Outdoor Core Framework Overview
In 2013, the California Department of Education adopted new science standards to update and improve the framework for educating generations of science-literate students. The “Next Generation Science Standards” (NGSS) have a unique and unprecedented framework that calls for a three-dimensional approach to science instruction. It focuses on practices, content, and crosscutting concepts. According to the CA Department of Education, the goal of NGSS is to “develop an in-depth understanding of content and develop key skills—communication, collaboration, inquiry, problem-solving, and flexibility—that will serve students throughout their educational and professional lives.”
The NGSS framework and core ideas were created with the flexibility for local educators to adopt a unique strategy to best fit their school’s needs and strengths. Plumas Unified’s NGSS strategy is Outdoor Core, which builds upon Plumas Unified’s thirty-year history of formal outdoor education. This history includes well established outdoor learning environments and partnerships that make PUSD well-situated to create an innovative program linked to our outdoor environment.
At the Kindergarten, through the 6th-grade level, Outdoor Core is designed to use our northern Sierra Nevada homeland as the integrating focus for learning. Employing a project-based learning structure, students progress through 7 thematic years, as they become “Mountain Kids”. Kindergarten- Gardens, First Grade- Insects & Invertebrates, Second Grade- Reptiles & Amphibians, Third grade- Mammals, Fourth Grade- Fish & Aquatic, Fifth Grade- Birds, and Sixth grade-Watershed. In Seventh grade, the Life Sciences focus is incorporated at Camp Wild and in Eighth grade, the Physical Science focus is incorporated at the Challenge of the Elements Camp. Each year’s theme is then integrated not only into ‘science lessons’ but interdisciplinary across the grade-level curriculum, to incorporate scientific observations, thought-processes, and discoveries throughout the school day. This emphasizes building critical thinking and observation skills, not limited to a certain setting or subject, but able to connect the dots between and within subjects. The Outdoor Core strategy adapts the core concepts of NGSS to celebrate mountain culture and context to learning.