Outdoor Classroom


Lincoln Middle School has a geodesic dome and garden that were created to foster sustainability, education and involvement. Yet many students did not use, understand or value these structures. Physical science students, learning about heat transfer, the law of conservation of energy, and data analysis, decided to see what the original vision was for this outdoor classroom.

Most students had implemented a service-learning project so they needed only a brief refresher and activity before moving into “discovery” mode. The teacher had envisioned a project involving invasive plants but this topic failed to generate much interest. Students wanted to know, instead, about the purpose and structure of the neglected geodesic dome. They interviewed members of the school community and took photographs and notes. They recorded things they perceived as problems, needs, or things they did not understand. Selected photos were posted around the room and students wrote comments or questions about each subject. They recorded their collective discoveries, and began collaboratively to evaluate and refine them to a short list of problems. Using N/3 prioritizing (an exercise from KIDS As Planners), they voted to focus on learning – and helping others learn – the purpose of the dome.


Students refined their guidelines for a solution using Google Docs – a location on the web to store and share information, which also helped them plan out steps (including needs, required information, a “to do” list, and a tentative timeline). They decided to make signs and exhibits that would attract the school community to the dome.

To maintain project momentum, foster reflection, and improve collaboration, each class had a weekly check-in to discuss what was and wasn’t working and why, what had been accomplished, and what needed to be done in the coming week. Their teacher used CTS materials to create rubrics, assessing how student learning met standards for both physical science and language arts—mastering essential vocabulary and concepts through practical work to revitalize the geodesic dome.

By analyzing the data they had gathered and employing their language arts skills, students created engaging signs with substantive information (using the Comic Life application). Seeing their finished signs was an important milestone for students: they felt that they had helped the outdoor classroom live up to its original goals of education, sustainability and involvement. The classes celebrated with a dome cake and homemade ice cream (a practical exercise in heat transfer!).