The beneifits of oudoors learning and field trips

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This chapter shall shed light on the literature available on site visits. First, it shall focus on the philosophical aspect of site visits; explicitly on outdoor learning, and experiential learning. Then it will tackle site visits as a pedagogical tool and their benefits, difficulties in organising site visits, site visits and the community, and also their role in the Maltese national minimum curriculum.

Site visits or field trips refer to an educational process in which students go to observe people in their occupational environment and at the same time they can observe syllabus- related items in real life. The inclusion of site visits in education is not a recent trend but dates back to ancient times. In ancient Greece, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle would teach their students as they followed them around the cities. In this way, these philosophers were providing students with new knowledge while their students could see what's happening in everyday life.

2.2 Outdoor education

"Outdoor education" refers to learning which does not happen in the classroom with the teacher and books, but it describes the notion of taking students to the real place which they are taught about. This could be a field trip or even observing a particular food company. Thus, outdoor education highlights two important characteristics; the effect of natural environments on human beings and the learning through experience.

John A. Comenius believed that the learner should experience the object before reading about it. He believed in learning by using the sense of seeing, hearing, tasting and touching. In this way students will come in contact with the object of study.

Like Comenius, Rousseau also believed in nature as a learning environment.

In fact, in Rousseau's Emile, the reader is introduced to a boy who is educated by the principles of nature. In his opinion, education should be natural and sensory and less literary. Students should not learn from books but from direct experiences. Moreover, he often implies that "Our first teachers are our feet, our hands and our eyes.  To substitute books for all these...is but to teach us to use the reasons of others." (REFERENCE) Students should be left to reason things by themselves with the help of the teacher, whose role is merely that of a guide who shows them the right path. Moon (1981) also agrees with Rousseau's believes that "education should enable the individual to formulate his own philosophy on life and enable him to enter society at the end of his schooldays on the road leading to fulfilment." (p. )

Pestalozzi also encouraged direct, first hand experiences at school because he believed that the learner uses experiences later on in life to create his own principles. Besides teaching, reading and writing he taught practical skills like housekeeping, farming and weaving. He too, believed that the environment affects students' learning so he recommended teachers to take students out of the school environment.

"Lead your child out into nature, teach him on the hilltops and in the valleys.  There he will listen better, and the sense of freedom will give him more strength to overcome difficulties.  But in these hours of freedom let him be taught by nature rather than by you.  Let him fully realize that she is the real teacher and that you, with your art, do nothing more than walk quietly at her side." (De Guimps, 2005, p. 45)

2.2.1 Advantages of outdoor learning

When students are taken for an educational site visit outside the school environment, they acquire more knowledge and experience. First of all, outdoor learning helps them achieve a practical knowledge of the world around them. They will be more confident and can examine their aptitudes through this experience. Outdoor education helps them understand subjects through real world examples and first hand experiences.

Lai's (1999) study of Hong Kong secondary school students on a geography field trip found differences in students' responses to the two parts of the day; one part was teacher-led while the other was more student friendly. He discovered that some enjoyed the teacher-led but others took more pleasure in the student-based field investigation in the afternoon when they could 'work on their own and hence have more freedom' (p. 248).

Additionally, students become more responsible and understandable to people and places since they are introduced to other professionals at work. So when students interact with these professionals and their classmates, they will be capable to develop skills like good communication, team work and leadership which are essential for the life outside the classroom.

2.3 Experiential Learning

Aristotle once said that "for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." Students learn a great deal from teacher's explanations, presentations and textbooks, but real learning takes place when they make meaning of things from direct experiences in their life.

This learning does not happen through the teacher's help, but it happens when students process the meaning of that particular real life experience and build up their own knowledge. Students learn when they ask questions and connect their meanings while they are watching and observing things.

However, even though this gaining of knowledge occurs naturally, according to David Kolb (1984) certain abilities from the students are required. First of all, the student must be willing to get involved, has the ability to reflect, and must use analytical skills to arrive at a generalization of that experience. Then he or she must posses problem solving and decision making skills to use these new ideas in his or her life.

Experiential learning engages the learner at a more personal level because it focuses on the needs and wants of the learner. It requires qualities such as self-initiative and self-evaluation. For this type of learning to be a success, it requires the teacher to set goals, allow experimenting and observing and also action planning. This procedure allows the learner to learn new abilities, attitudes and new ways of thinking.

Teachers have to realise the importance of hands-on and real life experiences in education. Coupled with happiness and laughter, the learner must be encouraged to take part in the knowledge process, so that new knowledge is learnt and gained for a longer period of time. As stated by the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, "tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand."

