We’re notorious for acronyms in the education world. We bandy about initials to each other all day and chatter on about LEAs, SENs, the ISI and so forth, finding ourselves having to switch back to normal English whenever we’re dealing with those who don’t live their whole lives in the world of education – like parents for instance. EL used to mean English Language (in terms such as ELL and BEL) but now it’s gone the way of LOL and changed. EL now refers to the realm of outdoor learning and can either mean expeditionary learning or experiential learning depending which side of the Atlantic the speaker hails from – and what professional development course he or she took most recently!
In both cases the E refers to the experience of the learner. Learning outside takes away the physical and figurative ceiling on the learning space and allows the learner to engage with the learning material in new ways. At ACS we have the most amazing campus it has ever been my privilege to work with, and it would be a crime if we had not long ago put outdoor learning at the top of our agenda. The introduction of iPads has enhanced our provision of outdoor learning. Technology being almost as notorious as education for the prevalence of acronyms (iOS, LAN, PS3, Wii etc.) one might say the “i” has in no way compromised the “E”. But it does come as a surprise to people that this is the case. It seems we have an assumption that technology is an indoor thing and that the outdoors is somehow tech-free.
Our most recent visiting experts in the world of outdoor education (Julia Robertson, Bushcraft, Forest Schools) all disagree with that assumption. For a long time now, but particularly since Julia’s visit last fall we have made efforts to incorporate iPads into our outdoor lessons with conspicuous (if nascent) success. Here are some illustrated examples:
Accurate identification of fungi sometimes depends on being able to examine the gills on the underside of the fungus. This often leads to careless handling breaking the fungal stem. Mirrors are the traditional way round this problem, but the iPad offers a superior alternative in the shape of the inbuilt camera. The captured image of the fungus’ underside can then be compared with an online database, a teacher-prepared database or (as is the case in the last picture above) a traditional chart.
Here we jump to the other end of the school scale and see a high school (tenth grade) computing class. They have been designing video games. We caught them on a day when they were using a combination of iOS and Mac apps to insert real world camera footage into their games. The teacher explained that an important component of video game authenticity is the camera shake you get when you’re moving through an environment. The students took their iPads outside and filmed as they walked a few steps along the road. This shake was then imported into an emulation app on the Macs and integrated with their video games. Next stop is composing the music. This too can be done on the iPad.
Finally, last Friday (February 8th 2013) I caught up with a fourth grade class measuring shadow angles by photographing and marking them, and then both using on-screen and manipulative protractors to work out the size of each in degrees. This maths lesson could easily have been done indoors in a stuffy classroom. It was a cold day, but as the teacher explained “there’s no such thing as bad weather: only inappropriate clothing”. Well wrapped-up children got some fresh air and the chance to contextualise content and the experience of learning in an outdoor setting. How bad can that be?
What is notable about the above examples is that they incorporated iPads with other forms of technology (analogue and digital) as well as with the outdoors. We have certainly loved using specialist expeditionary learning apps like Aurasma in the school’s many outdoor learning locations, and such apps remain awe-inspiring. But it is important to include easy-to-master lessons such as the shadow angles too. These give both teachers and students the confidence to experiment and to see that at its simplest level outdoor learning is nothing more than learning outdoors.