Amber Vonderau and Shelly Kennedy
“The Nature of Learning: Experiencing Nature through Project-Based Learning” is Vonderau’s and Kennedy’s winning program that will provide an “outdoor classroom” for the students in the multi-age classrooms to get hands on science experience and enhance their independent, project-based and inquiry learning opportunities. The “outdoor classroom” will include a pond, greenhouse, flower/vegetable garden and a butterfly habitat. Students in first through fourth-grade will be able to observe and handle organisms in their natural environment. The program will also help students hone their business and service learning skills. They will sell flowers, herbs and vegetables to parents and the community as well as deliver gifts of nature to a local nursing home. The overall program will help all 270 students develop all of their science process skills (observation, communication, classification, measurement, inference and prediction). Additionally, they will use technology to research the plants, animals and ecosystems in their very own “outdoor classroom” and learn how to handle ambiguity, test out skills, connect with professionals in the community and finally develop empathy through the nursing home partnership. Vonderau and Kennedy believe the benefits to students are enormous as they observe and ask questions about all aspects of their “outdoor classroom”.