Character – Claim 3

Through expeditions and service, Campbell students authentically contribute to a better world by becoming active citizens of the natural world.

Students at Campbell are frequently and uniquely exposed to urban outdoor learning opportunities as the outdoors is considered to be an extension of the physical building. They are encouraged to become active investigators of the natural world through intentionality that starts with comfort, grows with confidence, and culminates in a deep knowledge of the space surrounding the school and how it might transfer to the larger world. Learners are not simply encouraged to observe their surroundings but also to consider and contribute to the beauty and functionality of their school.

Starting in PreK and kindergarten, Campbell students acquire outdoor courage through exposure to and experience with the outdoors. PreK students practice visiting the school pond which has turtles, frogs, snails, and fish. This requires a significant amount of self control. Throughout these types of experiences, students work on scientific observation skills. These skills assist in developing a critical eye early on in their learning and provide personal experiences with the natural environment they will grow to understand over the next several years.


outdoor classroom graph number of classes-click for readable viewCampbell students benefit from the freedom the staff has been given to use the space as they see fit.  Outdoor time is used to teach standards as well as for “brain breaks,” mindfulness, behavior modification, and to complete necessary maintenance tasks. Being outdoors is not considered an earned, rare treat at Campbell but rather an essential and altogether necessary component to the identity of a Campbell learner. Over the past three years, it has been a school wide goal to increase outdoor learning. In order to measure our success, we tracked the number of lessons outside. Outdoor lessons quadrupled in a three year period.

PreK and Kindergarten Students Build Comfort Outdoors
Walking field trips to neighboring Long Branch Nature Center increase student comfort with the outdoors. These students head to the nature center to continue their work on the “You are Here: Discovering & Responding to Our World” expedition. PreK students are included in planting, maintaining, and harvesting in the Campbell school garden. Through this process, students become comfortable getting their hands dirty and this instills an early and basic understanding of life cycles. PreK students impart garden education on the larger community.

walking field trip to Long Branch nature center    students looking into Campbell pond    PreK students planting in school garden

Below, a PreK scholar demonstrates which end of the garlic should be pointed up for planting. Students learn positional vocabulary, gardening techniques, sequential processes, and communication skills.PreK students shows garlic plantStudents in PreK use native wetland grasses to create clay impressions in order to better understand the development of fossils in conjunction with their reading. With this work, students also develop understandings of textures and the various plant life around them.

Students made fossils with wetland grasses         Native wetland grasses pressed into clay

Kindergarten students demonstrate comfort while using mud from the outdoor classroom to camouflage themselves and hide in the bushes. With experiences like this, students approach reading as a way to deepen their understanding, connect the gaps in their knowledge, and seek answers to new questions.

students learn about camouflage with mud from the garden

Learning Through the Outdoors
As students progress through the grades at Campbell they begin to form an attachment and give meaning to the physical space of the school. Students become intimately familiar with the landscape of the unique outdoor spaces through personal experiences and can identify them throughout the campus. Students in grades 2-5 use the outdoors to learn content standards. At Campbell, any learning that can be done indoors, can be learned outdoors. For example, students might participate in a reading conference or read independently to build stamina.

teacher conference             students learn outdoors

 turning compostSecond grade students turn compost as part of morning meeting (crew) time. Through these numerous low-key encounters, students build upon their understanding of what composting is, why it is important, and how it affects them as humans. Decomposition and soil is a recurring standard throughout the elementary science curriculum.

students lie in cover crop they planted

Second grade students get comfortable in the bed of cover crop they planted in the fall as part of their soil study. Students learn types of soil and use crop rotation methods to give nutrients back to the soil for future gardening.

monarch caterpillar

Students in third grade discover a monarch caterpillar while investigating the orchard, home to Jeffersonian apple trees at Campbell. In third grade, students learn life cycles of plants and animals.

planting template 1

planting template 2

Third graders made planting templates that are used by the entire school. On the right, a third grader has made a sugar snap pea template, and on the left, kindergarteners use that template to plant sugar snap peas in the spring. This began as a measurement study during math and included nonfiction text analysis to research the space needs of various plants.

Fourth grade students conduct cloud studies in the field as part of a weather unit where they learn to differentiate cloud types and their associated weather.

4th grade students study clouds

As fifth grade students move towards a transition to middle school they are thoroughly grounded in the culture of Campbell. At this point students have a deep emotional connection to both the immediate and larger natural world because of their progression through the lens of Campbell. The ECO Team, to which students apply, is an example of their commitment to environmental causes, outside of Campbell. On April 23, 2019, Campbell’s ECO Team presented at the School Environmental Action Showcase (SEAL) at George Mason University.
Environmental Action Showcase Letter & Applications:

Environmental Action Showcase Application    Environmental Action Showcase Application

Students use natural resources from our own school yard to make art.  For example, third graders made bamboo wind chimes by harvesting and “upcycling” the bamboo growing in the Campbell courtyard. The wind chimes beautify the Campbell courtyard and a local library within walking distance from school. The bamboo is renewable and grows in excess in the pond area.

students painted bamboo wind chimes     students show off their bamboo wind chimes

Chords in circles art design in orchardFifth grade students created an art installation using math in the orchard. This project allowed students to demonstrate knowledge of chords in circles. Students utilize their outdoor space to develop real-life models of abstract mathematical concepts in order to construct a solid foundation of the math content vocabulary such as chords, diameter, radius, and circumference.

Outdoors as a Social Emotional Tool
The outdoor areas are used as a tool that help students develop self-regulation and reflection.

