Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Rebecca Krall


As the Green Schoolyards Movement continues to grow throughout North America, outdoor education (OE) is gaining more attention in the formal K-12 curriculum (Dyment, 2005; Sterrett & Imig, 2015). Rooted in the pedagogies of place-based and experiential learning, outdoor instruction provides social, psychological, physical, and academic benefits for students, and fosters their sense of connection to the natural environment (Dubel & Sobel, 2008; Robertson, 2017). In particular, outdoor learning opportunities have been shown to promote greater gains in students’ scientific content knowledge (Carrier et al., 2014; Cronin-Jones, 2000; Dirks & Orvis, 2005; Kenney et al., 2003). Outdoor instruction involves students in hands-on investigations and authentic data collection, promoting their development of important scientific skills (Robertson, 2017). Although many teachers have been able to engage students in outdoor science instruction successfully (e.g., Eick, 2012; May, 2000), other teachers struggle to overcome a myriad of barriers (Ayotte-Beaudet et al., 2017; Carrier et al., 2014; Dyment, 2005; Marchant et al., 2019). Understanding teachers’ pedagogical decisions related to outdoor instruction requires an understanding of the many factors that influence those decisions. Operationalizing Shuman and Ham’s (1997) Model of Commitment to Environmental Education in tandem with Magnusson et al.’s (1999) model of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) in science education, the purpose of this exploratory sequential mixed methods study was to develop and pilot a survey that could identify these influential factors, particularly in relation to teachers’ life experiences, attitudes and beliefs toward outdoor education, self-efficacy, subjective norms, and PCK. Further, this study sought to identify the topics and teaching strategies teachers most commonly use during outdoor science instruction. The study consisted of three phases: (1) a qualitative phase in which eight elementary teachers participated in semi-structured interviews, which were then analyzed using iterative coding; (2) development of a survey instrument addressing each of the theoretical constructs utilizing key findings from the qualitative analysis, as well as existing instruments in environmental education (EE), and reviewed by nine experts in STEM education research, elementary education, and EE; and (3) a quantitative pilot study of the developed survey in which 26 completed responses were received from elementary teachers throughout Kentucky. Nearly all participants reported using outdoor activities to teach science, but their levels of implementation varied greatly. Most responding teachers used OE to teach life science topics, as well as Earth-space science topics, but some also addressed physical science concepts. Teachers were motivated to implement OE by their personal experiences in the outdoors, their enjoyment of time in nature, and the benefits their students gain from being outside. Most reported high self-efficacy and felt supported by their administrators to implement OE, but often did not have help implementing outdoor lessons or maintaining outdoor spaces. Greater support for OE efforts was needed by most participants, including collegial support, help with maintenance, and help with administrative tasks. Differences in teachers’ implementation and levels of preparation (i.e., training specific to OE) also highlighted a need for OE training opportunities, both for pre-service and in-service teachers, that demonstrate how OE can be meaningfully integrated into the curriculum, as well as how the schoolgrounds can be utilized for OE beyond gardening. Insights gained from this study provide a more thorough understanding of the state of outdoor elementary science instruction in Kentucky, and will ultimately help inform development of curriculum materials, professional development trainings, and pre-service teacher programs.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This study was supported by the Arvle and Ellen Thacker Turner Research Fund in 2022.