The weather looked promising as I headed over from Gloucester to The Christian Adventure Centre at Viney Hill in the Forest of Dean (http://vineyhilladventure.org/), so I hoped that was a good omen for the jam-packed day ahead! I so enjoy spending time in this stunning, natural environment and with such a supportive and nurturing team. It was great to deliver another geography day alongside the Centre Manager, Jon Holden, and catch up with some of the administrative staff and other instructors once again.
Viney Hill very kindly offered to pick up staff and pupils from school with their minibuses, which meant transport costs were kept to a minimum. Once the continguent from Drybrook Primary School arrived, we headed over to Cross Meadow for our starter/launch. After a formal welcome from Jon and a reminder about health and safety, I shared the learning objectives and outlined the format of the day. It was planned to target as many of the geographical skills and fieldwork requirements listed within the Key Stage 2 programme of study for geography as possible:
- ‘To use maps, atlases, globes and digital/computer mapping to locate countries and describe features studied.
- To use the eight points of a compass, four and six-figure grid references, symbols and key (including the use of Ordnance Survey maps) to build your knowledge of the United Kingdom and the wider world.
- To use fieldwork to observe, measure, record and present the human and physical features in the local area using a range of methods, including sketch maps, plans and graphs and digital technologies.’
Pupils were divided into six groups, named after tree species frequently found within the Forest of Dean (oak; elm; pine; holly; beech and birch). I explained that points would be awarded to the winning group at the end of each activity and that points might just mean prizes at the end of the day (I made sure that I had purchased some geography badges from the Geographical Association (https://www.geography.org.uk/Shop/Badges—Pack-of-100/MER32) and a tub or two of Heroes chocolates in advance of the event). In order to get pupils and teachers ‘warmed up’, I included a couple of thinking and discussive activities. Firstly, I posed the following question to the children: What makes a great geographer?. I had brought along my infamous geography box, which is filled with many ‘geographical goodies’ and used these to help steer our whole group discussion. Next, in the tree groups, pupils were asked to write down 5 things that they hoped to achieve today on the post-it notes that they have been given. After a few minutes, Mr Edwards went over to each group and ‘interviewed’ them. He then relayed his discoveries to everyone. I have used these activities many times before and they were just as effective at getting pupils to think independently and ‘breaking the ice’ here too.
The day had been split into five activities that were delivered by both Jon and myself. Great teamwork, yet again!
Activity 1 focused on developing map and compass skills. In their tree groups, the children made use a local OS map and compass to determine north. We then played the ‘Ship Ahoy!’ game to check their understanding of the different points of a compass, e.g. N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W and NW. Prior to the event, I had utilised Digimap for Schools (https://digimapforschools.edina.ac.uk/) to generate a base map of the centre. I then added 15 markers/stickers to pin-point the 15 coloured ‘pebbles’ that had been hidden within the grounds. At each site, the children were expected to answer a question, which related to a local OS map and tested their ability to use four figure grid references, recognise OS map symbols, as well as consider distance and direction. Groups were encouraged to write their answers clearly on the sheet provided, so that we could determine the winning team! It was Birch and Ash’s time to shine at this point.
The children and staff all deserved their break now … a slightly bigger playground than normal for the youngsters and the kettle on and a selection of biscuits for the latter.
Activity 2 gave the children the chance to make their own maps. Again, work in their tree groups, pupils had to gather natural artefacts from the surrounding area. They then used these to help them construct a map/plan of the Centre’s site. Digital cameras/iPads were employed to photograph their group’s final creation. I brought the activity to a close with a whole class discussion: Which do you think is the best map/plan and why?. The children all favoured Holly’s efforts as they had worked well as a team to create a clear, detailed plan with many key physical and human features identified.
Activity 3 took us into the forest at the end of the back field. Jon and I took the groups on a journey, encouraging the children to use simple fieldwork and observational skills and attach artefacts, e.g. leaves, petals, bark, en route to the piece of string that they have been given. Pupils were allowed to borrow digital cameras/iPads to take photographs too. They were challenged to try and use a compass to enable them to take photographs of the view from N, S, E and W, as well as explore the ‘macro’ setting so that they could take photographs from a ‘bird’s eye’/’bug’s eye’ view. On our return to the Centre, groups laid out their journey strings and were asked to share what they had found. One boy even uncovered a painted rock, which he was very proud of (he later hid it back in the woods for another child/adult to find). This activity lends itself well to the production of a piece of descriptive writing (senses and emotions included) once back at school … I look forward to seeing a few examples in due course.
It was planned to do some geo-caching for our fourth activity as this is something that the children always enjoy. However, we had extended our journey in the forest somewhat due to pupils’ curiousity and now had a few rather hungry and thirsty children, so we decided to abandon this session.
The beautiful surroundings and warm, sunny, autumnal weather were perfect for a picnic lunch outside followed by a few minutes of ‘free play’.
Activity 5 saw us venture back into the forest for some den-building. In their tree groups, pupils were requested to construct a sturdy, waterproof shelter than they could all stand/sit inside. Below are some of their rather impressive creations. The children were judged on their den building efforts, with the girls winning overall.
Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end. We headed back towards Cross Meadow for our plenary session. This comprised the following:
- Sharing of experiences/learning (in small groups, with recording by teachers).
- Review learning objectives/identify learning outcomes.
- Q and A session: Did you achieve all the things that you listed at the start of the day?
- Presentation of badges/certificates/awards.
- Formal ‘thank you’.
It was lovely to hear that many groups had achieved all the things that they listed at the beginning of the day, and even more. A review of the learning objectives/identification of learning outcomes revealed lots of thumbs-up signs, which was great to witness. As every child and teacher had given their all, they were each rewarded with a geography badge and Heroes chocolate before the short minibus trip back to school. Staff and many pupils from Drybrook Primary School took time to approach both Jon and myself and say a personal ‘thank you’ or offer very positive feedback; this makes all the time and energy involved in coordinating and delivering such a day truly worthwhile.
I hope to be back at The Christian Adventure Centre at Viney Hill again before too long. I wonder who the next successful Frederick Soddy Trust Schools Award winner might be? (https://www.rgs.org/in-the-field/in-the-field-grants/expedition-grants/frederick-soddy-awards/).
‘Thank you for leading our trip on Wednesday. The children really enjoyed themselves and the map skills in particular will be really valuable to their learning.’ (Year 3 and 4 Class Teacher)