(Posted by Dughall)
Remember when you were 10 and you went on that residential visit with school? You did rock-climbing, canoeing, pond-dipping. You learned actively and in non-formal ways. You learned by playing and collaborating with your peers in different, more extended ways. You formed new and more productive relationships with them and your teachers. You were challenged in ways that you weren’t when learning in the conventional classroom environment.
Do you remember that double Maths lesson on a run-of-the-mill Wednesday at school when you were 12 years old? You may do. But which of the memories are most vivid?
No one would really question the value of outdoor learning, least of all me, a proud Chair of Governors at an outstanding school that fully embraces the ‘Forest School‘ ethos. However, it does one good to be reminded of that value and what better way than by being fully immersed in an outdoor learning experience oneself.
LOB10 (Learning on the Beach 2010) was a first for me. I have attended many brilliant conferences and ‘unconferences‘, but nothing quite like this. The brainchild of John Davitt, LOB10 questioned how we can think outside the box when we spend too much time sitting in one. The focus for the conference was ‘outdoor exploration, activity, new technology and learning in the broadest sense’. In his introductory spiel, John asked, “Why do we call it ‘understanding‘ when we have to sit down to do it?” and we did very little sitting down.
Located on the western fringes of Europe in the small village of Mulranny, Co. Mayo, Republic of Ireland, LOB10 brought together an intrepid band of learners from all walks of life but all sharing an interest in learning and technology. A fairly loose itinerary was followed and included a rich mix of activities and challenges – all of which would have been perfect for pupils of any age. Some highlights from many were:
A version of John’s ‘Learning Event Generator‘ (now available as an ‘App’). The Learning Event Generator asks learners to ‘do’ something in a particular ‘way’. Random challenges are generated such as: Do: ‘How the tidal system works’… …as ‘a mini opera’, Do: ‘The History of Ireland’… …as ‘Drawings in the sand’, or ‘The salt-marsh’… …as ‘a group theatrical whisper’. These group activities thrust learners together into pacey, focussed, collaborative activity that is often way outside people’s comfort zones (a place where some very effective learning often happens).
Discovering a ‘geocache‘ with the help of an iphone.
Learning about sand dunes and biodiversity from a local expert, Sean Carolan who helped challenge some of my long held views on the environment.
The ‘Explainolympics’ – using only a stick, the sand and an ability to explain, delegates take an idea, or concept and explain it to the assembled group. This activity was wonderfully facilitated by the waves themselves that repeatedly washed the explanation slate clean between ‘slides’ in the explanation. (Eat your heart out all those flashy slide-transitions in Powerpoint and Keynote!).
Many of the proceedings were shared via an ingenious wifi arrangement running off a car battery.
We all know that of equal (if not greater) value to the activities themselves, it is the spaces in between the activities that are just as rich in learning. LOB10 offered such space in abundance. It was a privilege to engage in stimulating conversations with some luminaries of the world of educational technology from UK and Ireland as well as get some perspectives from delegates from outside of the circles in which I usually mix (most notably Chris and Sandra Kerndter who signed up and attended at the last minute with their two young daughters).
So, I am enriched, refreshed and delighted to have been reminded of the importance of active, outdoor, truly collaborative learning and in such an experiential way.
It hasn’t changed my opinions of technology and the important role it can play in learning. I am however, reminded of the importance of balance and contrast in learning experiences. I can’t wait to explore some of the ideas I came across such as geocaching and the use of QR codes (see this site called ‘Tales of Things’ for some idea of the possibilities).
Special thanks go to John and Angie Davitt and Eliza Mountford for the preparations and work in making the event so successful. Thanks also to those wonderful people who (amongst other things) enriched the spaces between the activities: Richard Millwood, Andy Black, Mags Amond, Dominic Davitt, John Heffernan, John Cuthell, Chris, Sandra, Lily and Erin Kerndter, Sean and Matthew Carolan and Father Matty.
Will you be at LOB11?
Andy Black’s LOB10 Blog post