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Crockett students GEAR UP for outdoor learning

When Doug Harris teaches his students geometry, it’s not always easy to explain how it is used in the basic, everyday world.
But an outdoor classroom recently completed at David Crockett High School is about to make that much easier.
“It’s going to give me the opportunity to show these kids how geometry and pre-calculus are found in the outdoors and all around us,” Harris said. “And that real-world application may intrigue some of them and help them better understand the subjects.”
For creative writing teacher Ashley Keys, the classroom will provide a similar opportunity.
“I’ll be using it for nature writing and just to inspire them to write,” Keys said. “Sometimes, when you are sitting outside, you get ideas you wouldn’t get when you are sitting within four walls.”
Funded by the GEAR UP program and its grant money, the outdoor classroom is just one facet of a months-long project that is putting Crockett on a different playing field when it comes to innovative ways to learn.
“This is such a unique resource at a school,” said James Phillips, GEAR UP project coordinator. “Those things are generally not available to students, not even at a college setting. It’s incredibly unique at a high school campus.”
The classroom, which will officially open in the spring, comes complete with solar panels that power everything from a projection screen to a handful of cameras placed among the 18 acres of wooded land on the school campus.
A kiosk just on the edge of the wood line will offer scrolling images from the cameras, which are hidden throughout the woods along trails being created by students.
Also included in the project are methods of harvesting rainwater, a display of tree rings created from dead trees found within the woods and flora and fauna display placards that help make up the Class I arboretum at the school.
About a dozen Crockett students constructed the outdoor learning facility, working throughout the summer to get the job done. Their trades ranged from carpentry and welding to masonry and computer aided design.
The project emphasizes using alternative energy sources, something that GEAR UP leaders say is crucial to helping students excel.
“Getting young people ready for alternative energy is really a good approach. They are realizing it doesn’t need an electric cord to operate,” said Dr. Paul Sims, a GEAR UP partner and professor at East Tennessee State University. “We pay 7 to 11 cents per kilowatt here for our electricity. In Europe, it’s 21 to 30 cents. It won’t be long before we see that here.”
In the meantime, students at Crockett will be able to use their outdoor classroom to better understand the world and their place in it.
“They’re getting real-life, hands-on experience that no classroom, in its traditional sense, can provide,” Phillips said. “This is invaluable. And it’s the main part of the GEAR UP initiative — to get students ready for the real world.”