Teachers are not dictators but they are experiential facilitators who need to engage the learners in the learning situation and allow them to gain knowledge from their companions and environment. These facilitators stimulate their imagination, keeping participants absorbed by that experience.

In a study done by Baxter Magolda and Hightower (1993), it was found out that "professional and technical disciplines including education and the health careers and social work are using experiential learning instructional techniques to provide students with the competencies necessary to pursue successful careers upon graduation." Even Seibert, Hart and Sypher (1989) and Baker, et. al. (1991) documented the benefits of experiential learning for student career decision making and for development.

Prior knowledge and experience

Dewey acknowledged that all children in all schools have experiences (1938, p.14), both in the classroom and outside the school environment. He argued that educative experiences are those that encourage "the growth of further experience." (1938, p.13) Thus, these educative experiences during site visits widen the learner's ability and aspiration to learn successfully through future educative experiences.

Students' learning can be highly influenced by their prior site and classroom experiences (Orion and Hofstein,1994; Lai,1999). Even Uzzell et al. (1995) underline the need to connect "the world of our physical surroundings" and "the world of the school".

Like many other educational theorists since (Driver, Asoka, Leach, Mortimer & Scott, 1994; Gallas, 1995), Dewey also sustained that connections between children's previous experiences and the new experience planned by educators are vital.

Site visits must have a definite parallel association to class activities. Students' past and future knowledge has to be linked with the present one in order be effective. If experiences end without any investigation "they can become dispersive and disintegrated". (Dewey, 1938/1953, p.14) In fact, as stated by Dewey, educative experiences are located in the child's variety of ongoing experiences.

Therefore, the teacher's role in linking these past, present and future experiences is to plan settings in which the main priority has to be the students' interests and their principles for learning are inspired. Teachers have to use a method of instruction and type of assessments which promote the development of their learning principles.

2.3.2 The power of observation in experiential learning

From the interviews conducted by E. V. Howes (2008), teachers portrayed 'observation' as more than merely a scientific activity. But to achieve knowledge from the power of observing, during or after the site visit, students have to be enticed to measure this knowledge with some type of planned activities. Thus, experiences that encourage children to observe and record "will help children develop and grow intellectual beings, as they practice transforming what they see into a form that can be viewed by themselves and by others." (p. 540-545)

2.4 Site visits as a pedagogical tool

Compared to other teaching aids, site visits are among the most valuable teaching aids for their opportunity of providing real life experiences. As reported by Dale (Fleck, 1968), educational site visits have several chief purposes; one of them being for students to learn at the site, where a major part of their learning will take place later on in life; and for students to make relationships between classroom and outside classroom experiences. Moreover, students can observe first hand experiences of the everyday world, and so develop the skills of observation. These experiences will also provide high interest in the school curriculum and add meaning to the knowledge acquired.

2.4.1 Benefits of site visits in education

Primarily, site visits are attention-grabbing for the students. Eventually students appreciate more the subject if they are introduced to the real things in action. Besides, this new experience is different from the classroom environment therefore it teaches students something new.

Students are more motivated because they have opportunities to see real materials and examine them. When learning tasks are interesting and challenging, they lead a higher task recognition and thus to better use of strategies. Choi and Hannafin (1995) indicated that critical learning environments give students a better wisdom of how to use and apply knowledge. Turner (1995), too, found that students who engaged in self-selected activities were more likely to use strategies voluntarily, carry on when work became difficult and sustain their focus on academic work.

This experience adds to the information taught by the curriculum and it can be used to stimulate the interest in a new or difficult and even to summarise the main points in a particular topic. Educational site visits have the ability to equip students with information that may not be available as effectively in any other pedagogical method.

Additionally, site visits give first-hand experiences with materials in their natural environment therefore they have a tendency to increase the validity of the students' understandings of a subject. Confirmation of the effectiveness of experiential learning in academic achievement comes from a study of secondary students from 11 Californian schools. From this study the State Education and Environment Roundtable (SEER, 2000) concluded that students scored higher in 72 percent of the academic assessments (reading, science, maths, attendance rates and grade point averages) than students from traditional schools (Dillon, J. et al, 2006). In addition, Eaton (2000) found that outdoor learning experiences compared to classroom learning were more successful for developing cognitive skills.

Students will also be more probable to retain the information they learn, and they will enjoy practicing new things. Research carried out by Exeter University has identified that school site visits which are organised outside school environment have a permanent impact on students as they grow up. "In this study, teachers reported that students had had their future career choices influenced by the trips, with one in ten students saying school trips had been a key factor in their choice of future studies and career." Moreover, another research done by Dierking and Falk (1997) found that 96 per cent of a group consisting of both children and adults could remember field trips taken during their early years at school.

