I spent my last day doing some final proof-reading and transferring the last of the documents to Dropbox so Calum can begin turning them into webpages and PDFs for the teacher's area on the TreeZone website.
I have found working for both TreeZone and Boots n Paddles a very productive and enjoyable experience. I will take away a much greater appreciation of the educational possibilities that outdoor activity provision and, more broadly, outdoor learning can bring. As part of this placement I have developed my digital media skills through using new software such as publisher, creating my first blog using Weebly and through my improved understanding of file storage tools such as Dropbox. I have also had a chance to explore the concept of outdoor learning and as a result I have a much broader understanding of the educational differences between the various aspects that are contained within this 'umbrella' term. I have had a chance to meet a great variety of people each with their own reasons for working in outdoor provision and education. Through discussions with them I have developed a much more in-depth understanding of the emotional, physical and intellectual benefits of outdoor learning. I have continued with my professional reading and have some understanding now as to why the new Curriculum for Excellence documentation for outdoor learning was developed and why it will play an important role in educating future generations.
Overall I feel that I have moved forward both professionally and personally and look forward to next year when I can put some of my new ideas and new found confidence into practice in the classroom.
It was a beautiful, sunny end to my placement shifts at TreeZone and as you can see from the pictures above the shades were out! Thankfully this will not be my last shift as Chris has agreed to give me some work over the summer and I will be back down helping out next weekend. Working at the course has given me a great insight into the benefits of outdoor activity provision and the confidence building that a few hours swinging around in the trees can bring.
It has also been very useful to meet so many different people who work in such a variety of roles in the outdoor industry. They are as a whole a confident and individual group of people. They all enjoy their work and collectively exude a vibe of confidence that make them stand apart from many of the other groups I have worked with. I think that the less formal and rigid atmosphere is far more engaging for children which is why outdoor activities provide so much in the way of character development.
I am not sure what elements I could incorporate into my teaching and will need time to reflect on the possibilities. I think the main point I have taken from today is that those working in outdoor provision, such as the staff at TreeZone and Boots n Paddles, have an important role to play in helping to provide positive and meaningful learning experiences for children.
Today was my second last in the office at Cabrich. I spent it finishing off all the editing and drafting on all the documentation. I have two or three photos to take tomorrow when I am at TreeZone and once I have them inserted into their respective documents it will just be a case of proof-reading them all one last time. I intend to do this on Sunday, which will be my last day in the office. I still have a bit of work to do in terms of researching each staff members reasons for working in outdoor provision and their thoughts on outdoor learning. Alison kindly answered some of my questions today and I will catch Chris tomorrow. I am meeting up with Mike on Wednesday for my placement review and he has agreed to let me interview him then. I am also hoping to catch Phil and Jon towards the end of next week.
Today was my penultimate placement shift at TreeZone. The morning started with a quick 20 minute training session on best practice for helping out customers on the course. I then shot the remaining pictures I needed for the packs and also took the opportunity to take a few of the staff hard at work. I met three more members of the team today, Annie, Grant and Ivan. It was a busy day so I did not get too much time to chat to them but I did speak to Annie briefly about her role at the outdoor learning centre, Lagganlia. She told me that they work very closely with Curriculum for Excellence to provide focused, residential experiences for schools.
I have also spent my evenings reading more on outdoor education and its various definitions. I have already identified some of the differences, in accepted definitions at least, between outdoor education and outdoor learning in some of my previous posts. However, as I have continued my work in the outdoors, I have had the opportunity to discuss with my colleagues what outdoor learning means for a variety of different people. I have put together the following breakdown based on those discussions and from the reading referenced at the end of this post.
I am going to use the term outdoor learning as the umbrella definition for all educational endeavours taking place in an outdoor context. I think it is necessary to dissect outdoor learning as having an understanding of the different apsects should help in creating more focused and targeted learning experiences that are both progressive and meaningful.
Outdoor education has long been the umbrella term but it has become synonymous with local authority projects tackling everything from behavioural problems to adult education, it brings forth thoughts of budgets, aims, targets and initiatives. Although a useful tool for targeting specific problems outdoor education, as a term at least, has become something quite specific.
Environmental awareness is another big area in outdoor learning and tends to focus on education people in how best to minimise our negative impact on the environment through managing waste, buying products with a lower carbon footprint and looking after the wildlife in our own communities. Environmental awareness can also drift into areas such as geography, geology and biology which brings me to another big area in outdoor learning, field studies. These would also include areas such as archaeology and tend to focus on categorising and quantifying our environment.
People involved in such subject areas may also find themselves in the exploring and adventuring business which I feel falls into the category of outdoor pursuits. These are the specific sets of skills required to tackle hostile environments and could be everything from rock-climbing and mountaineering to map-reading and bush-craft or so called survival skills. These are a combination of kinaesthetic, problem-solving and knowledge based skills. The latter in terms of knowledge such as how to spot a potential avalanche risk or where to forage edible food.
All these include a variety of life skills but I think it is harder to separate these from the areas mentioned already as all could include elements of planning, self motivation, reflection, discovery, resillience, team-work, leadership, team-building and problem solving. These character attributes and personal skills are certainly a very important part of education but they are really a part of every subject area and should be a natural component of any learning intention outdoors or otherwise.
