Hello STP ECP Committee!
As an ECP, I am often asked to teach summer classes. I agree to teach these classes due to the motivation of boosting my teaching skills as well as enhancing my portfolio. With less traffic on campus and with the onset of warmer temperatures, what are some ideas to make summer classes more interesting and engaging?
Looking for Sum-mer (some more, get it?!) Activities
Thank you so much for your question! Being an ECP, I (Albee) taught summer classes for some of the reasons that you outlined as well as my own ambition of doing something different in my teaching practices (since the classes are longer in duration, are on an accelerated schedule, and there are often less students enrolled). Taking advantage of the weather that summer brings, I incorporated nature-based activities in my in-person as well as online classes.
Benefits of nature
Research consistently demonstrates that there are cognitive, physiological, and emotional benefits to being in green spaces and blue spaces (Clay, 2001). For those of us who wear masks indoors during class time, going outside may be a way to see our students’ faces as well as breathe in fresh air. Nature therapy or ecotherapy is a growing field within clinical and mental health counseling, emphasizing the need for physical movement and exposure to multisensory experiences (Fisher, 2021). The effects on mood, attention, and self-reflection apply even with just images of nature (Weir, 2020). Thus, as teachers of psychology (TOPs), we can incorporate nature-based activities in our in-person classes as well as our online classes.
Impact on instructors
For TOPs, on our end, it may take a little more time and planning since we will not be able to have our slides or a chalkboard accessible (unless you are fortunate enough to utilize an outdoor classroom!). However, these outdoor activities, if done early enough in the semester, sets up the course for active learning in which students (vs. instructors) find and then evaluate information (Butler et al., 2001). Active learning can include a range of activities, such as small group learning simulations, and skills on learning how to learn. For example, in my Introduction to Psychology course, students completed readings and videos on the lobes of the brain in preparation for a certain class. We meet outside in the nearby parking lot, which is surrounded by grass, trees, and shrubs, and I ask them to get with their Psych Pals groups to discuss the concepts they read about. Then, I ask each group to draw their own cerebral cortex (large enough to stand in) with the four lobes on the ground with chalk. We then review concepts based on their preparation (e.g., “Stand on the lobe of the brain that directs speech production). We complete this activity with chalk in classes centering on a variety of concepts (e.g., the parts of the neuron, the process of synaptic transmission, the inner structures of the brain, operant conditioning principles, etc.).
Impact on personal and professional experiences (from actual students)
· I incorporated more nature-focused activities to my daily life by doing my homework or studying outside more and going to the park for walks more often.
· I started a daily journal and while I write, I sit next to a plant and breathe in the natural scent.
· I started planting herbs and helping my parents with their garden. One major thing that we are doing as a family is planting trees at our local park.
· I am walking more, meaning walk to all my classes now instead of driving.
· For Spring Break, I did more outdoor activities: going for hikes, going in the backyard, and laying a blanket, taking walks around the neighborhood, and riding bikes near wooded/forest areas.
Ideas for nature-based activities
· Reserving your institution’s outdoor classroom to hold a full or a part of a class session
· Having class outdoors (the frequency can vary depending on class needs) and if virtual, instruct students to be outside and show their screens and/or utilize outdoor backgrounds (e.g., beach, forest)
· Taking a class picture of everyone being outdoors
· Walking around campus or their local neighborhood (if online) and finding sit spots in green or blue spaces to talk with classmates, do schoolwork, or read articles
· Completing a class field trip to get out of the classroom and engage with nature (e.g., visiting an organization specializing in equine therapy)
· Doing a scavenger hunt or Bingo based on class concepts around campus or their neighborhood (e.g., take a picture of an item used by an individual in the early childhood developmental period)
· Conduct a brief research study by having students take a pre-test on stress or concentration or memory, hold class outdoors in nature, and then take a post-test and discuss the results
· Incorporate walk-talk sessions at the beginning or end of class. For example, in a 15-minute walk as a class, partners could be assigned, and discussion questions prepared so the students are engaged when walking
· Having a game day and asking students to demonstrate actions (e.g., fine motor skills vs. gross motor skills) and relate them to concepts learned in class
· Drawing hopscotch squares with A, B, C, or D choices and having students step on the square that corresponds to their answer
· Drawing a line and writing True on one side and False on the other side and having students step quickly to the side that corresponds to their answer
The above list of nature-based activities may need more thought and consideration depending on how hot or cold temperatures can get in the summer months where you teach, how many students are enrolled in your classes, whether you and/or your students need physical accommodations, etc. What do you think about these ideas? How might you incorporate these activities in your future classes? We would love to hear any nature-based teaching activities that have worked well for you and your students!
Butler, A., Phillmann, K. B., & Smart, L. (2001). Active learning within a lecture: Assessing the impact of short, in-class writing exercises. Teaching of Psychology, 28, 257–259. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15328023TOP2804_04
Clay, R. (April 2001). Green in good for you. American Psychological Association, Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/apr01/greengood
Fisher, C. (Winter 2021). Nature therapy: Movement and mental health for kids. Eye on Psi Chi, Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.24839/2164-9812.Eye26.2.28
Weir, K. (April 2020). Nurtured by nature. American Psychological Association, Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature