Join UWCSEA Heads of Outdoor Education as they present concepts, practice and ideas around the importance of outdoor education in a world that is changing at an unprecedented pace.
Chris Newman: Hi. My name is Chris Newman. I'm head of the Outdoor Education Department at the East Campus at UWCSEA, and in my 11th year at the college right now. Prior to joining, I started training and working in England during the 1990s and also travelled to a few nice parts of the world as I sought out various adventure learning and career development opportunities. My foundational passions are water based, thanks to my grandparents who built a small yacht in their back garden in 1977. Sailing, windsurfing, kite surfing, surfing and scuba diving have all been passions. It's really cool to see those first four developed into hydrofoils recently. I'm also very happy on skateboards, rock climbing, jungle trekking, and I've been known to climb a few small mountains from time to time. It's a pleasure to be representing outdoor education at UWCSEA in this very special 50th anniversary year. And who better to help out than Oli Sampson, who's now in his 13th year with the college? Over to you, Oli.
Oliver Sampson: Thanks, Chris. Hi, everyone. Oli here. I'm head of the Outdoor Education Department on the Dover campus. My grounding in outdoor education started as a child in the scouting movement and trips to my local outdoor education centre in South Wales. And I'd save my pocket money, find all sorts of creative ways to make my lunch money go further alongside part time jobs to go on as many trips as I possibly could. An experience that stood out for me was sailing across the English Channel as a 14 year old on what is now Gordonstoun Schools Catch Ocean Spirit of Moray. Ultimately, it was rock climbing and kayaking that I pursued. However, that week, sailing was a formative experience for me as a teenager. The culmination of my outdoor experiences as a child and graduation into adulthood was a gap year that included an incredibly eye-opening three month expedition to the mountains of northern India. I continue to seek and share those sorts of vivid and grounding experiences as an adult. It is a privilege to lead the outdoor education team alongside Chris and to be celebrating with you. UWCSEA's 50th Year and the UWC movement's rich heritage.
The purpose of this session is to consider the importance of outdoor education in a world that is changing at unprecedented pace. We aim to shed light on why, how, what's next for outdoor education at UWCSEA. Please take note that we will both be available to interact throughout the presentation in the chat and will be staying back at the end if anyone would like to join us with questions or discussion. Back to you Chris.
Chris Newman: Thanks Oli. So let's look at the why. And start with the short story. In 1992 I found myself out with peers during my GCSE in outdoor education on a snow covered mountain side in Wales. The wind and snow was blasting faces and exposed wrists and necks. We were learning to use boot mounted crampons to grip the icy terrain. I stumbled slowly upwards whilst shredding my mother's flashy Peter Storm rain proof trousers through excited inexperience and being distracted by the beauty and awe of our wild and somewhat scary surroundings! Now we've reached a level where we can practice a glissade, where we slide down the mountain on our bum and then an ice bum ice axe arrest where you actually have to stop yourself from sliding without impaling yourselves.
Okay, I'm going to need to stop on that story right there. Otherwise, we'll go out of time. But this is just one of many moments of my younger years that sparked a desire for special and or unusual experiences. And I think it fits quite well with this Kurt Hahn quote.
“There exists within everyone a grand passion, an outlandish thirst for adventure, a desire to live boldly and vividly through the journey of life.”
Oliver Sampson: Right now in 2022, we humans have reached dizzying heights of science and technology which continues to develop at unprecedented speed. This affects all manner of modern day living, business, consumption, transport, medicine, creativity, education, entertainment, social media, health, fitness and well being. All modern technologies and practices are designed to enhance and improve our lives. There are undoubtedly questions that arise about modern lifestyle. The pace, choices, expectations, pressure filtering and processing of information, and how it all affects individual and community well-being. It is only fitting as educators, we continually reflect on how we are equipping young learners to tackle the information era with a balanced and holistic approach.
At UWCSEA we are grateful for the robust foundations of Kurt Hahn's educational philosophy in which outdoor education is highly regarded and an expected part of a holistic learning programme for every child throughout their journey at UWCSEA. Let's be reminded why outdoor education is considered to be so important. Also, this is the interactive element of the session. And to check you're not sleeping yet. We have a few short sections to read. Kurt Hahn wrote, "There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives, we'll be unwilling to settle for less If we can be made to see it", are the stand out words in this line, and experience shows time after time students speak to this during Outdoor Ed experiences.
“It was very hard to climb the ice wall, but after a few tries and resilience, I got the push to make it to the top!" - Grade 6 student
Carrying on, persevering when it's tough.
“When hiking out during dinghy sailing try to touch your head in the water it feels awesome!” - Grade 6 student
This is a Grade six student embracing and acknowledging an experience and being present.
“I learnt that it’s not always about being the fastest but it’s about learning and trying your best” - Grade 7 student
This is a Grade seven student learning to tame the power of the paddle.
