Fri, Jan
0 New Articles

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many outdoor educators found themselves needing to quickly adapt to online programming. It was no different for the naturalists at the Environmental Science Center in Burien, where I work. How will we continue to get students out on the beach with online learning? How will our beach field trips translate to a virtual space? By the time our beach season started, many teachers and students were pretty burnt out on using Zoom, Teams, or Google Meets. Some schools were even preparing to return to the classroom or were using a hybrid model. We had to design a program that could adapt to a variety of scenarios and use the virtual space in a way that would be interactive and exciting. After much research, the Environmental Science Center was able to acquire equipment that would allow us to do live virtual field trips on the beach. Here, I will briefly explain the equipment set up used on the beach and then I will go into some teaching strategies I use to engage kindergarten through second grade students in exploring the environment virtually. Here is a list of the equipment we used and a picture of how we set up it.

  1. iPad – used for accessing Zoom or other apps for streaming live video to virtual classrooms.
  2. Bluetooth headset – used for audio.
  3. Signal booster – strengthens data connection for streaming live video and audio.
  4. Tripod – used to keep the booster elevated.
  5. Metal shield – prevents feedback from booster.
  6. Battery – powers booster.
  7. Plastic container – keeps booster box and battery protected from weather.
  8. Wagon – used to carry the equipment

While this set up may seem high tech to some, including myself, the reality is that our naturalists look a little funny when we are out on the beach with this stuff. There was a steep learning curve to using this equipment, especially out in the elements. For example, we quickly learned that it is crucial to have a furry cover on the microphone to reduce wind noise. Also, there are a lot of not-so-high-tech parts of our equipment, like the reusable bag that we fill with rocks and tie to the booster tripod to keep it from blowing over in the wind. An important member of our team is the virtual naturalist who joins us in the virtual classroom from the comfort of their home. They are there with fun videos of marine life and slides with pictures for when the naturalists out in the field need to transition to a new spot or in case they do lose connection.

Hanna Jones Beach Equipment

Now that I have explained the technical aspects of doing live virtual field trips on the beach, you are probably still wondering how we could possibly teach a program over Zoom that once relied almost completely on the students themselves to make discoveries, ask questions, and investigate marine life. There are a few teaching strategies that I lean on when teaching virtually.

First and foremost, I try to constantly remind myself that this field trip is about the students and what they are interested in exploring. I start by asking them what they hope to see on the beach during their virtual field trip. Then, I try to make it feel like they are out on the beach with me by including some narrative of what I am thinking and experiencing in the environment. I orient them to where we are by giving a land acknowledgement, showing them a wide shot of the Whispering Rocks, and describing the condition of the tide. Throughout the field trip, I allow myself to be interrupted by exciting nature moments like seagulls eating clams and herons catching fish.

One teaching method I think enhances virtual learning is using Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) (Connolly et al., 2019). These are questions originally developed for engaging people in discussing paintings in art museums. More recently, they have been applied to doing science at places like the Seattle Aquarium. In VTS, the essential questions are as follows:

  1. What do you notice?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?

I aim the iPad at a rock covered in marine life such as barnacles, mussels, limpets, chitons, or seaweed, and I pose the first question by asking students to use their science goggles to make observations. Students share what they notice, and I follow up with the second and third questions, occasionally making other connections. What I like about using the first two questions is that they give the educator a way to prompt students to share, and then asks them to expand on their ideas without placing a value judgement on their observation. I think this works especially well in this context because, I think we can all agree, marine animals can look strange! Students make a lot of observations that, to me, seem completely out of left field. An example is, one time I was showing a crab molt (empty crab shell that a crab has outgrown) and a student said, “it looks like chicken!” I asked, “What do you see that makes you say that it looks like chicken?” The student then went on to explain that the white parts look like chicken bones, and I was able to make connections to how the skeleton of the crab is on the outside of its body unlike a chicken that has its skeleton on the inside, and that is why a crab must molt.

