How an outdoor classroom blends ed-tech with nature

Thousand Oaks High School breaks ground on high-tech, self-sufficient outdoor classroom
By: | January 6, 2021
Teachers from all subjects will share the high-tech outdoor classroom (shown above) at Thousand Oaks High School in Southern California.Teachers from all subjects will share the high-tech outdoor classroom (shown above) at Thousand Oaks High School in Southern California.

Long before COVID, Thousand Oaks High School in California had begun designing an outdoor classroom equipped with all the instructional technology of an indoor learning space.

Schneider Electric has just broken ground on the Sustainable Outdoor Learning Environment pilot project, also known as SOLE, at the circa-1957 building, part of Conejo Valley USD north of Los Angeles.

“Going outside is not something new,” says Eric Bergmann, the principal of Thousand Oaks High School. “What’s different about this is that we’ve blended the best of both worlds. We’re able to bring the great benefits of having technology and access to electricity and all those other features into an outdoor environment.”

The classroom—which is designed and being built at no cost to the district by Schneider Electric—is covered by a roof of solar panels that provide renewable energy that will be stored in batteries, making the facility self-sufficient. A lack of walls maximizes ventilation and improves air quality.

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The classroom, which will be completed by early 2021, will contain plug-ins and charging stations for devices as well as a digital display. It will also contain durable outdoor furniture that can be rearranged for different classes and subjects, Bergman says.

“The things our students tend to remember most once they graduate tend to be those things that are most unique to them,” Bergman says.

While the classroom may appear STEAM-oriented, Bergman says teachers from all subjects will use the classroom.

It would, for example, provide more space for hands-on science experiments while giving art students a more expansive place to complete sketches, he says.

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“We’re a 60-year-old facility, and we’ve been hard at work figuring out ways to bring our campus into the 21st century,” Bergman says. “We now have a 22nd century facility sitting out on our campus.”

Schneider Electric is funding construction of the classroom in exchange for Thousand Oaks High School allowing the company to market the project and other district leaders to tour the facility.

“This is taking outdoor learning to a whole new level,” says Marc Starkey, a business development executive at Schneider Electric. “We have all the technology you’d see in an indoor classroom —you can have a touchscreen display and LED litghting—while you’re engaged in nature.”

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