Today’s blog comes from Dr Melissa Glackin, an NAEE Fellow who works at King’s College London.  Melissa is commenting from the perspective of science education on Alan Kinder’s recent NAEE blog.

The contribution of fieldwork

It was great to read Alan Kinder’s blog for NAEE earlier this month: The contribution of fieldwork to geography education. As the Chief Executive of the Geographical Association, with some potential influence over curriculum reform, it was heartening to hear that for him fieldwork should be at the very core of geography learning.

I too am passionate about the important role fieldwork plays in a student’s education. Working in science education, it matters to me that students experience science learning in a field, street and/or city square. However, whereas geography has managed to maintain the status of fieldwork, as a result of the 2014 curriculum reforms in England and the removal of assessed coursework, opportunities to complete fieldwork in science have narrowed. Steve Tilling, head of policy and advocacy at the Field Studies Council (FSC), reported at the Biology Education Research Group meeting in April 2017, that compared with geography, very few FSC field centres run biology fieldwork courses for KS3 & 4 groups. What’s more, average A-level biology residential stays have reduced from 5 days in 2004 to just under 3 in 2016.

Alan Kinder makes the argument that geography fieldwork is important because students are given the opportunity to apply their knowledge and understanding to a particular circumstance of a real-world location. Similarly, my research suggests that the (albeit few) science teachers who periodically include fieldwork/outdoor teaching into their repertoire do so because they value the opportunity for authentic science learning that it provides (Glackin, 2016). For these authentic learning opportunities include: learning in a familiar place other than the classroom, being required to apply knowledge, having some autonomy over the materials and specimens they study, and, the collection of authentic data. In this sense, fieldwork that values real-world application is not restricted to geography, having reach across all subjects and it should be a priority for science.

However, learning through fieldwork is not easy – it demands that students use knowledge learnt in one context and then reshape and remodel it in another. Applying knowledge also demands context-specific questions to be asked with appropriate methods needing to be thought through to answer them. This is tricky, necessarily creative, and has the potential to make learning interesting. Collectively, subject associations need to be encouraged to develop and refine pedagogical strategies that support this type of holistic learning. Environmental education cuts across all disciplines and here NAEE might play an important role to raise the profile of fieldwork, shifting it up the curriculum reform agenda.

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Melissa Glackin can be contacted at: melissa.glackin@kcl.ac.uk

Notes

Glackin, M. (2016). ‘Risky Fun’ or ‘Authentic Science’? How Teachers’ Beliefs Influence their Practice during a Professional Development Programme on Outdoor Learning. International Journal of Science Education, 38(3), 409-433. DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2016.1145368

Kinder, A. (2017). The contribution of fieldwork to geography education, NAEE blog, assessed at naee.org.uk/contribution-fieldwork-geography-education (assessed on June 19th 2017).