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Northern Illinois University Your Future, Our Focus Northern Illinois University Your Future, Our Focus

Taking it outside

NIU P.E. majors gain hands-on experience in teaching outdoor education


For 20 fifth-graders from Aurora’s Krug Elementary School and 10 Physical Education majors from the NIU College of Education, an unusually warm stretch of February weather couldn’t have come at a better time.

NIU Physical Education Major Brandon Palmer helps fifth-grader Yvonne Chanda learn how to start a fireTheir trip to NIU’s Lorado Taft Field Campus, an outdoor education center within Lowden State Park in Oregon, Ill., offered perfect conditions for teaching and learning for young children and young adults alike.

“It’s just the best experience for our NIU students,” says Gail Koehling, an instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “I hear from them, ‘This week really showed me why I want to be a teacher.’ They’ve had this more than 48 hours of working with these groups of children, and it really validates for them why they’ve chosen this career.”

As future P.E. teachers, Koehling says, the students add a priceless distinction to their resumes.

“One the major things they learn during this class is, ‘I’m teaching something that is brand new to me. This shows what a great teacher I can be. You can give me anything – any content – and I can teach it. It doesn’t have to be the thing I’ve done all my life,’ ” she says. “These students are ready and prepared to go out and teach any content you can give them.”

Senior P.E. major Kelly Miotti progressed toward her goal to “change people’s lives.”

Physical Education Major Kelly Miotti with Krug Elementary fifth-grader Angelina Sifuentes“The skill that you learn at Taft is basically learning how to keep kids involved for three days straight,” Miotti says, “and that you have to adapt to every situation.”

“Coming out here, you’re testing more than content knowledge,” adds classmate Nick Wiltsie, a senior. “You’re testing confidence levels, resilience levels, character-building skills. Their personal character is begin challenged throughout this experience, and so as a teacher myself, I’m able to take notes to help them become a better individual in the future.”

NIU’s students made an initial visit to Taft about 20 days earlier, taking on the roles of the fifth-graders.

Guided by Taft’s professional staff, they learned about orienteering, pioneering, birding, forest ecology, survival and Native Americans. They took night hikes, played outside games and performed campfire skits about nature.

Most importantly, they saw outdoor education modeled while they planned their own delivery of those same lessons.

“This is so real-life,” Koehling says. “This gets them to step up and be the teacher they are – the teacher they’re becoming.”