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Friday, 27 September 2013

Spider !!!

 While taking some students on a walk to identify cover and food value in  a pheasant cover crop yesterday morning we saw this;

I'm no expert on spiders but the students are now determined to work out exactly what it is. On the same day some of the students found stag beetle larvae in a tree stump while setting traps for grey squirrels. It's great to see that they are interested in the things they find outdoors not just what they are being directed to concentrate on.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Can IT enhance outdoor teaching?

Up until the end of the 2012-2013 academic year I have always, as part of my teaching timetable at the college where I teach countryside management, taught a special needs group once a week. The lesson I take them for is their countryside and conservation lesson and effectively what they do with me is a 35 week long forest schools course. This includes animal tracking, firelighting, campfire cooking, willow coppicing, shelter building, woodwork, taking care of quail and pheasants, environmental art and other activities.
I was encouraged at one point to try and include more interactive technology in my lessons (not specifically these sessions) but I thought I would give it a try with this group, I got hold of a bunch of video cameras and asked the group to film all the signs of spring they could find. This was in late March, and they walked around the colleges farm filming buds bursting, shoots emerging, birds nests etc.. They really enjoyed to process of looking for signs of spring, taking turns operating the camera, and for those who were able making a commentary on film. I promised them that I would compile all their videos and make one film that they could watch out in the woods the following week. 

When it was time for their next lesson and I sat them down in the woods around our campfire site to watch the video they had made on an ipad, it took them all of about 20 seconds before they were bored with the technology and wanted to watch the birds in the woods. Using the technology was fine, they were happy to go and try and film birds and plants and tractors and anything else they could find but watching the videos even though they had made them themselves WAS NOT AS INTERESTING AS BEING OUTDOORS! When they were making the film they were in an environment where their attention was automatically on the task at hand (Jensen 2008). There was no need for a special strategy to engage the students, they were meant to be learning about the countryside and they were in the countryside, they had a fun activity to do and they got on and did it and as a result some students with very special needs learned in the course of about two hours to identify several different plant species just from their buds and twigs.  
I was delighted that at a time where computers, smart phones, ipads, ipods and TV seem to rule the lives of so many young people that this group of students found nature more interesting than a video.  


Jensen, E (2008) Super Teaching; 4th ed; Corwin

Monday, 23 September 2013

Nature Enthusiasm

In the Digital Age, How to Get Students Excited About Going Outdoors

This fantastic article by Holly Korbey (follow the link above for the full article) highlights the need to get students excited and enthusiastic about the outdoors before depressing them with stories of rainforest destruction, pollution and global warming. Why would they care about the environment before they love it.

The problem with modern education is that this excitement can't be cultivated in schools unless there are big changes. My love of the countryside and environment does not come from geography field trips or biology lessons but from recreational activities such as participation in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, taking part in the Exmoor challenge, working as a pest controller shooting rabbits at golf courses and learning bushcraft in my parents back garden.  I was never advised at school that I could pursue a career in the countryside but was more often than not chastised for not focusing in class and not concentrating on my academic work. I eventually went to a college to study game and wildlife management (which I loved) after putting up with school all the way through GCSE's and A levels but I only found out about options to study a vocational subject at college because I was skipping school to buy ammunition from a local gunshop and heard about courses at Sparsholt College from the owner of the shop.

It was studying at Sparsholt that really enthused me about the outdoors and the countryside and I have worked in the countryside industry ever since. Now I enjoy watching my students develop a passion for the outdoors, whether they study agriculture, outdoor education, countryside management or are just taking part in an activity as a bit of fun, getting them excited and enthusiastic is the key. I often teach friction firelighting to students during their freshers week as a team building activity and I once taught an agriculture student who was so determined and enthusiastic to succeed that he refused to stop trying until his arm became so stiff from trying to work his bow drill that he could hardly move it for two days afterwards. This is the kind of enthusiasm that we need to instill in students who will be the next generation of outdoors professionals.

This diagram by the Swedish Friluftsfrämjandet explains the principle marvellously;

this picture explains the objectives of a skogsmulle (equivalent to Forest School in the UK and aimed at young children) programme and points out that you have to be in nature and enjoy it before you can influence society about the environment. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Cavemans Theory of Reflection

In a rather sarcastic comment in response to the being told "Schon is the father of reflective theory" (referring to Donald Schon and his theory's on reflective practice in education) by a tutor while I was studying for my Certificate in Education I said that cavemen had been reflecting on things long before anyone wrote it down and made 'reflection' into a theory, (in my defence it was late in the evening and I had been teaching for seven hours that day) now having thought about it further I present to you;

The Cavemans Theory of Reflection.

Example 1;
Prehistoric man may have started off sleeping under the stars with very little to protect them from the cold, they may have seen animals with thick fur coats and 'reflecting' on the nights they spent shivering with cold made themselves a coat or blanket from animal skin.

Example 2;
Having been eating tough raw meat for ages prehistoric man discovers that the bodies of animals killed by forest fires smell quite nice, not long later after a bit of 'reflection' prehistoric man  starts chucking meat on his own fire to eat.

