Innovation in Learning Study Group

East Coast: Outdoor and Indoor Learning Spaces

By: Hannah Thein

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Today we visited Meadowbrook! What beautiful grounds: 30 acres that include a pond, a river, a meadow, a forest, gardens, and a playground. When we drove in, geese were “skating” on the pond and kids were playing nearby. During our visit, I learned that the outside is considered as valuable an asset as the inside of the school:  kids visit all the habitats regularly and partially integrated, project based learning takes place. Some of the projects are river and pond water studies, and removing non native plant species, replanting native species and learning about the fauna that is thereby attracted. The middle school students study the local flora and fauna and create ways to teach the youngest students about what they learned. Lee, the architect, related that school had lost the “meadow” and the “brook” in Meadowbrook--the original school was built in the “20’s--- and the school community is dedicated to bringing the meadow and the brook back to the kids. Very similar to the idea of “putting the ‘Vermont’ back into Vermont kids.”

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The beautiful, efficient (low carbon footprint) building fit into the natural and cultural landscape. It was constructed so that it was lit by natural light. I immediately felt welcome and comfortable. It was a warm place, a happy place where empathy and community service is at the forefront. Indeed their mission is: “ We will know, love, and challenge every child.” Simple. And powerful.

Once inside, the Curriculum Coach and Director of Technology and Innovation met us in the Eureka lab, where they host a nationally recognized STEM program. As I listened, a (silent) Ah HAH! erupted. I had found a school with Place Based Learning AND STEM were integrated! Exactly what I was looking for!  Throughout this visit and in other schools, we came across numerous ideas to bring back to our fellow Vermont educators in our quest to improve (no, transform) our schools: primary in my mind is that our students need extended time in nature in order to care for and sustain our one and only planet.