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“COME look at this crab” “Oh my goodness, this is the SPOT” “AHHH I see something bobbing in the water, is it a seal?” are all common phrases I hear when I take students to the harbor. This harbor is located at the edge of the Salish Sea and has remnants from the Port Blakely Mill Company. When we finally arrive at the harbor (after a big walk down from the main campus area), I quickly go over boundaries and a few do’s/don’ts and then I offer free explore time. I base the rest of my harbor lesson on what happens during this time.


 LessonPlan1   Students standing on rocks and looking underneath rocks. 
The tide is out and the sky is bright blue.
The graffiti building is in the background.



I am a white, educated woman who was raised by an outdoors-loving couple (who were and are both teachers). Growing up I attended an expensive private school in Maine that included time each fall for outdoor education programming ahead of the start of school and I got to spend my summers in Alaska, exploring mountains and rivers. Altogether, I feel comfortable outdoors and have had access to fancy rain gear and copious trailside snacks. Every time I walk into an outdoor learning space, I need to remind myself of these privileges and the opinions that I hold tight: the outdoors is a great space to learn about what surrounds you and grow internally as a human being as well.

Figuring out how to hold all my identities in one hand while also preparing lesson plans that are accessible and inclusive in the other is challenging and to assist with this balance, adrienne maree brown (intentionally stylized) offers advice on how to be authentic in relationships. She writes: “acknowledge the dynamics, then keep growing. Have an understanding on the front end of the race, class, gender, ability, geographic, and other power dynamics that exist between you” (brown, 2017, p. 89). I try to remind myself of this quote every time I get to teach, and I would encourage other teachers to do the same.


Returning to the harbor, I gather my group back together after they have moved rocks, spotted seals, and asked me when lunch is 10 times (in other words, how they decided to spend their free explore time), I ask “What are you wondering about?” I write their responses onto a mini whiteboard (see below):

LessonPlan2   Small whiteboard that has a list of student wonderings generated after free exploration time at the harbor.  Some of these wonderings include seal and crab behaviors.  


“Now that we have our wonderings list, let’s see if we can dig a little deeper and figure out some answers” I offer to the group. As a group, in our backpacks we have carried down hand lenses, personal journals, a pencil case, beachcomber guides, and other field books. I request that my students rummage around in their backpacks and find these things so our whole group can use them to investigate our wonderings.


I have seen and done lesson planning from mostly informal angles and been the recipient of a lack of sub plans many times. I feel comfortable with going with the flow and facilitating learning experiences based on the tools and materials that I have available. Over the course of taking groups down to the harbor over seven months, I have seen students horizontally crawl over rocks themselves as they search for crabs to cup (hopefully below their knees, as instructed) in their eager hands. I have witnessed the progression of fear turn into a smidge of enjoyment when I model what it is like to pick up a crab (most of them are the size of change and just as easily susceptible to hidden crevices). Lots of joy and excitement emerges in these times, as does nervousness and boredom. My job as an instructor is to make space for all of these emotions while also facilitating field-based science opportunities.

As a reminder: “acknowledge the dynamics, then keep growing. Have an understanding on the front end of the race, class, gender, ability, geographic, and other power dynamics that exist between you” (brown, 2017, p. 89). I understand that I hold a lot of power as an adult educator, especially when the first words out of my mouth upon arrival often include something along the lines of: “please don’t put your feet in the water” and “we will not be physically going into the graffiti building, but I would love to chat with you about it”. I try my best to remember to pair these boundaries/parameters with explanations. “I don’t want you to have wet feet for the rest of the afternoon until we get back to your lodge” and “there is a lot of broken glass inside and I want us to be safe”, respectively.

So, in the world of outdoor education, do you really need a lesson plan? Yes. Yes, when working with children it is generally a good idea to have a plan. In the oft-quoted statement of mile wide, inch deep or inch wide, mile deep I would encourage outdoor educators to be the former, have many lesson plans roughly sketched out rather than one or two lesson plans vividly painted with acrylics. During free explore time, I am shifting between enjoying exploring alongside my students and deciding what to do next. For example, the whiteboard wondering activity is one example of something I do after free explore time, other times we dive straight into journaling – thinking about variables and designing investigations – other times we never stop free exploring. How do I decide what to choose? If I see the whole group entranced my crabs, and another group shows up and my students are teaching their peers and vice-versa, then I will very likely accept their bids for authority to keep fixating on crabs. When I hear “I don’t really like looking for crabs that much, is there anything else to do here” from multiple students, then I might facilitate choice time, where part of the group looks for crabs while the other part chats with me about the history of the mill. There really are many options that still include learning and sensemaking.

