Naturally Fit—Creating a Mini Nature Trail


Teacher’s Name: Carolyn Cohen

Class Grade Level(s) & School: 3, Nathan Clifford School

Class Subject: Physical Education

Number of Students in the class: 20

Lesson/Project Name:  Naturally Fit—Creating a Mini Nature Trail

A.  Pre-Reflection

1. What are your own teaching goals going into this?

  • Improve methods for preparing students to participate in learning outside.
  • Integrate classroom curriculum content into my Physical Education classes.
  • Connect teaching outside to Maine State Learning Results.

2.  What are your goals for students going into this?

a.  Process/skill goals:

  • Students will observe and describe the schoolyard environment by making a map.
  • Students will create a nature trail by organizing specific areas on the map by number.
  • Students will analyze information gathered while walking the trail to solve problems and create products.
  • Students will work individually to create a product.
  • Students will work with a partner to interpret information and solve a problem.
  • Students will work together in small groups to create a product.
  • Students will learn how to use a Pedometer to track distance on a trail.
  • The students will develop an awareness of natural surroundings.

b.  Subject/content goals

Health and Physical Education

  • Students will understand the relationship between health and physical activity.
  • Students will understand that the outdoors can be an arena for a variety of fitness activities.
  • Students will understand RPE (rate of perceived exertion)

Health and Physical Education

Social Studies

  • Students will be able to make a simple map.
  • Students will be able to interpret a map.
  • Students will be able to connect hiking to health and fitness.

The above process, skill and content area goals are aligned with the Maine State Learning Results as follows:

Health and Physical Education

H4: Physical Activity Benefits

Students identify physical and mental benefits and bodily responses related to regular participation in physical activity.

I1:  Cooperative skills:

Students demonstrate cooperative skills while participating in physical activities.

a. Demonstrate active listening

b. Get along with others

c. Accept responsibility for personal behavior

Social Studies (Geography)

A.  Skills and Tools

Students will know how to construct and interpret maps and use globes and other geographic tools to locate and derive information about people, places, regions, and environments.

B.  The Plan:

This project will take place over a two-week period. The project will involve students participating in nature related walking activities.  The skills acquired and information gathered will then be used to extend future lessons.  The purpose of this project is to teach children to connect with their natural surroundings for the purpose of utilizing the outdoors for  health and fitness activities. The project integrates Health, Social Studies and Physical Education.

Lesson I of the project will involve each student creating a map of the school grounds.  Each child must include 10 natural landmarks on their map.  For example, the large tree on the corner of the field.  The natural landmarks do not have to be living things.  They could use large boulders or rocks, an area of the garden or a stone bench.   The landmarks should be numbered 1-10.  When the maps are finished students will exchange maps with a friend.  Using their pedometers the students will walk the nature trail indicated on their map.  At the end they will read their pedometer and record the number or steps/miles the trail covered in the space indicated on the map handout. The maps will be discussed in the “Thinking Circle”.

1.  Materials

Pedometer for each child, clipboard, drawing paper and pencil for each child, map handout, and a pinecone (or other natural object like a flower or leaf) for thinking circle.

2.  The Class/Project

a.  Prep before going outside: (10 minutes/day 1)

I teach outside often.  Typical preparation for me includes all that was mentioned by Broda in the text.  I survey the field and playground daily to check for hazards, I always have a cell phone and a backup plan in case the phone does not work, and I have noted in my class record book any students with medical concerns.  It is also important to make sure the students understand that the time outside is not a recess.

As I teach Physical Education and only see students once a week, it is important for me to talk to classroom teacher in advance.  The teacher can then have students come to class ready with coats, hats etc on.  They will also have their pedometers on, as every student in our school received one at a recent health fair.  Classroom teachers collect the pedometers and keep them for the students to use in classroom activities.

My students meet in the gym as they always do for class and stand in a circle.  As Broda suggests  “outdoor time should be for doing not telling”, so I will spend some time preparing them for going outside.  Since I only have 45 minutes total this introductory time needs to be well thought out and organized.   I particularly liked the way this was spelled out in the text so I have created the following format for use in my own lesson plans in the future.

Indoor housekeeping items:

Group/partner Assignments:

For this activity I will set up partners in advance. This saves time and  helps to insure that the students will work well together.

Background information:

This part of the lesson starts with an essential question.

How can we use outdoor activities to increase physical activity and improve our personal health? Give the students time to respond.

