Nature-Based Lessons for Elementary Students
CREA Educators have provided innovative, outdoor, place-based learning experiences for elementary students since 2007.
We lead 3.5 hour field trips for K-5 classes at our Ecology Center, located at the Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham. Each field trip brings the natural world to life using a combination of hands-on, experiential outdoor and indoor activities. Each lesson is centered around a single topic (Habitat, Pond Life, Energy, Geology, etc) that fulfills Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) standards for that topic.
We guide students to explore first, bringing in explanations and vocabulary later. This approach is deeply engaging and levels the playing field across students with different learning styles.
“Year after year CREA has been a consistent and innovative partner in expanding outdoor, place-based learning opportunities for our students. Whether through field trips on the remarkable trail system, access to the off-grid Ecology Center, or in-school CREA-created lessons; our K-5 students enjoy unique access to a true gem in the Mid-Coast.
Every year our teachers rave about the professional development and support that CREA provides, which enables us to offer engaging, hands-on science at the elementary level. CREA is truly a champion for encouraging our school to do more and better outdoor, nature-based instruction. We can see what a good fit this type of learning is for this age group. I see the fruits of CREA’s work in a deepening ecological awareness among our students, families, and teachers and growing connection to the land.”
– Richard W. Dedek II, Principal Woodside Elementary School
Professional Development for Teachers
When classes come to the Ecology Center, their teachers are usually struck by the high level of student engagement and learning. Seeing the benefits of student-centered, nature-based learning, they want to learn more about ‘place-based’ teaching.
CREA Educators meet this need by offering professional development for teachers. Some workshops focus on how to teach science using a more engaging, hands-on approach.
The approach taught in these workshops is ‘explore first, explain later.’ Teachers learn to give students a common, shared experience (e.g. grinding rocks into sand) to which they can refer back later as they learn concepts and vocabulary. This approach levels the playing field, enabling students across all learning styles to participate at the same level.
CREA Educators also provide professional development in how to succeed in the outdoor classroom. They share tips on planning and prep, strategies for transitioning from indoor to outdoor spaces, establishing routines and expectations for the outdoor classroom, and wisdom on how to deal with common outdoor issues (e.g. spiders, ticks, distractions, etc).
Our educators collaborate with public school districts in many capacities, including:
- Developing district science curricula for elementary grades
- Translating NGSS standards into workable lesson plans for elementary grades
- Developing place-based lessons that meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
Teacher Fellow Workshops
CREA has offered summer fellow teacher workshops since 2016. These hands-on workshops are designed to build skills and confidence in teachers who want to teach outside but are intimidated by the unknown. Teachers learn core strategies and tips to ensure success. They also leave with a few quick and easy activities to use at their own schools.
Outdoor Learning Network
CREA Educators launched the Outdoor Learning Network (OLN) in 2019, a peer-to-peer collaboration in which teachers from different schools gather to share experiences, successes, and mistakes to avoid when taking students outdoors to learn. They meet on different school campuses to tour outdoor learning spaces, explore new teaching tools and props, and brainstorm ideas.
CREA Educators created OLN after recognizing how much summer teacher fellows benefited from the opportunity to share ideas with other teachers who share their passion for outdoor learning. For more information, contact one of CREA’s Educators (contact info below).
- Sarah Rodgers, Educator and CREA School Program Coordinator
- Carey Truebe, Educator and CREA School Program Coordinator