“I learnt that it’s okay to be me" - Grade 8 student
This is from a Grade 8 student. This particular statement gave me goosebumps at the time. It still does now. It was a moment of clarity, an epiphany for the student and a great example of deep learning that we are trying to achieve.
Chris Newman: While we have the great Howard Gardner with us at the forum. It's only fitting to look at some of his wisdom that links holistic learning opportunities.
“We should spend less time ranking children and more time helping them to identify their natural competencies and gifts and cultivate these”
- Howard Gardner
“There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to succeed and many, many different abilities that will help you get there”
- Howard Gardner
Gardner's statement really points to the importance of creating different learning opportunities and environments that occur regularly in the outdoor education setting. Over the years, it's been evident that adventurous outdoor learning opportunities give learners so many ways for growth. We only need to look at the Scouts, Guides, Duke of Edinburgh John Muir Award, and Outward Bound and many more, such as the Forest School Association Today, they all champion the importance of outdoor, adventurous play and skills in nature as key ingredients to nurturing curiosity, personal growth, confidence, self-esteem, empathy and compassion for all age ranges. It's interesting to consider how indigenous people in various cultures live and educate their children, reflecting these values and attributes in everyday life.
Here in Colin Mortlock's perspective from his fascinating book, The Adventure Alternative.
“Thirty years of involvement with adventure in the outdoors has convinced me that not only there is an instinct for adventure in the human race, but the failure to provide outlets for this instinct in the younger generation, has made a marked contribution to the sickness of human living”
Oliver Sampson: We've seen this throughout the pandemic, with people seeking out the wild places of Singapore. The numerous new pathways that now cross the unmanaged Clementi forest. Also, the surge in buying of bicycle inflatable paddle boards and kayaks. Well, where there were multiple months waiting lists for lessons for cycling, skateboarding, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, even power boating. Thankfully, this is easing now as opportunities for travel gradually return. Prior to Mortlocks work, Kurt Hahn identified six declines of modern youth, long before Televisions were normal household items let alone smartphones, social media or the internet era:
- Fitness - due to modern methods of locomotion
- Initiative and Enterprise - due to the widespread disease of spectator-itis
- Memory and Imagination - due to the confused restlessness of modern life
- Skill and Care - due to the weakened tradition of craftsmanship
- Self-discipline - due to the ever present availability of stimulants and tranquillisers
- Compassion - due to the unseemly haste with which modern life is conducted
And now you can see Hahn's antidotes to address these declines
- Fitness Training - for mind and body
- Expeditions - to engage in long, challenging endurance tasks
- Projects - involving crafts and manual skills
- Rescue Service - surf lifesaving fire fighting and first aid
Well, Kurt Hunt's generation preceded Colin Mortlock. They both point to a sickness and decline that affects humanity and in turn dedicated their lives to advocating for and structuring educational experiences for young people to access much more in themselves. For the purpose of greater fulfilment, community minded and healthy values. The ultimate goal of unity and peace. After all, Hahn lived through the dark times of two world wars, left Germany for the UK in 1933 and the following year set up Gordonstoun school in Scotland where he met young Prince Philip as a student who later went on to evolve Hahn's educational philosophy into the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.
Chris Newman: Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, describes nature deficit disorder as a significant concern and explains how many children are now plugged and wired into electronic devices far removed from the beauty of nature and all the great lessons it can provide for a new generation. Nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly. Nature is something to watch and consume to wear to ignore. Another source Public Health England report entitled How Healthy Behaviour Supports Children's Wellbeing. The section on screen time describes the many negative effects on young people who spend increasing amounts of time isolated in bedrooms with TVs, computer games and social media. For example,
“..feeling of reduced social acceptance and increased feelings of loneliness, conduct problems and aggression.“...emotional stress, anxiety and depression.
These are all concerns that the report has picked up. The physical activity section illuminates that many young people do not meet the minimum recommended levels of physical activity, which is one hour a day. And the benefits of taking more physical activity include
“Improved concentration and social behaviour. Also”...lower levels of anxiety and depression, with children being happier with their appearance, and reporting higher levels of self-esteem, happiness and satisfaction with their lives”
- Public Health England, 2013
We can look at what the UWCSEA students are saying, both in the Oregon State University study on the longitudinal effects of outdoor education, which highlights developmental improvements of grit and resilience, along with anecdotal student feedback directly to us. Here are some more quotes from middle school students who took part in four day outdoor education programmes in Singapore recently.
“Please try and make it overnight as that would be SO FUN”
“It was fun because I faced my fear of heights.”
“Sailing & night activity were both super fun, but I'd say I liked the night day slightly better because it was a day where I got to know lots of people from our class much better and we learnt more about each other.”