Then, review the definition of fitness and talk about the importance of physical activity.  I will also talk about how our outdoor environment is a place where we can learn about nature and be physical activity at the same time.  This leads to improved fitness and better health.

Ask the students what a map is and what they are used for. Ask them if they have ever needed to use a map. Use this time to tell them that they will be making their own map today and using it to create a fitness trail.

The Task at Hand (overview):

Pass out a clipboard, already prepared in advance with a map handout and a pencil. Briefly go over the handout showing a rough outline of the school yard with the school building drawn in. Explain that when they get outside they are to spend a few minutes walking around the school grounds.  Then on their handout they should draw a map of the space that includes at least 10 different landmarks.  The landmarks must be natural (tree, bush, stone, gravel etc.), not things like swings, buildings or metal fences.  When the map is finished they should number the landmarks 1-10. Explain that they do not need to have a perfect drawing.  Keep the drawing simple.  Give them a time limit to complete the maps (15 minutes).


Explain that they will be going outside for class but that that the class format will be different than the PE classes that they are used to. Go over the following points:

  • Students need to take care of bathroom, water before going out.
  • Students need to move safely outside and follow basic PE rules (active listening, follow directions, be in control of your body, think safety).
  • Students need to come together at the amphitheatre on my  signal when time is up.
  • My signal will be both of my hands up saying “Circle Up”.

b. Outside: (25 minutes/ day1)

Once outside stop the students briefly to give an example of a natural landmark that they might use on their map then let them begin walking and working.

After 15 minutes signal the students to meet at the amphitheater.

In the circle ask one or two students to share their maps.   Use these maps to go over how to follow the numbers 1-10 to create a trail.  Then have partners exchange maps.  Direct them to go to number 1 on the partners map, reset their pedometers to 0 and then walk the numbers in order. When they get to number 10, check how many steps they have taken and record it on the space given.  Check the miles number and record it.  When they finish meet back at the circle.   When everyone is finished talk about how much distance was covered on the trail!  Have them feel their heart beat.  Explain RPE (rate of perceived exertion).  How does their body feel?  Imagine how they would feel if they were laying down in a grassy meadow taking a nap.  That represents 0 on the RPE scale.  Then imagine how they would feel if they were being chased by an angry mountain lion.  That represents 10 on the RPE scale.

Have the students then jog the trail from 1-10 two or three times.  Meet in the circle and talk about RPE again.  How are they feeling now?  How did they feel right after the jogging?  How about when they were walking around drawing their map?

In the final few minutes of the outside time students will utilize a  “Thinking Circle” to practice listening and focusing skills as they discuss and interpret the information they have learned.

Focusing skills are key if students are to get the most out of outdoor time and activities.  Broda suggests that students will be more focused if they are in a tight circle when listening outdoors.  As a cool down activity have the students sit in a circle.  Start by holding a stick in both of your hands and posing a question.  The rules of the thinking circle are that you may only talk when you are holding the pinecone (substitute any appropriate object). Pass the pinecone to any student you choose.  That student may answer the question or pass to another.

Some sample questions:

1. Repeat the essential question: How can we use outdoor activities to increase physical activity and improve our personal health?

2.  Does being outside make exercise more fun? Why?

3.  How does nature motivate you to want to move?

4. How did you use what you learned from walking your trail to help you understand RPE?

c.  Classroom follow-up: (Total 45 minute class/day 2)

The follow up activity will take place week II.   As I am not a classroom teacher this follow-up is really an extension of the previous lesson.  The goals for this week remain the same. The activity continues to reinforce the skills and content covered in last week’s lesson.

1.  Materials:

Trail maps from previous lesson, pedometers, clipboard, paper, pencil, stopwatch, Estimating handout.

2. The class/project

a. Prep before going outside (15 minutes/day2)

Indoor housekeeping items:

Group/partner Assignments:

For this activity I will set up groups of four in advance. Each student will be assigned a group role:

1. Map reader (scout)

2. Timer (task master)

3. Recorder

4. Mileage keeper

Explain each of the above roles

Background information:

Essential Question: How can we use outdoor activities to increase physical activity and improve our personal health?

Review form last week what fitness is.  Review RPE and how physical activity and fitness are connected.  Talk about the enjoyment of exercising outside.  Review last week’s mapping activity and how they followed the mini trails.

