Back in 2012, a group of schools in London took part in a campaign founded by environmental educator Anna Portch to help them to ‘escape’ the four walls of the classroom and learn outdoors for a day. Levels of school participation in the campaign, which was called ‘Empty Classroom Day’ grew rapidly. Just three years later, over 600 schools in 15 countries were involved, and the campaign grew further as it merged with Project Dirt.
The initiative is now called ‘Outdoor Classroom Day’ and is global in its spread, aiming to inspire and celebrate outdoor learning, exploration and play. The campaign days act as a catalyst for encouraging teachers and pupils to spend some time outside every day wherever possible, both at school and in family time.
It supports them in appreciating the benefits of stepping outside of the confines of the traditional learning spaces, where students and teachers spend most of their time.
The benefits of play and spending time outside are obvious, as both help children to learn and appreciate their surroundings, and Sir Ken Robinson: world renowned creativity expert, is supportive of the value of play in helping children learn.
The outdoors is also the natural home of the geographer. Geography is about curiosity, exploration and discovery, all things that open up to you when you are outside, particularly when you have an Ordnance Survey map in your hands. Many students and teachers will have unexplored areas within just a few hundred metres of school, where they may be features on the map sheet they have never noticed before.
Geography also gives you the power to see places in new ways, and helps you to understand and make sense of the world. The organisers have recognised that teachers prefer resources to help them get behind a campaign, so have provided a range of activity sheets and booklets as free downloads.
Fellow GetOutside Champion Daniel Raven Ellison has teamed up with National Geographic this year, to produce a series of short animated films providing some simple and fun activities for younger students to get involved with. These would all be suitable for parents and children too – a teaching qualification is not necessary to use of any of the ideas from the website.
The Digimap for Schools team is very supportive of teachers who want to take part in Outdoor Classroom Day. Digimap for Schools subscribers can use it to produce large-scale maps of the school site and surrounding area, and can also add images, text and other information using the suite of annotation tools.
Measuring tools enable some outdoor mathematics with distance and area calculations, and the buffer tool offers the chance to identify areas which are within a certain distance of fixed points. Students could add their own photographs taken with devices, or add those hosted on the Geograph website.
Several years ago, Daniel and I were both part of the Mission:Explore team, winners of the first Ordnance Survey GeoVation challenge who put together a booklet of activities for those teachers needing ideas to support their participation in Outdoors Classroom Day. This can be downloaded from the website.
We have also produced a free Bioblitz book, with ideas for exploring the spaces just outside the classroom door which connect with science and ecosystems.
Find out more about Outdoor Classroom Day. There is still time for you to sign up to add your efforts to the national tally. There are two dates to get involved – the 17th of May and the 1st of November, so that students around the world can take part.
This year, my students will be involved in some work connected to our curriculum. We shall be exploring the best places to grow food in a microclimate survey, and undertaking a plastic survey and clean-up. There’ll be some bioblitz work and citizen science, and also we'll enjoy just being outside for a change.
What could you do on your own school site?