Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Project Based Learning and WILD School Sites

This is the second in a series about using the outdoors to help meet new education standards.  This entry is provided by John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist in the Wildlife District Two office in Findlay, Ohio.

Excellent PBL Blog
Schools are back in session and many teachers are faced with figuring out how to implement the new education standards into their curriculum. The new standards call for teachers to use Project Based Learning (PBL) in which students undertake projects from the beginning design stages, through construction and, finally, to completion. PBL also calls for multidiscipline learning, where students integrate multiple subjects into the project. This new PBL thing sounds a lot like a WILD School Site to me. So what are WILD School Sites? WILD School Sites, or outdoor classrooms, are locations that can be used by students, teachers and the school community as places to learn about wildlife and the environment.

 So what type of projects make up a WILD School Site?
No two school sites are the same, so each site will consist of different projects. Available resources, such as time, money, space and labor, will also play a role in what projects are 
chosen. The sites function within the premise that every school, regardless of size and location, can provide outdoor educational opportunities that can and should be part of any integrated education program. The first thing to do when developing a site is to formulate a plan. You can contact your district Wildlife Communication Specialist, who can walk you through the process to help ensure success.
Projects can be as simple as adding perching posts or feeding stations for birds, or more involved like butterfly and rain gardens. Even extremely large projects like ponds and wetlands have been installed by some schools. Size, whether large or small, has no bearing on how useful or beneficial a project is. Even simple projects can have an enormous impact on students when incorporated into lessons.

So, how do WILD School Sites fit into PBL?

WILD School Sites are projects in which students, teachers and the community work together toward designing, building and implementing an outdoor learning area. To be effective, there must be a plan. Teachers can have professionals, like your local Wildlife Communication Specialist, Soil and Water Conservation District specialists, natural resources managers from local nonprofits such as Pheasants Forever or the Nature Conservancy, come in and talk with the students about designing outdoor learning areas.

Next, the site should be evaluated and inventoried for flora and fauna. Suggestions for conducting habitat evaluations can be obtained from your local Wildlife Communication Specialist. Students can then research various projects and design an overall plan for the site, including a budget and a timeline. This plan should then be presented to the school administration, other students and faculty as well as the community.

After the plan has been reviewed, and possibly adjusted, it can be implemented. It is important that students play a role in the site construction. Try to incorporate as many students, grades and faculty as possible to help ensure a long-lasting project. The more people you involve, the more ownership they will take of the project.

Do WILD School Sites fit into other areas of the new standards?

Absolutely! Although Project WILD and WILD School Sites are directly referenced in the Model Curriculum for Science, teachers from other disciplines can also utilize the area. WILD School Sites also fit well into math, language arts and social studies. Art and music 
Journalling and Art Outdoors
teachers can also help inspire students by immersing them in the natural world that exists around them.Obviously, the model curriculum is too long to reference each standard here; however, much of the science curriculum references Project WILD, from which WILD School Sites evolved. Where better to conduct observations, habitat inventories or other investigations, than at an outdoor lab?

A Final Thought

WILD School Sites provide opportunities, in their design and construction, as well as in their use, for students to apply learned concepts and to demonstrate what they have learned. This is also the premise for Project Based Learning. For more information about these projects or other WILD School Site projects, contact your district’s Wildlife Communication Specialist or the state office at 1-800-WILDLIFE or