Reviewed by Cary Seidman
Advocates for change have assailed today's emphasis on mind-numbing assessment and endless test preparation at the expense of real exploration. Professionals at the elementary and middle school levels realize the importance of outdoor education as an effective vehicle for quality science education.
Steve Rich’s Outdoor Science: A Practical Guide provides practical guidelines for implementing an outdoor education program while meeting numerous state and national science education standards. Indeed, this book represents standards-based science education at its best or (to borrow the title of the late James Herndon’s classic 1968 narrative of his year in an inner city classroom) “The Way It Spozed To Be.” Rather than listing drills and procedures aimed at helping children pass a state test, Rich provides an example of what all educators should be doing; that is, teaching under the umbrella of an exciting, interdisciplinary curriculum which, by its nature, will result in successful completion of state or nationally mandated requirements.
Rich sensibly begins his book by addressing the concerns that many teachers and school administrators may raise: (1) "We don’t have the space for this." (2) "We don’t have the money for this." Realizing that not every school has every conceivable space for outdoor education, Rich asks the reader to fill out a checklist of what is available on school grounds, including such items as a woodland trail, garden plot, and pond. He even suggests asphalt areas for chalk projects, an area for group seating, and access to a working hose. He provides tips on carrying out outdoor education with a minimum of expenditures as well as grant-writing suggestions for those who wish to pursue the topic more intensively.
The lessons fall into four broad categories. The title of the life science section, “Bugs, Birds, and Butterflies," is self-explanatory. Students are encouraged to take an inventory of the bird species around their school, perform studies on several butterfly species, and study the animal life in the areas surrounding their school. The worksheets accompanying each lesson provide models of proper charting and data collection as well as open-ended inquiry. Sections on math integration, writing as a vital part of science, and social studies correlations follow, and all have stimulating, inexpensive, and worthwhile activities.
I would take issue only with Rich’s idea of “stocking” a faux archaeological site with plastic toys and replicas, when real archaeological digs in which students can take part may be available. This excellent resource belongs on the bookshelf of every elementary and middle school. Educators at many grade levels and at any level of experience will discover new and interesting approaches to outdoor education.
Review posted on 4/13/2010