Failure: An Opportunity to Learn

“Mathematicians, today we are going to pretend that we are surveyors! Do you know what a surveyor does? They use data and measurements to determine boundaries of a piece of land. We are going to gather our own data today within the boundaries of our outdoor classroom!”

What happens when you ask 40 second graders to look at a small cross section of trees in the woods, estimate how many trees there are, and then set them loose to count them within a small group?

Chaos happens, pure chaos. It was hard to see if students were actually meeting their learning target, and understanding the lesson as they were weaving in out of their peers and trees in the 20×20 foot grid space that had been created for them. As students were accidentally pushing into their peers and falling to the ground or accidentally messing up other groups’ counts by making a mark of the same color on a tree. As a teacher, it was feeling like a big ole’ fail!

However, within that chaos came a great deal of learning. This learning came from our students who practiced their estimation skills, calling on prior knowledge to help them create a reasonable estimation of how many trees were in the provided section. As well as worked on their communication, critical thinking, and problem solving skills to work together in a small group to then figure out exactly how many trees there were.

Learning also came from us as teachers. This was the first time we had implemented a lesson like this into our Nature Based Education Program. Prior to this lesson we had been doing rotations where smaller groups would rotate from one lesson to the next with a teacher at each station teaching a lesson. We decided to make this a whole group activity so that students could all work together and learn from one another. Though this definitely had it’s advantages it also had its disadvantages.

This activity was a lesson to us teachers that even though we took the classroom outdoors we can and still should implement similar management techniques such as, teaching the whole group and then splitting the whole group into smaller groups to perform the activity. Bringing the group back together as a whole to discuss. After this lesson teachers were given the opportunity to reflect and come up with strategies on how to better implement lessons like this in the future.

The outdoor classroom has taken us out of our comfort zones, metaphorically thrown us to the wolves, and had us running around totally overwhelmed. However, neither myself nor my students would change these moments for the world. In these moments we are taught the greatest lessons. The woods are messy, the woods are magical, the woods do not know failure, as failure is simply an opportunity to learn, maybe not what you intended to learn, but learn just the same.

Kaitlyn Virgin,
Meroby Elementary, Second Grade

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