Construction of Tent and the Hope for Outdoor Classrooms

The outdoor classroom is built! It actually happened. It was not simple. It takes much care to not only build anything of that size, but also to ensure the safety of the structure. Here is a sneak peek at the process over the last couple weeks:

The side facing the camera rolls up completely.

A lot of the learning will not be resigned to this tent. The students and I are going to spread out into the different corners of the campus and really use the space available to us. This tent will protect us from the elements, as well as have a comfortable space to explore our learning with desks and chairs.

The question that I am continually asked is: how will you keep warm in the cooler months of the school year? There are many options. I find the real question is, however: how do we keep warm, and have an available energy outlet, in the cooler months of the year using clean energy?

Earlier this year, on a sunny day in the winter, I was sitting outside my sister’s backyard, enjoying conversation and delighting on small snacks, all the while I was positioned right next to a solar panel. This solar panel was propped at a almost 45 degree angle, like a picture frame on a shelf. This solar panel was taking in all the available sunlight and transferring it to a power storage battery that I found out could run my sister’s refrigerator for 23 hours when fully charged.

As I think about keeping the classroom warm and running a projector and document camera, I remembered that solar panel and power storage battery from earlier that year. At this time I am currently researching the solar panel/battery kit that will best suit our needs. I am interested in this brand: https://www.goalzero.com/shop/kits/goal-zero-yeti-3000-lithium-power-station-boulder-200-briefcase-solar-kit/ (they are currently out of stock).

I applied for a Early Career Grant through National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.org/funding-opportunities/grants/what-we-fund/ in order to fund the project.

Project, what project?

Well, I propose to use a 3000Wh power storage battery and solar panel for our outdoor classroom in order to efficiently and effectively run the technology needed to not only keep students warm and cool, but to power a projector, document camera, charge computers, use a stove top to heat water and cook, and to run smaller classroom items such as a glue gun.

What makes this project so exciting is that it is the forefront of rebuilding the educational system from the traditional four walls to outdoor classrooms while at the same time lowering carbon emissions, and it will assisted by 4th and 5th Grade students. This project not only hits on conservation efforts and in educating the youth on how to easily and efficiently gain access to renewable resources for every day classroom use, but also to showcase the results of the experiment to my school and schools in our county in an effort to have more outdoor education available to more students.

The issue I intend to address with this proposed project is the importance of environmental literacy and sustainable education in an outdoor classroom setting. Due to COVID-19 restrictions forced upon schools at this time, teachers are jolted into a new and necessary wave of learning. The youth need the tools to learn about the world, to ask questions, and to find solutions to act individually and with others to make change for our present and future communities and the health of our planet. Using clean energy is a necessary step in order to achieve the desired results of environmental education. The solar panel and power storage battery vision is not only to be part of a cleaner solution to carbon emissions, but to demonstrate what solutionary work looks like in action. Now more than ever there must be more leaders in this movement to demonstrate that students can learn outdoors, and teachers can still provide an equitable, differentiated, and academic education outside of the often restrained four walls of a classroom.

My Goals:

1. Provide clean energy to my outdoor classroom. The experiment can prove that outdoor classrooms can run as efficiently as traditional indoor classrooms, using solar energy instead of the electrical outlets that are provided indoors.

2. Provide environmental literacy and sustainable education to the students. Through student research, investigation, and data analyzation students can witness how solar energy is a better solution to fossil fuels by lowering carbon emissions.

3. Provide solutionary opportunities for students. Students can see that solutions are not only the brainstorming of good ideas, but that those ideas get put into action and have the power to make change. Students can see how the process of true solutionary work can have large benefits on not just a local level, but a regional and global level.

4. Provide data to support the need for outdoor classrooms and environmental literacy and sustainable education. With the data recorded and analyzed students and myself will be able to share the story with other schools in our county and beyond on the impact of environmental and sustainable education and on how outdoor classrooms can be run efficiently and should be offered to students with more regularity.

Having the data will be imperative in making a case as to why outdoor classrooms and environmental literacy and sustainable education are vital to a student’s education. Collecting data is not a new method, however having students collect viable data and be in the field on the subject of outdoor classrooms in a time when schools are being shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions, will be invaluable to the future of our schools and the education model.

The success of the project will come in two forms. The first is that we are able to run our outdoor classroom throughout the school year with just the solar panel and the power storage battery and still meet all state standards in Math and Science for both 4th and 5th Grade. The second measure of success will be to have compiled data to present to San Mateo County of Education and the Office of Sustainability enough to promote change within school districts to provide outdoor learning environments in their schools.

If you have any ideas or suggestions that will help, please send me an email to soniaemyers@gmail.com, or comment below.

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