teacher field school

Hamline Launches MN’s First Nature-Based Field School for Teachers with State Grant, Partners

As teachers return to the classroom in September, a group of Minnesota educators will enter the wilderness as part of the new Teacher Field School program led by Hamline University, in partnership with the University of Minnesota and Freshwater Society. 

This immersive, research-backed field school will be the first nature-based learning professional development series for Minnesota teachers, thanks to a $500,000 state grant from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. The grant will fund two annual series of five-weekend retreats, starting Sept. 23. 

“This is a really unique opportunity and I think it says a lot about the State of Minnesota that they're willing to invest in teacher development in this way,” said Dr. Patty Born, Co-Program Director of Environmental Studies at Hamline and Director of Hamline’s Master of Arts in Environmental Education. “They're recognizing how important it is for teachers to use nature as the classroom and these retreats will have a great impact on teachers as well as their students." 

During these retreats, 26 K-6 educators will develop skills in nature-based teaching – an approach rooted in research that shows children with consistent and meaningful outdoor experiences enjoy a variety of benefits: better academic outcomes, improved social-emotional health and executive function skills, increased empathy and pro-environmental behaviors; and enhanced creativity, resilience and well-being. 

At Teacher Field School retreats, educators will learn how to use nature as a context in ways that meet state standards, while deepening their understanding of multidisciplinary teaching. They'll practice creating high-impact nature-based lessons and activities that will engage and excite all students, and understand why nature is the best classroom across the curriculum.

“We often think of science as the main thing people can teach using nature as a context, but we really go beyond that and focus heavily on the other disciplines,” Born said. “We want teachers to understand how beautifully nature lends itself to teaching all the content areas in an interconnected way.” 

Earlier this year, Hamline became the first Minnesota institution to offer a Nature-Based Early Learning Certificate, which trains educators to explore the many ways nature benefits children's development, health, well-being and learning. 

Interest in nature-based learning has spread quickly in recent years – both nationwide and in Minnesota. When seeking participants for the Teacher Field School, Hamline received over 170 expressions of interest from Minnesota teachers representing at least 25 counties from around the state. A second cohort is planned for September 2024. 

“We'd love to find more funding so we can keep doing this again and again because there is clearly a very high demand from teachers in the state,” Born said. “We were excited and  overwhelmed with the amount of interest we received for this.”