On the rocky road to Dawlish

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

It's always good to spend endless time on Last Great Western (which I must now refer to as GWR, it seems; what a travesty!) and pootle slowly down to Plymouth (via Dawlish) to see a real sustainable university in action.  I'm going to an event organised by the Outdoor & Experiential Learning Research Network & the Natural Connections Demonstration Project.  It's a catchy title and the event is billed as a ‘Key findings’ conference, but we'll see.  These folk have form.

The meeting blurb says:

The Natural Connections Demonstration Project has been running for three years.  It is one of the largest outdoor learning projects in the UK, working with 130 primary and secondary schools across the South West of England.  Evaluation of how outdoor learning can be embedded into school life, as well as its impact on pupils, teachers and the school ethos, has been a major part of the project.  We want to share our initial findings with you.  This will also be an opportunity to hear from some of the schools involved, to network and to discuss how the learning from Natural Connections can be transferred to other settings and locations.

There are, of course, inputs ...

  • The Natural Connections Project - setting the scene
  • The impact of the Natural Connections approach on pupils, schools & teachers
  • What did the Case Studies tell us?

... and three parallel workshops:

  1. The work of the Hub Leader: in & beyond the school grounds
  2. What Natural Connections did for us
  3. Professional Development: Developing teachers confidence in delivering in the outdoors through a whole school approach to outdoor learning

In a 4.5 hour event, they have allocated 15 minutes for plenary questions (after 3 inputs) and the same for plenary feedback at the end (there's also 45 minutes for refreshments and networking).  The plenary time seems woefully inadequate and it looks (again) – remember the calamitous near 'n' far event last July – that they want to discourage audience participation.  I was certainly disappointed not to get a report ahead of the meeting.  After 3 years, you'd expect there might be something that could be said.  Maybe I'm just ahead of myself.

The NAEE blog had a post last week by Geoff Guy which caused a (smallish) flurry of excitement on Twitter.  Geoff wondered what outdoor education [OE] had to do with environmental education [EE], and looked back at the origins of each to see how they had each evolved.  It left me wondering just how much those espousing OE know about their own history.  I suspect very little.

I was reminded of this the other day as I read some evaluation comments from those involved in some Forest School training.  There was one comment about "reconnecting with nature", but the rest could have been made by people commenting on a course about learning indoors – or even under the table.

It raises the question: what's outdoor learning for?  The Natural Connections folk gave this a go last July at the near 'n' far event, but their answers lacked a conceptual frame.  I'm going to Plymouth in the hope of further enlightenment.  Well, ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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