CyLynn Braswell offers one bit of advice for students planning to attend a session at the Northwest ISD’s Outdoor Learning Center.
“It’s not the place to try on new clothes,” said Northwest ISD’s Outdoor Learning Center coordinator. “You’re going to get dirty.
“For [students] it’s shocking when they are given permission to get dirty. When [students] are doing activities it’s great to watch them get dirty.”
The district’s Outdoor Learning Center is located in Northlake, on Mulkey Road, on the 193 acres of the former Texas Lil’s Dude Ranch. It’s the outdoor laboratory for students to come out and test theories they’re learning in the classroom.
“We believe in experimental learning,” Braswell said. “We are taking the inside and bringing it outside.
“These are things our students are tested on that you really can’t learn by reading about in a book. They see it here, they are more empowered and impacted.”
As Braswell puts it, NISD has made a commitment to helping students get back in touch with nature while developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
“What we try to teach is not to look for the nearest electrical outlet,” Braswell said. “We’re helping kids reconnect with nature.”
Last year, more than 12,000 people visited the center. Braswell is hoping to break the 20,000 barrier this year.
“We’re open during the summer and have all types of curriculum plans,” Braswell said.
She adds that her goal in writing curriculum for students from elementary through high school is to “push the envelope of failure” and teach critical problem-solving through experimental learning.
Recently, more than 50 employees from the GE plant off Texas 114 and Farm Road 156 near Justin volunteered at the Outdoor Learning Center, building stream tables and helping with other needed labor.
“The stream tables turned out great,” Braswell said.
“We have three people here,” she said. “Something this labor intensive – it would be difficult for us to do. We’re blessed to have someone step in and help.”
The stream tables replicate erosion and weathering.
“It’s a mini-version of the Grand Canyon,” Braswell said.
Fifth graders, who visited the center this week, made predictions of how water would flow through the table, flooding the model homes on the board.
“It shows how that occurs in nature, like the Mississippi River flowing from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico,” Braswell said. “And we all like the destruction with the little houses getting flooded.”
Another popular lesson for students is building the seed bombs with different wildflower seeds that are planted at the center.
“They plant, make predictions and see if they are going to come true,” Braswell said.
The district is in the planning stages of building new facilities at the center. The district has allocated $10 million for updates, including construction, furniture, equipment and fees.
It’s a small investment for a lifetime of lessons for students that also comes with a few dirty clothes.