All around, when I write lesson plans, truthfully, sometimes they are detailed and well-thought out and sometimes they are small ideas that emerge in the moment of teaching and learning. My advice to outdoor educators is to do your best to lean into what your students get excited about and center it in your lessons.



brown, A.M. (2017). Emergent strategy: shaping change, changing worlds. AK Press.




Every time I teach someone who is new to snowboarding, I tell them that as soon as they buckle a foot onto their board and move around on the snow, they’ve done it. They have gained a new part of themself, a new appendage. “You’re snowboarding!” I shout as they nervously glide down the hill. In the last decade, as a snowboard instructor I have been a part of hundreds of people’s first day snowboarding. I have taught little ones who have just learned to walk, folks who are nearing retirement, and everyone in between. Introducing people to a new way to navigate the world is an honor and a privilege. The beautiful thing about snowboarding is that there is no right or wrong way to do it; it is about what is efficient. This is something I explicitly tell each one of my students. Keeping it low-key and celebrating the small accomplishments creates a positive learning environment on and off the snow.  
As a child growing up in Central Vermont, I was outside as often as possible. As soon as a few inches of snow stuck on the tree-flanked hill next to my house, I was off with a sled in hand. It did not take long for me to try standing on my sled as I precariously made my way down the hill. Soon after, I discovered a “snurfer.” Picture a snowboard without bindings but with a grippy surface for your feet and a drawstring handle to hold onto. Snurfing came easy to me, given my sledding experience. I tried getting air off jumps but could never figure out how to keep the board under my feet. When I tried spin tricks, the landing would usually involve a face full of snow. Then, one fateful day, my mom came home with a snowboard and boots.  
“Honey! A co-worker was getting rid of this. Do you want to try it out?”

I did not give it a second thought as I squeezed the boots on, grabbed the board and strapped in at the top of the hill behind my house. The sensation under my feet felt so much smoother and faster than the snurfer! I was hooked after the first run and did not stop riding until it got dark.

I share this story because so many of my students ask me, “So, how did you get into snowboarding?” My humble beginnings demonstrate that learning at a ski resort is not the only way to do it. However, there does come a time when the expanse that a ski resort offers can be beneficial for growth. I tell them it can be intimidating to spend a bunch of money, find parking, and brave the cold. On top of that, you also have this foreign piece of equipment strapped to your feet that is consumed by some of the biggest boots you have ever worn. It’s no wonder most people who are new to the sport try it for a few days and never get back into it. The learning curve, like the hill, can be quite steep.

For a lot of adults, it is also hard to be bad at something again. This is why it is important to get some context from your students. Ask them- what have you done before that’s similar to snowboarding? I taught one young man who had never snowboarded before but had been longboarding for years. In two hours, he was carving down steep terrain but could not come to a stop without falling on his face. I have also taught people who hardly move on the board by the time the lesson is finished. I tell timid riders- Sometimes, you just have to send it! Speed and space are your friends. Like most skills, making mistakes on a snowboard is how you learn its limits as well as yours. After the first lesson, seeing an eager and excited student march up the hill to the lift line after a quick hot chocolate break is always awesome!


I had the distinct privilege of working with these Burlington High Schoolers one winter. Some of these
students could rip on a skateboard, so snowboarding came easily. Others were starting from square
one and brought with them a healthy dose of perseverance.

When I begin a lesson with my students, we first get used to how our boots feel. I ask my students to start in an athletic stance. An athletic stance can mean different things to different people, so this is another one that is fun to watch. I often ask my students if they have ever done martial arts, as those skills can be quite transferable when thinking about balance. Then, we start by rocking back and forth like a rocking chair, using our feet to represent the bottom of the chair- all while keeping that athletic stance. I ask my students: “What does it feel like to lean onto your heels versus your toes?” Most people notice their boots feel softer in the front by their shins and experience more of a stiff feeling against their calves. These feelings, when internalized, can support muscle memory for students early on. My students have gained some of the most fundamental skills they will need to ride down the mountain without even strapping on the snowboard. Then, it is time to strap in!

One of the biggest inhibitors of success on a snowboard is believing that you, as the rider, are not in control of your board. I emphasize to my students that one of the quickest and most efficient ways to control your board is with your feet. That is what is strapped to the board. Of course, there are many other ways to control the board, and it’s fun for students to figure out the nuances of the sport. A rider’s knees, hips, shoulders, and even head can all manipulate what the board does, but only if the feet are part of the process. When in doubt, think from the ground up.

