June Laakkonen was my 5th grade teacher, and after I figured out how to spell and pronounce her last name (say "lack-uh-nen"), and then worked past the fact that her face featured a perpetual frown I came to realize that she was actually a terrific teacher with a real sense of humor In fact, she once said with a smile "Don't frown so much Kenneth or you'll wind up looking like me when you're old!" It feels odd to remember that particular conversation over 20 years later, though I can actually hear her saying it as we walked into the classroom back then But the things I clearly remember most out of that entire year were the two trips that she and her husband organized with parents to take us out of the classroom for several days in both spring and fall to experience the woods and marshlands of eastern Long Island. It's something they did with every class, every year, and we won't get into the fact that I've heard the site's now been turned into waterfront condo's; but I can say for sure that we learned a whole lot while we were camping there that stayed with us afterwards. In fact, so much so that if I look back I'm pretty sure those trips got me thinking about protecting the planet a long time before I ever understood why being an "environmentalist" is really about protecting humanity at all. So now, when I read that a new study shows trips like those may actually improve test scores as well, it kind of intrigues me to think how she would view it Because the report, titled "Closing the Achievement Gap" and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that environmental education experiences improve all learning -- especially that of math and science. In fact, in 42 schools using the outdoors as the classroom for one year, more than 90 percent of educators reported that students showed better mastery of both math and science skills. While research in Washington and several other states also indicates that schools using environmental education programs consistently score higher on standardized tests than schools without such environmental education programs. And in California, a study by the Department of Education showed that a weeklong outdoor environmental education program improved science scores among at-risk youth in sixth grade by nearly 30 percent.
So why might this be the case? Well, the study's go on to indicate that the more real-world experience kids can have with the things they learn in class, the better they understand them. They also indicate that nature outings in general increase motivation and genuinely make learning fun. As I recall, that's exactly what it did I just had no idea it might improve test scores as well.