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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

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