‘Outdoor school’ is a national school concept that was introduced in Denmark with a school reform in 2014 for primary and middle school. The purpose of outdoor schooling is to give children more physical activity during a school day by rethinking and combining most of the traditional classes and moving them outdoor.
In some ways a quite banal and old fashion teaching and learning concept, but in other ways quite a revolution in an IT-penetrated country like Denmark with mobile coverage everywhere and a country where most kids spend hours every day with a tablet and a mobile phone – and are quite happy with that!
In contrast to that life style, a day with outdoor school could for example be a combination of math, biology and gym where various plants are collected (by hand or scythe), counted, weighed and analyzed in regard to nutrition for various farm animals. Maybe followed by calculations and measurements for a new fence around the area needed to feed a flock of 30 cows in a year.
Subjects like history, languages, cooking, geography, physics, chemistry and philosophy are also being moved outside once in a while and combined in various cross-curriculum assignments.
Hjortoegaard.dk – 20 km outside Copenhagen – is such an outdoor school facility where students and teachers from 4 local schools go for outdoor schooling once every week. Nevertheless, all the students and most of the younger teachers are real ‘techies’, so how can the outdoor school in 2015 benefit from the IT age and still maintain the main focus on the physical activity of poking around for beetles, seeds and flowers? This was the question I was asked to find an answer to by the board of Hjortoegaard.
Together with a group of students from the IT University of Copenhagen I developed a solution that could support the outdoor activities with a webpage, an interactive map and an Instagram channel. The main idea is that teachers can create their own unique #tags for an outdoor project and have the students document their process with pictures and #tags and calculations using their cell phones.
In that way they can share their finds and continue working on the project back in the classroom with the Instagram documentation in the form of geo-tagged images with #tagged notes and calculations. It is also a way of creating much wider crowd sourcing pond of empirical data among groups of students and teachers across the country and compare results through and finds from the same type of assignments, locations and #tags.
The outdoor school program at Hjortoegaard was kicked off in august 2015 and is a huge success – especially with the type of science or gym teacher who have actually longed to leave his or her regular classroom or sports facility for a while – and along with that, also the constant battle with students to stay off various social media and games.
The use of the Instagram channel has therefore had a somewhat slower start due to the teachers actually wanting to leave the digital arena with constant conflict and battle for their attention. Hopefully, the use of Instagram and project related images, #tags and notes will grow organically once there is a critical mass of teachers who have been introduced to the possibilities of digital documentation, crowd sourcing and how to engage students in more productive uses of their ‘never-leave-home-without-it’ smart phones.