A recent field experience at the Lorado Taft Field Campus is just one example of the many engaged learning experiences available to students in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE) in the NIU College of Education.
“Getting hands on experience is a key philosophy underpinning our programs,” department Chair Paul Carpenter said. “Engaged learning activities such as this provide a direct connection between the learning experience and the curriculum. Research shows that students learn best when they are fully engaged in the discovery process, and that is what we aim to do with these kinds of experiences.”
Forty-seven NIU students enrolled in KNPE 466, “Field Experience in Outdoor Environments,” experienced that “hands on” philosophy recently, when they taught elementary students through and about outdoor education.
The NIU students spent a weekend at the Lorado Taft Field Campus in Oregon, Ill., before the actual teaching experience and then returned again the week of Oct. 3 to work with the elementary students.
During the initial visit, the students experienced and planned all of the lessons for the fifth-graders. The NIU students then went to the schools to meet with their teaching staff, plan the overall experience for the fifth-graders and meet with the students.
Over the course of the week, the NIU students worked with about 160 fifth-grade students from two East Aurora District 131 schools, Dietrich Elementary and Gates Elementary.
Chris Urry, a KNPE student who acted as a Taft Teacher, explained that the preparation for the students coming to the Lorado Taft Campus enabled him to effectively carry out the tasks he was assigned.
During the preparation weekend, he said, “we were able to ask any questions we had and this really helped prepare myself and, I think, all of the other NIU students. There were definitely some nerves going into the Taft experience, but once we got there and everything got started it was a great time.”
Once the elementary students arrived at Lorado Taft Field Campus, the NIU students assumed responsibility for them, with teachers from the school working as aides. Lorado Taft staff members and at least one KNPE faculty member were also present throughout the weekend and involved in all planning.
The elementary students alternated in two shifts at the Taft campus (Monday to Wednesday and Wednesday to Friday) and were put into smaller groups of about 14 fifth-graders to four NIU student-teachers.
The lessons ranged over many topics; Sarah Knutson, a KNPE student who acted as a Taft Teacher, said the students there during the week of Oct. 3 were taught “many outdoor activities such as water ecology, forest ecology, birding, Native Americans, pioneering, orienteering, team-building activities and some astronomy.”
NIU students say that the Lorado Taft teaching experience will not be forgotten.
“My favorite memory has to be when one student on our team asked the night before the last day if we could do more team activities before breakfast,” Knutson said. “I was inspired and excited that the student wanted to spend more time with the team and with us as teachers. We talked with the group and decided to meet about a half-hour before breakfast and do more team building activities. It was exciting to see that the students were having a good time during their Taft experience and worthwhile to see that we made a significant impact on the fifth-graders.”
“(We could see) how much (the fifth-graders) were learning as well as how much they were enjoying the experience. We gave our students pre- and post-tests that had questions about the different topics that would be covered over the three days and to see the improvement on all of the students’ post- test was really great.”
For Urry, the time at Lorado Taft offered a sneak preview of his upcoming career.
“First, I would say that working with a school from Aurora, which is very diverse and multicultural, exposed me to an aspect of teaching and working with kids that I haven’t had a lot of experience in. For a lot of the students there, English was not their first language, and this is definitely something that nowadays every teacher is going to experience at one point or another,” he said.
“Second, just getting out of the classroom and being able to teach and interact with actual students is a great experience that sitting in the classroom just cannot provide. Going to Taft gives you a chance to try out a lot of the teaching styles and strategies that we have been learning in our classes at NIU,” he added.
“Third, I thought it was great to experience the outdoor education style of teaching as opposed to the traditional classroom setting. This is something that if it were not for NIU and Taft, a majority of students would not get to experience. It helped to show that there are different routes you can take after finishing at NIU other than going to a public school and becoming the traditional PE teacher.”
Knutson said that her Lorado Taft Field Campus experience also will have a long-lasting effect on her teaching career. “This experience was rewarding,” she said, “and gave me the confidence to move forward in my profession.”
For more information about the Lorado Taft Campus, KNPE programs or the engaged learning experience at Lorado Taft, contact: