Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Education Outside The Classroom

I wonder how many of us still take students on school camps and on EOTC experiences which brave the sea, rivers, lakes or the mountains? Rumour has it that schools are becoming more and more cautious about it after some of the tragic experiences we have heard about in the media. So I was a bit surprised this week to hear as I was driving, some parent ringing in and complaining on talk back (no, that's not the bit that surprised!) about having to fork out for more and more school camps. I thought his kids were jolly lucky.
Going
on camps and EOTC trips has always been part of my life, even as a preschooler. My parents were the sort who organised camps for kids in their own holidays. And all my best schooling memories are a series of trips into the great New Zealand wild or going on camping weeks. So even in my first year of teaching I took my intermediate class tramping in the bush and on a camp. One of the things I have noticed is that when you meet up with past pupils 20 or 30 years later, it is the EOTC that they remember most clearly. Join a Facebook group of past pupils and the chances are they will be talking about the trips and camps they went on.

The thing that all successful EOTC experiences have in common is that some sound organisation and planning has occured before hand and behind the scenes. The first trip I took with my Year 7 class in 1979 was a day tramping in the Waitakeres. 60 kids, another BT (who hadn't done much EOTC before) and a few parents and me. We had no forms to fill in and no-one thought to send along a more senior teacher, but I sure did my prep before hand. We spent a couple of weekends tramping the tracks we were taking the kids on to become really familiar with the area as I had never been there before. We spent a bit of time at the visitor centre talking to guides and getting some maps. And we did all the usual planning; which groups to go with which parents (the ratbags in my group of course), the first aid, the buses etc. There were some hairy moments, which I will not publish online, but we all got back safely and repeated it later in the year.

There will always be an element of 'danger'. No-one can prepare for a sudden tragedy or an 'act-of-god' weather experience; but good preparation, including being familiar with the territory, goes a long way towards making EOTC events memorable for all involved.


So continuing with the boss' theory that 'all the 21st century digital stuff is easy to get your head around if you apply good old fashioned principles to it', it amazes me how many teachers embark on digital EOTC with no prior experience, no scouting the terrain, no contingency plans, no parent meetings (or the equivalent) etc. It seems pretty straight forward to me. You 'go on a course' and you hear about, say, Voice Thread. Or maybe you see it somewhere. Ok, do you sign up and get going with other people's kids or do you scout around, maybe Google a few examples to have a look at? Even take a few minutes to look at VoiceThread's own tutorial or explore their examplars?

I just think that some teachers are getting their analogies wrong. Taking the 'I'm not a manual reader, I'm a try-it-and-find-out kind of person' attitude, which is fabulous when it is about them and their personal learning styles, and applying it to taking 30 youngsters (who are other people's kids) into an online EOTC experience doesn't work for me.

Having been podcasting from early on, I will admit to carrying some baggage from my experiences with groups of educators who have asked to come and visit our school for some PD on how to podcast. My first question at one of these sessions is, 'Great, what is your favourite podcast? What do you like to listen to?" 9.5 times out of 10 I am met with a blank stare. I am not quite sure why you would contemplate doing this with kids if you haven't explored the terrain yourself.
What possible use would you be thinking it could have in your class if you have no idea about the good, the bad and the ugly?

The origins of this Manaiakalani blog relate back to some teachers who challenged me about asking them to blog with their classes when, although I read heaps of blogs, I wasn't actually doing it myself. A bit like directing a class tramp through the Waitakeres from a helicopter?

This post has been languishing in draft form and Derek's post today inspired me to get on and publish it.