Expanding Outdoor Classrooms at Minnesota Schools

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund
Recipient Type
State Government
Start Date
July 2010
End Date
June 2013
Counties Affected
Project Overview

Since 1949 the School Forest Program has been providing Minnesota's K-12 students with outdoor classrooms where they can learn core subjects like math, science, and social studies outdoors using nature as the base context. Statewide there are currently 100 School Forests - which can also include prairie, wetland, and other natural areas other than forest - located in both urban and rural areas. This appropriation will help the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources establish 20 new school forests and provide better training and support services for teachers and school districts with existing forest areas.

The School Forest Program is Minnesota's outdoor classroom program. This project provided support to create new School Forest sites; develop and deliver site-specific outdoor education trainings, regional workshops, a multi-day conference, and a summit; create new online and in-person resources to better support School Forests; and investigate long-term support options for the School Forest Program. Funding provided 1.5 FTEs of School Forest educators for three years and an additional .75 FTE School Forest Specialist for one year.

Minnesota has 125 School Forests throughout the state. As a result of this project, 22 new School Forest sites were developed on 256 acres of land, complete with proper applications, legal paperwork, School Forest committees, and land management plans. To meet teacher needs, several assessments were conducted (see 2012 School Forest Survey Report) and the results were used to create support materials for online and in-person delivery. The School Forest website was revamped and new sections relating to land management, outdoor education, and lesson plans/activities were created. More than 39,000 visitors used the website. School Forest staff participated in hundreds of crucial in-person site visits, meetings, and presentations to bolster support for new and existing School Forests.

To encourage and support outdoor education activities, this project delivered 21 site-specific outdoor education trainings, reaching 523 teachers. These workshops involved Project Learning Tree materials and content was tied to Minnesota academic standards in math, science, and social studies. One hundred outdoor education kits were developed and delivered. The kits provided tools, materials, and lesson plans to allow teachers to easily prep and teach age-appropriate outdoor activities meeting Minnesota academic standards. In addition, two regional trainings, one multi-day conference, and one summit were developed and delivered. These events provided School Forest teachers the opportunity to delve into outdoor education strategy, discover practical teaching tips, and network with teachers, natural resource, and education experts; 106 teachers participated in these events.

Over three years, this project provided new outdoor education opportunities to over 400 teachers and 11,000 students at 22 new School Forests. The total project activities reached over 1,500 teachers and 30,000 students statewide at all 124 School Forests.

The School Forest website (www.mndnr.gov/schoolforest) houses many materials created by this project. It is viewed by thousands of people every month. The School Forest Activity Board, within the website, is home to more than 100 new lesson plans created by School Forest teachers and staff. Of particular note are over 20 newly developed activities and lesson plans that correlate to math standards from Prekindergarten to eighth grade, meeting the need to effectively teach math outside.

Dozens of newspaper articles and websites posts were created regarding the new 22 School Forest sites created during this grant.

The results of the School Forest Survey were presented at the 2013 Minnesota Environmental Education Conference and are being reviewed by DNR staff, teachers and naturalists statewide. This information is being used to create or provide better resources to support teachers interested in outdoor education.

Delivery of the "How to Teach in Your School Forest" trainings have evolved and been modified to meet teacher needs. For example, appropriate outdoor and reflection time is incorporated into each training and several other DNR and partner education programs have begun to use these techniques. In addition, the Minn. Dept. of Education asked School Forest staff and teachers to present much of the outdoor education training delivered as part of their ENRTF Environmental and Outdoor Education project. This provided positive outcomes for all partners involved.

About 70 percent of the 22 new School Forest sites are in an urban area. Results from the 2013 Urban School Forest focus groups were used to identify needs specific to urban sites. Strategies are needed for dealing with vandalism, dogs, invasive species, and high community use on small, urban parcels.

Two School Forest site coordinators were awarded the "Formal Environmental Educator of the Year" by the MN Association for Environmental Education for their work with their school forests (2012 & 2013). The School Forest program was recognized as one of Governor Dayton's Education Highlights for 2011-2012.

Project Details
Legal Citation / Subdivision
M.L. 2010, Chp. 362, Sec. 2, Subd. 08f
Appropriation Language

$300,000 is from the trust fund to the commissioner of natural resources to establish additional and enhance existing outdoor school forest and prairie classroom networks throughout Minnesota.

2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Project Manager
First Name
Amy Kay
Last Name
Organization Name
Street Address
500 Lafayette Rd
St. Paul
Zip Code
(651) 259-5263
Administered By
Administered by

500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155

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