I know it's not really a theory and my assumption in the examples above are merely that, assumptions, they are not based on fact or a detailed knowledge of prehistoric man or their habits, technology or society. They are merely generalizations and guesses as to how things may have been. This kind of reflection is an interesting principle to apply to teaching bushcraft though (something I will be looking at over the next few months as I experiment with the use of 'learning logs' with students learning friction fire lighting) as it is how most of us learn our bushcraft skills in the first place. I certainly never had money to spend on going on a bushcraft or survival skills course and what I know now is a result of thousands of hours of practice and trial and error. Trial and error is a wonderful way of developing bushcraft skills, time consuming, but wonderful. I strongly believe that it also makes us better teachers, if we can remember back to the time that our technique was poor or inefficient or both we are better able to direct our students to make the same improvements that we discovered for ourselves. Better still if we can encourage students to reflect on the difficulties they are facing, identify areas of strength, notice things that may be holding them back, and experiment with other options they will be able to make those same discoveries themselves and as I said in an earlier post then they will 'own' that knowledge, it will be theirs.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Origin of Friction Fire

I was talking over the weekend about friction fire lighting and how it may have been discovered and expressed the opinion that it might have been the accidental result of using a hand drill for boring through a piece of wood which created the first ember from friction. I'm sure that I have read something along these lines before and so had a search online and found  of Primitive Ways.

It's interesting isn't it that you can use one relatively simple technique to achieve so many different outcomes. 
This principle can be useful for the teacher too; I have taught bow drill fire lighting for years now but have also always encouraged my students to 'think outside the box' in terms of what they can achieve with the basic tools they have. So in reverse of the way that friction fire might have been developed as explained in the article above the bow drill that students have learned to use to make fire suddenly becomes a drill for boring holes in a piece of antler to make a fishing hook. 

Other examples might be the flint tool which is used for cutting and providing a spark for firelighting, the elm bark that is used for making string and containers, the birch bark for tinder, containers, oil, medicine, tar and on and on. Instilling this idea that that almost everything can be put to more than just the obvious uses helps when teaching bushcraft but it can also be put to excellent use when teaching students about sustainability. 
For example; students may at first see a willow coppice as a bunch of trees, after a bit of practical work they may be able to list a few uses; willow hurdles, duck baskets, pea sticks but after a bit more thinking and teaching and they will realise that the possibilities are endless and that it can even be turned into pelletised fuel for heating houses and firing power stations. Thats what experiential learning is about, once enough experience has been facilitated then students will start to work out the answers for themselves, and if they have worked out the answers for themselves then they will remember it because it's 'their' answer, they will own that knowledge. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Moulton College Countryside Management: Survival of the Fittest!

Check out what some of the students at Moulton College have been doing as part of freshers week;

Moulton College Countryside Management: Survival of the Fittest!: New National Award Countryside Management students were getting to know each other this week as they tried to make fire by friction. Frictio...

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Differentiation in Embedded Bushcraft

If you read my recent post about my research into using bushcraft in formal education you will have read about how students plant ID skills were improved by taking part in bushcraft activities.  The group of students who contributed to this research were all over sixteen,  were studying a level three qualification (A level equivalent) and had no significant learning difficulties.

But what if you are teaching a much younger group or a group with special needs or a group of Masters degree students or indeed a group of executives on a staff development day? How do you differentiate your material for such a potentially wide variety of needs?

I'll stick with plant ID as an example;

How about teaching tree identification by relating them to a popular story, for example; "this is a yew tree, Robin Hood would have made his bow out of wood from this tree" then you can move onto ash and alder as arrows and have them make simple bows and arrows. Or you could focus on a particular part of the plants stucture which will make it memorable, everyone remembers 'sticky weed' don't they, the sticky buds of horse chestnut, the burrs of burdock, rosehip itching powder and many others will be similarly memorable.

It might not be a great idea to allow children to use the furry seeds of rosehips on each other during your sessions as they are a very potent itching 'powder' but they will never forget how to identify it once they know what they can use it for. 
Cleavers are more often known to children as 'sticky weed' 

Because there are such a wide variety of needs within the label of special needs it is hard to address this topic in just a few words. A couple of activities I have used successfully include making a willow rope for a tug of war, tinder collection and variations on the activities I mentioned for use with very young children.  Making a crude willow rope does not require well developed fine motor skills and if it takes the weight of a couple of people pulling on each end it will not fail to impress,  they wont forget willow after that.

Making a crude rope from willow bark ready for a tug of war
Another advantage of this activity and tinder collection is that they can both be done from a wheelchair.  Thistledown, dry grass, cow parsley stems etc can all be collected easily and will be memorable especially if students can set fire to them.

A group of special needs students cooking hogweed biscuits on the campfire. 
Earlier in the year the immature flower heads of hogweed are an alternative to broccoli and in fact I think they are tastier. 

This is where you can bring in wild food, fungi, medicinal plants, fine cordage manufacture and other more advanced skills.

