The value of out-of-school sites

Children develop when actively involved in their own evolution by means of exploration, and inspiration gained from their innate curiosity. Real-life scenarios increase productivity of imagination ‘bringing education to life’, which stimulates creativity. From this we can ascertain children should be taught in a manner that provides opportunities for concrete observations and occurrences, enabling them to explore ideas and thoughts first hand. This constructivist view is acknowledged by theorists: “Piaget recognised the extent to which children’s interactions with the world around them contributes to their learning. (Oates, 2000, p27) Undoubtedly not all experiences that children can gain from education are physically possible within school, and for this reason it is important they have opportunities to visit places away from their establishment. Excursions if well planned can facilitate children’s academic understanding and personal and social development.

Equilibrium within programmes of study and the hidden curriculum provides students with reinforcement, amplifying constructive attitudes complementing work done within school. This is a view held by the DfES: Outdoor Education offers attractive opportunities for achievement of pupils across the spectrum of ability. These can stimulate and reinforce a positive attitude towards education. ” (1999, p27) As well as supplementing school work, such experiences act as catalysts, enhancing educational success, extra-curricular interests, or future employment. These out-of-school environments help children re-evaluate their opinions of peers and teachers, which can revolutionize relationships enhancing learning experiences. Due to fear of blame, thousands of children miss out on educational visits.

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Cultural changes in society now threaten school trips due to a ‘blame and claim’ phenomenon, embedding fear and reluctance in teachers planning visits, but this must be kept in context. Statistics show, in the worst scenario (fatality) the actual percentage is less than 1%, and when taken into consideration, children are more likely to receive an injury in the playground. The effects of this ‘fear’ have provoked the Government into publishing a parliamentary bulletin reassuring and reiterating the value of school trips. Excursions form an essential part of school life – and can make learning come alive in a way that’s not possible in a classroom. Many such trips are now under threat. ” (Unknown, 2007, p2) Educational visits provide cross-curricular opportunities, for instance visiting working farms can incorporate: Science – life processes, living things in their environment, and feeding relationships. Geography – mapping/planning skills, environmental change and sustainable development. Citizenship – developing skills of enquiry and communication, and ability to participate and act responsibly.

All of these provide an environment whereby children can relate what is being taught to the ‘real world’. Visiting farms has proved so valuable that the Rural Affairs Minister has backed such excursions: “Visiting farmland increased students’ interest and helped them learn more about food and farming, rural life, and caring for the countryside. (Government Office, 2005, Online) Active learning provides higher levels of intellectual stimulation proven to be effective in protracting and fulfilling children’s inspiration and concentration.

Due to the formative nature of classroom teaching, educational visits can provide children with a less threatening way of learning creating an opportunity to extrude constructive attitudes towards education (Oates, 2000). When children visit a farm, the curriculum potential for Art and Design, and Design Technology (D;T) is incessant. Substantiating valuable art and design lessons requires the provision of stimulating phenomenon, within real life contexts away from the classroom environment.

The majority of children have never experienced a working farm, and taking them into such an environment offers an opportunity to relate and appreciate historical, social and ecological perspectives. Collages provide children with an association between tangible and visual elements, perceptions of planning, and composition arranging their pieces. The success of outcome relies upon the quality of materials and diverse textures available. Children become conscious of contrasting colours, textures, and shapes which endow future learning and artistic progression, encouraging individuals to take an active role in their own development.

Producing collages derived from a school visit strengthens observation, memory, harmonizing, and analytical skills, an opinion adopted by theorists: “Children should be taught to make drawings and studies of familiar natural forms and of ideas and experiences from memory and imagination, in order to develop the skills of recording ideas and observations”. (Clement ; Piotrowski, 1998, p66) Teachers must not provide children with only one form of collage, but produce paper, mixed, and fabric collages. Frequently children are given a selection of paper and little else, the determining factor being cost and availability.

