Integrating Environmental and Outdoor Education into Your Classroom

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Teacher Training
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Benefits of Environmental and Outdoor Education
Research across the country has demonstrated that student achievement improves when receiving school instruction that uses the environment as an integrating context for learning. Studies have also shown that students scored as well or better on standardized measures in reading, math and language when integrating the environment and outdoors. This approach also has been shown to foster cooperative learning and civic responsibility (SEER, 2005,

Research has found that outdoor experiences are critical to attitudes and behaviors that protect the environment. People that participate in nature-based outdoor activities as children are more likely to have attitudes favorable toward the environment and engage in behaviors that are protective of the environment (Wells and Lekies, 2006). Additionally, experience out-of-doors builds creativity, physical competence, social skills, environmental knowledge, confidence and problem-solving (Chawla, 2006).

Learn more about the research on the benefits of environmental and outdoor education at

Minnesota Department of Education's Project to Integrate Environmental and Outdoor Education in Minnesota Schools
Recognizing that students are increasingly disconnected from nature, the 2010 Minnesota Legislature appropriated $300,000 from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to coordinate a project to train and support the efforts of schools and teachers to integrate environmental and outdoor education (EOE) into the instruction of academic standards. Professional development and grants of up to $8,500 were provided to six pilot schools to support 50 teachers and administrators in their use of the environment and outdoors as a context for student learning, which resulted in engaging over 1,000 additional students in EOE on a regular basis during the 2011-13 school years.

The MDE project, which was completed in June of 2013, also tested and evaluated student achievement and several other promising activities during the project. These promising activities included teacher training, mini-grants, community partnerships, children and nature connections, green school programs, connections with MDE staff, school administrative support, and a national EOE program model. These activities (link to promising activities section) and a comprehensive evaluation of the project's impact on students and teachers by Dr. Julie Ernst, University of Minnesota-Duluth, are described in detail in the report (link to evaluation section).

Learn more about the project by downloading the final report at

Pilot Schools
The following six schools participated in the MDE project. A description of their project and results from their participation are highlighted in the report. The case studies provide good ideas of how other schools can implement similar programs. (link to the part of the pdf that describes each school)

  • Concordia Creative Learning Academy, St. Paul
  • Kennedy Community School, St. Joseph
  • River's Edge Academy, St. Paul
  • Rockford Middle School, Rockford
  • Simley High School ALC, Inver Grove Heights
  • Waconia Public Schools, Waconia
  • Environmental and Outdoor Education (EOE) Model Lessons

    Green Ribbon Schools Program
    During the MDE project, the coordinator developed and implemented Minnesota's participation in the first two years of the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools Program. The program recognizes schools across the country for their exemplary efforts to reduce environmental impact and costs, promote better health, and ensure effective environmental education. Minnesota led the nation with the most applicants in 2013 and seven Minnesota schools and districts were among 156 schools that have received the national award to date. Awards are announced on Earth Day each year. Case studies of Minnesota's Green Ribbon Schools honorees are also in the report and provide lots of examples of what schools can do to become more green. (Links to 2012 National Honorees and 2013 National Honorees).

    Funding for the MDE project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state's air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.

    Currently 40 percent of net Minnesota State Lottery proceeds are dedicated to building the Trust Fund and ensuring future benefits for Minnesota's environment and natural resources.

    Contact Information:

    Jeff Ledermann
    Environmental and Outdoor Education Project Coordinator
    Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
    520 Lafayette Rd N
    St. Paul, MN 55155

    Beth Aune, Director, Academic Standards and Instructional Effectiveness
    Minnesota Department of Education
    1500 Highway 36 West
    Roseville, MN 55113-4266

    Additional Resources

    The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) ( was created to encourage and support the people and organizations working nationally and internationally to reconnect children with nature. The network provides a critical link between researchers and individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to children's health and well-being.

    National Wildlife Federation ( works to connect children and youth with nature by providing educators with easy-to-implement, trusted curriculum and activities that help inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. They work with educators to get kids learning outdoors and help parents find new ways to engage their children outside.

    The Environmental Literacy Scope and Sequence ( (March 2002) provides a systems approach to environmental education that can focus the efforts of teachers and deliverers of EE to unify their many independent efforts to achieve the goal of environmental literacy. Because the Scope and Sequence is based on both state and national standards, it enables environmental education deliverers to build, adapt or integrate curriculum and assessments that are most appropriate for their particular grade level or audience.

    Minnesota Association for Environmental Education ( serves environmental education professionals, students, K-12 educators, and supporters of EE in Minnesota through coordinating an annual conference, acknowledging successful EE programs and professionals, supporting legislation that advances EE at the state and federal level, and sharing resources among our members.

    Minnesota Naturalists' Association ( exists to advance natural and cultural resource interpretation for the purpose of fostering wise stewardship of all resources. It is a non-profit organization of professional environmental educators, park rangers, naturalists, interpreters and volunteers throughout the state of Minnesota and beyond.

    Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ( works with citizens to conserve and manage the state's natural resources. It offers teacher trainings, outdoor classroom development assistance, workshops, safety-education classes, and naturalist-led programs at state parks.

    Jeff Ledermann
    Topic Areas: 
    Environmental Studies
    Outdoor Recreation
    Target Audience: 
    Grades 10-12
    Grades 7-9
    Geographic Location: 
    All Minnesota
    Library loan: 
    Is training required?: 
    Contact(s) or order information.: 

    Jeff Ledermann
    Environmental and Outdoor Education Project Coordinator
    Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
    520 Lafayette Rd N
    St. Paul, MN 55155