Interlude Calming Garden
The Calming Garden project was started during the 2017-2018 school year by the upper-grade Interlude students at Campbell. The Interlude program serves students “who are receiving special education support due to an emotional disability or significant behavioral issues” according to the APS website. APS special education programs.

Claim 3 Calming Garden CollageThe students in the Interlude program built a garden that incorporates herbs that assist in calming anxious feelings. Students started lemon balm from seed and transplanted mint and lavender plants into the garden as well. This year-long project included research, technical drawings, scientific study, growing and harvesting, and preparation of herbs. In the first year, the students were able to enjoy three separate harvests of lemon balm which were dried and used to make a calming tea for the classroom. Students showed perseverance, dedication, and initiative in the care of this garden as well as a sense of agency as evidenced in the student-initiated and created watering schedule pictured to the right. This project is an example of how Campbell uses the outdoors to support diverse student needs.

Courtyard Breaks

Students use the courtyard for self-regulation. As part of their social-emotional learning, students learn the importance of taking breaks, breathing techniques, and conflict-resolution strategies as a means to regulate their emotions. Individual students routinely turn compost as a scheduled break or to calm their bodies.

student taking a break in the courtyard       turning compost feeling

Campbell students practice meditation in the courtyard and at the nearby Long Branch Nature Center.  Once students have experience meditating in nature, they can practice meditation in a busy urban corridor.
Students meditating

student meditatingFifth graders spontaneously meditated at the 2019 Outdoor Lab overnight trip. These are tools that students can use in their lives off of school grounds.



Contributing to the Natural World
Campbell students are active participants in the natural world.  They inform the greater community and initiate environmentally friendly actions.

Students at Campbell Elementary spend a great deal of time outdoors. As such they not only observe, but are given the time to make sense of what it is they are observing. When any one person is given the choice to witness change or to affect change, when empowered, they will always choose the latter. With each passing year Campbell students are a stronger and more frequent presence in their community. While they realize and appreciate the impact of service to the Campbell community, the fact is, they are simply not satisfied to stop within the walls of their school. They crave a broader and more significant impact on the greater world. Students have gone from organizing clean up of the playground during recess to removal of waste in the surrounding neighborhood. They have moved from observing the Campbell Pollinator garden, to growing, transplanting, and delivering these same plants to food assistance community gardens in Arlington. In learning about basic mapping skills, they opt out of school bus transportation for field work. Instead they take the risk of hopping onto county buses and then choose to teach the community about the benefits of public transportation. As the scope of their understanding of the environment and the ability they have to impart change broadens, these exceptional students and their remarkable efforts consistently raise the bar for what is possible for creating a better world.

Campbell 2nd graders learned about pollinators in their spring expedition entitled “We Need Insects.”  After teaching the Campbell community about protecting the honeysuckle on campus, students expanded their impact into the community. Students planted pollinator plants such as marigolds, wild flowers, Bells of Ireland, and borage and then transplanted those plants to local community gardens. These community gardens supply AFAC with food for people in Arlington. During this fieldwork, students learned about irrigation systems, which is covered in the 3rd grade curriculum.


Montessori and 5th Grade Composting
As part of a Montessori expedition in 2016-2017, students learned about what composting is and what can be composted. In conjunction, 5th graders at Campbell were learning about elements such as carbon and nitrogen. As a result, the two classes joined forces to enhance each other’s knowledge. Campbell works to collaborate amongst sometimes the most unlikely of pairings to show that learning relates to our environment and that our environment is important for everyone.
Montessori and 5th GR students composting lesson

APS Green Scene Captures Green Expeditions
During the fourth grade “Big Bad Basil” expedition in 2016-2017, students honed their knowledge of plant life cycle concepts and went so far as to grow plants as part of a deeper understanding that it is critical to know the source of one’s food. Students dove deep into this expedition which took them from learning about how seeds grow and the science behind how our greenhouse works, to mastering the art of the vinaigrette at a culinary school, to using home-grown basil to feed their local community. This advocated to our local community that growing, harvesting, and cooking with school-grown organic produce is possible in the school setting and is a way to get our community eating and valuing local, real ingredients. Since these fourth graders were deeply immersed and afforded the opportunity to work alongside experts in their field, they were able to significantly extend their learning beyond the fourth grade curriculum. This expedition was featured in a Green Scene Video with APS: Green Scene video

Additionally, Campbell fourth grade students and teachers were awarded a Green Action Award from the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.Green Action award image

The APS Green Scene Art Bus video captures a first grade expedition focused on the local bus route that runs in front of the school. Students learned that riding the bus is not only eco-friendly, but also critical for people with disabilities.

Composting Snack Scraps
snack composting by studentsStudents in second grade learned about composting during an outdoor math class in the Fall of 2018. Following this experience, several students each day asked their teacher to compost their snack scraps. As the class began a discussion about classroom jobs, the creation of a “composter” came about. Students nominated classmates for the job, chose a method to collect the scraps, and now take care of the school’s compost pile on days when scraps need to be composted. Students at this grade level are displaying initiative in order to help provide a more environmentally-minded community. The students wanted to know why we couldn’t compost the waste from school lunch, so now the school is exploring that option.

Green Team
A group of students created the “Green Team” during 3rd grade recess.   The Green Team takes action to support the environment. For example, they volunteer to pick up trash on the school grounds during their recess time.  In 5th grade, one student wrote a narrative about being a member of the Green Team.
Campbell Green Team Narrative:Willow-click for readable view


Back to top