Lastly, I would suggest that there is a sub-category to all these, the urban outdoor learning environments. Towns and cities have their own outdoor spaces to explore and understand and it could be argued that they have their own sets of outdoor pursuits, such as skateboarding, free-running, bmxing and even buildering (a form of outdoor climbing very much frowned upon!) I guess they might also have their own geologist, those that understand the complex architecture and street designs that make up our major towns and cities... but I might on a bit of a tangent with that one.
The main point I am trying to make is that outdoor learning is about more than just taking kids out for some fun outside, or on a field trip, or outside to do maths. It is about all these things and so much more, the world is happening outside and so to should our classrooms.
Gair, N. (1997) Outdoor Education - Theory and Practice. London: Cassell.
It is the start of my last week and I am now finalising documentation for the packs, today I created some quiz sheets and a field notes worksheet. I gathered together all the addresses for the online resources I used, and created a useful links page for teachers who want a bit more information or who want to explore related topics. I also pulled together the curricular links that are most relevant to our remit and created a set of CfE documents specifically for TreeZone. I still have some photo's left to take and some proof-reading to do but I am nearly there. Above are some of the final drafts which, once proof-read, Calum will convert into webpages and PDFs for the website.
I am continuing my work on the online packs. I have been editing the photos that Chris and I took on Monday and adding them to the publisher templates. This has proved quite time consuming as I have had to play around with the size, colour and exposure on a few photos so they still appear clearly in the publisher format. I have also re-drafted the wording in most of the info sheets to personalise them to TreeZone. I have been looking at Calum's template for the webpage and have added a few photos and played around with the layout a bit. The Publisher program is straight forward enough if you are familiar with Word and Powerpoint. I am quite interested in trying my hand at some webpage design in the future. There are so many user friendly programs available now that it only takes a bit of playing around to figure most of them out.
I still have a little research to do, a few photos to take and need to get the documents proof-read but the packs are nearing completion. I also need to get together with Chris to look at: creating the dedicated outdoor classroom area and putting together a small pack of resources (binoculars, magnifying glasses, clipboards etc.)
Despite the weather continuing to be changeable and cold we had plenty of customers visiting the course over the last two days (we actually had to close early yesterday due to high winds!). I worked with a few more of the instructors including Kyle, who is a ski instructor and a keen downhill mountain biker, Alex who use to work full-time at TreeZone and Ali who is a marine-biologist but dabbles in outdoor instruction.
Now that I know my way around the equipment and the day-to-day tasks I have been focusing on my customer interaction. I have worked as a tour guide, presented public science shows and have plenty of customer service experience so I feel confident welcoming the customers, giving the safety briefings and chatting to the customers once they are out on the course. TreeZone has a five-star Visit Scotland rating so customer service is a big part of their focus.
It is a great job as you spend your time out in the fresh air and daylight. (if not sunlight!) I feel very positive after a day at TreeZone and I think it is a combination of being outside, being physically active and working with positive people.
Yesterday I was working with Jon, one of the Boots n Paddles instructors. Jon was running a WoW (Walk on Water) balls session for groups of children who were attending the Easter club at Fortrose leisure centre.
After introducing ourselves to the staff running the Easter at the leisure centre we headed down to the harbour to set-up. This was fairly straight forward as there was only a generator, a couple of leaf blowers (they make very effective pumps!), some rubber mats and the two WoW balls. We then ran two sessions over two and a half hours each with around ten children.
As the shore was quite rocky Jon spent his time in the water ensuring that the children were careful when entering and exiting the water. Jon felt that the set-up was not ideal as the rocky shore made the sessions a bit labour intensive. However, with both of us there Jon felt the risk of injury was manageable.
We had a interesting discussion about risk assessment and risk management on the drive back. Jon, felt that the majority of incidents arising during outdoor activities are the result of poor planning and the decisions made before the activity even starts. He believes that risk assessment is mostly common sense but that it is often better to err on the side of caution. With a lot of the activities run at Boots n Paddles the consequences of an incident could be life changing for those involved. With this in mind, all the instructors are super cautious. Jon said that if they identified a risk they felt was not manageable that it would be a seriously bad idea to continue. Not only could an instructor find themselves being prosecuted for negligence but they would also have to face the guilt of having made decisions that lead another person to serious harm.
Having said that, Jon felt that, even the high risk activities could be made safe as long as the environment was familiar, all precautions and preparations were made and the instructor was experienced and well-trained enough to deal with anything that might arise on the day.
Today was spent working with Chris on the teacher packs. We have drafted out the information from our research into a form we are pretty happy with and have gathered most of the pictures we need to complete the info files for the online packs. A few elements form my original plan have now be changed as Mike and Chris want to keep the focus on the wildlife and environment aspects at TreeZone. The plan is now to finish the info packs, complete the online pages for the teachers which will still include ideas for curricular links, a page of useful online resources and worksheets. The other objectives are to create an outdoor learning space away from the noisiest part of the course and to bring together ideas for the information trails signage.