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Getting TX Students Outside, Where Learning Improves

PHOTO: A first-of-its-kind Discovery Hill Outdoor Learning Center is now serving as a classroom for the Austin Independent School District. The habitat will be used for both teaching students and training teachers. CREDIT: NWF
PHOTO: A first-of-its-kind Discovery Hill Outdoor Learning Center is now serving as a classroom for the Austin Independent School District. The habitat will be used for both teaching students and training teachers. CREDIT: NWF
August 26, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas - Most students across Texas are now back in class, but some of them will still get plenty of time outside. In the Austin Independent School District, the Discovery Hill Outdoor Learning Center is now open and serving as a classroom. It is the first Outdoor Learning Center to be installed in Texas by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

According to NWF senior education manager Marya Fowler, outdoor learning can be critical in helping students understand core subjects like science and math.

"They learn in ways that they can't through a textbook or just sitting in the classroom," Fowler said. "That's because when they are in the outdoors, learning becomes holistic, and many students you can't reach in the classroom really begin to learn and grasp what they're being taught."

The Center is adjacent to Pleasant Hill Elementary, so those students will be there almost daily. Other students from the district will visit on field trips.

The quarter-acre site at the district's Science and Resource Center used to be barren, but Fowler said it now includes 150 different species of native plants, eight learning stations and a variety of habitats.

"They represent the hill country and also south Texas," she said. "We have everything: short-grass prairie, mixed-grass prairies, wildflower meadows, ephemeral creeks, a pond and a woodland, and also a succulent garden."

The outdoor learning center is also where all teachers in the district will now receive professional development, she added.

"This outdoor resource and wildlife habitat will be used as a venue to train teachers how to teach students effectively in the outdoors," she said.

A similar project for Houston schools was launched last year by the National Wildlife Federation, which partners with school districts across the state.

More information is available at https://www.nwf.org/What-We-Do/Kids-and-Nature.aspx.


John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX