June 17, 2022
It’s not often we come across a KS2 teacher who regularly takes the curriculum outside. But today you are in luck as one of our Planning Hub Members and KS2 teacher Dion, shares how he weaves the KS2 curriculum together with outdoor learning!
What taking learning outdoors in KS2 really looks like . . .
In September of 2020, I took up a KS2 teaching position at my current school and was tasked with the responsibility of co-ordinating the outdoor learning curriculum for the school. It was a brand-new approach, the school wanted to focus on outdoor learning and try to include it within every subject; especially in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Now I will be the first to tell you I am the least outdoorsy person I know. I know very little about gardening, I’m not a big fan of bugs and the sunlight isn’t really my friend. Taking on this role was a big step outside of my comfort zone. So I did what any teacher would do in the situation and I researched the topic.
This is when I discovered a video podcast which featured Alfresco Learning. I was amazed at what Jenny and Hollie were saying, listening to them made it seem so clear and simple, that even someone of my capabilities could manage it.
I established policies to clearly outline the difference between using the outdoors and learning about the outdoors, the difference between being outside for a lesson and using the outside world to enhance your lesson. The ultimate goal was to have a blend of both; lessons that could take place indoors but were moved outside, and lessons that could only be taught within and using the outside spaces.
We also established ways of evidencing our learning through the use of big class scrapbooks and expectations of how frequently our lessons were outside. The expectation has started as once each month (at least) this is while we are still building the profile of our subject. I adapted the Alfresco Learning year planner, so that when teachers were stuck for an idea they could base a lesson around that brief, we have also dipped heavily into the planning hub for ideas too.
Here are some of the best activities we have done within my Year 5 class; some were quick 5-minute starter activities, others were full lessons entirely outside and some were entirely inspired by the opportunity from the weather.
Fronted adverbials in the snow
On the coast we very rarely get substantial snowfall, and when it does it never lays. One morning I woke to a lovely blanket of snow covering the back playground, completely untouched. I took the opportunity to rush my class outside to recap our learning from the previous day. We had 10 minutes in the snow just writing fronted adverbials. They have used them well in their writing ever since.
Animal adaptation for survival
When looking at animals and their habitats in science, I wanted a way to show how the colours of the animals impacted upon their survival chances in terms of camouflage. Firstly I gave the class a cut-out of a butterfly and got them to colour it in whichever colour they liked. We then hung them onto a bush in the playground. We stood back and talked about which were easy to spot, which had blended in well, which patterns had worked well. They were shocked at which colours blended and which didn’t. The children then had a second butterfly to adapt using what they knew to make effective camouflage.
Map-skills and grid references
With strong ties to geography learning objectives, mapping and grid references are amazingly helpful activities to be outside for. Focusing on one part of the school at a time and we built a map on a piece of plain paper, trying to add details using symbols to help. With the grid references, I created a bird’s eye view map of the school field and chopped it into 6-figure grid references (this can be adapted to your year group). The children were then given grid references to navigate to. Extensions for this included using compass points and unscrambling a word from the letters they found at the grid reference.
Scatter graphs and tables
We were looking at presenting data within our science lessons, in particular growth charts for babies. Instead of printing grids and getting the class to present their work in that way; I took them outside, gave them chunky chalks and a playground and said “Present your data.” They worked in pairs to create their graphs and were able to use lots of space to really show their information (it may be worth limiting their space, as it was hard to get it all into a photograph).
For a lesson starter to help show the children the distance between the planets we scaled down the distance to be measurable as cm and m. Then in groups positioned themselves along the playground, measuring as they went along, each planet’s distance from the sun. They were staggered by how close Mercury was and how far away Neptune was. They were also baffled by the distance they covered from one end of the playground all the way to the other.
When building up story writing, it is often an essential step to retell our stories from plans, this helps us to add details and build characters. Instead of being cooped up inside the classroom, we went outside to the field and told them like we were round a campfire; which fit perfectly as we were doing traditional tales.
This activity was so much fun we could have spent hours doing it! We were learning about the effects of greenhouse gases and how they prevent the sun’s heat from leaving the atmosphere, which in turn warms up the planet. You have one person be the sun (with a yellow bib), pick 4-5 children to be the Earth (blue bibs) and 2 or 3 children to be the greenhouse gases (green bibs). The sun sends their rays (bean bags or balls) to the Earth, the Earth has to throw them away from their area; and the greenhouse gases have to throw them back to the Earth. After a few minutes, stop the game and explain that as more cars and factories are built and more greenhouse gases flood the Earth, it is harder for the Earth to clear the heat from the sun. Add more children to the Greenhouse gases group and play again. Repeat a few times until most of the class are greenhouse gases and the Earth struggles to remove the heat. They quickly got the point!
We were very lucky to be successful in an application with a group based in Suffolk called ‘food and farm discovery trust’. Together with local farmers they were able to place a ewe and her lambs with us for a week, so that all the children were able to see them up close, climb in with them and even help feed them. It meant I got to pretend to be a sheep farmer for a week, even if I did have to muck them out most days. It was truly a wonderful experience, one which I know they are trying to build so that more schools can experience this; their model is also being used by other organisations around the country.
Thank you Dion for giving us a glimpse into how you fuse curriculum and environmental outdoor learning together. We know that many educators are under the impression that taking learning outdoors is reserved for Early Years and sometimes KS1, but here you’ve demonstrated how utilising your outdoor environment can bring so much depth and colour to the KS2 curriculum. We hope that has got you inspired and thinking about how you could embrace more outdoor learning during the term ahead!