Science and Teaching for Field Instructors

Collaboration Spotlight: BEETLES and Social Emotional Learning at the BOOST Conference

Outward Bound USA first came into contact with BEETLES in 2015, when a team from Thompson Island Outward Bound– the only Outward Bound USA sites with an explicit focus on science– came to a Leadership Institute. They were immediately hooked, and saw potential for wide-reaching implications across the organization nation-wide. Fast-forward a couple of years, and Outward Bound USA has put together their own Professional Learning Lab, modeled after the BEETLES tools and approach, to research best practices and translate them into professional learning that can be replicated across all 11 Outward Bound schools. Although Outward Bound USA’s primary focus is social emotional development, they have integrated pedagogy, reflective teaching strategies, and instructional approaches from BEETLES. In collaboration with BEETLES staff, they started out by modifying existing BEETLES professional learning sessions, but now are creating their own sessions from scratch. Our ongoing collaboration with Outward Bound is the stuff of a future blog post, but in the meantime read on to hear about Outward Bound’s approach to social-emotional learning.  

Recently, Arthur Pearson, director of Outward Bound USA’s Professional Learning Lab, collaborated with NatureBridge and the Student Conservation Association (SCA), with support from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, to offer a presentation on Social Emotional Learning at this year’s Best of Out of School Time Conference (BOOST). Check out our interview with Arthur about how these three organizations used their experiences with BEETLES as a common language and as a set of approaches to highlight facilitating Social Emotional Learning in their presentation. 

BEETLES: How has BEETLES affected your approach to Social Emotional Learning?

Arthur Pearson: “The basic approaches to facilitation that were developed and shared by BEETLES have been taken in and adopted by the Outward Bound USA community coast to coast. The foundation of making observations, promoting discussion, and leading with curiosity as skills for facilitating learning have become extremely popular across the Outward Bound USA system. BEETLES was a critical partner in lighting the fire and helping us do it right, and grounding our approach to addressing Social Emotional Learning in these foundational ideas and approaches.” 

BEETLES: What was the goal of your presentation at the BOOST conference? How did you develop the presentation?

Arthur: “This is the national conference of Out of School Teaching. Outward Bound USA, NatureBridge, and the SCA were asked to present on how to support Social Emotional Learning in nature, specifically. Attendees of the conference include out-of-school time and expanded learning practitioners from across the country.”

“During our planning time with NatureBridge and SCA, what was remarkable is that when we started talking with each other about what kind of facilitated activity we should do, we all had BEETLES in common. We all had the same language for talking about facilitation, we all knew about I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of.”

“It was representative of the profound impact BEETLES has had on outdoor education, and not just outdoor science education. That way of teaching, that way of facilitating, prioritizing pair talk, and getting learners engaging with each other and the environment, that’s it! That’s the best way to facilitate Social Emotional Learning. It was remarkable that each of our three organizations, even with their different areas of focus around Social Emotional Learning, were all influenced by, and on board with using BEETLES activities to frame the workshop.”

BEETLES: What did you do during the presentation?

Arthur: “About 20 people attended the  2.5 hour long workshop, which we did in the parking lot of a hotel in Palm Springs. We did variations on a theme of I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of, using it as a Social Emotional Learning routine. We started by making general observations of nature, and then made observations of ourselves as a group and reflected on those group observations. We had participants carefully observe, reflect on, and think about what the experience reminded them of. We asked participants: How does this workshop make you reflect on your teaching practices as an out of school educator?”

“People love leading by inquiry, and people expressed they were really satisfied with that particular session at the conference. People were attending tons of different sessions, and after ours, they said, ‘That was terrifically worth my time, I can take this back and use it in my program next week.’ We’re on to something.” 

A note from BEETLES: We’ll be releasing a revised version of I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of later this year that will include steps for using it as a Social Emotional Learning Routine, as well as connections to equitable and inclusive teaching practices.

BEETLES: Were there interesting ideas or reflections that emerged from your time collaborating with NatureBridge and SCA? 

Arthur: “The net of the experience for me and my colleagues is a desire to continue to work together.  We want to present at conferences together, and share our learning on a regular basis. What I’m hoping is, in between conferences and presentations, we can visit the other programs and organizations in more depth and see the differences in programs. We’ll have an Outward Bound USA team visit a NatureBridge site and learn from them, then visit an SCA site. We’ll be doing this with the grant money that continues into next year. Then once we see what we have to learn from each other, we’ll present that. We want to build a community of practice that goes across organization lines, and we want BEETLES to be a common language in that community.” 

“We want to find out, what do we have in common, and what is distinct? Each organization has a different trend and approach. NatureBridge has an academic thread to it, with ecology, ecosystems, and science in the context of nature as major components of what they’re doing. Usually, the cognitive part of Outward Bound is focused around expedition skills with Social Emotional Learning happening through the lens of challenge and interdependency between a learning group. And SCA is focused on leadership development and creating career pathways.”  

BEETLES: What are some connections between outdoor science and social emotional learning that you’re exploring?

Arthur: “Gil Noam at the PEAR Institute is pursuing the hypothesis that building students’ sense of identity around possible career visions in the sciences in their middle school years, leads to positive outcomes with critical thinking, teamwork, and perseverance, that there is some correlation there. So good, hands-on inquiry based science also has outcomes for Social Emotional Learning.”

BEETLES: How would you advise a program leader or organization looking to grow their capacity in supporting SEL development?

Arthur: “Celebrate the notion that you always have the opportunity to learn from your peers. We would really encourage other organizations to engage with this spirit of learning from each other and in building collaborations across organizations with different areas of focus. It’s an exciting time because we have the ability to talk to each other.” 

“Where do you start? Visit other organizations and ask, ‘How do you do your work? What do you do? Why do you do it that way?’ Find someone from the research world and say, ‘Let’s go observe people in my educational ecosystem who I respect and see what we can learn from each other.’ Then, see what they have to say about how research connects to practice.” 

“There are differences in our approaches, and we all have so much to learn from each other. But there are connections, intersections, and overlaps, too. We’re all asking: ‘What makes kids want to learn, come out of their shells, laugh at themselves, grow? How can we support them in doing that?’ This is really what it’s about.”

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