The Noise of Exciting Learning

This week’s article has been carefully compiled for us by Robert Williams, Outdoor Education Adviser, Buckinghamshire County Council. rwilliams@buckscc.gov.uk based on an original article for IOL’s Horizons Magazine written by David Crossland. David has worked in outdoor adventure learning as a teacher, lecturer, head of centre, AALS inspector and LA adviser. He is now retired from full time work but maintains an interest and involvement through small amounts of inspection, guidance and consultancy work. He can be contacted at davidarienge@gmail.com

Gin is making a comeback. It seems that consumption in well-appointed lounges, guests draped over chaise longues is on the increase – a far-cry from life in Hogarth’s famous illustration of ‘Gin Lane’ depicting his judgement about gin as the ruination of the poor. In his sculptures, Alexander Calder finds inspiration in the natural world. Through balance of weight, form, size and colour he goes on to explain; then there is ‘noise’.

What is this noise? How do Calder’s sculptures seem to share the sound of rustling leaves and the pattering of snow? Why do we ‘hear’ the disorder of Gin Lane in Hogarth’s scene? Their creations tell us something of the vitality of their first-hand experiences giving us the noise which extends our understanding. How readily do we hear the noise of exciting learning beyond the classroom chair? Has some vitality of experience been lost over recent years – and if it has – can it be restored?

In his article for Horizons magazine ‘Learning beyond the stockade’, David Crossland describes how locked gates and doors and the security fences that bound schools may be confining teaching and learning within a ‘stockade’; even though the intention is to keep strangers out – not to inhibit activity from going beyond the fence. However – metaphorically at least – the barricades can be dismantled. By establishing a ‘learning area’, teachers and leaders can return their buildings to being learning entities sitting within environments and communities which they use to educate.

A learning area is somewhere that can be visited routinely with no (or very little) preparation. It is that area where, ‘at the drop of a hat’, there can be a response to a question by saying ‘let’s go and look’, ‘let’s go and find out’ and going outside or off-site to harness the experience of the real world, to explore curiosity and provide the noise of exciting learning.woodland

Learning areas may be any shape or size and might include the use of public transport routes for those fortunate to have them free. They can include all sorts of environments: countryside, parks and open spaces, leisure and cultural facilities, historic buildings and sites, sacred spaces, shops, businesses, care facilities.

In the school setting, because schools are empowered to deliver the curriculum in the way they choose, they do not require consent from parents to take children out or off the school premises during the school day. There is nothing to prevent teachers from choosing to ‘do’ mathematics in the local shops or English in the park or woods or theatre.

Many readers will be thinking we already do much more than this, but there remain examples where during the ‘normal’ day pupils are confined within the stockade. The concept of the ‘learning area’ may help to overcome any barriers.

The following are examples of developing learning areas. The examples include: tips for setting up a learning area, activities, consideration of the benefits and comments from the participants.

Alfriston School (special) Beaconsfield: (Janis Kendal, Head of Post 16, Buckinghamshire)

Childrens Centres, Buckinghamshire: (Julie Lloyd-Evans, Head of Centre Shortenills & Director of Learning, Adventure Learning Foundation, Helen Smith, Early Years Children’s Centre Adviser, Bucks Learning Trust, Buckinghamshire)

Long Crendon Primary, Buckinghamshire: (Sue Stamp, Headteacher, Buckinghamshire)

Spotland Primary, Rochdale: (Dave Scourfield, Outdoor Education Adviser, Rochdale)

Green Bank Primary, Rochdale: (Dave Scourfield, Outdoor Education Adviser, Rochdale)

Tile Hill Wood Secondary, Coventry (Sarah Atkins, Outdoor Education Adviser, Coventry)

In creating their learning areas these schools/establishments have;

  • taken time to explore their community and local environment to discover its learning possibilities;
  • identified what the problems will be and how to manage them – not to make them as safe as possible but as safe as they need to be;
  • considered things like: staff/adult training, developing competency, preparation for children/pupils, discussions with local people and stakeholders, access arrangements, equipment, communications, first aid and emergency procedures;
  • agreed standard procedures for using their learning area so that going out is easy and can be routine and expected;
  • ensured that staff/adults are fully aware of the standard procedures and what to do in an emergency.

A simple and proportional approach to developing standard procedures is explained in the  ‘Foundations’ document (associated docs 4.3c, 4.3f, 4.3g) in the National Guidance website (www.oeapng.info) and a generic procedure example is included here that can be adapted to suite the setting.

Using the learning area should become a routine and expected part of a ‘noisy’ and vital curriculum experience which all involved enjoy.

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