When the going gets rough, new riders tend to position their bodies far away from the board. Being far away from the threat is a natural response if there’s danger. When the rider feels genuinely connected to the snowboard it becomes clear that to manipulate the board in a way of your choosing (and not gravity’s), you need to maintain that centered and athletic stance. Of course, there is a sweet spot that takes time to figure out. Standing too tall on the board or similarly getting so low that you are sitting on the snow may not be “wrong,” but it may make controlling the board more difficult. Similarly, as difficult as it may be, you must lean into it by lowering your center of gravity to start a turn. I urge students to consider that their two feet have independent and complimentary ways of moving despite being attached to the same snowboard. In other words, the front foot can engage the board to turn, and the back foot can follow that movement.

It can be difficult for new riders to emphasize their front foot, but if you think about it, it is the foot going down the hill first. This can be an especially tough adjustment for surfers who tend to ride with more weight on their back foot. For many, it becomes a shift in a habit they have already formed rather than creating a new one. This too, can be a difficult mental and physical hurdle to overcome. It is important to recall the sensations your feet feel as they engage different areas of the boot.

Once my students get the basics of snowboarding, I think about what more I can offer to continue their learning. Whatever it may be, if I am teaching my students a new skill, it is important to keep the terrain familiar. Similarly, if I am introducing my students to new terrain, we will practice familiar skills. I consider this an important framework for pacing my lessons as an educator. Despite being an employee of a ski resort, I tell my students to find a snow-covered golf course or park to practice their skills, especially if the resort vibe is too stressful. If they ever need a new challenge, I tell them to try learning to ride with their back foot as their new front foot (riding “switch”). It is not an entirely new skill but a new way of thinking about snowboarding. Finally, it is important to incorporate the practice of interleaving when learning to snowboard. In other words, focus on one skill briefly and then switch to a different complimentary skill. Then, revisit that skill that you started with after a break. It’s more fun this way, too.

So much of what I do as a snowboard instructor carries over to other realms of my facilitation skills. Efficient ways to learn that promote further growth apply to being a student of any subject. When considering a new lesson to engage in with students, I consider what they are already familiar with. If we take our class to a new learning environment, can students use familiar skills? Which learning environments will be most conducive to my student’s learning? A classroom? A larger space like a snow-covered golf course?

Teaching snowboarding incites a sense of touch that I bring into other sensory experiences for students. What does rolling the spruce needle between your fingers feel like? The inherent elements of challenge and joy involved in freestyle sports encourage me to incorporate these same elements in other realms of my teaching and facilitation. Where can my students and I “send it?” and learn along the way?

Being a snowboard instructor has shown me that if I can teach something, I can better understand how to do it myself. If I can walk through the steps with a student on how to do a 180 or ride switch, I have a much better understanding of how to do that on my own board. In this regard, as I think about what I want to teach in the future, it must be something that I can internalize, and it must be something that I enjoy. Otherwise, I will not be invested in my work or in my students in a way they deserve.

It doesn’t get much more intimate than strapping a plank onto your feet and leaning into the hill of discomfort. Wherever you go, the snowboard goes with you. It will not fall out from under you, or dribble away. It is truly an extension of the self. And when the rider sees the board in this way, snowboarding becomes much more than a sport or a hobby. The snowboard becomes an extension of the self.


Think about a meal that you love to eat...where did that food come from? I bet that for the most part you can almost always trace back what you ate to soil. This concept is not one that is emphasized enough in our society, and we often miss the parts of our meal that aren’t directly on our plate. Throughout the past two years, I have taught for residential programming at environmental education centers that have looked to meet this need through emphasizing the food that is wasted during mealtimes. I’d argue that this is something that many environmental educational centers as well as other related residential camps, such as 4-H, have in place too. For example, this could look like having all leftover food from plates collected and weighed for the group to estimate the total amount of food waste at dinner. As you can imagine this system has many problems and has been associated with concerns around eating disorders, food insecurity, shame, and guilt to scratch the surface. This problem caught my attention and has sent me down quite the rabbit hole to find solutions. Ultimately, what I have come to learn is that this system is not one that can be fixed but rather we need to think of how to share these ideas about food systems with others in a completely new way. Which is how compost challenge was born! Here at my current place of education, IslandWood, I have searched to meet this need by building an evening program for the School Overnight Program. However, I strongly feel that this lesson can and should be adapted at other places to meet similar needs arising for others. At the very least, I hope this gets others thinking about how we can rebuild ideas when current systems are no longer serving their intended purpose. Enjoy!

