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Case study: Learning outdoors

Professor Helen Bilton shares her observations from an outdoor activity at a primary school, and discussions the learning outcomes from the activity
A photo of 2 children standing outside by a tree recording their measurements on a tally sheet
© University of Reading
In this Step, you’re introduced to a real life example Helen took part in at a primary school. Read through her commentary taken from her observation about a group of year 2 children, aged 7-8 years:
“Today I set this group a new outdoor challenge to find as many different round objects as they could, and to measure the diameter of each object with a standard class ruler. They were asked to record whether the round object was less than 5 cm in diameter, between 3 and 20 cm in diameter, or over 20 cm in diameter. In talking to the children, I discovered this was the first time that they’d heard of the word diameter, and none of them knew what it was or how to measure it. I spent a few minutes talking to them about what this mathematical term meant and how you measured it.
A of a tally chart showing the overall results of the objects collected with their recorded measurements
Figure 1: The overall results from the children’s recordings. © Helen Bilton
The children were free to explore where they wanted, but they had to work together as a team to find and record their observations. One of the round objects they found was a football, and we spent a bit of time discussing how the children should record its shape (sphere), and how they could at least estimate the ball’s diameter. At the end of the session, I asked the children to indicate which diameter size category had the most found objects. They all said they guessed it would be the ‘less than 5 cm’ category and after checking, they were indeed right, which made the children very happy explorers (see Figure 1).”
Take a few minutes to consider the following questions:
  • What was the purpose of the activity?
  • Is it possible to achieve a similar activity indoors and have a similar reaction?
  • Can you think of your own activity that is based outside the classroom?
Generate some ideas and post them on the discussion board below.
Hear more about outdoor learning from Helen in the video below:

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

© University of Reading
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