My brother-in-law is a science teacher in Qatar, and he recently led completion of an incredible outdoor classroom for his elementary school kids to enjoy (I mean, it includes a koi pond and waterfall, tortoise habitat, human sundial and a “weather tree”!). Can I play?
This article, and all photos, were originally published on his blog, The Scientific Teacher.
When I first arrived at my school 4 years ago, outside the new elementary science lab was a large sandpit surrounded by a fence. In the middle of that sandpit was an empty swimming pool.
My initial reaction was WTF? Then it was explained to me that when the school recently expanded the intent was to build an outdoor pond area. Unfortunately this desire wasn’t communicated clearly to the construction company, who interpreted “pond” to mean “pool” (such is life in Qatar). So we ended up with a swimming pool in a sand pit…. grrrrreat.
Thus began my 4-year quest to transform this wasteland into something of educational value. Since our school is located in the often-sweltering desert city of Doha, students don’t have much of an opportunity to explore the outdoors. They don’t have the same connection with nature that I was fortunate to have growing up in the woods of Connecticut- which is a problem if we expect our students to care about the environment or life sciences in general. (For a great read on this subject of “nature-deficient” kids, check out Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv) So my vision was to create an outdoor classroom, or as a wrote in the grant proposal:
To create a naturalistic outdoor learning space where students can be inspired to learn about the natural world even in the confines of our urban surroundings. Upon entering the outdoor classroom through a vine-covered gate, students will be immersed in a lush, active ecosystem, surrounded by a diversity of plants and animals: butterflies pollinating flowering bushes, birds nesting in trees, and fish thriving in the pond. Opportunities for learning in this natural setting will be diverse as well, from learning about life cycles by growing vegetables in the planter beds, to collecting weather data using meteorological tools at the weather station, to understanding the relationship between sun and shadows on the sundial patio.
It’s taken 4 years with several setbacks along the way (unsuccessful applications for funding, multiple contractors with conflicting visions, and many different designs and revisions), but I’m happy to report that it has been well worth the effort. This year our outdoor classroom has finally taken shape, and it is a swimming pool sandpit no more!