The largest classroom of all � the great outdoors � may well be the least used in elementary schools everywhere, an omission some Angelo State education professors are working to change.
Drs. Donna Gee and Christine Purkiss, both ASU teacher education professors, believe that taking students outside kick-starts the learning process and engages them in different ways than the classroom setting.�
Research shows that small children are nature deficient, Purkiss said.�
�They don�t go out and play, so the idea is to provide our education students with the knowledge to teach in the outdoors and to provide a bigger place for in-service teachers already working to come and learn how to use their schoolyards as their backyards,� she said.�
Dr. Linda Lucksinger introduced the Outdoor School concept to ASU when she arrived in 2007 as head of the Teacher Education Department.� She had experienced the Texas Tech Outdoor School in Junction and encouraged ASU teacher education students and faculty to visit the school.
Purkiss and Gee are integrating TTU features into ASU�s Outdoor School as an enhanced educational experience to benefit both ASU students, who will become future teachers, and area elementary school students, who can enjoy a broader learning experience.
�We are taking that concept and doing it here in a modified version,� Gee said.� �Our students can still get some experience or understanding about using science and the outdoors in their teaching.�
Purkiss said many elementary education majors need tools like the Outdoor School to supplement their studies.
�Our science methods class is condensed and it�s the only one they get,� she said, �so you can�t concentrate everything on the outdoors.� We would like to do more of what we are doing in class, but with an outdoor emphasis.� New teachers aren�t necessarily ready for that.�
Elementary school students, however, are open to the concept as demonstrated in May when education faculty and students hosted the ASU Outdoor School, which drew 90 local fourth- and fifth-graders, who took in some fresh air, explored the area�s ecology and broadened their learning experience.
Christy Vick, a 2009 ASU graduate and a fifth-grade teacher at Holiman Elementary School in San Angelo, liked what she and her students saw at the on-campus outing on the green space bordered by ASU�s Academic Building, Carr Education-Fine Arts Building and Houston Harte University Center.
�This is pretty cool,� she said that breezy afternoon.� �The kids get to see the campus, and, for some of them, it�s the only opportunity they�ve had to see it.�
Students imitated salmon swimming upstream to spawn, studied the rings of a tree to date it and peered into microscopes at nature�s smallest inhabitants.� They also studied the relationship between predators and prey by separating into two groups and copying those adversaries� characteristics.� They then returned to their school and wrote about their experiences.
Meanwhile, 38 ASU teacher education students participated and fulfilled part of their practicum requirements in science and mathematics, a prerequisite to their upcoming student teaching semesters.
Two other ASU alumnas from Holiman, fourth-grade teachers Susan Nickias and Kathleen Edinburgh, were also impressed with the impact on their students.
Nickias said, �It�s an eye-opening experience for them, and they get a chance to see what�s possible in college.�
Edinburgh said the children were inspired by their campus tour.
�Now, they all want to come here to school,� she said.