Lower School K-1 Science Block Expands and Moves to Outdoor Classroom

St. Margaret’s kindergarten and grade 1 students have an expanded science block this year—now one hour each week—and almost every lesson will take place outside.
“The outdoor classroom,” Lower School K-1 science teacher Erin Moore says, “is the classroom.”
The Lower School Outdoor Classroom debuted in fall 2018 as an experiential learning space for kindergarten and grade 1 students to engage, explore and play. Immediately, Lower School classroom and special-subject faculty worked to integrate the space into the school day, brainstorming interdisciplinary learning possibilities and participating in professional development to optimize the meaningful student benefits of being outdoors.
Now in year two, the space has become a true classroom. The six kindergarten and grade 1 classes will meet weekly with Mrs. Moore, now a full-time science teacher and outdoor classroom specialist who has outlined a school year of lessons that are experiential and nearly 100 percent outside.
Mrs. Moore and Lower School grades 2-5 science teacher David Beshk collaborated this summer to apply the California Next Generation Science Standards in the revamping of a K-1 science curriculum, and aligned it in scope and sequence with the science Mr. Beshk will teach older students.
Those lessons have already begun. This week, grade 1 students gathered at the sand pit for a lesson on volcanoes. Using the well-known baking soda-and-vinegar chemical reaction that mimics a volcanic eruption, students could use the sand to build different types of volcanoes, such as stratovolcanoes or shield volcanoes, then watch how the different types impact the flow of the eruption.
Mrs. Moore also plans to utilize the edible garden to explore the life cycle of plants, will teach lessons on the weather and the seasons outside, and will even use the space as a vehicle to study animals and how they adapt to outdoor environments.
“This is what we envisioned the outdoor classroom offering our kindergarten and grade 1 students, and we are excited to see our faculty incorporate this space into student learning in such engaging ways,” Lower School Principal Jennifer Blount said. “Having kindergarten and grade 1 science in an experiential, outdoor environment the students already love just makes sense, and will lead to lessons that build knowledge and develop a love for the subject.”
Elsewhere, grade 4 also is getting an expanded block of science instruction, led by Mr. Beshk. The grade has an additional 40-minute block of science instruction this year, to accompany the interdisciplinary grade 4 STEAM block that meets weekly to work on interdisciplinary projects that incorporate science, art, engineering and technology.
An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California