However, an effective learning experience is not just about remembering the visit but site visits "provide living laboratories where children acquire knowledge outside the realm of the regular classroom." Knowledge learnt in classroom can be applied to real life experiences. In this way there will be a connection between the theoretical part of the topic and the practical part. Thus, educational site visits are a perfect complement to lessons in the classroom. They enable students to experience what they have already learnt in a theoretical format in class.

Finally, another advantage of site visits is that they can have the role of bringing students closer together. Numerous site visits which comprise interactive activities such as group investigation will ensure the idea of team building and working in a group.

When acquiring knowledge outside the school environment, students will develop skills needed in Home Economics like observation, critical and analytical skills. Once they go on site visits they will learn where to go for information, ask for help on particular topics, see how people live and become interested in certain areas. They will develop appreciations towards what other people do.

2.5 Difficulties in organising a site visit

There are considerable factors which influence the amount and value of provision of experiences for students. Some of the barriers include the issue of health and safety, teachers' lack of knowledge and training on educational visits and the school curriculum requirements. Moreover, time available, resources and support from administration are also a concern.

These drawbacks of organising site visits cause the teacher or the administration to choose not to conduct site visits. First of all, a site visit should contribute to the objectives of the topic being done in class otherwise it is not an educational one. Moreover, the site visit has to be carefully planned and organised or else it won't give a positive outcome. Time is essential when preparing the site visit but one is restricted due to overload of lessons and other subject lessons. Because of these reasons a visit may be difficult to fit into the school schedule.

Every site visit requires permission from each student's parent or guardian in the form of Parental Consent Form. Parents will often worry about the safety of their children outside school premises, and so responsibility becomes an issue. Teachers must ensure that they take account of all their students' physical or medical problems in order to limit the risks and also to list down the possible dangerous risks which could happen during that visit.

In order to eliminate these barriers, teachers must also have back up plans. The weather might ruin initial plans or else one has not enough supervisors for the visit. These problems need to be handled before organising the visit otherwise it becomes a burden for the teacher. Therefore, prior planning and organisation is essential. Disinger (1984) additionally states that teachers might lack commitment to take students on educational site visits. For them it is more complicated to plan and carry out a school site visit than to teach in a class.

As soon as teachers plan an educational site visit, students' first reaction is excitement. Even though, this excitement enhances motivation for the subject, it can also limit the amount of education that actually takes place. Teachers must find a way to keep students focused on the topic being tackled during the site visit. Once students' attention is lost, the site visit will lose its educational meaning. Educators must find ways to stop their students from talking, or even disturbing others, which can ruin the experience for those around them. One way to keep students focused on the site visit is to make it interesting as possible and organise interesting activities during the visit and make it as interactive as possible.

2.5.1 Cost and low income families

Cost can be an obstacle in conducting a site visit. This is because sometimes schools have tight budgets for bus rentals and fees for trips. In other occasions the administration prefers to allocate the money to other priorities within the school premises. Anything away from the school's budget will need to come from the student himself. So if the site visit has a high fee, sometimes parents prefer not to send their children.

This will hinder student's participation in that activity. However, for some students who live in low-income families, the educational site visits, may be the only chance they have to experience different environments outside schools. Andy Simpson (2009) commented that "…in order to have the kind of informed and engaged citizens we would all like to emerge from the school system, it is not unreasonable to identify a range of experiences- some cultural, some environmental, some adventurous- that go towards making the rounded and engaged citizen."

2.5.2 Misbehaviour

Another barrier to the realisation of an education site visit is the behaviour of the students. Site visits should be available throughout the year to all students, even though some students might show some type of misbehaviour. However, discipline and good conduct of students is essential to the achievement of any visit especially those where there might be an element of danger. It is better if problems are anticipated hence teachers have to take into consideration all problems. Consequently, for an educational visit to take place there has to be approved codes of behaviour and discipline to maintain health and safety. These should not be too harsh and possibly created by the student themselves. In this way, students feel part of the visit, and can easily relate to the rules.

However, careful planning and preparation in advance are essential to conduct a safe site visit. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in UK, "advises its members to seek union advice before agreeing to take with them a pupil or student whose behaviour record (or medical record) gives them real cause for concern." In fact, they suggest that teachers should reach an agreement with the student's parents about the action taken in case s/he misbehaves.

It is also advisable that when taking students on site visits, the group of students should be smaller, controllable, and there should be good levels of supervision from experienced and trained teachers. In addition to this, teachers should create related activities to keep students busy and motivated.

