2016, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
In 2016, Melanie McCready and Emme Larkins of St. James School in Calgary, AB placed second in the 2016 CFOW contest, with their project “St. James Outdoor Classroom”.
While working with the school Ecoclub, Melanie and Emme realized that there were very few places for students to connect with nature and for teachers to provide learning opportunities in an outdoor environment. In an effort to solve this issue and help the watershed at the same time, Melanie and Emme worked with the Ecoclub to design an outdoor learning space. This learning space includes native plants trees and shrubs. Not only do these plants increase biodiversity in our watershed, they are also essential to many pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds and birds.
There have been picnic tables, garbage cans and recycling bins installed in the natural learning area, with plans to expand and continue to develop the area with additional natural features in the future. Research has shown that teaching outdoors makes educators more confident and enthusiastic about their work, and more innovative in their teaching strategies. By extension, schools benefit from the leadership and influence of their teachers who take students outside. Studies indicate that students that are given the opportunity to learn in a natural setting often score higher on tests, experience less anxiety and have more confidence.
As the St. James Outdoor Classroom continues to evolve, students will share watershed information with their peers and educate them as to the benefits of learning in nature and natural spaces in an urban environment.