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Outdoor Education and Adventure: The Hows and Whys

Chad Massie
Article Date:  May 12, 2013

A Journal Article Presented to The Graduate Faculty of the School of Education
University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

In Partial Fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree Master of Education
– Professional Development

Outdoor Education and Adventure:
The Hows and Whys

Does your physical
education program need more excitement? Does participation in an experience
where the students have an opportunity to improve their problem-solving, communication,
trust and decision-making intrigue you? If so, you are in the same boat that
many Physical Education teachers are in. Students of today look for anything
exciting and challenging. Traditional Physical Education classes offer many
curriculums involving team sports, life sports, fitness, etc. For the most
part, students enjoy and benefit from these course offerings. But after six
or seven years of exposure to the same sports, many students become numb.
Non-athletes sometimes then accept their short-comings, lay low in Physical
Education, and just put in the required amount of time to get the amount of
credits needed to graduate. Outdoor Education may be the nugget of gold that
provides the adventure many of us are looking for. Taking advantage of the
resources that you have around you and enjoy them to the fullest is key. A
setting such as Wisconsin lends itself to a variety of opportunities that
can provide many adventurous and educational activities. A curriculum of this
nature can be implemented in most any setting and at every level of education.
In this article I plan to explain the process that could make your dream become
a reality.

Much research
had to be done before beginning to plan the course. Consideration of other
points of view–especially the school board and administration–was key. “How
can an Outdoor Adventure course benefit our school district?” A critical question
that needed to be answered with certainty.

The benefits of
outdoor education were obvious for the author. Many experts have researched
this topic as well and come up with similar conclusions. John Dewey (1938)
was an early promoter of learning through direct experience by action and
reflection. While researching this topic, it became evident that many outdoor
adventure classes also incorporated an environmental aspect. Matthews and
Riley (1995) discovered that environmental responsibility is best developed
outdoors; that outdoor activities stimulate interest in the outdoors, which?
motivates students to learn about the natural environment.

Zuberbuhler (1995), “A willingness to challenge oneself physically
and emotionally are integral components of outdoor programs, because pushing
oneself this way can enhance self-reliance, confidence, self-esteem, and communication
skills. Schools also hope that students will have fun, build a core support
group of friends, take responsibility, and transfer their newly acquired wilderness
skills and ideas to the school setting.” (p. 20)

Getting a feeling
for what the attitudes and opinions of the school system and community were
was the next step. The author approached his high school principal first.
Being an outdoors person and an ex-physical education teacher himself, he
fell in love with the idea and has long wanted such a course in the high school
and felt that students who didn’t fit in to the athletic mold would greatly

Another opportunity
the author took advantage of was to advertise at Parent-Teacher Conferences
with a sign saying, “Ask Me About Outdoor Adventures”. Almost every conference
that night ended up with discussions about the possibility of adding this
course. Many parents showed great interest and stated that they wished they
had had opportunities like this when they were in high school. Some parents
would say, “My child would LOVE this!”

It was then necessary
to find out if the students and staff would be interested in starting this
course. Surveys were developed for the students and staff. In the survey to
the staff, the author described his vision for the course and listed the possible
units that could be offered. The units included: archery, ice fishing, fly
fishing, canoeing, camping, orienteering, survival, challenge courses, hiking,
rock climbing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, hunter/gun safety. Within
the survey, there were also questions pertaining to each staff members personal
interest in the course and if there might be other units that could be integrated.
Eighty-five percent of the staff responded. Ninety percent of the teachers
thought that this would be a great addition to the district. Seventy percent
of the staff thought that they could integrate with one or more of the units
that had been suggested. Fifty-two percent of the staff thought that unit
integration would be possible. Finally, forty-two percent considered themselves
to be an expert in one or more of the units and would be willing to share
some of their knowledge with the students. Some of the quotes from the staff
were as follows:

  • “These units all sound like life skills that can be taken with them beyond
    High School. We need more activities to help our non-active people in society.”
  • ” I think
    the students would love it!”
  • ” There is an over-emphasis on sports and it is just for a few. These activities
    get away from the competitive side of sports.”

The student survey included a list of all the possible units that
might be offered an? they were asked to rank them according to interest. Obviously
the more adventurous the unit the higher the rank that it got.

