Learning without walls: Feature
Did you know that learning outside the classroom has been recognised as a proven way to engage students to a greater extent?
Studies have shown that there are a range of academic and mental health benefits for education that take place elsewhere; lessons are more memorable, pupils are more enthusiastic about learning, and they often demonstrate higher engagement, even after returning to the classroom.
So, where can learning take place other than in the classroom?
Embarking on educational trips is an exciting way for students to be taught.
One example of this is a text being brought to life through a visit to the theatre. Whilst it may be simple for the film adaptation of a play being studied in English class to be played on the smartboard, completing a trip to the theatre and making it an experience for students breathes new life into the pages of the script; pupils are able to watch the story unfold in the way that it was intended. It develops their understanding of not only the plot but aspects of the stage design and directions, which can often convey significant messaging in a play.
Perhaps a class is learning about a particular topic in their history lessons, why not amaze students with the corresponding artefacts at a museum? Being up close and personal with real, fascinating pieces of history is an experience that cannot be replicated in the classroom.
Many museums will explore a wide range of topics and periods, but some, such as the Imperial War Museum in Manchester and the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, provide an in-depth look into a particular subject like no other. A lot of museums also offer opportunities specifically for school groups including workshops where students can take part in hands-on activities and learn from field experts.
A recent visit to the British Museum and London Mithraeum for Classics and Latin students from St Mary’s College, Crosby, supported this idea. They were able to see Parthenon marbles and treasures from the Bronze Age, which form an integral part of their GCSE studies. An exploration of these locations and London itself also allowed pupils to dive deeper into other topics too, expanding their historical and cultural knowledge.
Similarly, Alsop High School in Liverpool organised a trip for their sixth form ambassadors to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz Project. The visit informed ambassadors about the events of the Holocaust and provided them with the required knowledge to lead a presentation on Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 to educate other students. Head of Year 13, Ms Lynne Tynan, highlights the impact of this trip: “The visit provided an insightful and important experience our students will never forget.”
Practical and Residential Experiences:
Not all education provided by schools must be strictly academic and indoors. Residential trips, particularly those taking place outdoors, allow students to learn and hone their social and practical skills in new environments and circumstances.
Experiences like The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the NCS (National Citizen Service) programmes seek to empower and encourage young people in secondary schools to be independent and enhance their social skills by meeting new people, participating in a plethora of practical activities, and taking on exciting challenges. More specifically, students undertake volunteering to help out the local community and, during the Duke of Edinburgh Award, can improve their practical skills through sports and expeditions.
There are many organisations across the North West that take advantage of the outdoors to educate students, such as Edsential, based in Cheshire, which ‘supports core curriculum knowledge and application, but also supports young peoples’ social, emotional and personal development’ through learning outside the classroom activities and residentials. On its Conway Centres, Edsential says: “With four residential centres across North Wales and Cheshire, Conway Centres are the perfect place for activities and curriculum-focused programmes in the great outdoors. From immersing primary school students in the Iron Age era to support the History curriculum at Burwardsley’s replica roundhouse to discovering glacial valleys or the stunning Anglesey coastline with secondary students – Conway Centres has something for every year group.”
At Rainford High, new Year 7 students benefit from a residential trip at The Bushcraft Company where they spend a few days participating in activities that develop practical skills to be used inside and outside of school, like first aid and teamwork, as well as survival techniques for the wilderness. In addition to these, the pupils strengthen their friendships and social skills. Principal, Ian Young, explains:
“It provides the perfect chance for them to get to know each other outside the classroom and have fun working together to accomplish some exciting goals.”
Learning outdoors can reduce stress and motivate students, helping them to appreciate and understand the natural world around them. Though, this doesn’t always have to take place away from the school environment.
By even utilising the school yard, a memorable ‘learning outside the classroom’ experience can be had.
If the weather is nice, why can’t an appropriate lesson be taken outside? This could be something like making the most of the space to conduct bigger and more thrilling science experiments or as simple as ordinary lessons and group reading times. Being outdoors also means that the experience is not only refreshing but much more sensory, and likely more appealing to pupils, especially those in younger year groups.
Outdoor learning can be taken a step further through the creation of dedicated, outdoor provisions. For example, at
Eldon Primary School in Preston, Lancashire, real life skills are the bedrock of the curriculum, and thus the school created ‘The Burrow’. Mrs Azra Butt, headteacher at the school, says: “We transformed a nearby piece of derelict land into a space to follow the Forest Schools philosophy. Our children visit the land to, amongst other things, cook food on open fires, build dens and hunt insects. Needless to say, pupils clamour to visit our ‘forest’…
This innovative setting enables children to experience learning, in the outdoors, which we all know fuels children’s hearts and minds! This in turn fuels children’s imagination and communication skills.” The Burrow has proven to support students both academically and socially, as they have the chance to develop their communication skills with peers.
Collaborating with the Local Community:
Collaboration with the local community allows students to learn in real-life contexts and support local organisations and businesses.
A look into the local community to see what is offered for school groups, whether that be a practical workshop where pupils can learn new skills or a specialised topic, a tour of a workplace or even work experience can be highly advantageous. In the classroom, young people typically learn about different industries through visiting speakers and online research. By physically being in the environment of a business/ organisation, it makes it much easier for them to understand and visualise themselves in different workplaces, preparing them better for the world work.
Volunteering is a fantastic way of enhancing pupils’ social and, in some cases, practical skills. For instance,
The Hollins, in Accrington, Lancashire, makes use of its “Let’s Be Foundation”, an extended services programme, to offer students the chance to take part in extracurricular activities to further develop their skills.
Extended schools co-ordinator at The Hollins, Mr Waqar Ahmed, states about the foundation: “The aim of the foundation is to empower students to develop and deliver youth-led social action initiatives, which allows them to take practical action in the service of others. In return, they build skills such as teamwork, problem solving and leadership skills. Besides having a positive impact in the community, we have found that the initiative has helped improve young people’s emotional, intellectual and behavioural development.” This is an integral part of school life at The Hollins, with projects including the Elderly Tea Party and distributing winter packs to those in need.
An increased social awareness and impactful involvement in the community are just some of the benefits of engaging students through visiting local places and volunteering. It is also a chance for schools to develop relationships and build a positive reputation.
Ultimately, educating outside the classroom makes for happier and more engaged students who are more willing to learn, an increased likelihood of the lesson content being memorable and the development of many current and new skills. School pupils can put theory learnt inside, into practice elsewhere. As a result of varied learning environments, it is probable that the impact will be wider than just the classroom, as young people will be more willing to attend school, and newly learnt skills and knowledge can be applied at home and as they progress through life.