Craig Armiger, of Outdoor Coaching UK, explores the question of using modern technology in outdoor learning.
What are your thoughts on using 21st Century technology out in the field to assist your session? Until recently I had not used technology outside, relying on the outdoors to weave its magic. However, I teamed up with Value Added Education Solutions who coach teaching staff using Apple technology in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning. We have worked together to find ways of using both ICT and the outdoors to create a unique impact on learning. Learning outdoors is cross-curricular and has the added bonus of being in a healthier classroom! Introducing flora, fauna and environmental impact as a motivational tool, along with ICT, can enhance teaching and impact on pupil performance. Below are some elements from my Outdoor Learning Tool Box which I have been using to enhance Key Stage 2 maths activities such as angles, estimating and measuring.
I took a selfie in a chosen location – which added a bit of humour to the session – to see if the pupils could find the same spot. It took a while and many selfies to find the right place. Handy tip: make sure that the ground is not too wet if the appropriate clothing is not being worn!
‘Leaf it out!’
In this activity, mark with your foot or stick a memorable starting point on the leaf carpet. Choose a pupil to be the ‘finder’ and make sure they are not looking! Take 2 or 3 photos of the leaf carpet around you with your tablet: the finder then holds it up to match the picture. Differentiation and progression can be obtained by using compass directions, for example: “It’s between 90 and 180 degrees”. Also using a metre-stick with 10cm sections marked off allows measuring distance and angles by practical exploration with the stick enhancing the teaching and learning: “Aah! now I can see it!” (Year 5 pupil, Maesglas Primary School – holding the stick.)
Record the results as data to use for learning or evidence for assessment. For pupils with additional needs you can arrange the leaves into easily recognisable patterns or shapes for them to find.
This uses flora & fauna and a curricular task; one trail used leaf shape and species recognition; another, discussing lichens, brings in aspects of geography, biology, prevailing wind directions and the subject of clean air. The whole activity can be done as a Year 6 ICT project for use lower down the school, widening the impact.
Using the picture app ‘Phoster’, you can make a poster for the class from a photo of the outdoors, which could be instructional or informative. Another app is ‘Explain Everything’, which is a great way of enhancing comprehension. A third app which I have been using a lot recently is ‘Book Creator’, which uses both audio and visuals. Pupils can gather information and create their own e-books. For example, by using a sycamore leaf carpet, seed dispersal is instantly visible with its characteristic ‘helicopters’. Himalayan Balsam pods when tickled give a fantastic display of explosive seed dispersal and all can be included in ‘Book Creator’ as a video, bringing the learning to life.
Using leaves, you can explore shapes, colours and structures. A handmade pre-prepared cardboard protractor can be used to measure the angles of the leaf stems and branches of the veins in the leaves. These angles can be compared with man-made items for further discussion. Record and reflect in learning groups: it’s amazing what questions will arise when comparing each leaf’s length, width and angles.
Leaf Man Game
Sit two people back to back. One person gets to use leaves and ground materials to create a ‘leaf man’. Then, using communication skills, ask them to describe the picture to their partner to see if they can create a copy of the ‘leaf man’ in front of them. Describing the different leaves used helps in learning the various types. Once they have finished, ask them to compare their work to assess how accurate the communication has been. They can reflect or record how the communication could have improved, any problems and any ‘top tips’. Take photos for comparison and/or use a recording of the communication as evidence or to contribute to your e-book.
Not all aspects of the Welsh curriculum are based around the Literacy Numeracy Framework (LNF). Creating a foundation of well-being is a vastly important part of the infrastructure to learning, before moving into core curricular areas. Don’t leave all the natural exploration to the dry sunny days; nature works 24/7 all year round. Walk in a wood or natural space to refresh yourself with a dose of ‘Green Medicine’. “I can smell the rain!” (Year 6 pupil, Malpas Church Primary School). You will also hear the clarity of the birdsong and soak up the radiating tonic of the forest canopy. Plug into nature, recharge at no cost to the National Grid and watch yourself becoming brighter by the minute! Don’t retreat inside your hood, masking all your senses apart from your inner thoughts; don’t switch on the virtual outside world when you’re inside: open up the page of the Adventure Literacy Manual that says ‘Rainy Days’, put on a coat and head outside to soak up the nature around you. Your pupils will remember the feeling of fulfilment and learning of that walk in the rain. What’s the worst that can happen? Nature made skin waterproof! Coincidence or clever planning? For more information, just click here.
This article was first published in NAEE’s journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 111). To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.