Research Notes: Partnerships to Support School Children

Research Notes

by Gwynn M. Powell, Ph.D.

As we gain access to and create better skills and tools to document the outcomes that occur as a result of the camp experience, we have an opportunity to partner with other youth development agencies to provide skill development contexts for children and youth. School-camp partnerships are a natural collaboration that allows learning and growth in a different environment than the school setting. The following studies were presented at the 2004 Camp Research Symposium held at the American Camping Association National Conference and provide practical applications for camp directors and staff to consider for the current season and beyond.

Bridging Schools to Camp: Residential Outdoor Education Program Outcomes

Allison Dowell and Chuck Wurth
4-H Camp Palmer, Inc.,

This study measured teacher perception of student learning that resulted from exposure to the 2003 4-H Camp Palmer Outdoor Education program. Using a single-page survey, with ratings from 1 (none) to 5 (most) of the students, teachers were asked to measure thirteen indicators and respond to three open-ended questions. The list of thirteen indicators was developed using the Outdoor Education program goals, Ohio State University Extension 4-H youth development key elements, expert opinion, and historical information.

The surveys were sent to schools one full week after their three- to five-day residential outdoor education experience during the spring and fall of 2003. Surveys were sent in a packet to the school principal, and each survey had the teacher’s name on a sticky note. The total number of participants attending Outdoor Education, including students, counselors, and teachers was 1,045. The survey was sent to fifty teachers and thirty-four were returned. Of those returned half were from the spring, and half were from the fall program.

The results indicate that after attending 4-H Camp Palmer’s Outdoor Education program teachers rated the greatest gain in students in:

  • learning new skills (4.63)
  • discovering new things that they are good at (4.48)
  • improving cooperation (4.39)

The highest gains in subject areas were:

  • science (4.45)
  • physical education (4.38)
  • art/music (4.12)

The overall ratings were high with the lowest average being for the indicators of: increased decision-making skills (3.9) and the subject area of language arts (3.5).

The open-ended question identified gains in gross motor activities as highlights for the students. These activities are not normally found at school: canoeing, archery, zipline, night hikes, reptile class taught using live snakes, and evening dances. The greatest impacts identified in the open-ended question were realized in cooperation, communication, respect for one another, working together toward a common goal, being part of a group, and communicating.

Practical Applications
Although this survey is specific to 4-H Camp Palmer, these findings provide insight and “food for thought” for other camp directors and outdoor education providers seeking to measure specific program accomplishments and short falls. Aspects of outdoor education opportunities to consider include:

  • Classroom space is limited, but camp space is open. Conducting lessons that require large spaces (fields, woods); specialized equipment (zipline, canoes, bows and arrows); or land features (lake, wetland) and involve gross motor activity make the camp/school experience unique.
  • Outdoor education can be broken up into at least two components: content-based classes and living together. As much effort should go into development of the living together curriculum as goes into content-based classes. We need to be deliberate in developing this unique aspect of our program and marketing it to our schools.

4-H and School-Based Outdoor Education Partnership: Assessing Problem Solving and Teamwork Skills

Kelly Krambeck,
Eastern NE 4-H Center,

This research measured the impact of a 4-H and school-based outdoor education partnership. The more specific focus of this study was to determine the impact of outdoor education on student ability to solve problems and work as a team. The outdoor education partnership is a three-day, two-night stay at a residential camp facility. The camp and school work together to provide a range of educational opportunities including team building, high-element ropes course, canoeing, prairie, history, geology, stream, forest, and astronomy. Along with educational curriculum, these opportunities teach life skills such as problem solving and teamwork.

The participants were five sixth-grade classes and one fifth-grade class (221 students total, with 157 receiving parental permission to complete the survey) from an urban school district in a Midwestern city who participated in an outdoor education partnership program.

The survey was developed using Purdue University, Cooperative Extension’s 4-Fold Youth Development Model instruments. The problem-solving and leadership instruments were shortened and changed into a retrospective pre-post survey format to reduce the time required to take the survey and to eliminate “frame of reference” bias. The revised survey was reviewed by Dr. Kay Rockwell, evaluation specialist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The camp director administered the survey during the closing activities of each school’s outdoor education program.

This study provided qualitative and quantitative evidence that the outdoor education program resulted in increased student ability to solve problems and work as a team. Responses reflected ten general themes: trust, communication, getting along, new experiences, making friends, curriculum and activities, problem solving, teamwork, fun, and nonspecific responses. The quantitative results were significant (p=<.001) for all problem-solving and teamwork questions and from all participant groupings (gender, grade level, school).

Practical Applications
This study documents specific benefits to participants and can serve as a catalyst for further research and marketing efforts of school-camp partnerships. Benefits to explore include:

  • Benefits to camps: This study provides research that supports the efforts of schools and organizations who hope to partner in providing outdoor education to youth. Many camps have facilities located in natural surroundings, ample educational resources, and a need for increased participation and revenue. These qualities alone make pursuing an outdoor education partnership valuable.
  • Benefits to schools: This study responds to a call by the National 4-H Council to include experiential education (e.g., outdoor education) into 20 percent of existing school curriculums. Schools seek resources and support for the teaching of life skills (problem solving, teamwork, communication, leadership), as well as hands-on educational opportunities for youth.
  • Financial applications: This study can assist in justifying school budget dollars used for outdoor education because of the curriculum and impact provided to students. Camps may increase their revenue through this program by increasing off-season (spring, fall) programming, while maintaining a mission to provide summer camp programs.

Gwynn M. Powell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Georgia. Please contact Powell through e-mail,, for further information regarding article content or to share research ideas.

Originally published in the 2004 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.