As helpful — and addictive — as watching an old VHS copy of Bill Nye the Science Guy during school was, there’s nothing quite like taking on those experiments firsthand.
Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley will soon debut a new outdoor classroom to enhance the science curriculum as well as other subjects.
Rabbi Ira Budow, director of the academy, said a lot of research went into the project this past summer. A contract will be signed this week with a Yardley-based designer, and the classroom is expected to be up and running in three to four weeks.
Plans for a new playground are also in the works; altogether, these ventures will total about $200,000, which a private donor provided.
“It really will help the entire school,” Budow said. “Kids will live [in] the science world instead of being in a classroom. They’ll be outside, really experiencing science the way they should.”
Leslie Kornsgold, associate principal of secular studies, said she and science teacher Amy Hamacher visited Princeton Day School, an independent private school in New Jersey, almost two years ago and toured the facility with a focus on its outdoor classroom.
“It was exciting and inspiring,” Kornsgold said. Princeton’s classroom — used year-round — included a slate chalkboard and multipurpose benches, as well as some animals and gardening.
Notably, many non-science teachers, like those teaching English or other humanities, would reserve the space for specific lessons, something Abrams intends to incorporate.
“If you’re reading Robert Frost and you feel like it’s better to do that outside, that will add to your lesson,” she said. “For me with social studies, when we talk to the kids about what the United States looked like before people started settling here, I always make them look out the window at the trees. Well here we can be outside and talk about what does development mean and what did we do?”
Outdoor writing workshops will be available, and as time progresses, the idea of a “biblical garden” might be added.
The private donation quickly prompted the construction of the outdoor classroom, which will include a water area for play and learning, a slate chalkboard, seating and tables.
Hamacher — Abrams’ only science teacher — teaches fifth- through eighth-graders and also oversees the science curriculums for kindergarteners through fourth-graders.
“She’s in the classrooms at least weekly with the kids at every grade level, and she takes kids outside all the time,” Kornsgold noted, “so here she’ll have a better venue to do that to study everything from weather to plant life to animal life cycle — all that stuff can happen there.”
Teachers intend to use the classroom throughout the year — even in the winter months.
“Kids like the outdoors,” Kornsgold explained. “If they’re outside working on science, they’re not going to be sitting still. They’ll be into it.”
Hamacher said she’s looking forward to delving into topics not just connected to nature and the environment, but “all of the lessons from chemistry on down can be used outdoors,” in addition to those cross-curriculum subjects.
“It’s a way to apply what they’re reading in a book,” Hamacher said, “and it’s a way to actually get them hands-on experience.”
Even from the little lessons she conducts now with her students on an Abrams sidewalk, she sees how it has such a positive effect on them.
“Just being able to go outdoors, being able to apply the lesson — it’s a great way for the students to express what they know,” she said.
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