“I got to have a lot of fun interacting with nature and seeing animals, and then I got to make a difference and learn new things at the urban farm.”
“It allowed a lot of time for class bonding and we all got a lot out of it.”
“I really enjoyed, and i think because of it, i have gotten closer to all my classmates and made lots of new friends with people i didn’t think i would”
“There’s actually a lot of fun places in Singapore that I never knew about before. Singapore has a really wild side to it and we don’t get to see it often because we are so focused on the city.”
“So many wildlife that i did not notice before, like crocodiles and snakes”
“The kayaking was quite hard, but also really really fun!”
Oliver Sampson: So concluding the why section. The evidence shows that outdoor education has numerous benefits from improved self-esteem, self-awareness, positive risk-taking. Teamwork, communication, empathy, collaboration, problem-solving to pastime passions by promoting inclusive physical activity, personal and community growth, fostering a genuine connection to concern and care for the natural world, and providing important alternatives to spring based activities. Can you remember your own outdoor education school experiences? We'd love to hear from you
Chris Newman: So with all day mind, let's dive into the "how?" Structuring outdoor education within the programme at UWCSEA has been an interesting journey in itself. Many moons ago, it relied on the enthusiasm and experience of academic teachers who were passionate and willing to take students camping, trekking, sailing, and kayaking in after school or weekend format. There was also the adventure beach site at Beluntu in Malaysia that students were involved in constructing.
Oliver Sampson: The former successes of the programme has gradually evolved into being taught and facilitated by full-time Outdoor Education Specialists that are dedicated in the art of leading students through a range of activities that are designed around a fully articulated curriculum which itself was co - developed by the college directors of teaching and learning and the OE department. The main standards are Self, Others, Connectedness to Nature and Expeditions Skills. Often Outdoor Education is seen through the lens of the activities we do and the places we visit. The last standard ‘Expedition Skills’ encompasses this. It is the vehicle that allows access to the deep learning of the first 3. For example, Learning to Kayak leads students to embrace personal challenges, develop healthy relationships, be amongst nature and develop emotional and stewardship connections and learn the technical aspects of the activity itself.
Chris Newman: UWCSEA Outdoor Education runs from K-12 and is allowing students to gradually level up year to year as the duration of experience gradually increases along with the expectation of technical learning. The Outdoor Education programme is not graded beyond the expectation of participation. This in itself is an interesting debate as most other areas of learning are graded. The belief for Outdoor Education however is to encourage participation and nurture interest in the experience without pressure of a formal assessment. We meet each student where they are at and support their growth at their pace.
Oliver Sampson: Student reflections are a big part of supporting the learning, and the formats of such reflections are really important in capturing the essence of the moment and enabling students to recognise that learning is a big part of our work. We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience, as stated by John Dewey. We also understand that many of the opportunities may not be recognised significantly at the time, but the experience has taught us that most people will look back later with a greater level of appreciation and understanding the opportunities, challenges and lessons from such experiences. A nice pointer to this is evident from grade 12 school leavers, feedback and alumni who go on to walk the talk and lead the mission.Many alumni contact the college to talk about their fond memories of the outdoor education program, many pursuing or asking how they can pursue a career in outdoor education. Even after graduating and working for a number of years in another field We currently have an alumni in our department, Kate Johnson, who graduated in 2010. We're very fortunate to have her.
Chris Newman: The COVID era undoubtedly posed a significant challenge as we had to reign in on what we had previously been doing, however it has also been an opportunity to adapt and continue the programme utilising the best of what we could have control over and access to on the Singapore college campuses and locally in Singapore. This was only possible due to the emphasis placed on the holistic whole child development view that exists at UWCSEA. The grounding and resources were already in place to get creative and problem solve an existing Outdoor Education programme from 80% overseas overnight expeditions to an initially 100% campus based and then to a hybrid campus and local programme. The result enabled us to grow in new ways as we operated specially designed programs for our younger years G2 - G5 on our own campus, that linked with the curriculum outcomes of Self, Others, Nature and Skills. Team Player, Navigation, Nature, Water Safety and Survival Passport Stamps were produced to accompany the student learning journey passports and all experiences featured food and fun to celebrate with a late night on campus, when students could experience the school in a new way. The class teachers and TAs also benefited as they discovered new areas on the campus along with new activities for future alternate sessions.
Oliver Sampson: We were fortunate that restrictions eased, sufficiently in the early part of 2021 to get our middle school students off site and we made the very best Singapore's own wild spaces as again we ran curriculum aligned programs to all corners of the tropical island state and engaged students with trekking, kayaking, sailing, High Ropes Challenges, team building and Time in Nature. All of which have demonstrated that they are supporting students to develop the learner profile traits and our Outdoor Education curriculum outcomes.
