Due to poorly ventilated public school classrooms where some windows are even painted shut, with old HVAC systems, and over-crowded class sizes; you should start planning for more outdoor classes as much as possible. When I look at a public school from the outside, I can imagine a lot of learning experiences despite wire fencing, large amounts of pavement, and little to no trees. I have a can-do attitude and see this as an opportunity to problem solve with out of the box thinking. Here are some resources I have found for turning your asphalt pavement wasteland into learning opportunities.
Let's start with what we have. A lot of pavement. Many teachers have told me that there entire schoolyard is a big slab of concrete and therefore feel that they can't teach outdoor education. Wrong!
Concrete and pavement offer a plethora of learning opportunities from studying surface heat, to permeability, to frying an egg on the surface. The opportunities are endless. I even did an entire unit on graffiti and the students spray painted our concrete sidewalk outside of the school.
Instead of seeing concrete and pavement as an obstacle to outdoor learning, use it as a tool for curiosity. Pavement and concrete surfaces are really cool :) Here are five ideas you could try out.
1. I found this new science resource for elementary teachers, Mystery Science. It looks great and they’re offering a free subscription to a few thousand teachers this week. Sign up! Below is a cool lesson involving hot surfaces.
Find a cool shady space to read a story to your kids. As an extension, walk around your schoolyard and find out which places are cooler and which places are too hot. This is a great way to create a sense of place, getting students to feel temperature in their body is a sensory awareness activity, and it also teaches them survival skills for where to find shade on a hot day. While on the walk, encourage them to feel different surfaces, pavement, soil, grassy areas, and to inquire along the way. Why is this surface hotter than that one? Why was this surface the coolest? Why is it cooler under the tree or where there is more access to wind? Have fun with it and be sure to comment below if you try it.
2) Permeable pavement. This is from a cool website called teach engineering and stem developed by the university of Colorado. In this activity, students investigate how different riparian ground covers, such as grass or pavement, affect river flooding. They learn about permeable and impermeable materials through the measurement how much water is absorbed by several different household materials in a model river. Students use what they learn to make recommendations for engineers developing permeable pavement. Also, they consider several different limitations for design in the context of a small community or school.
3. ‘Go With The Flow: Teaching and Taking Action for a Healthier Watershed’ is a resource for teaching students from kindergarten to grade 12 how the planning, design, land use and stewardship of our school grounds impact the flow and quality of water through our local watersheds.
4. Take a spin to learn about friction. You can do this on the asphalt, grass, and concrete school surface outdoors. Grab packages of tops from the party favor section of the store. Have the students choose several surfaces that have different textures. There's a variety of surfaces outside so they can test them all out. Have the students time how long the top will spin on different textured surfaces and record how long the top spins on different ones. Then you can inquire as to why it spun longer on some surfaces vs others.
5. In this lesson, students will investigate life as a pavement ant, by exploring physical and behavourial characteristics, life cycle, and habitat. The activities are designed to take place in an urban schoolyard or local habitat during the fall or spring seasons. They can be taught over the course of a week, or extended for a more in-depth exploration
Well, there you have it. At least 5 lesson plan ideas to use involving pavement and concrete as an inspiration for inquiry. There are many MANY other ideas for exploring and inquiring using schoolyard surfaces; even if you don't have an inch of green grass on the schoolyard. Your student will likely feel engaged in these lessons as they can move around more and have more autonomy to learn at their own pace. Check out the resource trail for more lesson plans and resources linked to curriculum topics and grade levels. All of these lessons can be conducted in your concrete schoolyard.
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I'm a teacher, outdoor educator, forest school practitioner and all round nature lover.