Passion for Outdoor Learning Drives Ashland University Education Professor
Dr. Herb Broda, professor of education at Ashland University, loves to talk about his life-long passion for outdoor teaching and he’s doing a lot of talking these days.
“Outdoor learning is a topic that has, over the last five or six years, really grown in interest,” Broda said. “The idea that green is good has not hurt us at all. Our time has come.”
Broda’s interest in outdoor teaching began when he accompanied his sixth-grade class to a resident outdoor education campus in 1971. “That experience had a dramatic impact on me. I saw firsthand how the outdoors could be used as an instructional tool in all content areas,” he said.
This interest has grown to a deep passion that has resulted in Broda writing two books on the subject of outdoor learning and has led him on a speaker’s circuit that has taken him throughout the Midwest.
“I have been asked to speak to a wide variety of audiences in many different venues, including nature centers, universities, public schools, community gatherings, state conferences as well as many webinars,” he said. “My major focus is trying to help people see how the school grounds can become a rich teaching resource.”
Broda, who is active in outdoor and environmental education organizations at the state, national and international levels, said that the topic of taking learning beyond the classroom is frequently appearing on the agendas of state and national conferences. Since outdoor learning is a teaching tool, not a content area, it is an appropriate topic for any organization concerned about student learning.
“Right now I am part of a group starting a national organization to coordinate the efforts of individuals and organizations across the country that have an interest in enhancing the schoolyard to facilitate outdoor teaching,” he said. “Innovative ways to teach in the outdoors can be found across the country, but there is no national organization with that primary focus.”
Broda’s first book, titled “Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning: Using the Outdoors as an Instructional Tool, K-8,” came out in 2007. This groundbreaking book touched off an interest in outdoor learning and many schools across the country embraced the benefits of “greening” their learning programs.
Broda then completed a faculty study leave in the spring of 2009 and he visited a number of schools and nature centers around the country, interviewing teachers and taking photographs of the schoolyard-enhanced learning for his next book, “Moving the Classroom Outdoors.”
“This book, which came out in May of last year, is a companion book that contains examples of how different schools are using the outdoors as a teaching tool,” he said. “The attempt was to translate these examples into pictures to show what can be done.”
The books have proven to be successful both for practicing teachers, as well as for students in higher education. The books have been adopted as texts for instructional methods and environmental education courses by several universities across the United States.
Broda’s latest project is working with Mansfield City Schools in advising them as they convert the closed Springmill School into an outdoor education center. “It is exciting because the innovative things we are doing at Springmill regarding outdoor education link well with what is in both books,” he said.
Janet Ellsworth, the lead teacher for Mansfield City Schools' Outdoor Education Explorations Program within the Springmill Learning Center, called Broda a “wonderful adviser and advocate for us” with the Springmill Learning Center project.
“We have benefited greatly from his advocacy and passion for outdoor learning as we launched into converting a closed school building into a ‘school of the future’ complete with an outdoor education center with learning areas such as a restored wetlands, butterfly garden, restored orchard and other outdoor projects for which Herb has advised us,” Ellsworth said
Ashland University, ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2012, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.