ERIC Identifier: ED348198
Publication Date: 1992-08-00
Author: Knapp, Clifford E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Thinking in Outdoor Inquiry. ERIC Digest.
This digest contrasts the traditional view of learning characteristic of
classroom instruction with the emerging "constructivist" view. This emerging
view concerns how and why students learn, and it has a great deal to do with the
instructional advantages of outdoor education. The discussion, therefore,
illustrates the sorts of activities that teachers can undertake in the outdoors
to help students develop the skills and dispositions of thinking.
TWO VIEWS OF KNOWLEDGE
The traditional view of
knowledge--represented all too often in actual classroom practice (e.g., Marzano
and colleagues, 1988)--holds that students receive knowledge from the teacher.
To demonstrate what they learn in this fashion, students reproduce information
on tests, rather than by undertaking actual performances. According to some
observers (e.g., Beyer, 1987; Jones, Palincsar, Ogle, & Carr, 1987; Resnick,
1989), classroom practice that adheres to this view accounts for much of the
failure to teach thinking.
Although developing the ability to think has long been the stated goal of
schooling, educators did not begin to attend seriously to the teaching of
thinking until the 1980s (Worsham & Stockton, 1986). "Constructivism" is a
new theory of learning that is presently receiving much attention as an
alternative to the traditional view of knowledge (Resnick, 1989).
Constructivism, in Resnick's account, acknowledges three principles of learning:
Learning is a process of knowledge construction, not of absorbing and recording
pieces of separate information.
Learning depends on previous knowledge as the principal means of constructing
Learning is closely related to the situation or context in which it takes place.
Four common findings from research about thinking ("cognitive theory") accord
well with practice in outdoor education (Resnick & Klopfer, 1989):
Knowledge and expertise are the foundations for thinking and learning about
The disposition to use skills and knowledge, as well as to possess them, is part
Social communities play a key role in developing thinking abilities.
Apprenticeships are powerful frameworks for learning.
Outdoor educators are uniquely qualified to apply these findings. The nature
of outdoor education as an experiential discipline gives students a meaningful
context in which to become directly involved in knowledge construction. Outdoor
education--the instructional use of natural and built laboratories beyond the
school to expand and enrich learning--developed, in large part, as a reaction to
traditional classroom-bound teaching, in which students remained passive.
DEFINING THINKING AND LEARNING
Most researchers now accept
the definition of thinking as a search for meaning, involving the mental
processes that make sense out of experience. In fact, learning is thinking
(Jones et al., 1987). That is, learning depends on prior knowledge and the
specific mental strategies that evoke understanding in the learner. Beyer (1987)
characterizes thinking as involving perception, prior experience, conscious
manipulation, incubation, and intuition.
Recent research about memory has relevance, as well. For instance, Caine and
Caine (1991) describe two kinds of memory systems, "taxon" and "locale." Taxon
memories are best represented by traditional information-processing models of
memory. Locale memory, on the other hand, automatically creates mental maps of
our surroundings, maps that guide our movements and interactions safely and
accurately. Examples of locale memory are recalling what we ate the day before
or remembering a beautiful sunset. Outdoor education draws heavily upon locale
memory to help students construct knowledge and meaning.
THE SCOPE OF THINKING SKILLS
The literature on thinking
covers a wide range of topics. Resnick (1987) described six broad categories of
problem solving in the disciplines,
general problem solving,
reading and study strategies,
components of intelligence, and
informal logic and critical thinking.
Marzano and colleagues (1988) cite similar categories, but these authors also
note that advocates of thinking skills offer a "bewildering" assortment of
strategies for teaching such skills. Costa (1991), for instance, considers
programs from more than 40 contributing authors. Moreover, few programs offer
convincing evidence that students actually acquire targeted skills (Resnick,
Selecting any program is a dilemma. Do teachers stick with the traditional
view of learning? If not, on what basis do they select from among the
alternatives? Do they construct their own programs?
Perhaps the most reasonable advice is that outdoor educators should review
and sample programs. In this way, they can discover which theoretical bases are
most appropriate for their students, the settings in which they teach, and for
their own teaching styles. If the emerging literature on thinking is correct in
its assumptions about learning, teachers will, after all, eventually use what
they learn to construct their own instructional models and routines.
SAMPLE APPLICATIONS TO OUTDOOR INQUIRY
A few examples will
suggest the scope of what is possible and how it accords with recent findings of
cognitive science. Teachers can consult the sources cited for further details of
the sample applications.
