Growth and Learning through Expeditions
By Craig Coutts, Head of School
As grade 5 returned last week from their mountain adventure in Tsunan-town in Niigata and our secondary students head off across Japan and out to Asia, I'm reminded again how at YIS learning extends well beyond the classroom. One of our goals is to teach students a sense of balance, and our learning program reflects a mix of traditional academic subjects, such as maths, English, science, humanities and languages, with the inclusion of the arts, physical education and design --- a deliberate choice to ensure that the learning opportunities within the classroom are varied and address the holistic needs of our students. However, learning goes much further; when we talk about the YIS learning program we include sports and activities, service and, of course, expeditions. Much development has taken place over recent years to our programs, not just to increase the opportunities available for our students, but to also ensure that everything we do is targeted at improving student learning. Expeditions is no exception.
Historically, expeditions at YIS (or field studies as they were previously known) were a collection of trips of varying nature. Some included cultural aspects, some physical challenges and a few were aimed at the outdoors and the skills involved in taking advantage of the environment, while others were, to some degree, service oriented. Over the past year or so we have been reviewing all of the expeditions in place from grade 4 through to grade 12, analyzing the purpose of the experience and, more importantly, the learning that is involved. Alex Thomas, PE teacher and outdoor education coordinator, has been taking a lead role in this effort.
As a result of this review, we have started to introduce some changes. These include modifying the focus for two of the trips and engaging with a new outside group that is able to provide more targeted outdoor learning experiences that will challenge our students and provide them with valuable skills they can carry through into subsequent years of expeditions.
There is much research around the benefits of outdoor education programs that reach well beyond just the provision of balance and skills. As noted in a literature review by Penny Travlou from the OPENspace Research Centre (2006) stated:
"Experience of the outdoors and wilderness has the potential to confer a multitude of benefits on young people's physical development, emotional and mental health and well being and societal development. Mental health and wellbeing benefits from play in natural settings appear to be long-term, realised in the form of emotional stability in young adulthood."
As a school it is our responsibility to support students in their personal as well as their academic development and our programs are designed to provide opportunities that prepare our students for all aspects of life. The expeditions program is an important strand in helping us develop the whole child. Studies have shown that the benefits to personal and social learning through expeditions are many, as this excerpt from a report by the Field Studies Council below shows:
"Strong evidence of the benefits of outdoor adventure education is provided by two meta-analyses of previous research. Looking across a wide range of outcome measures, these studies identify not only positive effects in the short term, but also continued gains in the long term. There is substantial research evidence to suggest that outdoor adventure programmes can impact positively on young people's:
- attitudes, beliefs and self-perceptions - examples of outcomes include independence, confidence, self-esteem, locus of control, self-efficacy, personal effectiveness and coping strategies
- interpersonal and social skills - such as social effectiveness, communication skills, group cohesion and teamwork.
(Mark Rickinson et al., 2004)
So with our grade 5 and secondary expeditions fresh in mind, I hope that you take a chance to talk with your child about their experience and the learning they came away with. Whether it was skills based or social and emotional growth, it's an important part of their learning.