Facilitating Outdoor Wonders and Learning for All Educators

OWL (Outdoor Wonders and Learning) is a program of The North Carolina Arboretum, an affiliate of the University of North Carolina System. OWL offers workshops and an online curriculum guide that provides interdisciplinary activities to supplement science curriculum and connect student learning across subjects.

The program was funded by a grant by Duke Energy in its pilot year, 2016-2017. During this first year, the goal was to help North Carolina teachers utilize outdoor spaces for delivering high-quality science education opportunities for students in grades K-5. In particular, OWL focused on engaging those who are new to teaching, less familiar with the content included within N.C. Essential Standards, and have little experience using outdoor learning as a method of teaching standardized curriculum.

As it has grown, OWL is now serving practicing classroom teachers, pre-service teachers, and non-formal educators in the state of North Carolina. The 6-hour curriculum workshop has recently been added to the list of approved Criteria 1 workshops for the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification program. OWL has also been used in Science Methods courses for Elementary Education students at Western Carolina University, Recreation Management students at Appalachian State University, and has plans to continue connecting with similar programs taught at universities in the UNC System.

OWL promotes science education for elementary students by promoting outdoor learning lessons that are carefully aligned with the Essential Standards set by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The objectives of OWL include:

  • Increase educators’ understanding of the science content included in the NC Essential Standards.
  • Equip educators with activities that encourage inquiry-based, multidisciplinary instruction.
  • Provide resources on how to encourage and facilitate science education and interest in science.
  • Encourage new teachers to become more familiar, comfortable and effective in leading outdoor lessons.

The cycle of learning…

Learning is a process that involves communicating ideas, checking for understanding through questioning and application, and allowing for reflection.

This cycle is learner-centered by taking into account the learner’s prior knowledge, providing hands-on experience with the new information, and encouraging them to explain what they are learning.

The OWL activities are formatted to use the 5 Es Model, a variation of a learning cycle, as is the Professional Development workshop. This teaching model scaffolds learning into a “guided discovery,” making the participants (both students and educators) active agents in their learning.

Professional Development

Arboretum education staff provide curriculum workshops at the Arboretum and across the state. Workshops include instruction on best practices in leading outdoor lessons while strengthening their understanding of K–5 science concepts. Each workshop demonstrates how activities can be done in typical schoolyards or outdoor learning spaces. Participants also work on developing or adapting a current lesson into a 5E Instructional Model, bridging content and inquiry-based learning.

Online Curriculum Guide

Educators at the North Carolina Arboretum have developed an online curriculum guide that has been vetted by current North Carolina school teachers. This guide serves to link K-5 N.C. Essential Standards of science education with outdoor activities, while also providing additional interdisciplinary activities to supplement the science curriculum and connect student learning across subjects.