These unusual looking fruit are actually edible and delicious, the strawberry tree produced these funny looking things each autumn/winter. These aren't very common but they are something for the more advanced bushcrafter. The ones in this picture aren't quite ripe, they should be a deep red colour when they are ready to eat.  
Consider using 'shocking' tactics if students are a bit older and more experienced they will have heard a know things, like yew is deadly poisonous, watch the look on their face when you pop a yew berry in your mouth (make sure you spit out the stone!!). Fungi foraging is another good one for very advanced groups.

This tiny purple fungi might look a bit suspect but actually its an edible amethyst deceiver, the name doesn't inspire confidence though does it
A delicious mix of amethyst deceiver, penny bun and tomatoes.  

Remember that for any of these activities you will need to have a good knowledge of plants available in the area you are working and be aware that plants are a seasonal commodity and not all activities will be possible all year round.
There is also a DANGER when it comes to teaching young children and students with special needs about wild edibles, they are not always fussy or cautious about what they put in their mouths, NEVER study fungi, or poisonous or easily mistaken plants with these learners and always be on hand to confirm correct ID.

Children love colourful things don't they and it's quite often tempting for them to put things like this in their mouths, but these are the fruit of spindle and are actually poisonous, as a leader you need to be on hand to make sure mistakes like this don't happen. 


 Notice I have not discussed in detail identifying features of plants here, in my experience of teaching plant ID both from a bushcraft perspective and a countryside management/conservation/ecology perspective it is far more effective to help students make an initial ID then allow them to make their own 'rules' for identifying it again. This might include notes on colour, texture, size and smell, students could even create a herbarium for reference purposes.
Lysimachia nummularia herbarium sample
A herbarium sample is a pressed sample of a plant, in this case creeping jenny
By Sunk3rn (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

It's these kind of activities where learners get to actually experience what they are learning about, eat the plants or use them to make fire or learn about what they were used for historically that will really help them learn. There is always something that you can do in nature no matter what the age group or level of ability.


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Stand up for Stanage

I know this isn't strictly related to bushcraft, but this campaign from the BMC (British Mountaineering Council) begs the question why can't there be a closer relationship between mainstream outdoor activities and field sports?  Maybe bushcraft which combines elements of both is a good common ground to start on;

As I first read this article and the proposed 'Stanage Charter' I was pleased that there was going to be an effort to protect this iconic area of the Peak District but as I read the charter and saw the point that *Shooting rights should not be excercised I was very disapointed.
I am deeply concerned that one interest group among popular outdoor activities should include in their agenda the restriction of another outdoor activity. To my mind there is no reason that shooting (and field sports in general) and climbing, walking and mountaineering should not coexist amicably and support each other. Shooting and game management activities taking place would not automatically mean that access to stanage was restricted.
AFTER ALL WE ALL WANT TO SPEND TIME OUTDOORS; whether you want to carry a gun or a climbing harness is largely irrelevant.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Appropriate Attitude to Knives

I was given my first pocket knife at eight years of age, it was a small wooden handled lock knife and it was perfectly adequate for sharpening pencils, cutting string, opening boxes and all the tasks that my young mind could make up which required the use of a knife.

This was not that many years ago but I can already hear the accusations of 'irresponsible' being levelled at my parents (and at me for my recent post about my sons introduction to using a knife). But is it really irresponsible or are we denying a generation of valuable formative experiences.

Might not a child who has been given supervised access to a knife and opportunities to learn how to use it safely and creatively not have a better, safer attitude to knives than someone who has never been allowed to use one and instead has always been told they are weapons? Couple that with the prominent leisure activity of shooting, stabbing and battering virtual enemies to death on a games console and is it any wonder that young people firstly think of knives as weapons not tools?   

It would be interesting to research whether introducing the use of knives and tools to children from a younger age aids their development of fine motor skills, but unfortunately when you use popular academic search engines the first results to appear always seem to have titles like 'teen charged with having knife at school' or 'weapons carrying on school property'. Forest School initiatives are doing a fantastic job of redressing the balance and teach children how to safely use knives,  bill hooks, saws and other tools. If only there was more encouragement for children and young people to learn to use knives and tools it would surely help development of dexterity,  confidence and a sense of creativity.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

One Dangerous Thing You Should Let Your Kids Do

I have always been determined that my children would own pocket knives and learn how to use them responsibly and well.
I had a pocket knife as a child and although I bare a few scars from it I grew up with a healthy respect for tools and developed good dexterity. I want my children to grow up considering a knife to be a tool rather than the dangerous weapon that misinformed teachers and media would have them believe.

Despite this wish of mine I hadn't really considered introducing my son Michael (who is three) to knife use just yet. Bearing in mind my recent post sharing Gever Tulley's  TED talk and having watched a programme by Norwegian adventurer Lars Monsen where I saw very young Sami children throwing a lasso and using knives I rethought my self imposed 'age limit' for my sons use of knives.

This is the result;

He was very happy with the stick man he made and although I obviously helped a lot for this first project I hope that teaching him these skills young will help him in some way. 

Bushcraft Education Videos