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Inquiry-Based Outdoor Immersion Program

Leveraging outdoor spaces for inquiry-based learning in elementary school


When Hopkins Public Schools closed for full-time, in-person instruction, two second-grade teachers at Eisenhower Elementary immediately thought about how they could have students return safely for in-person instruction. To allow for proper social distancing, the two teachers quickly pivoted to create a full-time outdoor immersion classroom for their students where they could leverage the environment around them to drive inquiry-based learning.


Meeting in-person Monday through Thursday, the second-grade class used a city-owned field as their classroom. Included in this space were various sports fields, a playground, woods, and a shelter. The variety of spaces included in their classroom environment allowed for teachers to use their surroundings to engage students in inquiry- and play-based learning. The teachers used all elements of their outdoor classroom to drive learning, such as changes in weather and observations of insects to teach science or using snow to build different structures. In addition to using their surroundings, students still engaged in structured activities for both their core subjects and fine arts.

Given Minnesota’s cold winters, outdoor immersion wasn’t a possibility every day of the year. On the coldest days of the year, the class used a nearby indoor community space. Additionally, the teachers partnered with an organization to ensure that all students had the warm winter clothing needed to be in school outdoors.

This strategy is a part of TLA's Hop, Skip, Leapfrog release, which explores the concrete ways in which schools and systems pursued student-centered innovation during COVID-19. Explore the full guide to find additional strategies, insights, and resources.

Strategy Resources

Learning in the Park

A Hopkins Public Schools newsletter from October 2020, which highlights their outdoor immersion program for... Learn More

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Get Outside and Learn: Hopkins Offers Outdoor Immersion Program

An article from Sun Post, which highlights Hopkins Public Schools’ outdoor immersion program. Learn More

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