Monday, 28 March 2016

Habits of Mind and Outdoor Learning

Do your students give up easily? Do your students interrupt you and each other? Do your students blurt out answers before thinking?

The 16 ‘Habits of Mind’ from Art Costa represent, in our view, an excellent framework for a range of attitudes, behaviours and practices that can be extremely useful for teachers and students to adopt. According to the framework the three questions above would suggest the students need to learn to persist, to listen with understanding and empathy and to manage their impulsivity.

In addition, Character Education, Building Learning Power, Growth Mindset, and ‘I can’ strategies for teaching enable students to learn and apply techniques for resilience and tenacity, dealing with failure and setbacks as well as how to manage their impulsivity.

Although they can apply to all areas of teaching we also feel that they can be brought alive very successfully through outdoor, experiential and collaborative learning activities in schools. You might explore any of the “Habits of Mind” during a particular lesson using any of our outdoor lesson plans.

Fundamentally one might say that the real lessons here are about learning how to learn and taking responsibility for learning. We offer a summary of the 16 Habits of Mind below and urge teachers to take a look (or a fresh look) at how these skills and approaches could be incorporated into teaching and learning at your school. We also provide a couple of URLs for you to read about and discover more about how to use them.


(Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick)

The Habits of Mind are an identified set of 16 problem solving, life related skills, necessary to effectively operate in society and promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity and craftsmanship. The understanding and application of these 16 Habits of Mind serve to provide the individual with skills to work through real life situations that equip that person to respond using awareness (cues), thought, and intentional strategy in order to gain a positive outcome.

  1. Persisting: Sticking to task at hand; Follow through to completion; Can and do remain focused.
  2. Managing Impulsivity: Take time to consider options; Think before speaking or acting; Remain calm when stressed or challenged; Thoughtful and considerate of others; Proceed carefully.
  3. Listening with Understanding and Empathy: Pay attention to and do not dismiss another person's thoughts, feeling and ideas; Seek to put myself in the other person's shoes; Tell others when I can relate to what they are expressing; Hold thoughts at a distance in order to respect another person's point of view and feelings.
  4. Thinking Flexibly: Able to change perspective; Consider the input of others; Generate alternatives; Weigh options.
  5. Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition): Being aware of own thoughts, feelings, intentions and actions; Knowing what I do and say affects others; Willing to consider the impact of choices on myself and others.
  6. Striving for Accuracy: Check for errors; Measure at least twice; Nurture a desire for exactness, fidelity & craftsmanship.
  7. Questioning and Posing Problems: Ask myself, “How do I know?”; develop a questioning attitude; Consider what information is needed, choose strategies to get that information; Consider the obstacles needed to resolve.
  8. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations: Use what is learned; Consider prior knowledge and experience; Apply knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned.
  9. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision: Strive to be clear when speaking and writing; Strive be accurate to when speaking and writing; Avoid generalisations  distortions, minimisations and deletions when speaking, and writing.
  10. Gathering Data through All Senses: Stop to observe what I see; Listen to what I hear; Take note of what I smell; Taste what I am eating; Feel what I am touching.
  11. Creating, Imagining, innovating: Think about how something might be done differently from the “norm”; Propose new ideas; Strive for originality; Consider novel suggestions others might make.
  12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe: Intrigued by the world's beauty, nature's power and vastness for the universe; Have regard for what is awe-inspiring and can touch my heart; Open to the little and big surprises in life I see others and myself.
  13. Taking Responsible Risks: Willing to try something new and different; Consider doing things that are safe and sane even though new to me; Face fear of making mistakes or of coming up short and don’t let this stop me.
  14. Finding Humour: Willing to laugh appropriately; Look for the whimsical, absurd, ironic and unexpected in life; Laugh at myself when I can.
  15. Thinking Interdependently: Willing to work with others and welcome their input and perspective; Abide by decisions the work group makes even if I disagree somewhat; Willing to learn from others in reciprocal situations.
  16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning: Open to new experiences to learn from; Proud and humble enough to admit when don't know; Welcome new information on all subjects.