Another way I can follow up initial observations is by using my other senses to collect evidence for them since they cannot be in field with me. I frequently show them how to use sense of smell to differentiate between a crab molt and a truly dead crab. I engage the whole class in making a prediction by using the thumb-o-meter to share if they think a dead crab would be more stinky than an empty shell. Sometimes it can be difficult to describe or make connections with sea cucumbers or anemones, so I offer to touch them. I ask the whole class if they think it will be hard or squishy and then describe what I feel to them. If the animal reacts to my touch, then the students can also see how the animal moves. When students’ observations are conflicting or imply something incorrect you can use this method to help them draw their own conclusions based on evidence. It also gives me the opportunity to model and narrate stewardship practices on the beach by getting my fingers wet before touch gently.

Creating an interactive experience in the virtual space can be challenging, especially out in the field. By utilizing the equipment, we can be mobile in the environment and use VTS to activate students’ prior knowledge to help them make sense of what they are seeing. These teaching methods helped me maintain a student-centered learning experience when our program went virtual, and I hope they can help others do the same.

Hanna Jones Beach Heroes


Connolly, T., Skinner, R., & Harlow, D. (2019). Sparking Discussion Visual Thinking. Science and
Children, 57(4), 44-49.

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/


I have a deep love of the arts, music, and poetry. I also have a love for the outdoors, teaching, and specifically teaching young students outside about the environment. I often like to combine my two passions of environmental teaching and the arts with the students I teach. Each time I am pleasantly surprised at how well fourth-sixth graders respond to the integrations of arts and the environment, specifically to poetry.

I have a lesson that I’ve done quite a few times with students, that I have adapted and made my own. I call it the perspective and “I am poem”. I often do this poetry exercise when talking to the students about perspective, and that is often when we are high up on the suspension bridge, or at the very top of the canopy tower. After having a conversation with students about what perspective is, I introduce the “ I am poem” exercise. I have them open up their journals, and write down “ I am, I hear, I feel, I see, I think, I am”. Then I have them choose an animal or organism to take a perspective from. For example, one student chose a bat, and wrote “ I am a bat, I hear people talking, I feel the wind blowing, I see the trees down below, I am a bat”. You can make this poetry exercise as simple or complex as you want. I try to listen to what my group wants to do, and then adapt it to that.

This spring quarter, I was teaching 6th graders every Friday for 8 weeks in a row. I realized quickly that they love writing and are very thoughtful, so I often add more complex writing lessons in our day. One time I tried to do the “I am” poem with them, and they decided they wanted to do Haikus instead, which was great.

Any advice I can give is to not underestimate your students ability to listen and write poetry while outside. More often then not, being outside will inspire them to write more, and focus on writing what they see and hear around them. I would also advise not to underestimate fourth-sixth graders ability to listen to poetry. I am often pleasantly surprised that each time I sit down to read them a poetry book, they are all very excited and invested in the poetry story. Especially if the poetry book has pictures, the students are often excited about how the pictures match up with the storyline, and the poems.

At the beginning of this year, I was hesitant blending arts and the environment, because it seemed that the students might just want to run around and do more hands on activities after being in online school all day. I have noticed a need for still wondering, observing, and curiosity when it comes to books, and especially poetry for the students I have taught. They have inspired me to keep going and to continue to teach poetry and the environment outside!

Think back to the last time you were bored in an educational environment – a class, a seminar, a mandatory work training – and answer this: why? For many of you, I can guess that you were lectured at, already knew the material, or felt that your voice and participation didn’t matter.  Too often, educators design activities for students on the grounds of meeting standards or maximizing student outcomes without considering student desires or funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992). This leads to less student engagement with learning materials and activities and often times a feeling of failure on the part of the instructor. However, if educators change their focus from a standardization or student outcome centered view and instead put energy into creating opportunities for student choice, engagement is likely to increase and the resulting “enhancement of agency has been linked to a variety of important educational outcomes” (Toshalis, Nakkula, Hinton, Fischer, & Glennon, 2012). Two strategies for incorporating student voice and choice are adopting a pedagogy of listening and power sharing. If utilized correctly, these practices not only help increase activity engagement but can also help educators deepen their bonds with students and promote higher level social development skills.

Adopting a Pedagogy of Listening

“Can we go up the canopy tower?”

