Outdoor Learning 2.0

AIA Continuing Education Provider

1 LU / HSW

While the many benefits of outdoor learning have been amply proven by research, their full potential has yet to be realized. Learn how one school district took outdoor education to the next level. When Chenango Valley School District acquired a previously contaminated property adjacent to their Middle and High School building to develop new athletic fields, little did they know that the project would spawn a pedagogically transformative Outdoor Learning Center (OLC). What started out as a stormwater retention pond was creatively leveraged to deliver an experiential learning environment creating a new prototype for outdoor classrooms. Conceived and designed by teachers in partnership with the architects, the new learning space was sited directly adjacent to the pond. Differing fundamentally from traditional outdoor classrooms, it included both indoor and outdoor instructional areas separated by a large overhead door. The resulting flexible space bridges indoor instruction and the outdoor environment. The sheltered interior permits access to tables, chairs, storage, connectivity, tools, whiteboards, display space, collaboration space, drinking fountains and toilets, all of which exponentially increase the potential activities that can be supported. A large dock and perimeter walkway provide easy access to the pond habitat, allowing for many types of science related experiments and activities. Labs in chemistry, environmental science, forensics and living environment are held here. Students from all grade levels are able to utilize the facilities, including from the district’s two offsite elementary schools.

Hear directly from the science teacher engaged in the design process about the impact the OLC has had on teaching and learning in the district. While the district’s goal for this project was to expand the capabilities of its science programs, the flexibility and adaptability of the facility has inspired a host of new pedagogical activities. It has transformed the plein air painting unit for the art department, and led to the creation of a new Fishing Club and competitive fishing derby. The direct observation and hand’s-on exploration of the outdoors has helped to build an awareness of sustainability and climate change. The OLC has also become the venue for the district’s Environmental and Hiking Club meetings, and local BOCES meetings. Besides growing the educational programs, the addition of the OLC has helped to build community and social-emotional learning. Spending time in the outdoor environment has benefited student mental and physical wellness, encouraged student and teacher interaction, facilitated discussion, and allowed the school community to literally and figuratively see each other in a different light.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Learn about the essential design components for an augmented outdoor learning space.
  2. Understand the ways in which outdoor learning centers can enhance pedagogy and give rise to new educational experiences.
  3. Gain insights into how outdoor learning centers can help to build stronger school communities.
  4. Understand how integrated indoor-outdoor learning spaces can positively impact student engagement and wellness.
Michael Breed
Michael Breed
High School Science Teacher, Chenango Valley School District  

Michael is a 28-year science teacher at Chenango Valley High School in Binghamton, NY. He is the district’s Instructional Leader for Science for grades 6-12. Michael has been named a New York State Master Teacher by the Governor's Office as one of the highest-performing STEM teachers. He helped to conceive and design the district’s Outdoor Education Center. He enjoys fishing, being outdoors, cooking, and volunteering for local veteran organizations.

Steven Thesier
Steven Thesier
Associate Director, Aracdis IBI Group

Steve is an Associate Director and licensed Architect with Arcadis IBI Group. He has more than 30 years of experience working for the firm, and his focus is primarily on K-12 projects. His expertise includes facility design, project management, and client coordination. He has extensive experience assisting school districts with referendum planning, assessment of existing facilities, educational facilities design, and coordination with the New York State Education Department. Steve is very active in community affairs, serving on boards of non-profit organizations, and participating in civic activities.

Serena Losonczy, AIA, LEED AP
Serena Losonczy, AIA, LEED AP
Education Lead, New York State Chenango Valley School District

Serena leads Arcadis IBI Group’s New York State education practice. Her expertise spans from master planning and architectural design to complex adaptive reuse projects. She is a strategic thinker and imaginative problem solver, with a nuanced understanding of the complex challenges faced by academic institutions. Her transformative designs have won numerous international and local awards. She is a frequent speaker at national conferences and has authored numerous articles on school design. Serena currently serves as Co-chair of the AIA New York Education Committee.

Track: Research

This track elevates Research on learning and learning environments and focuses on methodology, findings, and implications for practice. Tangible takeaways are encouraged, including tools and resources that support innovation and improvements to learning environments. There is Art in how we utilize Science to improve our design outcomes and our design and research process. To this end, dissemination of research findings is a priority so that learning environments are re-imagined and enhanced based on evidence and measured impact, not based on trends.

Primary Core Competency
Educational Visioning: Exhibits an understanding of best and next practices related to educational leadership, programming, teaching, learning, planning and facility design. Establishes credibility with educators, community members and design professionals while conceiving and leading a community-based visioning process. Demonstrates the ability to articulate the impact of learning environments on teaching and learning and uses that ability to facilitate a dialogue that uncovers the unique needs and long-range goals of an educational institution and its stakeholders – translating that into an actionable written/graphic program of requirements for the design practitioner.

LearningSCAPES 2023

October 12-15 | Hilton Chicago

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