Building Lessons Around the 16 Habits
Choose one or more of the Habits that you think will be most appropriate for your students and for the situation you are offering.
• You might want to pre-teach related vocabulary or have a short conversation about how the Habits help children succeed at what they are doing and how they get along with their friends.
• Build vocabulary related to the Habit of Mind (E.g. Striving for Accuracy = check it again, specific, correct, craftsman-like, proof, flawless, quality, refined, etc.)
• Have the students talk about what it would look like and sound like if they were using the Habit and in what situations might it be important to use that Habit of Mind.
• Invite them to draw or paint pictures of the Habits of Mind in action. Post the pictures around the classroom and the school.
• Have students practice the skills within each of the Habits. Practice good listening skills. For example, talk with students about what to do when you get stuck and need to persist. Discuss what it would sound like if you were thinking flexibly. Remind students about the ways that the animated characters behave when they are using the Habit.
• Offer activities such as group work, sharing, games, or projects outside the classroom and observe students using the Habits.
• Talk with the students recognising some of the positive examples.

Build in the Habits over a period of time (perhaps one per week or fortnightly) and, of course, you can be selective in prioritizing those that you feel are most important and will generate the best outcomes for you.

As always please comment and leave us your thoughts, feedback and experiences.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Treasure Hunt 365

Geocaching has become a hugely popular activity for families and individuals over the last few years. Many schools actively take part in this fun, challenging and collaborative activity. Lots of co and cross curricula-learning can be generated for students of all ages. Here we espouse the idea of schools developing their own activities within their own school grounds.

These lesson plans and activities are taken from our LOC Handbook. Please see our web page for more details  

Activity Title: ‘Caching In’
Subject: Computing (with links to Design and Technology)
Age Group: KS 2

Overview of the Activity
This activity is derived from the world-wide popular phenomenon of ‘Geocaching’. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunting game where hidden containers (caches) have to be searched for and found using a variety of different navigation processes such as maps and GPS devices. These notes will enable you to create different versions of Geocaching in your school grounds.

Main Activity
The format, duration and degree of complexity of the activity can be varied enormously but here are a few options.

Getting to Know the School – It’s an interesting and fun way for students (particularly new arrivals) to get to know their school and grounds. You can include information on certain teachers and teaching areas, historically interesting and quirky facts or even what to do in the event of an accident or fire. This could build to a full historical tour.

GPS vs Orienteering – Have some pupils look for the cache using traditional orienteering methods via grid references of marked points on a map of the school site. Whilst others can do the same using way point co-ordinates put into a GPS device if you have one (if not you can use an ‘app version’ on 
ipads/phones or other mobile devices). 

Create a Quiz – Using several caches at different locations have pupils complete the answer to a puzzle, conundrum or tricky question before they move on to the next. The answer could give them a number which could be the co-ordinates or grid reference of the next cache. 

Build a Story – Create a route whereby they must add to and build a story, line by line with each group adding to what has been written previously.

Understanding Nature – Site caches at places where pupils must look, read about and bring back samples from nearby flora, fauna and/or information on habitats and ecosystems.

Think about imaginary items to put in the cache containers as well as places to hide them.
Equipment Required
Maps of your school site, watertight containers, GPS devices or GPS apps (optional), information cards and other items to go into the containers.
Learning Objectives
  • To orientate pupils to the school site, main features, go and no-go areas.
  • To develop navigation, direction and mapwork skills.
  • To develop ICT skills in graphics and design.
  • To explore problem solving skills in small teams.

Set Up
Time will need to be spent sourcing good quality containers and it will require you to set up routes, markers and cache sites in advance. However this is something that the students can do themselves, perhaps one class or year group on behalf of another. You will probably need to spend time developing navigation and map reading skills.

Ask what were the real success factors for this exercise? Which clues or cache locations were most challenging?
Compare answers to clues and the items brought back.

Extension Activities
Create versions of the activity that you can take to different locations such as nearby parks and forests.

Create a version for students and parents to do together on open days. 

As allows please leave your comments, experiences  and feedback. Happy Easter!

These lesson plans and activities are taken from our LOC Handbook. Please see our web page for more details  

Friday, 18 March 2016

STARs is Born!

