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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;

FOR VERY YOUNG GROUPS;
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' 

SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS;
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. 

ADVANCED STUDENTS;
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.  
VERY ADVANCED STUDENTS;
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.  


IMPORTANT;
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. 

ONE MORE THING;

 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.

Geoff

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