2.5.3 Students suffering from an impairment and special educational needs

A research done in the United Kingdom has pointed out the numerous barriers that students suffering from impairment can face to participating fully in site visits, and the approaches which institutions, departments and educators could use in order to reduce these barriers (Healey et al., 2001). It was suggested that in order to eliminate these barriers, before planning a site visit; the educator must go to the actual place to make sure that the site is fully accessible to disabled students. The site should not be of a disadvantage to these students and the educator must be sure that from this site visit, the same outcome could be achieved from all students.

2.6 Site visits and the community

In addition to the benefits site visits give to students' education; they also have a public relations value. They not just benefit to the students but also to the people in that community. Primarily, the combination of school work with real life experience will enhance students' understanding. Secondly, during planning of the visit, the people in the community will get to know better the objectives and scope of that particular subject. In fact, these site visits can provide an increased interest in the school curriculum.

Site visits in the community provide fruitful sources of instructions in many areas of Home Economics. In fact, Meshke (1943) conducted a study in which an experimental class visited stores so they could investigate electrical equipment (Hall, O & Paolucci, B., 1970). Another class, the "classroom" group, stayed in the school premises and used store contacts, pictorial materials, and newspaper advertisements. From this study, he concluded that "students who had actual store experience showed superior achievement on written tests." In addition, these students showed to be more independent, judgemental and likely to practice what they have learned.

Site visits expand students' awareness of their own community and help students develop a community spirit. When children visit a local department or a hospitality service, they begin to understand the value of these community resources. It was reported that "out of classroom learning also influenced how children behave and the lifestyle choices they make. It shows the potential for school trips not just change children's lives, but the lives of the whole communities."

Likewise, those visits which are organised in the community will eventually teach students important life lessons on socialization, kindness and helping the community. When taking students to elderly homes and childcare centres they will appreciate people's work and be enticed to give a helping hand in their free time. This will ultimately inspire students and guarantee their growth as individuals. When students go there, they are introduced to that particular work, allured to follow a particular career.

According to Cantor (1990), "through development of cooperative education programs, colleges and their faculty and students are brought closer to their communities. Through these newly formed linkages proactive economic development outcomes emerge. These include better educated and trained students as potential employees."

2.7 Site visits and the National Minimum Curriculum

As Dewey stated, learning is not just gathering information but learning is a continuous process in which there is change and progress in present learning. Consequently, students need to experience learning through an active approach. Teachers and education system must facilitate this learning process by emphasising learning through questioning, not just answering, and also learning by doing various things, one of them going on the site itself.

Site visits should be an important tool of pedagogical method. In fact, the third principle of the Maltese National Minimum Curriculum states that learning is not just an automatic process of gathering information but students need to experience what they are told in order to change and refine their present knowledge. Therefore, "the curriculum encourages a process of continuous search. Teachers should help students not only to establish the link between people, things, events, processes and ideas, but to continuously change or elaborate their structure of knowledge." (NMC, p.25)

The National Minimum Curriculum places the child in the centre of education. It recognises the fact that through experiences, the learner will assimilate past knowledge and present with first hand experiences; thus coming to a conclusion. "In other words, the NMC regards students not as passive recipients of static content but as critical and creative thinkers and producers of knowledge." (NMC, p.25)

Moreover, the fourth principle present in our NMC states that education has to be relevant for life. Therefore, the role of the teacher is to build a link between topics in the subject and student's real life experiences. Students learn more when they are able to connect with the subject and have a chance to become familiar with it. Site visits offer this opportunity to broaden education beyond school premises. They engage the topic of the subject with an unforgettable real life experience.

2.8 Conclusion

Various subjects at school tend to be more theoretically based, yet site visits give the students opportunities to experience life outside the school and also to develop qualities such as initiative, self-reliance and co-operation. Learning through experience from site visits expose a type of pedagogy that is "engaged" (Hooks, 1994), "transformative" or "critical" (Shor, 1992, pp. 189 -190; Wink, 2000, p. 123;), and "community-based" (Mooney & Edwards, 2001).

From British-led syllabus in 1994, Malta started its own Maltese matriculation certificate (MATSEC) syllabus. This involved the introduction of the investigation and coursework in Home Economics which included four option areas namely; Food Preparation and Technology, Hospitality Services, Child Development and the Elderly. These were ideal for the teachers to conduct site visits and thus, various schools chose to organise these site visits in order to help students in their investigation.

The aim of this research study is to find out if educational site visits are incorporated in the Home Economics syllabus, with emphasize on the Hospitality sector. Based on the findings from interviews with teachers and focused interviews with Form 4 students, a resource pack on the Hospitality sector will be developed to help Home Economics teachers incorporate educational site visits with theory-based lessons.

The subsequent chapter describes the methodology used to explore the knowledge on the Hospitality sector amongst students and to detect if Home Economics teachers in different schools use educational site visits as a pedagogical tool.

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