Outdoor activities continue at the high school level and become still more sophisticated and are carried out over an extended period of time. In new construction, maintain as much of the original natural surroundings as possible and enhance, or reclaim them to provide outdoor learning areas for science. A recently constructed high school in Scottsdale, AZ has an arroyo running through the middle of the campus; a pedestrian bridge spans the arroyo which has been left in its natural state with saguaro cactus and many native desert plants and animals. The student commons overflows to an outdoor plaza adjacent to this arroyo, allowing students to experience the desert flora and fauna daily. Another school adjacent to a wetland included a “mud room” as an outdoor entry to its biology lab/classroom. The space was designed to permit the storage on hooks of waders and other equipment used to examine pond life, to wash off these items with the water draining to a floor drain, and to move between lab/classroom and the adjacent wetland at will.


Activities: In the 50+ year old model of science teaching, lab was held on Thursday afternoon in a separate room called “The Lab.” Students would come in for at least a 2-hour session. The science teacher would say something like “Today we’re going to do lab number 23. Here’s the recipe to follow. Here are the ingredients and the equipment you’ll need. This is the result we expect you’ll get. Work with your lab partner and do this experiment.”

Under the new, hands-on, inquiry-based model, the teacher may write a question on the markerboard, like, perhaps, “What impact might a new Mississippi River bridge at St. Louis have on the ecology of the river?” Students would work in small groups of 2-4, over a period of time longer than a typical class period and, often, longer than the traditional 2 hour lab session, to design and implement an investigation to answer this question, and then present their results to the class and, possibly to other groups. Typical activities involved in such a hands-on investigation might include the following:

  • Designing the investigation (small group activity and discussion)
  • Conceiving the approach (small group activity, discussion, Internet access)
  • Implementing the investigation (build, set-up, equip)
  • Operating the investigation (long-term activity, needs security for apparatus)
  • Presenting results and conclusions (larger group activity, PowerPoint, etc.)