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.
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.


  1. I think many teachers want a quick and easy recipe for the latest tool so they can say I did that and they are not always clear about what they want the learning to be. I have been asked to run podcasting workshops and when I ask them what it is they really want, they aren't too sure. Blank stares again. It's a term they've heard and think they should have a go. A bit like blogging. How many teachers and students read blogs and comment on other blogs before embarking on that journey?

  2. Thanks for sharing and for being willing to experience/try what you talk about. My recent experience of stepping forward and doing (c.f. only talking about it) has been learning to use a wiki, in this case Wikieducator. How can I, with inegrity, ask others to follow a road that I am not willing to walk myself. Keep on walking yourself, Dorothy.

  3. Excellent post Dorothy - important that we don't "throw our brains away" as educators and simply go with the latest trends etc. Working in the digital space requires no less thought, preparation and experience that what we do in the "real world".

  4. Brilliant post Dorothy - and it is a fantastic analogy. My Dad - who was an EOTC expert and pretty fanatical about managing risk - would also point out that sometimes accidents will happen no matter how well we prepared we are (that is the nature of an accident). How we react and learn from that is what will help us be safer next time.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Dorothy and provoking the conversation. My son recently went on camp with his school, and I am truly grateful the DP and the teachers from his school were committed to making it all happen.

    They persevered even with lack of parental support (hardly anyone wanting to go on the camp) and enough funding to subsidise the camp so it was affordable for parents.

    We often dont take the time to thank schools and teachers for the tremendous effort that goes into preparing for these. I know of schools that have decided to put in the too hard basket. Its an essential part of school life that I know my son is very fortunate to have experienced.

  6. Just linked here by a reader - good stuff. You are right about "opt-outs" by many teachers - I've commented on it in a recent post too. I think back to my school days and I can't remember anything I learnt in Form One, but I'll never forget going abseiling and tramping the Abel Tasman with my class and teacher. Had I not had that opportunitiy I may not have redone them as an adult and explored much of this beautiful land of ours. These days when we compete for the passions of our tamariki with XBox and Wii surely outdoor ed needs more focus and investment,not less? The trend towards it becoming optional is a worrying one.

  7. Thanks for the comments and ideas you have added to this post Barb, Paul, Derek, Sonja, Naketa, and Danny.
    It occurs to me that probably most people involved in the Outdoor Education arena aren't bloggers, so there are few forums to express the concerns that some of you have raised here. I agree that it would be a very sad day as Kiwis if we lost the accessibility to the outdoors as part of our regular education experiences. Isn't that one of the things that defines us as a nation?
    And here's hoping that this same kiwi spirit is what takes our work with students forward as people who are prepared to take informed risks in the new digital frontiers...