May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

What Does It Take to Get Kids Outdoors?

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Lori Merritt

Our environment faces many challenges. Human behavior has greatly contributed to these negative changes. Children will be inheriting a world with many environmental problems and need to be prepared to face them. In order for children to care about the environment and have positive environmental behavior they first need to have experiences outside in natural environments (Chawla & Cushing, 2007; Handler & Ebstein, 2010). Unfortunately, children are spending less time in nature, making them less connected to their natural environment. In Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, nature-deficit disorder is described as “the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses” (p.36). In order for our students to be healthy, and environmentally proactive members of society we need to lead them outdoors.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) provide a framework to lead our students outside, where they can engage in science practice by investigating, observing, collecting data, and asking questions. Exposing children to science lessons outside and having positive experiences in nature could be a way to help connect children to nature and influence their attitudes (Monroe, 2003; Schultz, 2001). Plus, they will love spending time outside!

Community Collaboration
As a graduate student I was approached by a group of teachers who wanted help making science come alive for their students. These dedicated teachers were unfamiliar with NGSS and so I started by sharing the grade level standards and linking them to resources. There are still elementary school teachers who are unaware of the new standards and need support in teaching science. Often, teachers without a background in science can feel overwhelmed and need some help navigating NGSS. For teachers who may need support, observing science lessons can be a great way to better understand NGSS.

Lessons Modeled
I planned and modeled four experiential lessons for students; getting outside was an important aspect of the science lessons. I worked with two classes of first grade students and two classes of second grade students in the San Juan Unified School District. The students collected data using quadrant sampling on an abundance of insects in two different schoolyard habitats. Students planted pollinator-friendly plants in existing planter boxes on their campus. They also collected evidence of life forms by drawing pictures, counting, and categorizing wildlife they observed. The teachers were surprised, both at how engaged their students were while making observations outside and at how much wildlife existed on their campus.

After the Initial lessons in the schoolyard, the students also learned about adaptations and designed two different insect patterns on paper butterflies that they played hide and seek with to see which pattern camouflages better and helped their insect survive. Finally there was a walking field trip to a local river where students played nature bingo looking for different features. The teachers associated with this collaboration have expressed excitement about continuing to take their students outside for lessons. They also have increased confidence about teaching outside science lessons. Parents commented that they had wanted to walk their children to the river, but were afraid to before the field trip.
Parents who joined the classes on the hike to the river expressed appreciation for taking their children out into nature and had a greater willingness to take them out on future nature walks.

Leading Children Outside
The experiences these students had may contribute to a lifelong appreciation of nature, science, and stewardship behavior. Empowering adults to lead children outside may be the key to having a larger impact on children’s attitudes and behaviors. Teachers who are familiar with NGSS need to support all elementary school teachers and parents to increase confidence and motivation to do hands-on science, model appreciation for nature, and provide repeated experiences in nature.

Young children connecting to local wildlife is the foundation for further developing environmental attitudes (Sobel, 1996). It is important to give children time to explore their local environment. When teachers do not have the experience or are uncomfortable taking students into nature it is hard to lay that foundation. The key indicators for future environmental stewardship in children are repeated contacts with and experiences in nature, along with positive role models (Chawla, 1999). Families and teachers are young children’s primary role models for appreciating nature (Chawla, 1999). As teachers we need to take the leadership role in getting our students outside and suggesting activities that families can do outside together. Teachers also need support from principals to acknowledge that learning does occur outside. Administration should be made aware of the many benefits to teaching lessons and spending “class” time outside. Teachers need time to familiarize themselves with NGSS standards and time to collaborate and plan lesson outdoors.

Our nation’s administration is leading the way for families to get outside. This year, President Obama has identified the importance of getting children outside in his recent Every Kid in a Park Initiative: in the 2015-16 school year, every fourth grader and her family will have free admission to all national parks and other federal lands and water. Teachers and families can connect students with public lands and find great teaching resources using collaborative websites such as Hands on the Land and the National Park Service’s Teacher Resources.

More time outdoors, at school and at home, will increase children’s exposure to nature. That exposure to the natural world will, in turn, promote a scientific mindset of young explorers. Don’t we want our students to feel connected to nature and have the scientific skills to think about, question, and communicate about the world? Teachers have the power to be positive role models for young children, valuing and inspiring future environmental stewardship. Teachers have the power to lead kids outside. So, let’s get every kid outside!

Literature Cited
Chawla, L. (1999). Life paths into effective environmental action. The Journal of Environmental Education. 21(1): 15-26
Chawla, L. & Cushing, D.F. (2007). Education for strategic environmental behavior. Environmental Education Research. 13(4): 437-452.
Handler, D & Ebstein, S. (2010). Nature education in preschool. Highscope. 25(2): 1-17
Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Monroe, M. (2003). Two Avenues for encouraging conservation behaviors. Human
Ecology Review. 10(2): 13-125.
Schultz, P. (2011). Conservation means behavior. Conservation Biology. 25(6): 1080-1083.
Sobel, David, (1996). Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart of Nature Education, Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society

Lori Merritt is a master’s degree student at Miami University of Ohio and a Parent Participation Preschool Teacher at Caleb Greenwood Elementary. She is a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.