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The First Hour

Instruction

“Ready?! On three, let’s bring the boom, Team Thunder! One, two, three, boom!” This is one example of a small way that helps establish team culture among a group of students that are placed together in a group for an environmental education experience. Establishing an identity as a group is an important part of building community; however, how can educators also highlight individuals, demonstrate a commitment to their learning, and value their contributions? Much like the example stated above, small incorporations can make a big difference in establishing a team culture that values individualized assets and normalizes group discussions.

As an instructor, the first day with a new group of students can be anxiety-filled due to a lack of background knowledge about and experience with the children. It is essential that educators establish positive rapport and begin to develop relationships on the first day of an environmental education program. Perhaps one of the more influential efforts that can be made is getting to know students’ names and pronouncing them correctly. Messages and instructional content will not carry much weight with children if they do not feel that their temporary environmental educator is committed to their individual success. Addressing children by name is also useful for a number of teaching techniques that will be utilized later in the week, including Teach like a Champion’s No Opt Out and 100 Percent.

A name game on the first day can be a helpful way to learn students’ names and to hear them pronounced correctly by the child himself or herself in a manner that does not single out individuals. An example of a fun, engaging name game requires each student to think of the name of an animal that begins with the first letter or sound of the child’s first name (i.e. Coyote Carl). Children take joy in assigning themselves an animal name for the important week, which conveys the message that they are connected to, or intrinsically a part of, the natural community and belong in the environmental education space. Each team member addresses the individuals that have shared prior to his or her turn and repeats their names, which reinforces the names for the educator new to that school community. While facilitation of this name game establishes behavior expectations for each individual, it also develops the underlying expectation of respect as the group strives to develop a cohesive and supportive environment for one other throughout the week.

The name game is a useful first activity for establishing norms because it is played in sequential order with students standing or sitting in a circle. The instructor can start the game and the person to his or her left proceeds, and so forth. There is no guessing as to who is to share and when. It proceeds in order around the circle until it ends with the instructor repeating all team members’ names. The instructor can use eye contact and a simple gesture, such as an open hand, to signal who has the floor. This also conveys to students that the instructor may rely on these gestures to motion who is to speak and reinforces the importance of tracking the speaker to signal when it is time to share.

It is important to be explicit with instructions and to provide clear, useful guidance for students when establishing expectations. Sharing with students what to do during a group discussion provides concrete, specific, and observable directions that can be reinforced throughout the week. Group discussions in an outdoor setting can prove challenging due to multiple potential distractions

that are inescapable outside. A variety of discussion dynamics may be utilized throughout the teaching week, depending on the goals of an activity; however, a structured whole-group discussion in which the instructor asks for individuals to share-out one at a time is typically used. When using this format, it is important for the facilitator to share behavior expectations and provide clear directions in order for students be successful, active participants. A specific direction for whole-group conversations may be to track the speaker, which is easy to remember and to gauge. If students struggle to maintain eye contact due to various stimulus or lack of experience, then allow students to hold a fidget toy, such as a stick smaller than the size of their hand to help foster self-regulation.

Once behavioral expectations are established, educators can continue to reinforce positive actions within their group. This reinforcement solidifies the educational parameters while creating an emotionally safe learning environment for all students. Students will be more likely to share out in the group if they feel valued by the facilitator and supported by their peers. Establishing behavior norms early on through activities like the name game and tracking the speaker better ensures that student energy and focus will be spent on learning throughout their experience.

“Ready?! On three, let’s bring the boom, Team Thunder! One, two, three, boom!” This is one example of a small way that helps establish team culture among a group of students that are placed together in a group for an environmental education experience. Establishing an identity as a group is an important part of building community; however, how can educators also highlight individuals, demonstrate a commitment to their learning, and value their contributions? Much like the example stated above, small incorporations can make a big difference in establishing a team culture that values individualized assets and normalizes group discussions.

