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Outdoor Education

Applying the Principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ to Daily Life in an Urban Setting

By NCOAE Headquarters June 27, 2022

Uncategorized

Back in the early 1940s, Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world Scouting movement, said, “Try and leave the world a little better than you found it.” Over time, this morphed into, “Always leave your campground cleaner than you found it.”

Fifty years later, in the early 1990s, that Leave No Trace concept was immortalized through educational curriculum developed by the United States Forest Services in partnership with NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School). The outcome was an agreed framework for instilling awareness on the part of wilderness travelers to interact with nature in a manner that reduces human impact.

The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Today, that program — run by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colorado — impacts more than 15 million people in the United States and dozens of other countries with conservation initiatives, education, training, and research.

Baden-Powell’s simple sentiment more-or-less condenses the seven principles behind today’s Leave No Trace (LNT) program. LNT’s well-known checklist includes:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Others

But what about the majority of the time when most of us are not roughing it in the backcountry? Can we incorporate these seven principles into our daily lives? Can we bring such environmental awareness into an urban or front-country setting?

Some of us here at NCOAE headquarters in Wilmington, N.C., discussed the possibilities of applying backcountry Leave No Trace principles in everyday living, and here’s what we came up with: (more…)

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There’s a Reason Why Outdoor Ed is Not Club Med

By NCOAE Headquarters June 16, 2022

Outdoor Education

Zac Adair, our co-founder and executive director, recently asked one of our course
participants why they signed up for a particular outdoor adventure. “It was a photo that
appeared on your website of a guy on top of a mountaintop with the blue skies above the
glaciers in the background.”

Picture yourself here. It’s a common tactic in all great marketing campaigns. If after
seeing an advertisement, you can picture yourself wearing a specific shirt, driving a
particular truck, or vacationing on a cruise ship that’s making its way to the Bahamas,
then the team of marketers responsible for those ads has done their job.

Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education — where we’re focused
on designing and guiding outdoor and adventure education experiences that promote
personal growth, professional development, and stewardship in our community and the
natural environment — we employ the same tactics. Take one look at our website and
you’ll see photographs and videos featuring real NCOAE students participating in the
very courses and trainings that we offer around the globe.

So, it’s little wonder that these videos and photos prompt our website visitors to picture
themselves on one of our backcountry adventures. But here’s the thing that may escape
such a casual or initial thought. That picture of a (more…)

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Cape Fear Academy Students Immerse Themselves in Ecuador’s Culture

By NCOAE Headquarters June 3, 2022

International Expeditions

Late last year, the staff at Cape Fear Academy in Wilmington, North Carolina, asked for our help in creating a unique and meaningful 10-day, outdoor and adventure-based out-of-country expedition for a handful of its high school students.

In particular, Cape Fear’s educational leaders were looking for a diverse destination that would enable their students to immerse themselves deeply in a new culture — an adventure that would extend far beyond selfies, social media, suntan oil, and sand — and which would reinforce the school’s own values and curriculum. Known for designing and leading custom outdoor education programs for private and independent schools, we were happy to help!

The original Cape Fear Academy was established in 1868 as an independent school for boys. After closing in 1916, the school was reestablished 52 years later in 1968 with the commitment of “forging capable young adults with skills, confidence and resilience to take risks, solve problems and overcome challenges.”

So, it was with that focus in mind that the school asked us here at The National Center for Outdoor and Adventure Education (NCOAE) to custom design an expedition for nine of the school’s students, along with a chaperone from the school and three NCOAE field instructors. Their destination? Ecuador.

Our staff prepared an itinerary that incorporated the school’s objectives of instilling confidence, facing challenges, taking on informed risks, and solving problems. After all, those missives mirror the (more…)

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Returning to School? We Want to Help you Safely Opt Out(side)

By Stephen Mullaney February 20, 2021

Uncategorized

In recent weeks, we’ve all been hearing more and more from parents, educators, and even the nation’s top disease experts on the impending opening of schools across the nation.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has suggested that school districts developing their plans for campus reopening should find ways to offer as many outdoor activities as possible. Fauci said that could include everything from outdoor classes, to recess, and lunchtime.

Plans for just when and how schools will reopen are being formulated and fine-tuned, and the consensus seems to be that being outside is the safest place to be during the instructional day. As states start to mandate returns to school, safety and quality of education are at the forefront of design.

Obviously, you’ll get no argument about that from those of us here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). And we have some suggestions. But first, here are the questions we are hearing most often from you.

Why move outdoors?

Doctor Fauci already told us that spending time outdoors is safer during times of infectious diseases, and we’re puzzled why some schools forget that being outside is often best for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Studies have shown that, in districts with high numbers of second language students, learning outdoors is (more…)

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A Photograph Is Seldom Worth Even One Outdoor Education Experience

By Stephen Mullaney July 22, 2017

Outdoor Education

Here’s an exchange that recently occurred between a tourist and myself:

“What kind of camera do you use?”

“What?”

“What kind of camera do you use to show people what you’ve done?”

“I don’t,” I replied as I stepped onto the beach, board tucked under my arm, ready to paddle out to the surfline.

The woman appeared a bit confused by my answer, possibly perplexed that I wasn’t carrying a GoPro or waterproof camera on my morning adventure.

I recall as a kid we used to watch documentaries in school and read articles about cultures where the inhabitants refused to be photographed for fear it would steal their souls. We were amazed — and a little amused — that a primitive tribe or ancient community could believe that a small box that lets in light could actually snatch a soul.

NCOAE student on a recent Education Without Walls course in Alaska

NCOAE student on a recent Education Without Walls course in Alaska

Nobody’s stealing souls, we said. We all just seek memories. Something to show others where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished, uncovered or learned. And, while flipping through magazines, that’s what we saw. Other people’s adventures.

But today, things are becoming a little more like the tribes fearing the loss of their souls.

Whether in the surf, on the trail or gazing at the pristine surroundings from atop a mountain, we’re constantly surrounded by people actively (more…)

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Teaching Adventure Education Within the Constraints of Walls

By Stephen Mullaney October 12, 2016

Outdoor Education

When the busy season for summer-based outdoor education programming winds down, many in the outdoor education community may have found themselves returning to other avocations and means to make a living. For those of us who remain in the field of education — albeit in a more traditional setting — we continue what we know to be “best practices” as teachers.

Outdoor Education Office

“Classroom” is not a word we’re at all excited about. The hum of the fluorescent lights is like something out of a horror movie. And the designs of the windows seem to be lifted from a prison architect’s plan book.

Students make it outdoors only for recess, and that depends entirely on how much the teacher enjoys the outdoors. Otherwise, teachers and students alike are stocked away inside most of the day. At some schools, the physical education teacher doesn’t even take students outdoors.

All of this is a difficult reality for those of you who just spent three months each summer with students exploring wilderness and outdoor environs.

Experiential education, place-based learning, project-based learning, and adventure education — the list goes on and on. Schools use these terms to sell themselves. Read the descriptions published by public schools, charter schools and independent schools across the country and you’ll (more…)

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