Chris Newman: We even successfully adapted a infant school stairwell space at east campus to become a 60 foot/ 18 metre abseil venue, which we just recently used with the entire G5 cohort and in June 2021 a hundred grade 8’s when covid restrictions re-tightened and our off site programme had to be brought back on campus.
Oliver Sampson: Okay. So let's get onto what's next for outdoor education. Firstly, we know it’s important. In the past couple of years, despite the success of our adaptations to the Outdoor Education programmes, we see our students have missed many of the fundamental experiences that have made UWCSEA what it is. Those expeditions and trips being a cornerstone of a UWCSEA experience. As we are emerging from covid restrictions we are incredibly busy exploring and planning for next year's programmes and what Outdoor Education will look like in the next few years and into the future. We’ll be aiming to take in what we’ve learnt from our experiences of the past, reviewing what we are currently doing and taking our best steps forward. A key learning is that Singapore and our campuses have much to offer and have supported valuable outdoor learning opportunities. Retaining some of these will be a part of the restoration and rejuvenation of the Outdoor Education programme.
Chris Newman: The college has undertaken a review of the sustainability of our expeditions and trips. This has been an extensive review that the college will be implementing to ensure that trips are filtered through a sustainability lens. Does this mean an end to our travels? The short answer is ‘no”. What it does mean is that we will be ensuring that each trip and expedition will be planned with sustainability built into the process. Reduction of our impact on the environment and built in practices and habits to support sustainable practice. Aligned with this we will continue to ensure that the connection to nature further fosters environmental stewardship and support students to be ambassadors for a sustainable future.
One of our key aims will be to reinstate the residential experience, and to increase the novelty of those student experiences, Each of which have been shown to increase our learning outcomes. Diversity, equity and inclusion are at the forefront of our thinking. We are aware that our philosophy underpinning, as we've described today, comes from a Western dominated worldview. One of the ways that we are addressing this is through the diversity of the outdoor educator team with a view to ensuring we are reflective of the diverse student body that we work with. In terms of learning,
Oliver Sampson: In terms of learning, Interdisciplinary learning is a key focus for us to support other areas of the college learning programme. This doesn’t mean that we’ll be necessarily taking the classroom outside although many of those lessons could go outside. What it does mean is that the student experience and connections to their in context experiences will be taken inside and vice versa. The research shows that students have powerful learning experiences during our Outdoor Education programme. With that comes an emotional connection to the experience and the place and a powerful opportunity to anchor student learning to those experiences in other areas of the curriculum.
A simple example of this perhaps would be a student learning about the water cycle. During the students' experience with the outdoor education programme they will visit Juara, on Pulau Tioman. They’ll experience the ocean, the reef, the mangroves, the river and the rainforest and undertake activities in those spaces. A place where significant learning has already occurred and emotional connections made. A classroom teacher could leverage that experience to anchor learning about the water cycle.. Much Better than a textbook, a drawn example, classroom experiment or a case study from an unknown location. A real opportunity for connecting students' experience to theory, practice, and enhancing a student's understanding and a connection to knowledge development With students' experiences mapped through their time at the college. This will support classroom teachers to leverage on those experiences.
Chris Newman: As we've mentioned previously, expedition skills are the vehicle that we use to access the deep learning. For example, embracing challenges, developing healthy relationships and environmental stewardship. It is through the development of these skills and access to them on a regular basis that we believe is fundamental to enhanced connection and greater understanding. Which after all is possibly the most important driver of the college mission - making education a force for uniting people, nations and culture for peace and a sustainable future. Frequently these expedition skills: camping, kayaking, trekking, mountaineering, sailing, rock climbing, cycling, become very healthy lifelong passions too.
Oliver Sampson: In a blue sky world Students would learn across age ranges as we see in the scouting movement with the older children taking the lead and teaching the younger children. Knowledge would be developed from the real in context experiences of the child. Sustainable living and practice would be embedded and habituated. Human and nature powered vehicles would be the primary methods of undertaking our journeys. In many respects the blue sky world exists, yet to be fully realised. We continue nurturing the Blue sky as above, and the odd pie in the sky thinking, for example owning and sailing a tall ship or two, or permanent Outdoor Education hubs here and abroad.. We as a team get inspired and nurture those ideas over time and develop our shared visioning into reality.
Chris Newman: We stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before us and are grateful to all those that have contributed to the Outdoor Education programme being what it is today. We’re excited to continue to build capacity across the college and expand the delivery of the deep learning that Outdoor Education experiences offer back to and beyond levels pre Covid 19 and expand those experiences through and across the learning programme. We are really excited to be collaborating with all areas of the learning programme and the college to leverage on those powerful experiences to truly immerse our students in a holistic learning environment. Thank you all very much for your attention
Oliver Sampson: We hope you feel inspired to spend more time in nature, learning with others, expanding your own comfort zone and practising existing or new adventurous skills!