Schools’ Team Adventure Races (STARs) are new for 2016.  There will be 5 regional events across the UK for competing teams of year 6 and year 8 students. They are a wonderful mix of team spirit and adventure at some of the UK’s most inspiring and beautiful school grounds. The events are designed to challenge young people physically, intellectually, creatively and collaboratively involving activities and challenges at a series of locations that must be journeyed to. 

To register for a STARs event near you please visit:

Core race elements include:
  • Mountain biking
  • Orienteering
  • Problem solving & team initiative tasks
  • Cerebral puzzles and activities
  • Fire building
  • Creative tasks using natural materials
  • Testing knowledge of the natural world and the outdoor environment
 Where specific school sites allow, possible extras might include:
  • Swimming
  • Raft building
  • Rock climbing & abseiling

 How Does it Work?
STARs are one day events where teams of 6 students compete over a series of timed stages for 2.5 - 3 hours. Teams operate in an independent way through each stage yet they are supervised at key points along the route and receive full instruction wherever a challenge involves technical aspects and/or requires safety supervision. Students will be scored and assessed on their team working skills together with their ability to lead and manage themselves through a fun, challenging and complex journey in the outdoors. Winning teams will be crowned the “STARs Top Team 2016” champions along with prizes for runners up.
 Schools are invited to enter up to four teams in the competition (an A and B team in each of the two age groups). Teams will contain 6 members either single sex or mixed gender. There will be 2 age groups as follows:
  • Year 6 Students
  • Year 8 Students

Where Will it Take Place?
STARs events are open to any school (state or independent). All will be welcome.The 5 regions and host venues for 2016 are:

1.    Giggleswick School (North) – Tuesday 14th June
Church Street, Giggleswick, Settle, North Yorkshire, BD24 0DE
2.    Hall Grove School (South East) – Thursday 16th June
London Road, Bagshot, Surrey, GU19 5HZ
3.    Hampshire Collegiate School (South) – Tuesday 21st June
Embley Park, Romsey, Hampshire, SO51 6ZE4.
4.    Denstone College Prep School (Midlands) – Thursday 23rd June
Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, ST14 8NS
5.    TBC (South West) - Saturday 25th June, Devon School TBC

What Does it Cost?
20% OFF

£55 per participant 
(£330 per team for both yr 6 & 8)


This cost includes all event management, activity equipment, supervision, technical instruction and prizes. A hog roast/barbecue lunch will also be included for all participants and adult staff accompanying teams to celebrate achievement in what will be a carnival atmosphere.
How Do I Enter a Team?
To confirm your entry to your regional event you will need to complete the registration form below and make full payment. 
 What Should I Do Next?
After registering and payment you will receive our joining instructions and a team pack for each team you have entered. This will include travel and logistical details, information on what participants should wear, how to prepare for the event. It will also include helpful information such as a sample letter for parents.
Each STARs event itinerary is as follows:
09.30               Teams arrive and register. Each team will be provided with a full competitor       pack outlining timings, rules, points scoring and logistics. It will also contain a map and competitor badges with names and colours.
10.00               Competitor briefing for all teams
10.15               Competition start
13.15               Competition end. Teams hand in all task information and answer sheets
13.30               Hog roast and barbecue lunch provided for all competitors and accompanying staff 
14.15               Results and prize giving ceremony. Top team trophy awarded to each year group. 

14.45               Event end and all competitors depart.
To register for a STARs event near you please visit

Monday, 14 March 2016

Here comes the sun(dial)

The bright spring sunshine and low sun is a great opportunity to design and build sundials in your school grounds. In this post, the lesson plan below outlines how to do this in creative and interesting ways. We hope that you find it useful and enjoyable.

Activity Title:             Simple Sundials
Subject:                      Geography
Age Group:                KS 2/3

Overview of the Activity
To create a simple device on the ground capable of measuring time using the sun and its shadow effect.

Equipment Required
Large stake or post, mallet, spirit level, rope/twine and pegs, card or laminated sheets for marking the parts of the sundial.

Learning Objectives
To learn about the processes of estimating, measuring and calculating.
Exploring time and the relative position of the sun in the daytime sky.
Understanding the position of the sun according to the seasons and time of year.
Understanding the position of the sun according to our place on the earth.
Learn to work collaboratively in small groups.

