Outdoor Classroom

A joint educational project of Texas Parks and Wildlife and Brenham ISD

By Nancy Oertli

   The Outdoor Classroom is all about using the "outdoors" as the subject of the students' study of science in the public school system where I teach. It all started with a grant from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department two years ago. In the Fall of 2003 the school district began meeting with park personnel to design lessons that would meet the needs of students to understand the materials and subject matter listed in the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills - the required curriculum in the state). For example, 5th graders are to recognize and know how to use a collecting net which is nearly impossible in a classroom, but easy if you are using one to collect macroinvertebrates (bugs) at the water's edge. With the TEKS clearly in mind, a one day experience in the outdoor classroom was designed for both the 5th and 6th graders. With lots of help from the Master Naturalists in our county, the TP&W personnel, the teachers, and the administrators, we are currently in the second year of our program. In 5th grade students learn about life at the Lake's edge, what tracks mean and how to count a deer population, and some of the natural history of our area. The 6th graders learn about the watershed that feeds our lake and how soil types and ground cover effect the water supply. They also learn about habitat and the benefits of green construction and recycling. Those of us who treasure time in the outdoors often forget that there are those who don't. My favorite comment from one of the 6th graders was, "Now I know what the outdoors really is."

Bright and early the buses roll in to Nails Creek Park with 85 eager students ready to explore the outdoors.

park entrance
Nails Creek Park is run by Texas Parks & Wildlife and is located on the southwest side of Lake Somerville, about 50 miles from school.

After a brief orientation and introduction of volunteers and Park personnel, the students are ready to head to their first class. Pictured here is a marsh where the lake used to be. This was one of the challenges in 2005: the watershed was in a drought period, so the lake was way down. Master Naturalists had to revamp the lesson to account for the dried lake. It all worked to our advantage, though, as the kids got to see great tracks and mussel shells in the drying mud.
marsh overview

marsh mussels
The mussels were huge! They came to the surface as the lake dried out and were most likely meals for the local raccoons.