Georgr Vokhiwa
Dr. George Vokhiwa Testimony to the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Outdoor Learning September 2, 2021 – MaraviPost

ATLANTA (MaraviPost): On Thursday , September 2, 2021, A malawian born University science professor at Mercer University and Board President of the Environmental Education Alliance, or EEA testified to the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Outdoor Learning.

Below are the opening remarks he made to the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Outdoor Learning in the capitol building in Atlanta:

Good morning,Senators,

My name is Zipangani Vokhiwa and I am a science professor at Mercer University and Board President of the Environmental Education Alliance, or EEA. I grew up in a village set-up in Malawi where we were encouraged go outside the classroom to learn. As a professor, my teaching has always included taking students outdoors to help them think outside the box and because of the adage: “Seeing is believing.”

Dr Vokhiwa
Georgia Senate Study Committee Members- MaraviPost

I’m here today on behalf of one of our projects: the Council of Outdoor Learning, known as CoOL. CoOL provides technical assistance, teaching resources, and professional development to educators at schools, nature centers and other agencies that provide outdoor learning. We organize an annual Outdoor Learning Symposium – scheduled for November 2nd, this year. And we conduct research on how to make outdoor learning effective and sustainable.

The term “outdoor learning” can be confusing and many people are not sure what it actually means. It can conjure up the image of an “outdoor classroom” with benches in rows and a podium at the front, as though its purpose is to transport lectures from the classroom to the field.

But outdoor learning is not just about changing the setting for educational activities. It’s about changing the way students learn to a more active and engaging process. Anything a child can read about in a textbook can be more fully-understood by doing an authentic, real-world investigation. Research shows that getting kids outside to learn results in higher test scores and a deeper level of understanding.

And the best part is that kids who struggle academically and those who have behavior problems in the classroom show the most improvement outdoors, in terms of higher grades and ability to stay on-task. Kids from groups traditionally under-represented in STEM careers – including girls and children of color – flourish and persist in STEM-related schoolyard projects and eco-engineering challenges. Outdoor learning is inclusive and puts academic success in reach for a wider variety of students.

And it’s not just science! Outdoor learning provides context and relevance for kids in many subject areas. Imagine how much it easier it is to learn geometry while triangulating the height of trees. . . Or how social studies comes alive when kids investigate how people lived on the same land many years ago. . . Or how descriptive writing flows more easily when students are observing nature.

Equally as important: when students are involved in solving bite-sized problems in the schoolyard – like how to reduce erosion on a hillside, attract missing pollinators, or improve the quality of water in a nearby creek – they learn the 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. I would add a 5th “c” to that list of skills: “confidence.” Gaining experience as a problem-solver increases a student’s sense of being able to make a difference in the world.

Outdoor learning works for all grade levels. It doesn’t require fancy or expensive facilities, whether it takes place in a schoolyard or at ua nature center. With minimal investment for outdoor work surfaces (which are more important than seating), shade, some project supplies, and – most importantly – professional development and support for educators, every Georgia child can benefit from outdoor learning. Let’s make that our goal!

Thank you for considering this testimony.

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