Date of Award:

8-2018

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Education

Advisor/Chair:

James Dorward

Abstract

This autoethnographic study details the researcher’s experiences as a high school student and as a new teacher—which eventually led to the creation, implementation, and 8-year life cycle of Mount Logan Discovery, a sixth-grade integrated outdoor experiential learning program in a public middle school. Routine field experiences established academic background knowledge, fostered relationships, built confidence, and provided purpose for curriculum standards. Perspectives of parents, students, colleagues, administrators, and donors add detail. This study responds to calls qualitative studies that focus on how outdoor programs are conducted, the descriptions of experiences and perceptions of students and parents, and how participants were changed through outdoor experiential learning programs.

The primary research question was: What are the lived experiences of the researcher as a founder of a public middle school outdoor experiential learning program, from its inception to its closure?

Though outdoor experiential learning is the main theme, this study is also about teaching reading and writing in authentic contexts, integrated science, and the struggle for constructivist-minded educators to humanize schools within high-stakes testing culture. From a theoretical standpoint, this is a story of constructivism in praxis.

Participants described that outdoor field experiences improved their attitude towards school, their overall confidence, fostered relationships, established a strong classroom community, and boosted their academic performance. Students and parents emphasized the impact integrating literacy with field programs had on their writing and reading skills. Other themes that surfaced include the role of field experiences in building character and allowing students to find joy and happiness in the learning process. Parents and students alike indicated outdoor field experiences had a lasting impact on participants lives.

The analysis also identifies six steps for putting principles of constructivism into practice in schools, recommendations for implementing new programs, and components of effective field programs. The narrative spurs parents, educators, administrators, and lawmakers to reflect on what really matters in schools. Until we change the way schools are evaluated, outdoor experiential learning programs like Mount Logan Discovery, and other attempts to enrich students’ educational experiences, will always exist on the fringes and in the shadows of public education, fighting for sustainability.

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