It was at the end of 2014 when I started a new job that I first heard about the place-responsive approach to education and I have to say, I’m still very much in the process of learning more about it. Thankfully, I have just got hold of Mike Brown’s book Pedagogy of place: Outdoor education for a changing world to keep me busy over the holidays.
There are some amazing people doing some amazing things around the use of place in outdoors based programmes in NZ. With the reduced funding (‘fees’) of outdoor education and other such programmes in many schools, it’s a no brainer to make all curriculum based EOTC opportunities as local as possible. But beyond the funding issue is something far more meaningful. By staying local and valuing student voice to develop learning outcomes, students will make a deeper connection with the overall experience. At Aotea College we’re lucky enough, as most New Zealand Schools are, to be in a fantastic location with beaches, rivers and native bush close by- so why not make the most of it?
This leads me to an experience I recently had with my Year 12s. Their PE Outdoors course is new for 2015 and so the learning curve has been far reaching on both sides. I was looking for something local that we could do that would be suitably challenging for their risk management achievement standard. Another goal was to make it something that students could potentially return and do again by themselves or with friends and family.
I decided on the Rimutaka Cycle Trail including the use of trains and a ferry to get us where we needed to be for the start and finish. The planning involved to make this trip happen was beyond what I thought it would be but in the end it was all worth it. 17 year 12s and 3 teachers completed the journey in 3 days mostly unassisted (we met our only support crew with 17km to go on the last day). The distances are nothing spectacular but the terrain and wind made it all the more challenging. Students were able to learn about the history of a location that’s close to home and form bonds that they never thought they would with both the environment and each other.
Students responded with feedback such as “It was a great experience for everyone getting to see another part of a region and learning about the rail trail history”, “I think it was a good activity because it challenged us and also we had to take responsibility not just the teachers” and “Overall the trip was a really cool experience and I liked biking in the strong winds because it was a challenge and also liked getting up early on the crack of dawn because we made the most of the day”. All believed it should stay as an experience for future Yr 12 PEO classes. Next year will have a few minor tweaks with regards to planning and student input to more closely align with a place-based approach.
A week after completing the expedition I received a message from 2 of my students asking to borrow some gear so they could take a couple of friends and do the same trip during their school holidays. Other students have also requested to come along and assist with next years group. At the end of the day, this is what I wanted- students to be able to connect with their experience, share it with others and see it as a option for a classic kiwi adventure in their own back yard.
Video credit: Kate Stewart and Courtney West