The Task at Hand (overview):

Explain that the students will use the Mini Trail maps to complete a walk/jogging fitness activity.  For each group I will have chosen a Mini trail map from the previous lesson.  The group will walk/ jog through the trail using one persons map as their guide.  The scout will lead the pace of the group.  All must follow at the same pace.   The timer will use the stop-watch to see how long it takes to walk the trail and the mileage keeper will keep track of the distance on the pedometer. When finished they will use this information to estimate the approximate number of times around the trail it will take for to walk/jog one mile. They will also estimate approximately how long it will take them.  The recorder writes down the estimates on the handout. The group will then walk the estimated number of times around and then check the pedometer and watch to see how close their estimate came.  The recorder will record the actual times and distance on the handout.


Explain that they will be going outside for class but that that the class format will be different than the PE classes that they are used to. Go over the following points:

  • Students need to take care of bathroom, water before going out.
  • Students need to move safely outside and follow basic PE rules (active listening, follow directions, be in control of your body, think safety).
  • Students need to come together at the amphitheatre on my  signal when time is up.
  • My signal will be both of my hands up saying “Circle Up”.

b. Outside: (20 minutes/ day2)

Once outside the groups should begin right away.  After one lap around the trials signal the students to meet at the  amphitheatre.  Have each group talk about the information they have gathered and estimate how long it will take them to walk/ jog a mile and how many times they will need to walk the trail in order to complete a mile. (5 minutes)

After 5 minutes have the students begin the activity.  Direct the students to move to the start of their trail.  Timer starts the watch and mileage keeper resets the pedometer to 0.  Begin.  Continue until the estimated distance is completed.  Check pedometer and watch.  Record the actual distance based on the pedometer reading and the actual time based on the watch. (15 minutes).

Set up another “Thinking Circle”.   (10 minutes)

Sample questions:

1.  Repeat the Essential question: How can we use outdoor activities to increase physical

activity and improve our own personal health.

2.  Were you estimates correct or close?

3.  Were you surprised by the outcome?

4.  What physical changes did you experience when you were walking or jogging?

5.  Name some things that you can do outside to stay fit.

4.  How is hiking a trail different from jogging a lap?

In future classes student may continue to use these mini trail maps as a way to train for our annual “Fun Run” which takes place in late May.  Student could compare the difference they feel   (RPE) when they walk jog the trial vs. walk jogging the 12th of a mile track that we have around the field.

C.  Reflection:

Since last week was school vacation I have only done lesson I of this project. My third graders really seemed to enjoy the nature trail activity.  They are outside for Physical Education class on a regular basis when the weather is nice. However this activity was very different from what we would typically be doing in class.  Classes are almost always fitness focused, but in a more traditional way. They were excited about doing something different.

One observation that I had was that students were very much engaged in the mapping aspect of the class.  I was surprised at how engaged they were in  setting up their trails. One thing that I did not anticipate though, was that most of them sat down when they were making their maps!  Our schoolyard is so small that they actually could stay  in one place to draw the map and lay out the trail.  I had not directed them to make a map as they walked around the yard, so they didn’t.  If I teach this lesson again I will spend more time discussing the value of moving around and looking for the landmarks they will use for their trail.

Another observation that I had was that the activity seemed to give the students a sense of adventure.  I think that the mini trail and the idea of linking it to nature was what made this happen. What kid doesn’t like the mystery and adventure of a trial? My students found that sense of adventure even in our small schoolyard.  They also seemed to be more energetic in the actual movement part of the class.  They had high energy and enthusiasm when walking and then jogging from one landmark to another.  They talked about the difference between jogging along their trails and jogging around the track.  Their own trail was more fun because it was “less boring”.

If I were to do this plan again I would try it with grade 5 students.  Most of the lesson was age appropriate for grade three, but they did have some difficulty with using the pedometers.  I spent quite a bit of time helping students use and understand them.  A lesson just on using the pedometer may be an appropriate prerequisite to this type of activity in the future.  Another change I thought about making was to spend an entire lesson on mapping before the actual activity.  Or, even better, ask the classroom teacher to cover this in a Social Studies lesson. My ultimate goal would be to get classroom teachers to spend more time outside in general.  Philosophically, I believe that teaching outdoors tends to promote more physical activity and large muscle movement than traditional indoor classroom activities.

Nathan Clifford  Mini Nature Trail


I Guess?


(Sets the pace)


(Writes things down)

Mileage keeper:___________________




How many times will your group need to walk/jog the trail to complete 1 mile?____________

How long will it take your group to walk/jog1 mile?__________________

How many miles or less did you actually walk/jog?_______________

What was your actual time?___________________

*** Important information:  One mile = 5,280 feet!

What was your groups RPE when you were trying to complete this task!  ___________

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