A Classroom-Free Education at Outdoor School

By Luke B. ’23
Photos by Mr. O’Gorman

Last week, the entire sixth grade went on a fun-filled yet educational trip to Outdoor School at Shaver’s Creek, Penn State’s nature center. The class learned about how everything in nature is intertwined, as well as the importance of natural resources and their conservation. One of the main goals of the week was to achieve zero food waste, meaning that all the students ate all of the food on our plates, a goal we all achieved at the last meal.

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We took a “time machine” to the mid-1800s and observed how settlers used raw materials to fashion the vast majority of tools and other things they needed. The class was divided into groups, which took hikes, stopping along the way to play games related to the curriculum. These helped us learn more about the ins and outs of nature and how exactly it functions.

Students were taught about cycles, such as the water cycle, which explained the efficiencies of the natural world and how it works with creatures within it. Another highlight was the visit from some owl friends, thanks to the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, during which many children got to see both large and small owls for the first time, and learn about how owls are affected by humans.

Everyone also had the opportunity to explore a nearby creek, searching for species whose sensitivity to their environment makes them excellent guides to determine the pollution level of the water.

The main events were topped off by a night walk, during which no flashlights were allowed. This activity was used to help our class understand the predators which have to rely mostly on their hearing to find food, as they need to be resourceful and careful to survive. Students also played games that helped us learn about how the amount of resources in an area determines its ability to accommodate certain species. This can result in population fluctuation, and one of the big factors in this is humans and our effect on the environment.

The trip wasn’t all hard work, however. The counselors, all Penn State students, came up with skits, songs, and more to entertain the class after a long day’s work before bedtime. Some of the most fun events included a rap battle and a dance-off, hosted by two counselors. There were also a few contests used to help the class learn a few interesting tidbits of information.

At the last night at Outdoor School, “The Lorax” was recited from memory by a few of the counselors, but not simply as a child’s story. It was a great tool used to help summarize the main message of Outdoor School: Humanity is indebted to nature, and should respect and treat it well, not just exploit it for its resources, and this generation needs to be the one to do that.

Our three days at Outdoor School were not only fun, but a great bonding experience for many classmates. It was an opportunity for us to enjoy one another and govern ourselves for a few days. We got to take a break from the traditional four-wall classroom and learn in a new environment, where not only science lessons were taught, but life-long ones.