In planning their lessons, all teachers have a considerable measure of autonomy. Although there are countless ways in which lessons can be delivered, the predominant teaching approaches are still individual teaching and teacher-centred delivery, which is often referred to as traditional instruction. While decades ago we may still have been able to develop life skills through such instruction, today that is no longer the case. Nowadays, what is valued are ideas, concepts, different abilities and skills, and alternative, divergent ways of thinking. Achieving these objectives, however, also requires a comprehensive learning approach. One possible approach is outdoor learning, which encourages learners to actively engage, experiment and interact with materials in a hands-on experience, as well as collaborative learning in groups.
The research for this Master's thesis aimed to provide an experiential and participatory learning experience for pupils in a selected class, using equipment and resources in the school environment. Our main focus was to identify the misconceptions that learners in our selected class had about water, flow, forces and motion. Another question we sought to answer was how popular the subjects of science and technology and physical education were among the learners, as well as how fond they were of outdoor learning. After the lessons, we investigated the progress in individual learners' knowledge and whether the progress remained consistent a month following the lessons. We also investigated whether there were differences in background knowledge, knowledge progression and long-term retention between the different groups of learners, which were formed based on gender, learners' attitude towards the subjects of science and technology and physical education, as well as the attitudes towards outdoor learning among the learners in the selected class. The information obtained through interviews with individual students was also used to gain a better insight into their attitudes towards the subjects of science and technology and physical education and outdoor learning, while also exploring their study habits and their perceptions of their own knowledge.
In the school year 2021/22, 23 selected 4th grade pupils were given the opportunity to experience outdoor learning. All the sessions were held outdoors in the school surroundings. In each session, the work was organised in groups, with each individual having a specific task. The first session was devoted to the exploration of forces and motion, the second to water and the third to flow. Before starting the sessions, learners took a preliminary test to assess their knowledge. The learners took post-tests after each session and a month following the sessions. The g-factor was used to assess the progress and sustainability of their knowledge. Three learners were further interviewed to gain an in-depth insight into their attitudes towards the subjects, teaching formats and approaches, and outdoor learning. All other learners also completed questionnaires assessing their own attitudes towards outdoor education, movement or PE and science and technology. Based on their answers, the learners were divided into groups. The results of the learners in the different groups were then compared to see if there were differences between the learners in terms of their background knowledge, their knowledge progression, and their ability to retain information more efficiently.
The findings of the master's thesis show that pupils enjoy outdoor learning. They feel better after the session, and believe that such a method of delivery results in better and more lasting retention. Similarly, the g-factor calculations also show that learners' knowledge progression, regardless of their gender or their attitude towards the subjects of physical education and science and technology or outdoor learning, is average to high. A month after the sessions, they do tend to be regressing in their knowledge, but the knowledge progression remains average in relation to their background knowledge. Analysis of the responses to the questions reveals that most learners successfully rectified their misconceptions, thus confirming that outdoor learning is an effective learning approach to do so.
In the present master's thesis, the benefits of outdoor education are demonstrated and supported by research results. Concrete lesson plans and other options for outdoor learning are described. They provide other teachers with an example of how they can independently plan and deliver outdoor lessons that are not necessarily linked to the content of the content being taught. For homeroom teachers and other educational practitioners, the research findings provide insights into learners' responses, their knowledge progression, and how misconceptions about water, flow, forces and motion can be transformed when taught in outdoor settings.