This is the second part of my Reflection Series – a self-reflection of my year teaching in the UK.
What is something you tried in your classroom this year for the first time? How did it go?
I’d like to reflect on something that I technically tried outside of the classroom—that is, taking the class outside for a lesson. I did this a few times back in Australia, but never confidently or for long periods of time.
Back in Australia, I had taken my year 11s outside to do transects and ecosystem studies, but these had been small parts of lessons and honestly filled me with concern. What if a student wandered off without me noticing, or someone got hurt? I felt like I had a lot less control over the lesson when they were outside, so I did it as little as possible.
You may have seen my previous posts about our Outdoor Learning professional development sessions (Part 1 and Part 2). These had a profound impact on my thoughts about teaching outdoor, and certainly on my confidence doing so.
After going to the PD sessions, I realised I had an arsenal of tools at my disposal to help with behaviour management. I decided to have a go at spending larger amounts of time outside, keeping in mind what I had learned and what the individuals within the classes I chose were like.
I took a few different classes outside for different lessons—ecosystems, habitats, adaptations, even as the last lesson for the year for a bit of sun and fun. I took year 7, 8, 9 and even joined my year 10 class with Jess’ a few times. The younger students tended to be more excitable being outside, but also more engaged. The older students were more inclined to sit around doing not much beyond enjoying the sunshine and having a chat.
Most of the lessons worked extremely well, with the students fully engaged and loving the sunshine. They thought about the content in different ways to how they were thinking back in the classroom; talking with members of the class they generally didn’t talk to; asking more questions when I was casually walking around with them than they tended to inside.
Other times we had to pack up and come back inside.
The worst lesson was when we were outside testing paper planes (for physics, of course!). It was getting to the end of the lesson so we were heading back inside and the majority of the class just left their planes outside all over the ground. A few of the girls were so angry they went around and picked them all up when the larger portion of the class claimed they didn’t own them. I kept the class back during break and these girls went around and personally handed back each plane to its owner, getting very angry at them all. I had words for them as well, and that class didn’t get to go back outside again—they had lost that privilege.
My advice for anyone wanting to take their lessons outside is to make sure you lay down strict rules (and stick to them no matter what, no room for leeway!), but also to let the students explore. Does it really matter if they go off topic for a bit? Hell, does it really matter if they sit outside and chat with their friends for a bit (assuming the work gets done too)? As the media keeps telling us, we’re supposed to be teaching them a whole lot more than curriculum content, and being outside of the classroom opens up a different paradigm for the students. Just know your class well and have physical boundaries so no one goes wandering off (having an extra adult for worrisome classes is a good idea too, if anyone else is available to help out—ask the school’s TAs or the technician).