Date of Award

Spring 5-6-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdisciplinary Program


Sid Mitchell

Second Committee Member

Christiaan Abildso

Third Committee Member

Adam Daigneault

Additional Committee Members

Jessica Leahy

Christopher Nightingale


This study explored the barriers and facilitators to outdoor learning and outdoor pursuits (OPs) in some of the most rural isolated K-12 schools in Maine. The purpose was to understand why some of these schools incorporate a lot of OPs and outdoor learning into their curriculum while other schools do not. Outdoor pursuits and outdoor learning in school settings are worthy of study because they provide students with opportunities to increase physical activity, benefit from time in nature, and make important connections to local culture (Lim et al., 2017; Schafft, 2016; Trembley et al., 2015).

This study employed a comparative case study design and positive outlier approach to investigate the research questions. The first phase of the study used surveys sent to physical education teachers and school administrators to assess what was being offered for outdoor learning and OPs in the sample schools and used that data to identify schools that were offering students considerable outdoor opportunities. One positive outlier (PO) school was identified during phase one data analysis. The PO school and two non-PO schools took part in the next phase of the research which included multiple interviews, a site visit, and administration of the Rural Active Living Assessment (RALA; Yousefian et al., 2010).

Qualitative data analysis of interviews and creation of case narratives for each phase two school uncovered several important themes. Incorporating outdoor learning and OP time during the regular school day and curriculum–as opposed to relegation as an “extra” activity–seemed to be an important facilitator. Additionally, providing outdoor learning and OP related professional development opportunities for teachers, including connections to curricular requirements, was considered critical. Underlying these themes was the apparent presence of a strong school culture and culturally relevant outdoor-based curriculum at the PO school (Moosung & Louis, 2019; Hardré, 2013).