I initially chose to focus my research on multi-credit interdisciplinary high school outdoor/environmental programs (integrated programs) because I witnessed, both in my own students and in the words of teachers, students and parents from other programs, the powerful learning that occurs and impact they had on the lives of many program participants (see Caspell, 2006; Haskell, 2000; Hood & Macmillan, 2002; Horwood, 1994, 1995; Jupp, 1995; Orberndorfer, 2000; Russell & Barrett, 2002; Russell & Burton, 2000). Also, because I knew from first hand experience, and later published studies, that the challenges in setting up and running such programs are significant (Comishin, Dyment, Potter & Russell, 2004; Hood & McMillan, 2002; Horwood, 1994).
In these programs, students spend an entire semester with the same peers and one or two teachers, involved in interdisciplinary, participatory learning both within and outside of the school building. At least thirty programs exist in public schools across Canada. Integrated programs provide opportunities for whole-body, interdisciplinary, outdoor and experiential learning with ample spaces for critical and creative thinking. Most important to me is the opportunity for community building, where the community does not include only humans. Since the programs tend to reflect the values and beliefs of their teachers (Horwood, 1995; Hood & MacMillian, 2002), my original research questions set out to inquire into the beliefs, motivations and significant life experiences of teachers who develop and run them.