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Out of class activities
"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do
and I understand"
If a picture tells a thousand words, then hands-on practical experience
is worth a thousand pictures. Experience through field activity cannot
only greatly enrich and extend classroom learning, but can pull together
many otherwise apparently (to the student) unrelated strands of information
into an holistic entity. This can apply from reception class in school,
to post graduate study and continuing professional development. Although
the potential value of fieldwork may be self evident to many, there
are very real practical challenges to moving groups out of the classroom
or off the college campus. These considerations are examined further
in the Logistics Section of this report. This part of the report therefore
looks at the broader picture of policies and attitudes towards fieldwork
In the context of learning from the aggregates industry, well-organised
field visits to operating or restored sites offer by far the most effective
learning medium, especially where supported by quality materials for
briefing or follow-up.
The NSC recently investigated for English Nature (3), the extent and
type of fieldwork carried out by schools and colleges, in the context
of geology. Whereas there is some degree of overlap with the present
study, the aggregates offers some different opportunities and generally
perhaps much broader scope for schools and colleges.
Fieldwork by Schools
Various attempts have been made to assess the extent to which schools
and colleges engage in fieldwork. Estimates in the late 1980s suggested
that 0.5 million pupil days (mostly 14-19 year olds) were spent on 'field
visits' (18). This was then approximately equivalent to only one day's
fieldwork for a single year group per school (in other words, now equivalent
to a single day per student for the whole of his/her secondary school
Whereas it is highly likely that, once the implementation of the NC
had settled down (notwithstanding a number of radical revisions), by
the mid 1990s, many teachers were sufficiently accustomed to it's working,
to be able to accommodate fieldwork. Further curriculum changes, additional
teaching and monitoring requirements and important logistical considerations
from the late 1990s onwards appear highly likely to have reduced levels
of participation particularly severely in secondary schools.
However contrary to this line of reasoning, in the late 1990s Hawley
(19), suggested that the NC science and geography and 'increasing expectations
of a fieldwork entitlement at higher education level' were likely to
have increased levels significantly compared with the 1980s. Hawley
(20) also separately commented that 'the benefits of learning through
fieldwork are generally accepted as improving motivation, interest,
knowledge, skills and understanding in pupils, and fieldwork can engender
positive attitudes towards conservation and the environment'. Far from
increasing, most of the anecdotal (e.g. in the form of closures of independent
and LEA field study centres) and some survey evidence does imply that
participation has fallen.
Although in schools, science offers by far the greatest number of significant
topics where the aggregates industry could assist, science is not a
subject which in recent years has used field experience as a conventional
teaching medium. However, despite this, 'fieldwork' is in fact listed
specifically in the National Curriculum (NC) (KS3 & 4) as one of
the means of gathering data for scientific investigation. A possible
exception is biology where some field measurements are usually taken
as part of practical work. Chemistry and physics tend to be wholly laboratory-based.
A recent study by King (21) of 162 secondary science teachers in 1998
reinforces this low uptake. This indicated that at Key Stages (KS) 3-4,
80% of pupils studying science did no fieldwork at all and less than
5% did a day or half a day a year. It is probable that almost all of
this very limited out-of-class experience was devoted to biology. There
are of course exceptional teachers and schools which exploit fieldwork
to the full across the science curriculum.
In geography, levels of fieldwork are likely to be greater but it is
probable that much that will be geared to urban rather than rural or
Very little fieldwork allied to the industry is undertaken as part
of GNVQs; (despite the implications in its title for example, land based
industries GNVQ is concerned mainly with agriculture and not all land
There are some most welcome signs that in schools, the tide might be
about to turn. Recently a number of key organisations have expressed
very significant reservations about the erosion of even the present
minimal levels of fieldwork.
The National Association of Field Study Officers (NAFSO) have made
known their concerns in a recent annual report. In addition, at the
Field Studies Council conference in Dec 2003, the Real World Education
Campaign was launched; Graham Wynn (CEO of RSPB, one of the six partners)
challenged the government to commit to and support the place of out-of-classroom
learning and called for a clear official statement on the subject. Schools
minister Stephen Twigg, responding at the same event said 'Education
should never be restricted to the classroom and I'm very keen for pupils
to get outdoors because there are so many excellent learning opportunities
for children of all ages'. He agreed to pursue dialogue with those bodies
concerned and to look at the issue of teacher training in this respect.