Set Up
Find a large open space of level ground (preferably grass) that will receive sunlight for most or all of the day.
Spend time in class discussing the position and movement of the sun according to time of day, time of year and our location on the earth.
Have pupils plan out their approach beforehand.

Main Activity
Form the group into small teams and have them select their spot for building a sundial. Place a large stick or stake into the ground where they want their sundial to be positioned. You may want to use a mallet to ensure it is well secured into the ground and a spirit level to ensure that it is completely vertical.

Use a magnetic compass to determine the directions west, north and east (the difference between magnetic and true north should not make too much difference).

From the base of the stake draw or mark with string a straight line from due west to due east. Then do the same with a line going from the base of the stake due north. Place a number 6 at each end of the east-west line and a number 12 at the end of the north line.
Now mark a line that approximately divides the left (west) side of the sundial and position a number 8 at the tip of that line. Repeat the process on the right (east) side and position a number 4.
Keep repeating this process until you can halve and halve again the radiating lines and create the number sequence as shown in the picture.

Discuss what the most complex elements of the activity were.
Compare the times recorded with accurate chronological times.
Discuss next steps for the exercise and if the pupils would like to create a more permanent version in the school grounds.

Extension Activities
Visit other sites where sundials have been created. Try constructing a selection using different methods (including portable versions) that can be created indoors and brought outside.
Try creating a version where humans act as the measuring device. This can be done by designing a permanent version using inlaid stone slabs (as shown in the picture above) or by using mats or carpet tiles for a temporary version.
Ensure that there is a regular log of times taken and accuracy levels assessed.

Friday, 11 March 2016

The 5 Key Elements to Successful Learning Outside the Classroom

Whenever we run our learning outside the classroom workshops for teachers we are told by staff teams that their greatest challenge is that of time. Trying to squeeze a meaningful learning experience into a 40 minute period (or sometimes even less) can be challenging enough in a classroom environment. However, you then compound the challenge by taking the lesson outside with additional pressures of travel and set up.

Consider the following 5 steps/elements when planning and executing your sessions in the outdoors. This will enable them to have power and impact with your learners leaving you all inspired and enthused to do more! Find ways to share your good ideas and great practice with your colleagues

Introduction (the Hook)
How to introduce the topic, in the classroom or elsewhere? How will this promote interest and even intrigue in your students? What ideas can you incorporate to create ‘the hook’? Discuss and capture examples of how you might achieve this.

Getting there …… (and back again!)
Often we just travel from our indoor to our outdoor locations as quickly as possible focusing purely on how to keep everyone together and safe. We might therefore miss opportunities for ambulatory activities. The things to do en route. What ideas can you generate that will add learning, richness and value to the getting there and back? For example walking and talking in pairs about a question you set to give context to the lesson.

The main activity
What are the key ingredients for a successful lesson/session in the outdoors? How might your teaching be different to a conventional classroom lesson? What needs to have happened beforehand to create successful learning outcomes for your learners? 

Often the part of the session or teaching that we don’t leave enough time for is the ending. Find ways in which you can structure and manage simple but engaging and effective reviews to follow an outdoor learning session/lesson. How does the outdoor environment and an experiential approach allow us to check understanding of learning, gaps in knowledge and the further teaching required? 

Follow up opportunities and assessment
Discuss and identify ways in which the outdoor learning can be continued indoors. How will an effective assessment be made of the effectiveness of the session? How will great ideas and good practice be captured and recorded? Give examples of how learning can become cross curricular so as to add more richness to the learning.


Monday, 7 March 2016

Fire is a fantastic medium for learning and communication!

School Outdoor Learning provide resources, training and solutions to enable schools to fully engage with and utilise their outdoor environments.

How to Light and Use Fire Safely

Lighting, using and enjoying fire is a fundamental part of being in an outdoor environment whether it be for warmth, cooking on or simply enjoying during discussion, storytelling and review of activities. It can also form a valuable part of science based teaching and learning for pupils of all ages.

