It’s 9.15am. I’ve arrived in class (just in time) for the first lecture of the day… and I’m wearing wellies. Thankfully, I am not the only one. A bunch of us already booted, whilst the rest are pulling on spotty, muddy, flowery wellies of their own. After the briefest of briefings from our lecturer, we’re ready. I find myself carrying some rulers, a fellow student has volunteered to take a bag of egg boxes, mirrors, and plastic cups, and someone else is holding a bunch of radishes. And so, thus equipped, we head out of the classroom and into the sunshine…
The lesson of the day? Geography, naturally. And this was how our most recent session began. Our expedition took us to a small brook near the campus to investigate and do a bit of forest school of our own.
One of the things I really love about this PGCE course is how much hands-on learning we get to do. I must admit that there are moments, after an already long day of lectures, where I think I’d rather sit in peace than have get up to do an activity, however, there is nothing like experiencing an activity first-hand in order to appreciate its value and potential impact in our future classrooms (Eeek!).
Here we are, taking an “Eyes in the Sky” walk, using mirrors to observe the branches above us, trusting the person in front of us and feeling our way along.
We scavenged through the bushes filling our egg boxes with bits and pieces to match our descriptive words (damp, smooth, prickly, squishy…) and hunted for ingredients to make nature ‘cocktails.’
Finally, we got down to the brook itself to measure a cross section and the flow. This is where the radishes come in! It turns out that radishes (mostly) float and, teamed with a ruler and stopwatch, provide an excellent means of measuring water flow.
Learning outside the classroom is ‘in’, and it’s easy to see why. There are many compelling reasons to get out of school and into an alternative learning environment. The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom is the national voice for learning outside the classroom. They believe that “every young person should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development, whatever their age, ability or circumstances.” These kinds of experiences develop us beyond the academic; they help us build resilience and confidence and develop problem-solving, communication and teamwork skills that prepare us for life.
The Geographical Association is a great source of material on this subject and has published this helpful document on fieldwork.
Both the GA and CLOtC are supporting The Year of Fieldwork 2015-16 which aims to promote the benefits of fieldwork and encourage more educational institutes to engage in fieldwork.
But it’s not just about Geography. Experiential, hands-on, explorative learning outside of the classroom can support any and every curriculum area and certainly the primary schools that I visited last year are embracing this idea. Outings to places of worship, local historical sites, museums, parks, libraries, zoos, businesses, factories, even breweries and sewage works, all provide opportunities for learning!
I absolutely believe in getting outside the classroom; for me, it’s a no-brainer. But I’m sure that when I am trying my best to get a class of pupils through the statutory requirements of the curriculum, the idea of organizing trips and visits and getting outside will seem like a lot of extra work. However, I hope that I’ll look back at these photos and remember the experiences I had during my training. I’ll remember how refreshing it was to get out of the classroom, the fun we had, the opportunities to learn much more than facts and information, the way that doing helped us to understand more than sitting and listening might have done.
I hope I’ll remember… and take my class outside.