Meeting experts on the job. Resnick and Klopfer (1989) found that knowing how
experts think can be helpful in teaching others. (Experts, for example, often
reason by analogy and do not rush to find a "correct" answer.) One application
of this idea is to invite expert wildlife managers, soil conservationists, or
foresters into the field to share with students what they know and how they
Thinking aloud together. Teachers can ask students to be aware of what they
are thinking as they perform specific tasks and to use that awareness to control
what they are doing. This sort of awareness is called "metacognition" in the
literature (e.g., Beyer, 1987). Both students and teachers can think aloud to
let others become aware of what and how they think.
Forming concepts from experience. The formation of concepts, as Marzano and
colleagues (1988) note, requires both experience and reflection. Outdoor
settings present particularly good opportunities for concept development because
instruction takes place in "the real world." For instance, a math lesson might
require elementary students to manipulate land area measured in acres. The same
lesson, taught outdoors, helps students conceptualize more clearly. By seeing
and walking an acre they understand better the implications of their "paper and
Examining natural and cultural objects. Outdoor educators could use one of
the tools described by deBono (1983) to engage students in critical thinking.
For instance "PMI" (Plus, Minus, and Interesting points) is a systematic way of
helping students consider a phenomenon. With this technique, teachers might, for
example, help students consider the way in which a landfill (or a monument, or a
geological formation) relates to the surrounding environment. Another
application is suggested by Perkins' (1986) "knowledge as design" technique. In
this activity, students take up a natural object--a leaf, a snake, or a geode,
for instance. The teacher poses questions (and guides discussion) about the
object's purpose and structure, helps students to find model cases, and guides
the development of arguments to explain and evaluate the object.
Using outdoor social groups. According to Resnick (1987), when lessons are
learned in cooperative groups of mixed abilities, less knowledgeable and
experienced students improve their performance. Group adventure activities--such
as climbing a 12-foot wall or untangling arms entwined in a "human
knot"--provide opportunities to promote thinking about group interactions and
the nature of cooperation.
Generating interesting questions. Teachers who use good questions help
students develop the capacity to think. One example of a school district using
interesting questions to guide the K-6 curriculum is the Genesee River Valley
Project in Rochester, New York. In that program, the river valley is used in
conjunction with regular classroom instruction to engage students in
investigating questions that deal with all subjects (see reference list for
Recent research about thinking, questioning, and
reflecting on experience is a rich source of new ideas for outdoor educators.
The research cited illustratively in this Digest also tends to support the
intentions that have guided outdoor education for many years. For more detailed
information about the application of thinking skills in outdoor
education--particularly in formal reflection (or "debriefing") sessions--consult
"Lasting Lessons: A Teacher's Guide to Reflecting on Experience" (by Clifford
Knapp, $10.00, postage paid, from ERIC/CRESS). This guidebook considers the
relationship between experience and reflection, explains the purpose and design
of reflection sessions, and includes sample activities and other teaching
Beyer, B. (1987). Practical strategies for the
teaching of thinking. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. (ED 288 824)
Caine, R., & Caine, G. (1991). Making connections: Teaching and the human
brain. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
(ED 335 141)
Costa, A. (Ed.). (1991). Developing minds: Programs for teaching thinking
(Revised Edition, Volume 2). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and
Curriculum Development. (ED 332 167)
de Bono, E. (1983). The direct teaching of thinking as a skill. Phi Delta
Kappan, 64(10), 703-708.
Jones, B., Palincsar, A., Ogle, D., & Carr, E. (1987). Strategic teaching
and learning: Cognitive instruction in the content areas. Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (ED 286 858)
Marzano, R., Brandt, R., Hughes, C., Jones, B., Presseisen, B., Rankin, S.,
& Suhor, C. (1988). Dimensions of thinking: A framework for curriculum and
instruction. Alexandria, VA: The Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development. (ED 294 222)
Paul, R., & Binker, A. (1990). Socratic questioning. In R. Paul (Ed.),
Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing
world (pp. 269-298). Rohnert Park, CA: Center for Critical Thinking and Moral
Critique. (ED 338 557)
Perkins, D. (1986). Knowledge as design. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Resnick, L. (1987). Education and learning to think. Washington, DC: National
Academy Press. (ED 289 832)
Resnick, L. (Ed.). (1989). Knowing, learning, and instruction. Hillsdale, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Resnick, L., & Klopfer, L. (Eds.). (1989). Toward the thinking
curriculum: current cognitive research. Alexandria, VA: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development. (ED 328 871)
Worsham, A., & Stockton, A. (1986). A model for teaching thinking skills:
The inclusion process. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.
(ED 268 532)
For more information on the Genesee River Valley Project, write to Lee
Miller, project facilitator, Dag Hammarskjold School No. 6, 595 Upper Falls
Blvd., Rochester, NY 14605 (telephone: 716/546-7780).