Developing outdoor learning activities to improve pupils’ attainment and develop a greener future
Pupils at Bredon Hill Academy (BHA), in Worcestershire, have been learning how to go green with the help of their counterparts at an Austrian school.
BHA has been collaborating with schools in Europe for more than 15 years and its impressive school gardens and rural setting near Evesham were the inspiration for its latest schools partnership project, funded by Erasmus+.
The Let us grow our own Green Future initiative aimed to develop outdoor learning activities and has helped pupils improve their attainment in literacy, science and language skills. It has also opened their eyes to different career possibilities and helped them connect with the world around them.
Outside the classroom
Bredon Hill partnered with another middle school, NMS St. Michael, in Styria, Austria, which, like BHA, is actively involved in environmental issues and sustainability.
“Both partner schools recognised the need for their pupils to increase attainment in numeracy and literacy skills," said Anne Amzallag, Head of French and International Lead at BHA.
"We also aspired to prepare them for a future that increasingly requires more practical and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) related competences.
"We wanted our gardens and outdoor spaces to become the base of a range of outdoor learning activities that would improve these key skills and competences, as well as promote greener choices.
“We, therefore, created a project to support the development of new pedagogical approaches and, in particular, learning outside the classroom. Together we developed collaborative activities using the schools’ gardens to deliver more traditional subjects in innovative and active ways.
“It has impacted positively on how the curriculum is delivered and in the way our pupils are re-engaging in their learning. Pupils, teachers and school communities have raised attainment and achievement in key skills and competences through real-life learning experiences.
"Activities were designed with a clear focus on developing the purposeful use of numeracy and literacy basic skills, as well as entrepreneurship activities. All of which has increased thinking skills, teamwork and communication in both English and Austrian German."
Working with a partner school in Europe provides us with the opportunities to develop global dialogue.
In the project's first year the focus was on the school gardens and STEM subjects, with staff and pupils taking part in activities promoting participative and collaborative science.
"Pupils really enjoyed leaving the classroom (even in bad weather) to go outside, observe, conduct experiments and collect data and samples regarding wildlife, plants, trees and weather," said Anne.
"The impact on learning was very positive as pupils showed a better understanding and a stronger long-term memory of some of the more abstract side of science from these purposeful activities taking place in the school gardens and pond.
"Visiting our partner school in Austria for our first trans-national meeting was a real highlight.
"After working online together for so long, through eTwinning, to see and feel the enthusiasm and the engagement of the school community towards the project was so inspiring and made it so worthwhile.
"Working with a partner school in Europe provides us with the opportunities to develop global dialogue where a deeper understanding of each other's cultures, perspectives and opinions takes place."
From soil to plate
During the second year, pupils planted fruits, vegetables and herbs, exchanged seeds and showcased their produce.
"Typical British and Austrian recipes were exchanged and dishes cooked, based on local produce harvested by the pupils in their school gardens," said Anne.
"Twelve of our pupils aged 11 to 13, visited our partner school in Austria where they joined in lessons and gardening and cooking classes. Learning alongside pupils from across Europe promotes motivation and aspiration for all involved in the partnership.
“Now, in our last year of the project, pupils have explored the school gardens to get inspiration for writing, composing, drawing, painting, photography, designing, jewellery making and even dancing. They also learnt about how many European artists were inspired by nature and their environment.
"We have started some impressive willow sculptures of birds and insects and produced a dance film in the garden.”
Pupils have been ever so creative and enjoyed working collaboratively, thanks to modern technology!
Anne explained how the school has been able to continue with the project despite the outbreak of COVID-19.
“The Coronavirus has, of course, impacted our activities, but we have been able to continue working with the pupils at home.
"We have set online challenges, like photographing things in their gardens, recreating Austrian-born Gustav Klimt’s ‘Tree of Life’ as well as contributing to a digital rainbow for hope.
"Participation has been wonderful; pupils have been ever so creative and enjoyed working collaboratively, thanks to modern technology!"
Impact on pupils
“All these enrichment activities are now part of our curriculum and the achievement of our pupils has been improved, with a direct impact seen on attainment in numeracy and STEM skills. Pupils developed their scientific investigations skills in the gardens in order to improve their own environment, health and green future.
"They improved their literacy and digital skills by writing and sharing the results of their activities on eTwinning and on the project website, creating recipes, informative displays and leaflets, as well as by expressing their opinions about the activities.
“Our pupils have realised the benefits of being able to communicate in a foreign language and we have now introduced German as a second language in our curriculum. Pupils have also learnt about inter-cultural collaborations and developed life skills, like cooperation and communication.
"They have also acquired a better understanding of different careers paths open to them and improved their personal and social responsibilities to develop a greener future.
“Staff have also benefited from sharing and comparing innovative teaching resources and developing good quality outside learning methods that add value to classroom learning. This has helped pupils to acquire a deeper understanding of concepts that are frequently difficult to teach effectively using traditional classroom methods only.
“We have also seen improved motivation to make changes in the delivery of their subjects, as they have noticed progress in the pupils’ attainment. Staff have enhanced their own professional development and realised the benefits of working with another European school.
“We have also started to see impact at the whole school level and even beyond. There has been an excellent exchange of positive experiences which has resulted in the development of new school programmes which have been shared with other schools at national level.
“We strongly believe the activities in this Erasmus+ project will have a long-term impact on our pupils everyday lives and help them to make healthier and greener choices,” Anne concluded.
Want to see what other projects are doing to go green? Take a look at our environmental stories!