Nature-Based Learning in Lake County School District

Nature-based learning supports strong academic performance and enhances wellbeing. Lake County School District partners with Get Outdoors Leadville! to ensure our students have access to nature-based learning throughout their academic career. This helps our students achieve at a higher level and be their best selves. And, while students are outdoors learning and growing, we know many will fall in love with the natural world too, pursuing those passions beyond the school day and beyond their academic career.

Whether directly facilitating, streamlining logistics, or leveraging partnerships with local experts, Get Outdoors Leadville! supports nature-based learning throughout our district.

Community Building through Outdoor Adventure

Through everything from backyard team-building challenges in the forests adjacent to our schools to problem-solving initiatives on nearby public land or the low ropes challenge course on Colorado Mountain College’s Leadville campus, we leverage outdoor adventure to establish strong school culture, develop individual leadership, and build community.

6th grade Leadership Program with Colorado Outward Bound School

We have a special opportunity for our 6th grade students to honor their role as leaders at Lake County Intermediate School (grade 3-6). In their crews, students and their crew teacher spend three days and two nights at the Colorado Outward Bound School’s Leadville campus. There, Outward Bound instructors guide students as they try activities like team-building initiatives, challenge themselves on the high ropes course, spend time around a campfire, and camp under the stars. Our goals for the experience are to:

  • Build leadership skills 
  • Develop a sense of “family” among 6th-grade students – with a shared stake in each other’s struggles and successes
  • Foster a connection with a trusted adult
  • Have a lot of fun!


Another example of outdoor community building is our annual “Snowpalooza” experience. Our students actively work to develop strong habits of a learner – Perseverance, Compassion, Craftsmanship, Respect, Responsibility, Curiosity, & Collaboration. At Lake County Intermediate School, quarterly rewards celebrations honor the hard work students are doing to develop these habits. Get Outdoors Leadville! and community volunteers bring us Snowpalooza including Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and snow play. What better way to honor outstanding performance on the habits of a learner than a few hours of outdoor winter play?

Nature-based Learning Fieldwork Progression

At EL Education we use the term fieldwork, rather than field trips. This is not just a semantic difference. Fieldwork is not sitting on a miniature train looking at sites, and it’s not just taking a tour of an historic home or walking through an aquarium. Fieldwork is what adult professionals do: research in the world. “ – Ron Berger, EL Education Chief Academic Officer

In Lake County School District, we have embraced fieldwork through our nature-based learning progression. In partnership with our teachers, Get Outdoors Leadville! has stitched together a network of experts to create authentic, hands-on, nature-based learning experiences. 

Kindergarten explorers don snowshoes and brave wintery conditions to conduct field research documenting their scientific observations about trees.

1st grade ornithologists grab binoculars and observe migratory birds in situ at Hayden Meadows accompanied by experts from the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA).

3rd grade historians explore the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division “skiing soldiers.” They visit the Colorado Snowsports Museum, participate in a training day at Camp Hale where they write letters from the frontlines, and ski (or learn to ski!) alongside current 10th Mountain soldiers and descendents at our backyard hill, Ski Cooper.

4th Grade SOLE- Lake County Intermediate School is fortunate to be a “SOLE” school with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Through our partnership with SOLE (Schools and Outdoor Learning Environments) 4th grade students participate in three fully-funded field trips to Colorado State Parks or other CPW properties and visit Colorado history​ museums. They also enjoy classroom visits from CPW staff. Finally, CPW hosts a Family Nature Night with activities, food, prizes, and exploration of what’s fun outdoors! 

During their learning expedition about natural disasters, 5th grade students record weather and snowpack observations with experts from the Avalanche Science program at Colorado Mountain College.

Through our “In Collaboration with Nature” project, 3rd-6th grade students explore the ephemeral, nature-based artwork of famous artist Andy Goldsworthy – examining principles of composition and symmetry and working with natural materials to create their own ephemeral nature art. 

Our 7th and 8th grade students finish math units with a hands-on application of the content in an outdoor setting. They graph constant rates of change (slope) through an exercise on the bleachers and find examples of tessellation, rotational, and reflectional symmetry in outdoor contexts both natural and human-made. These activities take place just outside the school building.

7th and 8th graders also go farther afield to learn firsthand about topics like wildfire ecology where they meet with representatives from GARNA, staff from the Leadville Ranger District (U.S. Forest Service), and wildland fire crews. Students watch controlled burn demos, conduct a firebox analysis to see how pitch and forest density affect the spread of wildfires, and survey plants in a recently felled area. 

When students reach high school, they can choose from a variety of immersive nature electives:

Woods & Fly Fishing: During this semester-long course, students tie flies, fly fish in local waterways, and learn directly from Colorado Parks and Wildlife rangers, Trout Unlimited volunteers, experienced fly fishing guides, and local conservationists. After the fly fishing component of the course wraps up, students work with Lake County Open Space Initiative and the Leadville Ranger District to build conservation-related projects for riparian areas. We could write more words about this, but this video will give you a much better idea!

Wilderness Experience: This semester-long dual enrollment course in Colorado Mountain College’s Outdoor Recreation Leadership program focuses on backcountry travel and camping skills and leadership and community skills. Students build their technical expertise on everything from cooking over a 1-burner backpacking stove to how to give feedback — and then put their skills to the test during a 6-day backpacking trip in the canyons of Utah. Again, this video will give you a much better idea!

Environmental Science: Students become true environmental scientists conducting field reach on lynx as a case study for endangered species (with GARNA). Through a series of visits from local experts from Cloud City Conservation Center, students examine topics including sustainable agriculture, compost, energy efficiency, and waste. They also visit the Cloud City Farm to grow and monitor their own plants. And, students work alongside college students and experts from CMC’s Ecosystem Science & Management department to conduct water quality tests in a series of labs and a fieldwork experience. This training prepares interested students to apply for a summer field scientist position working alongside professional scientists and college students pursuing a degree in Ecosystem Science.