Sharon Cunningham, our Outdoor Learning Officer, tells us more about engaging young people in outdoor learning through the Teaching in Nature programme.
“I feel more confident taking pupils out to natural places for learning. It [Teaching in Nature] has allowed me to see the benefits in terms of learning but also the wider-reaching benefits such as developing the pupils’ confidence and ability to work well together.” Secondary Geography teacher
The Teaching in Nature programme has been running since 2012/13, working with teachers from all sectors (Early Years, Primary, Secondary and Additional Support Needs) and a range of Secondary subjects (including Music, Art, Maths, ICT, Biology and Geography). This has equated to around 2500 pupils being given at least two outdoor experiences in a place specially recognised for nature – with many more pupils to benefit from these teachers’ enhanced expertise in Outdoor Learning in the future.
The Teaching in Nature programme was accredited by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) in 2014, meaning teachers that successfully take part in the programme can gain Professional Recognition in Outdoor Learning. Professional Recognition acknowledges the enhanced, significant and sustained enquiry a teacher has undertaken and the development of their professional learning in a particular area; in this case Outdoor Learning. Teaching in Nature empowers teachers to take their pupils outdoors without so-called ‘experts’, which is a requirement of the GTCS Standards for teachers.
The programme was recognised by the GTCS at their Excellence in Professional Learning Event in November last year.
The programme was informed by our Teaching in Nature research which highlighted the benefits of getting teachers together and giving them dedicated time to share and discuss issues and plan outdoor learning with like-minded colleagues, whilst learning in and about a natural place – all things that the programmes’ Collaborative Planning Days aim to offer.
Some P6 pupils, whose teachers took part in Teaching in Nature, provided quotes which illustrate their enthusiasm:
“John Muir was right, people should get out more. I was happy to be out of class as well. I was exhausted at night.”
“I felt adventurous and proud.”
“I liked being in the rain and being outside.”
An evaluation found significant immediate benefits to teachers and pupils, demonstrated via participants’ diaries, which they each keep to document their professional development and make their application for Professional Recognition in Outdoor Learning. Longer-term benefits are also apparent, with 80% of participants continuing to take learning outdoors in the year that followed completion of Teaching in Nature and 73% supporting colleagues to do so too. All those who responded to the evaluation survey said they have made changes to the way they approach Outdoor Learning as a result of Teaching in Nature and, perhaps more surprisingly, all also said they had changed the way they approach indoor learning too.
From a land managers’ perspective, Teaching in Nature can enable more teachers to access their spaces in a meaningful way, with very little draw on their time or resources. They can also learn a lot from the teachers that they can apply to their own work with pupils.
“Teaching in Nature allowed teachers access to and experience of the site without being a huge draw on our time – something that is desperately valuable during the busy summer months.” NNR Manager
“It was good to see the teachers making use of the park and teaching subjects that are not normally taught here.” Countryside Ranger
Going forward, we are increasingly using the Teaching in Nature approach to support schools taking part in our Learning in local greenspace project. This project aims to support 100 of the schools serving Scotland’s 20% most disadvantaged communities to learn in local greenspace.
Find out more about our Teaching in Nature programme on our website.