Coeur d’Alene’s Winton Elementary School moved into temporary quarters in Hayden, Idaho, for the 2014-15 school year, while their permanent school facility is undergoing a complete ground-up rebuild. An all-staff meeting of Winton employees produced the idea that the school should choose an “identity” or focus area in which to distinguish themselves during and beyond the rebuild. The staff chose to focus on outdoor education, and contacted Project Learning Tree to hold a dedicated workshop for Winton teachers, counselors, and key administrative personnel.
“We chose to focus on outdoor education because one of our parents, Sandy Kegley, is an entomologist with the US Forest Service,” said Winton 4th grade teacher Maggie Kemp. “Sandy came in and spoke to our staff and got us all thinking that outdoor education would be a great thing to focus on for our school, because it works with our desire to stay small and neighborhood-based. Sandy was also the one who told us about Project Learning Tree, which has been such an incredible resource for us here.”
Nineteen educators of all grade levels attended the Winton workshop, held on the first teacher workday of the school year. Educators engaged in several PLT activities, and received the PLT PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide to use with their students.
PLT provides educators with the tools they need to bring the environment into their classrooms, and their students into the environment. PLT workshop activities help educators expand their knowledge of trees, forest ecology, and the total environment, and provide ways to use PLT activities to accomplish existing curricular goals and meet state education standards. From geometric shapes and seasons in Kindergarten and 1st grade, to renewable and non-renewable resources in 5th grade, each teacher found several activities through the workshop that fit directly with what they need to teach. All the PLT materials are correlated with Idaho Core and other Idaho Content standards.
One of the best things about PLT is that the activities are, by nature, interdisciplinary. While experiencing PLT activities indoors and out, students develop knowledge and skills in math, English-language arts, science, social studies and more. Students also learn about their own back yard and community, gaining experiences that will help them become conscientious environmental stewards and thoughtful decision makers.
Nancy Mueller teaches many grades–1st; 3rd; Advanced learning 3rd, 4th, 5th; and currently K-5 P.E. and Music. She found that PLT is well-suited to meet curriculum requirements and standards, particularly based on how she teaches. “With my P.E. classes, I try very hard to incorporate being outside as much as possible, even in the winter,” Nancy says. “PLT helps me think about how I teach. For example, I will use PLT lessons in our traditional activities in order to get the kids thinking about what the P.E. equipment is made of and where that comes from.”
“I like to focus students’ thoughts and attention on lifelong activities, not just the normal organized sports. We play horseshoes, go hiking, things like that,” Nancy continues. “We talk about being observant of our surroundings for many different reasons—safety, changes in terrain, and how to find markings so they know where they have been and can turn around and come back.”
“This workshop was fantastic,” Nancy summarized. “PLT has been incredibly useful in helping us emphasize our new focus on outdoor education and how plants and trees and animals all relate to each other. I cannot wait to use these lessons in my classrooms.”