Outdoor Trips Can Help Teachers Meet NGSS, Common Core, and the California Blueprint for Environmental Literacy Goal

California recently adopted the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards that outline specific sets of skills in Math, Science and English Language Arts that all students must learn by the time they in are 12th grade. While each of these three core subject areas have their own set of practices that the student must master, many of them overlap and are intended to be used in conjunction with one another.

Outdoor experiences, like those promoted by BAWT also provide unique opportunities to enhance environmental literacy and knowledge. In September of 2015, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Tolarkson released a report titled, A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy, outlining a plan to increase student instruction on the environment. The report outlined a set of guiding principles, including the necessity for students to have access to out-of-classroom experiences. An outdoor trip can serve to not only reinforce material taught in the classroom but can also immerse students in new interactions and situations that helps enhance classroom learning.


Why Does It Matter?

Today’s society needs leaders to guide communities into more sustainable and environmentally conscious people because of the dramatic changes we are currently facing in the natural world. The push to become environmentally literate is being broadcast at national levels with changes to academic standards in all states. Environmental literacy empowers students to have the knowledge and capabilities to address complex environmental issues and make changes that create sustainable communities that feel connected with the ecosystems in which they live. Teachers and educators are essential in leading and providing experiences for youth that enforce the mission of environmental literacy.


Adapt Academic Content to Outdoor Classrooms

During trips outdoors with youth, teachers can adapt academic materials to engage students in the environment. Outdoor lessons can reinforce material that is taught in the classroom by allowing students to learn experientially. Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT) has created educational kits that can be taken into the outdoors for hands-on activities to enforce the idea of place-based learning. The Center for Ecoliteracy provides articles and lessons that can assist educators in creating classrooms outdoors. Earth Science Week is a great resource for creating lessons relevant to grade level and topic. The BEETLES Project, an organization that provides tools for youth workers and teachers to incorporate science lessons in natural environments, discusses the benefits of taking youth outside and creating lessons that relate to the place in which they are.

By utilizing organizations that support outdoor learning, educators can build on their current methods of teaching to better adapt to the changes in standards and positively impact youth through experiential learning.

For additional suggested resources, click here.


Outdoor Experiences Reinforce Academic Standards

Curriculum that is adapted to the outdoors can create an educational environment that allows youth to learn experientially. Research shows that outdoor experiences can reinforce lessons that are taught and urge students to connect the standards to the environment. A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy tells us “An environmentally literate person has the capacity to act individually and with others to support ecologically sound, economically prosperous, and equitable communities for present and future generations. Through lived experiences and education programs that include classroom-based lessons, experiential education, and outdoor learning, students will become environmentally literate, developing the knowledge, skills, and understanding of environmental principles to analyze environmental issues and make informed decisions”.

Outdoor experiences are relevant to the standards and the results in which California is looking to achieve because they allow students to have a greater understanding of the environment in which they live. Engaging students using lessons relative to the environment can help students strengthen their relationship to nature and can help them retain the educational material they are taught.


A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy

The Blueprint for Environmental Literacy is a plan to help K-12 youth understand connections between Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, and the environment in which they live to enhance classroom lessons and encourage environmental stewardship.


Resource for learning materials and activities that can be done in the field to support outdoor science education. They provide free activity pages that can be printed out and used during trips outdoors.

California Academy of Sciences

Cal Academy has developed activities and resources for teachers to develop the skills required for teaching in an outdoor environment. They share activities relating to the Next Generation Science Standards that can be implemented while in the field.

California Institute for Biodiversity

Encourages teachers to help youth make the connection between the outdoors and science standards by providing workshops and creative products that can be taken on outdoor trips.

California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC)

CREEC is a communication network that supports the environmental literacy initiatives by providing teachers with resources and news updates on information about environmental education.

Center for Ecoliteracy

The Center for Ecoliteracy provides books, resources, and workshops to assist youth educators and teachers in helping youth learn about their connection to nature.


ChangeScale aims to expand access for youth in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas through community partnerships. They have opportunities for professional development and community building.  Their semi-annual Environmental Education Research Bulletin synthesize and summarize recently reported research from journals focused on issues pertaining to environmental educators. The bulletins include articles related to environmental education evaluation, sense of place, environmental behavior, teaching practices, and professional development, among other relevant topics.

Earth Science Week

Earth Science Week’s drop-down menu allows you to navigate by grade level and keyword through lessons on Earth science, energy, paleontology, water quality, conservation, and climate science.

Education and the Environment Initiative

Free K-12 curriculum that is relevant to environmental education to strengthen the relationship between youth and nature.

Nature Watch

Nature Watch provides educational kits to inform youth about the environment and reinforce academic standards being taught in the classroom.

Oakland Unified School District 

OUSD offers learning and teaching resources to help educators adapt to the new curriculum and create quality science experiences.

Project Learning Tree

Environmental education program that provides professional development workshops and resources for developing curriculum for outdoor classrooms.

Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) 

Educational kits that are relevant to Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards and can be taken into the outdoors for hands on learning experiences.

SF Bay Wildlife Info

Resource for finding places to go, native wildlife, and educational activities in the Bay Area.

San Francisco Unified School District 

SFUSD supports educators in providing daily science experiences for youth to better prepare them for environmental changes and the ways in which they are connected.