This was not unexpected and even encouraged; because as Stevens
and Richards (1992) state,

“Adventure is one form of experiential
education that is highly effective in developing team and group skills in
both students and adults. Adventure activities help develop listening skills,
recognize individual strengths and promote mutual support. These benefits
apply equally well to academic problem-solving or to school-wide improvement

The students were
also given space to write in any other possible units that may have been overlooked.
Some feasible responses included snowboarding, trap-shooting, and self-defense.

The author then
posed the following question to the students, “How can students, staff and
the district benefit from an outdoor education course?” Some of the students’
responses follow:

  • Opportunity
    to interact with and make new/more friends.
  • New and challenging activities.
  • Students and staff get to know each other on a more personal basis.
  • Increase the interest in health and recreation.
  • We would be receiving a well-rounded education.
  • Get to be outside and would come to class more often.
  • Fun!

Once interest
in the course was determined, expert advice had to be sought out. The author
interviewed some local experts that had been teaching similar courses in their
schools. He interviewed Paul Newell from Chetek High School and Judy Hunt
from Rice Lake High School. With a combined 21 years of experience between
them, their insight was extremely helpful. The teachers shared class numbers,
units taught, budget concerns, guest speakers, student assessment, and what
the thoughts were of the students involved in the course. Mr. Newell really
teaches to his strengths and interests. He tailors his Outdoor Education course
for strictly Fall and Spring Quarters. So if an outdoor adventure teacher
is not a “snow” person, it’s nice to know that there are ways around that.
Mr. Newell felt high student interest in Outdoor Adventure classes is due
to the fact that, “The students get to take a class that they are genuinely
interested in and get to build, experiment, and learn new things that will
be with them for life. The ‘hands on’ is what really attracts them and I get
to teach them skills that I am also interested in as my hobby. So it’s a win-win
situation. My co-worker can’t wait until I retire so he can take over my courses.
Judy Hunt, on the other hand, gears her courses more towards first-aid and
safety in the outdoors. Ms. Hunt also is different in that she teaches outdoor
education all day, everyday, all school year. This means that outdoor winter
activities are also a strong part of her curriculum. Both instructors deal
with shrinking budgets and contact agencies such as the Wisconsin DNR that
offer free programs such as the Master Angler Program. They make much of their
equipment and rely on experts within their school and community for guest
speakers who really just enjoy sharing their valuable experiences for free.
Both of these school districts run on a block schedule so that the class can
have the time to really get involved with the activities before they have
to clean up and get to their next class. The author asked a few of the students
from these two districts why they chose this course instead of “team sports”
and other physical education classes. They all agreed that ‘hands on’ was
important, plus they got to be outside more. Just talking to these experts
and seeing how successful an Outdoor Education program could be gave the author
the fuel needed to present to the appropriate committees.

Armed with the
evidence from the experts, the outdoor education teacher then needs to put
his/her proposal to the Curriculum Advisory Committee, which is the first
step in having a new course become reality. With only a few scheduling questions,
the author’s proposal was accepted and was then brought before the school
board for approval. The school board enthusiastically accepted the proposal
and it was then submitted to the guidance department to be added to the high
school course catalog. Due to scheduling constraints, the author was only
able to offer this course to seniors. In a perfect world, he would have the
time to teach outdoor education all day every day.

Even though his
journey has just begun, this author feels like he has come so far with the
goal of being able to add such a worthwhile course to his Physical Education
Curriculum. The key to getting this course added was to get the students,
staff, and community involved by asking pertinent questions about interest
levels and unit possibilities and to turn over some of the ownership of shaping
this course to them as well. Teachers in the High School setting are excited
that they may be able to share their hobbies and students can see them in
a different role. This is also an exciting opportunity for students and teachers
to share common.

Karl Power (1993) summed it up well when he said, “We, as adults, have the
responsibility to educate the youth of America and what it has to offer,” (p.



CRCA. Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association’s
website located at www.paddlingcanada.com.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience in Education. New
York. Collier Books.

Hunt, Judy. Rice Lake High School Physical Education

Matthews, B. E., & Riley, C. K. (1995). Teaching
and evaluating outdoor ethics education programs. Vienna, VA. National Wildlife
Federation. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 401 097)

Newell, Paul. Chetek High School Physical Education

Power, Karl J. (Sep/Oct93) Kids and Fishing–foundation
for a better life. Single Parent, Vol.36 Issue 4, p16,2p,1bw.

Stevens, Peggy Walker, & Richards, Anthony
(March 1, 1992). Changing Schools through Experiential Education. ERIC Digest.

Zuberbuhler, J. (Fall 1995). Outdoors the rules
are different. Independent School, Vol. 55, Issue 1.

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