Lesson Plan: Compost Challenge

Lesson Summary: Students will learn about the food system cycle at “insert local place” and apply it to foods that they eat in their community.

  • Students will know why we compost at “insert local place”.
  • Students will feel empowered to make choices about food scraps.
  • Students will know where food scraps go.

Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes


  • Food System Cycle Card Sets
  • Paper
  • Coloring/writing utensils
  • Book or video prepared for discussion.

Group Size: 10-60 participants

Introduction: 5-10 minutes

  • Large group conversation about “What is a Food System?”.
    • Utilize multiple ways of sensemaking and sharing (i.e., pair/share & raised hands)
  • Encourage students to think about their prior knowledge (i.e., what is a system? what do we mean by food?)

Procedure: 40 minutes

  1. First, start off with a large group discussion about what the activity entails.
    1. Briefly model the activity for the participants. 
    2. Large group discussion: Today we will be embarking on an adventure to more deeply understand where our food comes and where food scraps might go to afterwards. Together we are going to do this by figuring out the order of the food system cycle with these cards. First, you will collaborate in a small group to figure out the order of the food system. Then we will come back together and hear what ideas arose from each group. When your small group is done you can all sit on the ground and that will tell me that you are all done.
    3. Have the group roll ball the instructions to ensure understanding.
  2. Split the large group into 2-3 smaller groups (group size will change based off starting group size).
    1. Give food system cycle cards to each group and instruct them to begin collaborating on the order of the cards. Ensure to emphasize that they are working together as a team. (10 min.)
    2. Cards should be place based and have definitions on the back to give students ideas to work off. Additionally, I encourage others to build cards that are accessible to multi-language learners.
  3. Come back together as a large group and fill out a master version of the food system cycle with input from each of the smaller groups. (10 min.)
    1. Prioritize challenging participants to critically think about their reasoning.
    2. Sentence stems: Say more..., How did you get to... Why do you think...?
    3. What is missing from the food system cycle? (i.e., items that cannot be composted)
  4. Next, participants will pair up, or group up (depending on numbers), and think about a food that is important to them and create their own food system cycle on a piece of paper. (15 min.)
    1. This will allow for participants to apply what they have learned into their own context which will enrich their understanding of each of the learning objectives.

Discussion (10 minutes):

  1. Create space for participants to share what food system they created on their paper.
  2. Wrap up the discussion with either the suggested books or video below.
    • Save the Scraps by Bethany Stahl
    • What sprouting in my trash: A book about composting by Esther Porter
  3. Composting for Kids with Peppa Pig Video

Meryl Haque intro

“Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience.” ~Masaru Ibuka

Imagine you are leading a group of students for the first time who mostly do not seem to enjoy journaling or writing. However, many of your planned activities involve some writing aspect. You find yourself between a rock and a hard place -- do you force your students to engage in writing? If not, how can you encourage your students to engage deeply with the world around them?

Chances are, you already incorporate creative activities into your teaching. However, as a result of widespread and white-supremacist binary thinking, many people view art or creativity as a separate category of activities rather than something that can be woven into most (if not all) lessons. Instead of asking how someone is including creative activities in their teaching, I prefer to ask how they are supporting student creativity throughout their teaching.

This alternative framing draws attention to the truth that creativity exists anywhere there is space for it.
At a very basic level, creativity is like a fire; instead of oxygen, it is fed by opportunities to see and use existing materials in new ways. It is through these opportunities that many diverse needs of students can be met. Universal design is an approach to education that works to minimize or eliminate barriers to learning for students with disabilities and/or who are neurodivergent through flexibility and building consideration for learning differences into curriculum design.

Using principles of universal design, I have created an acronym (SCOPE) with strategies to weave creativity intentionally into everyday teaching:

(S)tudent choice can mean offering students opportunities to offer input on what they want to learn, supporting multiple modes of engagement, or inviting students to suggest ideas. Generally, this works best when starting with smaller choices such as which direction to go on a loop trail, and gradually moving to more complex choices such as deciding how to create a project to demonstrate their learning. This allows students to develop confidence in challenging themselves to try new things, a building block for creativity.

(C)lear expectations can look like providing students with examples of what you are asking for, giving instructions one step at a time, and being flexible to allow for diverse approaches to the same prompt. By encouraging students to self-determine how they can best meet provided criteria, educators empower students to take an active and intentional approach to demonstrating their learning. Through this process, students develop a deeper understanding and connection to the content.

