Do lessons in nature boost subsequent classroom engagement? Refueling students in flight

Ming Kuo, Matthew H.E.M. Browning, Milbert L. Penner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Teachers wishing to offer lessons in nature may hold back for fear of leaving students keyed up and unable to concentrate in subsequent, indoor lessons. This study tested the hypothesis that lessons in nature have positive-not negative-aftereffects on subsequent classroom engagement. Using carefully matched pairs of lessons (one in a relatively natural outdoor setting and one indoors), we observed subsequent classroom engagement during an indoor instructional period, replicating these comparisons over 10 different topics and weeks in the school year, in each of two third grade classrooms. Pairs were roughly balanced in how often the outdoor lesson preceded or followed the classroom lesson. Classroom engagement was significantly better after lessons in nature than after their matched counterparts for four of the five measures developed for this study: teacher ratings; third-party tallies of "redirects" (the number of times the teacher stopped instruction to direct student attention back onto the task at hand); independent, photo-based ratings made blind to condition; and a composite index each showed a nature advantage; student ratings did not. This nature advantage held across different teachers and held equally over the initial and final 5 weeks of lessons. And the magnitude of the advantage was large. In 48 out of 100 paired comparisons, the nature lesson was a full standard deviation better than its classroom counterpart; in 20 of the 48, the nature lesson was over two standard deviations better. The rate of "redirects" was cut almost in half after a lesson in nature, allowing teachers to teach for longer periods uninterrupted. Because the pairs of lessons were matched on teacher, class (students and classroom), topic, teaching style, week of the semester, and time of day, the advantage of the nature-based lessons could not be attributed to any of these factors. It appears that, far from leaving students too keyed up to concentrate afterward, lessons in nature may actually leave students more able to engage in the next lesson, even as students are also learning the material at hand. Such "refueling in flight" argues for including more lessons in nature in formal education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2253
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume8
Issue numberJAN
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 4 2018

Keywords

  • Academic achievement
  • Classroom engagement
  • Environmental education
  • Lessons in nature
  • Teaching outdoors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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