History Has Left the Building

August 19, 2011 at 11:47 am Leave a comment

Posted by *New Blogger* Katherine Joyce

For the past several years, I’ve been interested in outdoor education, and about the possibilities for teaching history in the outdoors. This year I’ve discovered more and more people who share this interest, and I have been lucky enough to attend two workshops focused on teaching history outside.

The first was a joint workshop of THEN/HiER and ActiveHistory.ca called Teaching History in Diverse Venues. Jennifer Bonnell summed up the workshop here. Highlights included visiting the Etobicoke Field Studies Centre, one of the Toronto District School Board’s outdoor education centres, where the staff took us through several history-focused outdoor activities. My favourite involved dividing the group into ‘families’ and having each family choose a site to build a first home, and then building a temporary shelter. It allowed the settler experience to come alive.

The second workshop was called Experiencing History and was organized by Approaching the Past.  The activities that Bob Henderson took us through emphasized the role geography has had in our history, particularly river systems.  In one, he had us create the Humber River watershed with a rope, and then place historical events along it, in their appropriate locations.

Outdoor education has a wide variety of benefits, including engaging students who don’t enjoy being at school, and experiencing a greater connection to place. Some jurisdictions, such as Scotland, have recently recognized the benefits of incorporating outdoor learning throughout the education system. It takes a lot of hard work to plan outdoor activities that are meaningful and connected to the curriculum. If you are interested in adding some outdoor lessons to your history classroom this year, you should check out Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning for ideas on how to do so, and also look at Scotland’s social studies curriculum (which includes history).  There is a legend which identifies curriculum outcomes as either particularly suited to outdoor learning, for outdoor or indoor learning, or for indoor learning only. This gives a nice sense of what sort of learning outcomes, although different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, are best suited for outdoor learning. And remember, have fun!

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