(O)bservation opportunities help students to practice being in touch with the world around them. Through observation, students learn to pay attention to detail and engage mindfully with their surroundings. These habits can help strengthen creativity through offering inspiration and supporting students in reflection on their own connections to humans and more-than-humans. Options for observation activities include creating sound maps, drawing the forest or park from the perspective of an insect, and a caterpillar walk.

(P)ractice Play can involve testing out different creative mediums, challenging students to think creatively, and encouraging students to be silly. Fun icebreakers and team building challenges such as Complete the Image can be wonderful opportunities to practice creative thinking and problem-solving. Another excellent way to do this is asking students to create something new using everyday objects, and can be made to fit in with teaching content through specifying that they are to create a representation of a new vocabulary word or concept.

(E)ncourage Dialogue through practices such as role-modeling asking questions about how a student made certain creative choices for a project, providing space for students to discuss their ideas with each other, and giving students sentence stems to structure the process of sharing and discussing their work (i.e. I noticed, I’m curious about, I think it could work even better if). These strategies can help guide students in engaging with each other’s ideas in respectful and thoughtful ways. Learning to give and receive useful feedback is an important building block for creativity.

It is good practice as an educator to regularly reflect on ways to be more inclusive and flexible to meet the needs and interests of one’s students. I hope that through reading this article, you found some strategies to strengthen your creative teaching skills and stretched your understanding of creativity. Please investigate the references section for more benefits and approaches to teaching creatively, and most importantly, keep creating!


References & Further Reading

Ahern, G. (2018, July 31). Move it, move it: how physical activity at school helps the mind (as well as the body). NPJ Science of Learning. https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/37205-move-it-move-it-how-physical-activity-at-school-helps-the-mind-as-well-as-the-body 

Ahern, G. (2018, November 4). One man’s trash: how using everyday items for play benefits kids. NPJ Science of Learning. https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/40614-one-man-s-trash-how-using-everyday-items-for-play-benefits-kids 

Baker, A.R. (2015). Thinking critically and creatively. In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom. Open SUNY Textbooks. https://milnepublishing.geneseo.edu/foundations-of-academic-success/chapter/thinking-critically-and-creatively/

Bordreau, E. (2020, June 24). Helping every student become an artist. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/06/helping-every-student-become-artist 

Bryant, W. (2017, November 7). At the intersection of creativity and critical thinking. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/11/at-the-intersection-of-creativity-and-critical-thinking/

Caruso, N. (2019, May 13). 5 ways to create spaces that unlock creativity & encourage collaboration. ESchool News. https://www.eschoolnews.com/2019/05/13/create-spaces-that-unlock-creativity/

Danyew, A. Field notes on music teaching & learning: Zig zag: the surprising path to greater creativity on apple podcasts. (2021). Apple Podcasts. Retrieved June 7, 2021, from https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/zig-zag-the-surprising-path-to-greater-creativity/id1494988923?i=1000474345729

Day, E. & Liebtag, E. (2017, November 3). Philadelphia is reimagining arts & creativity education. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/11/ed-philadelphia-arts-integration-program-post/ 

Exploring the creative process. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2021, from http://www.globalonenessproject.org/lessons/exploring-creative-process

Hatin, B. (2021, February 17). The key to learning is fun. Npj Science of Learning Community. http://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/the-key-to-learning-is-fun

Johnson, B. (2019, January 16). 4 ways to develop creativity in students. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-ways-develop-creativity-students 

Mendis, L. (2018, February 12). The link between creative thinking and learning. NPJ Science of Learning. https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/30076-the-link-between-creative-thinking-and-learning 

Moeai, P. (2015, May 12). Teaching students creative and critical thinking. Minds in Bloom. https://minds-in-bloom.com/teaching-students-creative-and-critica/ 

Pedagogy of play. (n.d.). Project Zero. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://pz.harvard.edu/projects/pedagogy-of-play# 

Schordine, A. (2011, September 8). The 5 ps of the creative process. The Inspired Classroom. https://theinspiredclassroom.com/2011/09/the-5-ps-of-the-creative-process/

Stepping into the wild: Creative outdoor learning. (n.d.). Action for Healthy Kids. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/stepping-into-the-wild-creative-outdoor-learning/

The Kennedy Center. Arts integration and universal design for learning. (n.d.). The Kennedy Center. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/resources-for-educators/classroom-resources/articles-and-how-tos/articles/collections/arts-integration-resources/arts-integration-and-universal-design-for-learning/ 

Universal design for learning and adaptive design. (n.d.). Children’s Museum of the Arts New York. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://cmany.org/schools-and-community/staff-development/universal-design-learning-adaptive-design/


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