Can students really have a genuinely educational experience at a theme park? Absolutely, says Jack du Pille – and they might not even realise it’s happening…
I am fortunate enough to have an educational role with the unique backdrop of the rollercoasters and rides of THORPE PARK Resort. As you might imagine, I am often quizzed on the educational benefits of school trips to such attractions – surely they can only really be for students on a jolly? I hope to offer an alternative perspective and focus on the kind of enrichment that can in fact only really be attained from a trip to nontraditional venues.
The most important element of a school trip – to any destination – is surely the opportunity to inspire students? Such opportunities are numerous and rich at theme parks, where so many curriculum subjects can be linked to and explored in a destination that will naturally appeal to many, if not most, young people. Rollercoasters provide obvious avenues for discovering gravity and forces; water rides are a natural home for lessons on sustainability and the environment. Imaginative marketing campaigns for new attractions like our Derren Brown Ghost Train offer quirky case studies for business students and an entertaining arena in which they can flex their own creative muscles. It’s not unusual for theme parks and other destinations to provide onsite educational provision for school and college groups in areas such as STEM and business studies, with trained specialists leading the learning – and in other attractions with zoos, for example, I have seen awesome animal experiences which are often exclusive to school groups. Many ‘leisure’ destinations with an educational offering provide plenty of free online resources available in a range of subjects, and the opportunity to link a series of lessons to a visit.
The true potential of any learning outside of the classroom is the opportunity to model the topics being taught in a real world context. The phrase “bring subjects to life” can be overused by all attractions, but behind this lies the undeniable truth that students engage with learning in different ways, and that visits to different destinations can be absorbing to typically uninterested students. I have seen young people blossom regularly in unusual and unexpected settings. This could include a restaurant looking after its customers, an aquarium highlighting its breeding programmes, or even experiencing acceleration on rollercoasters; adding real world context to classroom teaching reinforces understanding and ‘sticky learning’ – something that will stay with students.
An important inclusion for an extracurricular list at any attraction is something employment focused. The leisure and tourism industry offers a range of exciting career paths in areas from customer service to engineering and can develop talent with a youthful seasonal workpool. Work experience and even holiday jobs are available to teenagers without expectation of experience and can open a whole range of options to students.
A final addition to these happy scholastic outcomes – and one that really shouldn’t be overlooked – is that a trip to a theme park is, of course, hugely enjoyable! It seems to be increasingly sidelined in the current climate, with its emphasis so heavily on rigour, assessment and raising standards, but I am not alone in believing there is a powerful association between enjoyment and education. It strikes me that learning can be found in the world around us if only we employ the imagination we seek to foster in the young people in our care. As you look to support their students in their learning, let me encourage you to use all available avenues to engage and inspire them – including visiting more unorthodox and exciting learning destinations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jack du Pille is education manager at THORPE PARK Resort. He is a keen rugby player and world traveller, with over 10 years of experience in the education sector.
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