CityStudio moves classroom outside

Outdoor Learning Project created to get people out and about in parks

A faint summer breeze, warm summer sun and rustling trees — while together they evoke an enjoyable walk, what if they could also be experienced in a classroom?

That’s precisely what students from Simon Fraser University are hoping to achieve, in conjunction with CityStudio and the park board. CityStudio is an initiative launched by the city that brings together staff, students and community members to bring ideas to life.

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As part of a joint initiative, Everett Crowley Park is home to a new project that brings the classroom outside. The Outdoor Learning Project was organized and created to get people out and about in parks, for more than just a stroll.

David Yule, park steward at Everett Crowley, said the project is part of a long-term goal to get people to interact more with the vast green space.

“My biggest goal is to get more people involved in the park and have it more widely known than it is now,” he said.

Originally known as the Kerr Road Dump, it was a closed landfill for 25 years before its official opening as a park in 1987.

Twenty students from SFU signed up for the full-time course, which runs now through June 27. During that time, students learn outside in the park and create “learning experiments” to help users immerse themselves more fully in the environment of the park, said course instructor Lena Soots.

“I’m always blown away at what students come up with, better than any ideas that I could come up with myself,” Soots said.
Soots, who is also program manager at CityStudio, said the course is part of an interdisciplinary program at SFU called Semester in Dialogue. The course is composed of students from across various disciplines, including design, geography and communications.

“A lot of the students are looking for something a little different in their university education. They are tired of sitting in lecture halls and writing papers and they want something hands-on,” she said. “In this kind of course they learn about their city in a much deeper and more engaged way.”

Yule said the project will benefit the ecosystem of the park, in addition to the people in the community who will get increased usage from the space.

“As we make the park more attractive to more users, it’s helping the ecosystem of the park. That is what I am most excited about,” Yule said, citing the increased need to control invasive species as part of revitalizing the park.  

While the course only runs seven weeks, it’s part of the larger Outdoor Learning Project. There are discussions underway to see if another batch of architecture students can continue and even implement some of the installations created by this summer’s participants.

Janet Moore, director of the Semester in Dialogue program and co-director of CityStudio, said the program is beneficial to the moods and stress levels of the students taking the course.

“By the end of the first week the students were feeling more connected to nature and noticing changes in how they were feeling — emotionally and physically,” Moore said via email.

kathleen.saylors@gmail.com

@KathleenSaylors

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