We recommend you locate a site and spend time designing and installing a safe environment for lighting fires together with a set of guidelines for effective and safe practice for pupils and staff. The following document is designed as a sample but can be tailored to your school site and the activities you may be doing with your pupils. Spend time modifying this to produce your own version.

Spend time designing and building a safe enclosure for your fire that will protect children from being harmed and any fire spreading or hot items escaping. We recommend a proper stone or log circle that will act as a barrier to any spread.
Tie back or tuck in any loose hair or clothing before lighting.
Ensure that you are not wearing any flammable clothing (plastic or nylons) before you light it.
You should have the following items easy to hand near to the fire:
·         Emergency bucket of water
·         First aid kit – including cooling gels and dressings for applying to any burns
·         Fire blanket – to smother an out of control fire or a person on fire
·         A bucket of sand for extinguishing or cooling down or suppressing the fire
If you are in an area where the ground is porous and dry there could be a risk of ground fire and the fire spreading underground to tree roots and other plants. If this is the case, consider placing paving slabs or aggregate in the base of the fire pit/circle to insulate against the heat.
A cauldron or other portable metal container can also be a safe, low cost and versatile means of creating fire outdoors.

The Science of Fire
The ‘Fire Triangle’ clearly shows the elements required to make a fire ignite and burn – Heat, Fuel and Oxygen.

Heat – the energy provided by ignition from a spark, flame or friction.
Fuel – material for burning such as paper, card, wood, coal or charcoal which supplies energy.
Oxygen – usually provided naturally from the air. More oxygen can be injected to feed the fire by blowing carefully in to the base or fanning gently.

The following steps, if followed, will result in a successfully lit fire – good for you and your students!
1.       Place tinder at the bottom on the fire base. Items such as dried leaves or grass, birch bark, thin dead wood, pine needles, wood shavings etc. You can also use man made products such as paper, cloth, cotton wool, newspaper. Fluff up the tinder to allow plenty of air into it.
2.       Onto this place kindling (small sticks or thin sections of wood) in a tripod/pyramid shape above the tinder so that it forms a small self-supporting structure.
3.       Build up with slightly larger sections of kindling – but still quite thin sticks (the width of your little finger) at this stage. Beyond this sections of slightly larger kindling and bark in long strips can work well.
4.       Light the tinder and allow it to alight the kindling. Gradually add larger kindling and ensure that it is burning well before you add fuel such as logs and larger sticks. Either add in a tripod configuration or lay logs in parallel with separate layers at right angles to each other to create space for air to move and aid the burning process. 
5.       Add fuel as required. Do this from a low position and to the side of the fire. Ensure that all materials are as dry as they can be to prevent too much smoke being created.

Removing any one or more of the 3 elements from the fire triangle will extinguish the fire.
·         Fuel can be removed by allowing it to be consumed or removing manually using tongs. Spreading out the embers can also be effective in reducing the heat.
·         Heat can be removed by dousing with water which creates steam. Be careful to do this gently as it can have an explosive effect, particularly if added too quickly. Do not pour water onto hot stones around the fire as this can cause them to shatter or explode.
·         Oxygen can be removed by smothering or enclosing the fire using sand or a fire blanket.

To prevent re-ignition, you will ideally stay with the fire until it has burned out. If this is not possible then spread out the hot embers as much as possible and use plenty of water pouring from the outside towards the centre. Scrape hot embers off logs with a poker or tongs. Poke holes in the ground with a stick to allow the water to penetrate the hot ground.

Useful Hints and Tips
Spend time collecting lots of good dry tinder and kindling. Spend time drying out all your materials if required for a few days before hand. Standing dead wood (i.e. the dead small branches from nearby trees) is useful as it is often dryer than dead wood found at ground level.

Adding Oxygen
It’s often useful to add in more oxygen. This can be done in quite a controlled way by blowing gently into the base of the fire. Do this from an upwind position and ensure that all loose hair and clothing is tucked in first. The alternative is to use a flat piece of wood or card (the size of a dinner plate at least) to gently fan the flames to create added oxygen.

Floating Embers
Be careful about small embers that can leave the fire and travel to land on people or other flammable objects and ignite them. Paper used to light the fire is often a cause of this hazard so ensure that it is scrunched up tightly before using as fuel.