Most schools in Scotland have now begun their holidays. Andrea Stevenson, has had an exceptionally busy term. She’s a Canadian teacher, who lives in Aberdeen and has undertaken maths consultancy work on behalf of Creative STAR whilst waiting for her GTCS registration to come through. I have always maintained that teachers have the skills and capacity to work outside and Andrea’s experience is testimony to this.
- Prior to coming to live in Scotland, how much outdoor learning did you do as a teacher?
Prior to coming to Scotland, I had never heard of outdoor learning. When I was teaching, we often did Physical Education outside as well as some science, but I don’t recall doing much more than that. I do know that outdoor learning is currently expanding in a big way in the province of Ontario where I did my teacher training and initial teaching which is exciting.
- What have you enjoyed most about teaching outside?
The aspect I have enjoyed the most is witnessing how teaching outdoors can really reach those students who are struggling; whether it is in Maths or in their ability to communicate verbally or work with others. It is also wonderful to see how much students truly enjoy learning outdoors and how engaged they are regardless of where they are in their learning. I always do a plenary at the end of each session and the feedback from students is consistently and overwhelmingly positive.
- What’s been the most challenging part of teaching outside?
One of the concerns that teachers often have about outdoor learning is having enough support for challenging classes particularly when additional supports are not already in place in the classroom. I can definitely see why teachers do have this very real concern. The more experience you and your class have with outdoor learning, the easier things become, but there are some additional challenges that do need to be addressed in order for these classes to have quality outdoor learning experiences, such as ensuring flexibility within your day to allow for inclement weather or having plenty of spare outdoor clothing for children to wear.
- What have been your most memorable maths lessons from the 100 you have taught?
There have been more memorable moments than I can count, but a few definitely stick out in my mind. One of these moments occurred while I was doing a fraction lesson with a Primary 6 class. A group of girls were working together on the task of coming up with equivalent fractions. One of the girls was really struggling and boldly admitted to the group that she did not know what an equivalent fraction was. As I stood by and watched, the rest of the group stopped what they were doing and explained what it was. When we were doing the plenary at the end of the lesson, this girl shared with the entire class that the thing she liked most about the lesson was that when she started she did not know what an equivalent fraction was, but now she does! It was a really great moment for sure. There have been a lot of those types of moments when students working in mixed ability groups enhance each others’ learning experience. Teachers also regularly report to me after the sessions that there were students that wouldn’t normally speak out in front of the class that did so during the plenary and they are often thrilled to see students taking part and being engaged in the sessions that would normally struggle in the classroom.
- Based upon your own experiences, what advice can you give other primary teachers.
My biggest piece of advice is to just keep at it! The first few lessons may feel a little chaotic and it may be difficult to see the learning that is happening, but as everyone gets used to working outside and settle into the routines you establish for outdoor learning, things will get easier and the quality learning that is happening will become more visible. I would suggest teachers start taking their classes out at least once a week right from the first week of school and continue to do so all year long no matter the weather (within reason) or the season.
- What would you like to explore now, in terms of outdoor learning and teaching?
My plan is to branch out and do more in the way of literacy outdoors next term!
- Anything else you’d like to add?
This has been a really fantastic experience. This was an unexpected path for me, but I am so glad to be doing this and look forward to what is to come when schools goes back in six short weeks!