In the same vein, the DfES has launched 'Growing Schools', describes
as 'a major government programme to harness the full potential of the
outdoor classroom as a teaching and learning resource'. Funded by the
DfES, the London Science Learning Centre is also investigating professional
development for teachers in relation to fieldwork. In this connection,
the DfES-sponsored website teachernet states:
'We want all pupils to experience the outdoor classroom as a regular
and integrated part of their learning throughout their life at school.
Practical hands on learning in the outdoors provides a valuable dimension
to personalised learning, giving relevance and the opportunity for
pupils' 'naturalistic ' intelligences to be engaged'.
A dedicated 'Growing Schools' website is to be launched shortly. There
is clearly considerable scope for the industry to become a partner in
this new network of initiatives.
In addition, there are a number of other themes which may indirectly
encourage greater levels of work outside the classroom (for more details
see Changes and Trends in Education):
There is growing concern about the health and in particular obesity
in children and the consequent need for more exercise. Whereas this
can be delivered through sport, outdoor activity in general may be seen
as another means of achieving this end.
Secondly, as part of 'citizenship' activity in the community, such
as volunteering and Duke of Edinburgh Awards, is encouraged.
Thirdly, the government are considering promoting summer camps (as
in the USA) offering 'outward bound type activities to all students
at some stage in their school lives. Similarly, after-school, holiday
or lunchtime interest groups and clubs are being encouraged, although
some of these initiatives are intended to address the concerns about
high levels of truancy and may actually result in more pupils being
confined to school premises and external work being restricted.
Through PSHE and other subjects, all pupils are encouraged to undertake
out of school work experience. DfES have issued several publications
containing guidance for employers and schools about work experience,
copies of which can be obtained via tel 0845 6022260 fax 0845 6033360
or e-mail email@example.com.
(quote SPD/WES/01/1199 (rev)).
Finally, if the Tomlinson
Report is taken up, the move towards the preparation of projects/dissertations
could underpin the need for more fieldwork in general.
Field work in Higher Education
In the higher education sector, the trend towards more 'cost effective'
courses has placed such considerable pressure upon budgets (of both
course providers and students) that even a number of geoscience courses
involve very little or no fieldwork. Indeed some colleges are understood
to use software in as a substitute for field experience. In contrast,
fieldwork can be usefully augmented by interactive software; a number
of institutions have worked together in this regard to produce such
material as part of the UK Earth Science Courseware Consortium. In particular,
some electronic packages are designed to test a student's awareness
of health and safety issues and how to respond to them, before they
are allowed to participate in fieldwork.
With the co-operation of CHUGD members, a short survey was carried
out into the use of quarries by University geoscience departments (as
a proxy for higher education in general). In addition, comments on the
same range of questions were received from a number of individual lecturers.
About a quarter of departments responded. Groups or individuals from
each establishment visited quarries on average 3-12 times annually.
In some cases the greatest frequency of visits was by staff; in others
undergraduate groups were the main users. The majority responded by
indicating that visits to quarries in genreal for study were 'important'
to 'vital'. Similarly, most felt that access to working quarries was
essential; however a minority did not share this view and considered
that former quarries adequately served their purpose ( there was a hint
here that staff saw this as a means of avoiding complicated discussions
over liability and insurance). Most had very good working relationships
with quarry companies and very few access problems - there were occasional
and notable exceptions. A number pointed to the logistical safety issues
surrounding undergraduate students carrying out their independent field
projects - most did not allow such of their students to visit working
quarries alone, unless accompanied by a member of the company staff
(companies as a general rule would not in any case permit access which
was not directly supervised).
Specific course/module areas covered in quarry visits were very wide
ranging from including applied geology, construction raw materials,
mineral property valuation, resource estimation, environmental geology,
Earth science conservation, physical resources, sedimentology.