With these brilliant ideas from Elaine Skates, your next school excursion is bound to be the one they’ll always remember…
1) Remember it’s about fun AND learning
Whether it is abseiling in Wales, French exchange trips, our first visit to London or searching for the history hiding in our local high street, we all remember vividly the learning outside the classroom experiences or ‘school trips’ from our own time at school. Learning outside the classroom (LOtC) forms some of our most significant and memorable experiences from childhood. The skills, memories and friendships gained during these experiences often stay with us for life. However, the power of learning outside the classroom as a tool to raise attainment and teach core areas of the curriculum is so often overlooked. LOtC significantly improves quality of learning, depth of understanding and places learning in a real world context. It is important that LOtC is fun, but this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t also benefit learning. The visit will be much more impactful if planned with learning outcomes in mind.
2) Do something different
Your next ‘school trip’ could be the most powerful educational experience your pupils will experience this term, but it’s easy to fall into old habits when planning educational visits. You had a great time last year, you know what to expect if you go back to the same venue… and before you know it you have been going to the same venue for 10 years to do the exact same activity. Start your planning this year by thinking about what you want to achieve for young people, then think about what learning locations and activities will help you to achieve your objectives.
A compelling learning experience:
- has clear learning outcomes relating to what learners need to know and understand, the skills they will acquire and areas of personal development
- is real and relevant, connecting learning at school to the world beyond the classroom
- draws together several aspects of learning, through utilising cross-curricular opportunities or opportunities to develop personal, social, learning and thinking skills
- gives learners the chance to think critically, make decisions, take responsibility and manage risks
- broadens horizons and raises aspirations, offering contexts that challenge learners and encourage them to step outside their comfort zone.
It is always helpful to remember what you are doing it for, and a bit of time spent thinking about the learning objectives will ensure that you obtain the best value from your educational visits. It will also make it more interesting and enjoyable for your staff!
3) Involve young people in planning
LOtC experiences are more likely to be successful if you involve young people in their planning and delivery. Pupils can research venues or providers, plan or deliver activities and fundraise. Young people who have been involved in the planning process will be better prepared, make more informed decisions and be more risk aware.
4) Think about the needs of the group and individual pupils
LOtC provides opportunities for young people to learn in different ways to those typically offered in a classroom. It can provide powerful learning opportunities to young people whose preferred learning style is not best served by the constraints of the classroom, giving opportunities for:
- direct experience
- ‘hands-on’ practical work
- exploration and discovery
- experiencing ‘awe and wonder’
- practical teamwork
- directly encountering other cultures or religions
- experiencing challenge and managing risk
- experiencing success and achievement
- enjoyment and fun!
5) Work in partnership with external providers
When using a provider, collaborative planning is crucial to ensure that the maximium benefit is derived from the visit. Liaise with the provider organisation beforehand to plan how the chosen activities can draw on and develop the learning that has taken place at school. If the leader’s professional skills and their knowledge of the particular needs of the young people are not used well enough, there is the danger that the visit may be an isolated special event, rather than an extended and powerful learning experience.
6) Take a sensible approach to risk management
Planning for LotC involves weighing up the benefits against any potential risks which may arise and making plans to avoid or reduce the latter if they outweigh the benefits. Health and safety procedures should be proportionate and appropriate to the activity but not unnecessarily onerous. If you work in a school your educational visits coordinator or more experienced colleagues will be able to support you. Your local outdoor education adviser will also be able to offer advice and training if required (http://www.oeap.info)
7) Don’t get bogged down by paperwork
The Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge is the national benchmark for the provision of educational visits, recognising organisations offering good quality educational experiences where risk is effectively managed. It is designed to give schools assurance regarding the safety and quality of LOtC and to cut red tape. The LOtC Quality Badge is is the only accreditation scheme for all types of LOtC provision from adventurous activities and farms through to museums and expeditions overseas – meaning that you only need to look for ONE accreditation when planning visits. http://www.lotcqualitybadge.org.uk
8) Do it more often
LOtC should not be about a once a year school trip. In order to be most effective, LOtC should be a regular part of school life, building upon and supplementing traditional teaching inside the classroom. Learning outside the classroom should be built into planning for all learners, every week and all year round. By far the most effective strategy is to take a whole school approach to your LOtC provision.
9) Integrate LOtC across the curriculum
Learning outside the classroom is a powerful teaching tool that can be applied across ALL areas of the curriculum from reading, writing and numeracy to science, history and citizenship. Think about what you COULD do, in an ideal world with a clean slate.
- Don’t think about individual lessons or individual topics but a whole school approach
- Consider what you want your children to achieve and how LOtC can help
- Get into the habit of asking “would this lesson be taught better outside the classroom”?
Planning an LOtC Curriculum training is designed to support you in integrating LOtC across the curriculum and embedding LOtC into the everyday life of your school. For more information visit http://www.lotc.org.uk.
10) Follow up when you get back to school
Think about what happens after the visit to ensure the maximum impact on learners’ achievement and personal development.
- What follow-up and continuation activities can be pursued when back in the classroom?
- How do you know whether the experience was successful and met your learning objectives?
- How can the learning and questions raised by the experience or visit be shared with others?
- How can you celebrate your achievements?
It is essential that LOtC is evaluated in the same way as other interventions. This reflection will help you to recognise success and identify areas that are less effective and may need to be changed.
About the author
Elaine Skates, is acting chief executive of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (lotc.org.uk), which is a national charity that supports schools in offering high quality learning experiences. If you found this article useful and would like to know more, free guidance on planning, running and evaluating LOtC experiences can be found at http://www.lotc.org.uk.