“When are we going to climb the tower?”

“I don’t care about finishing the scavenger hunt, I just want to go to the canopy tower.”

These quotes are from three different students in just the last two days of teaching team Pond; third- and fourth-grade students aren’t exactly subtle about what they want to do with their time. In fact, the topic of the canopy tower has come up in my group at least twice a week for the last four weeks. My co-instructor and I walked past the tower the first week with our students and every day afterwards kept telling them, “not today.” However, we found that the topic repeatedly came up in our group and would divert conversations and activities away from what we had planned. Eventually in a one-on-one meeting, I asked my co-instructor, “Why not? Why haven’t we allowed them to go up the canopy tower yet? Why are we continually gate keeping an experience that they want to have?”

Krichevsky TowerIn the fifth of eight weeks together, we finally incorporated the canopy tower climb into our lessons and found that once at the top, our students participated more fully in conversations about our driving question, stayed on task more than they had in prior weeks, and more openly shared their curiosities about the forest around us. That afternoon we asked ourselves, “What level of engagement would we be having now if we had listened to our students and incorporated their desires earlier? What if we had gone up the canopy tower the first time they asked?”

Centering student voices when teaching is part of what Carlina Rinaldi refers to as adopting a pedagogy of listening. She argues that “a pedagogy of listening means listening to thought – the ideas and theories, questions and answers of children of adults; it means treating thought seriously and with respect” (Rinaldi, 2004). By listening to what students are talking about, their curiosities, and prior knowledge, educators can learn more about how their students are making sense of their world and learning. Furthermore, if educators treat student thoughts “seriously and with respect,” then they can utilize what they learn from students to make lessons more relevant to student interests and experiences.

Power Sharing

Another way educators can incorporate student voice and choice is power sharing. When teaching, especially with younger students, educators often uphold the inherent power dynamics that exist between themselves and their students. It’s easy to believe that you as the educator should play the role of teacher one hundred percent of the time in order to impart your expertise and produce learning. However, by breaking down the power dynamics at play between student and teacher or older and younger, students can feel less like they’re being lectured at, incorporate their personal funds of knowledge (Moll et al., 1992), and freely express their ideas and curiosities. Additionally, research has shown that one of the best ways to internalize a newly learned concept is to teach it to others through peer teaching (Whitman, 1988). Power sharing allows students the opportunity to show what they know and commit their learning to memory.

During a 7-week program, my students were tasked with creating a project to answer the question: Can we abandon the garden and grow our food in the forest? During our initial talk about the question, I stood up in front of a whiteboard and started asking them what they knew about gardens and growing food. As they answered, I listed things they mentioned on the whiteboard. Almost immediately, I could see their energy draining, eyes and minds wandering, and interest dwindling. After two or three questions, getting anyone to answer was like pulling teeth. At that moment, I decided to switch gears and try something new – sharing the power. I announced that I thought there was enough information on the board to create a project, and that for this next part, they would need to run their own meeting with each other. I told them that together, without my help or input, they needed to come up with project ideas, come to a consensus on one idea, and then pitch that idea to me and my co-instructor.

Allowing my students to take full charge of their project increased engagement tenfold. Their eyes lit up, the excitement was palpable, and one student immediately assumed the role of facilitator, stating that he would start by writing ideas on the board and that they would then take turns explaining why their idea was best. Each of them was eager to get their chance to write ideas on the whiteboard and I was able to glean a lot of information about their garden knowledge, information processing, and leadership styles, which in turn helped me design more appropriate lessons that centered new knowledge to help them with their project completion in future weeks.


Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms (Vol. 31).

Rinaldi, C. (2004). In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning, 1–186. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203317730

Toshalis, E., Nakkula, M. J., Hinton, C., Fischer, K. W., & Glennon, C. (2012). MOTIVATION, ENGAGEMENT, AND STUDENT VOICE EDITORS’ INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDENTS AT THE CENTER SERIES Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice. Retrieved from www.studentsatthecenter.org.

Whitman, N. A. (1988). Peer Teaching: To Teach Is to Learn Twice. Washington D.C. https://doi.org/10.2307/1318523

More Articles ...