we published the “Field Guide to the Western Greenway.”2

From Theory to Practice in Your Class

I admit that going out can sound like a scary idea. Even our class has not fully adopted the model envisioned by Mon- tessori. Our students go to the recess field alone but do not leave the school property on their own. I have had to work to find my level of comfort with our activities. At all times I had the full backing of my teaching team, the students and the parents. Still, you may have students and parents who object to the

idea for a variety of reasons. You’ll have students who don’t like the outdoors, are bothered by insects, can’t walk very far or are discouraged by bad weather. You’ll have kids who won’t wear the right shoes or who forget things. I’m of the firm opinion that you should persevere until you find a way to incorporate unstructured time into your weekly schedule. Here are some ideas on how you might accomplish it. Think big and start small. Start by exploring the area

around your school. If you are not familiar, schedule an hour after school one day to walk around and explore. Maps of your area are easily accessed via the Internet. You might


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