As an instructor, the first day with a new group of students can be anxiety-filled due to a lack of background knowledge about and experience with the children. It is essential that educators establish positive rapport and begin to develop relationships on the first day of an environmental education program. Perhaps one of the more influential efforts that can be made is getting to know students’ names and pronouncing them correctly. Messages and instructional content will not carry much weight with children if they do not feel that their temporary environmental educator is committed to their individual success. Addressing children by name is also useful for a number of teaching techniques that will be utilized later in the week, including Teach like a Champion’s No Opt Out and 100 Percent.

A name game on the first day can be a helpful way to learn students’ names and to hear them pronounced correctly by the child himself or herself in a manner that does not single out individuals. An example of a fun, engaging name game requires each student to think of the name of an animal that begins with the first letter or sound of the child’s first name (i.e. Coyote Carl). Children take joy in assigning themselves an animal name for the important week, which conveys the message that they are connected to, or intrinsically a part of, the natural community and belong in the environmental education space. Each team member addresses the individuals that have shared prior to his or her turn and repeats their names, which reinforces the names for the educator new to that school community. While facilitation of this name game establishes behavior expectations for each individual, it also develops the underlying expectation of respect as the group strives to develop a cohesive and supportive environment for one other throughout the week.

The name game is a useful first activity for establishing norms because it is played in sequential order with students standing or sitting in a circle. The instructor can start the game and the person to his or her left proceeds, and so forth. There is no guessing as to who is to share and when. It proceeds in order around the circle until it ends with the instructor repeating all team members’ names. The instructor can use eye contact and a simple gesture, such as an open hand, to signal who has the floor. This also conveys to students that the instructor may rely on these gestures to motion who is to speak and reinforces the importance of tracking the speaker to signal when it is time to share.

It is important to be explicit with instructions and to provide clear, useful guidance for students when establishing expectations. Sharing with students what to do during a group discussion provides concrete, specific, and observable directions that can be reinforced throughout the week. Group discussions in an outdoor setting can prove challenging due to multiple potential distractions

that are inescapable outside. A variety of discussion dynamics may be utilized throughout the teaching week, depending on the goals of an activity; however, a structured whole-group discussion in which the instructor asks for individuals to share-out one at a time is typically used. When using this format, it is important for the facilitator to share behavior expectations and provide clear directions in order for students be successful, active participants. A specific direction for whole-group conversations may be to track the speaker, which is easy to remember and to gauge. If students struggle to maintain eye contact due to various stimulus or lack of experience, then allow students to hold a fidget toy, such as a stick smaller than the size of their hand to help foster self-regulation.

Once behavioral expectations are established, educators can continue to reinforce positive actions within their group. This reinforcement solidifies the educational parameters while creating an emotionally safe learning environment for all students. Students will be more likely to share out in the group if they feel valued by the facilitator and supported by their peers. Establishing behavior norms early on through activities like the name game and tracking the speaker better ensures that student energy and focus will be spent on learning throughout their experience.

About the Author
Katie Laskey
Author: Katie Laskey

Katie grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and attended Ohio University where she earned a degree in Middle Childhood Education. After graduating, Katie volunteered with the Peace Corps and served in Guyana, South America, working in the community health education field. Her most recent years have been spent teaching middle school science in Virginia. She chose to participate in IslandWood’s graduate program in Education for Environment and Community because it provides her with the content and skills needed to see the world from a different perspective: one cultivated through the opportunity to learn, teach, and live in a natural setting. She is a proponent of place-based education and believes that the outdoor classroom is the optimal learning environment that allows Nature to be our teacher. After completing the graduate program, she would like to continue working in the education field that emphasizes place-based, experiential learning, and where she has the potential to initiate or support themes related to sustainable schooling and diversity. She wants to make the effort to unveil the child as a valuable member of the greater community and believes that one way to do this is through school gardens. Gardens give young people the opportunity to better understand their local environment while developing formidable relationships with nature.

When not teaching, she enjoys spending time outdoors, gardening, cooking, and listening to (preferably live!) music.