Using a variety of materials provides children with opportunities to choose pieces for their properties rather than function (Fisher, 1999). D;T provides children with chances to place their knowledge, understanding, and learning into a ‘real-life’ perspective, supplying intrinsic reinforcement across the spectrum of abilities. Pupils gain a sense of achievement and motivation being able to relate to subjects, rather than the lesson being purely theoretical. Competence and perception of technology can be built upon, and developed to provide a formative learning experience.

The essence of technology engages children in activities that strive to find solutions or enhancements to situations/objects, which involves thinking, problem solving, designing, making, and evaluating. These are all objectives specified within the Attainment Targets: “… Identifying needs and opportunities… Generating a design proposal… Planning and making… Appraising. ” (DfEE ; QCA, 1999, p25) D;T supports analytical and critical comprehension of the world, and the consequences of technology that effect their manmade and natural environment, increased when the activities are based on practical experience, reiterated by Oates: Children learn from practical experience. ‘ (2000, p25) These practical skills assist in developing operative dexterity, and knowledge and understanding of the world, evident by the symbolic forms children produce purveying their perceptions. D&T is well-suited to incorporate cross-curricular links. In science, testing and use of materials is paramount to understanding, which is reiterated in any D&T process therefore complimenting joint subject progression.

Other links include Numeracy: scale/measuring, Literacy: verbal discussions, conceptual communication, and listening/understanding skills, and Art and Design: aesthetics, creativity, and practical skills (Bloomfield, 2000). Due to the practical substance of lessons, there is less division of pupils due to ability; instead the divide is determined by learning types. Visual or Kinaesthetic learners adapt better to practical lessons as they learn through seeing, moving, doing, and touching, where as Auditory Learners learn through listening. As professional we must differentiate for these learning styles as well as ability.

This is supported by theorists: ‘I do and I talk about it and I began to understand. Talk is just as important as practical activity for learning. ‘ (Oates, 2000, p25) For children to achieve Attainment level 1 in D&T they need to understand aesthetics, structures, health and safety, social and environmental issues, and be able to explore and investigate, make, and appraise, objects, processes, and environments (DfEE & QCA, 1999). A farm visit and subsequent lessons, provides teachers the framework to supply children with resources to cover these requirement in varying degrees.

Whilst visiting a farm, children could explore and investigate the structures and buildings, gaining an understanding of why they differ, how they are made, and how their use determines the size, shape, and form, including social and environmental needs. In follow-up lessons children would meet the attainment targets of Health and Safety – using tools and materials correctly. Making – using various materials and tools. Appraising – discussing what they did and why, their likes/dislikes, and consolidating prior knowledge; Aesthetics – what the buildings looked like. Structures – size, shape, strength, suitability, and materials used.

Exploring/Investigating – finding out why structures are built in certain ways, and Social/Environmental considerations – what animals require, and the needs of the farmer (Bold, 1999). This hands-on experience engages children in active learning and action enquiries. The lesson objective of designing and creating a suitable structure for a cow, would involve children identifying opportunities to improve structures seen on the farm, in-turn improving the cows comfort and well being. This is an example of D&T improving a situation rather than solving a problem, and provides meaningful context to a class-based activity.

By brainstorming ideas and providing photos of the structures on the visit at the beginning of the lesson, children will be able to discuss, reflect, and develop ideas, as well as assisting less confident students. Preceding this, children would be given time to develop ideas on paper which will inform their end product. It is important for children to understand that the design process is not straight forward, where an idea is chosen and then made exactly as thought, but actually a progression of ideas and alterations to determine a suitable outcome (Fisher, 1999).

The importance of external visits has already been proven and supported by the DfES as above, as is the importance of ‘hands on’ experience for Art and Design Technology as stated below: ‘Pupils understanding and enjoyment of art, craft, and design, should be developed through activities that bring together requirements from both investigating and making, and knowledge and understanding, wherever possible’.