Outdoor education inspires teacher

·3 min read

A born and raised Richmondite, Lauren MacLean admits math was not her strong suit growing up. But now, as a math and outdoor education teacher for the Coquitlam school board, she’s able to share her learning ideas and strategies with other educators.

MacLean became a teacher after retiring from the Canadian women’s national field hockey team in 2008, and likens the teamwork and collaboration to coaching—another career she considered.

“I would label myself as an active person—as a kid I would say hyperactive,” says MacLean. “I feel so much better when I’m teaching outside, (and) the students feel better.”

After teaching at an outdoor education school, MacLean felt she wanted to share her passion for learning through nature with others. In addition to helping teachers find new ways to use outdoor spaces, she works with them on their math program, seeking more creative and playful methods rather than strictly textbook-based learning. She also works with colleagues to create new learning tools and assessments.

Pre-pandemic, there were requests from teachers hoping to make their outdoor teaching more “valid,” so it wouldn’t be questioned by parents and colleagues.

“What people were looking for was a way to make it, for lack of a better word, more academic,” says MacLean. “What are they learning outside? How can we prove to parents that we’re not just doing extra recess time? Through documentation, we can show the math we learned, the science, the journals we reflected in.”

And the onset of the pandemic motivated more teachers to get outside and experiment with outdoor lessons.

“It could be as simple as just finding loose parts, sticks on the ground. If we’re in Kindergarten, maybe we’re learning just to count the sticks. Maybe in the next grade we’re learning to make shapes out of them—how many shapes can we make? With older kids we’re taking the same material, the sticks, and we’re trying to build a shelter for different sized animals. So, how many sticks would you need for an animal that’s 20 pounds?”

While MacLean hasn’t taught much during the pandemic—it coincided with maternity leaves for her two young children—she’s still been able to help many teachers find new tools for teaching outside.

Another way MacLean is spreading her joy for outdoor education is through her first children’s book, Me and My Sit Spot, which will be published this fall. And a free online e-book offers more learning tools to teachers.

“I had a lot of ideas in my head after that picture book that I still wanted to put down on paper,” she says. “(The e-book) can definitely be used as a standalone product.”

MacLean’s son, who is two-and-a-half, is already beginning to pick up some lessons through outdoor exploration. Recently he picked up two sticks from the ground, and then began finding pairs of other objects like pinecones and rocks.

“For a two-year-old to understand about two objects is fantastic, but now he’s finding two of everything and doing his own little collection, scavenger hunt, and it’s really sweet to see.”

Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel

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