The future is within our hands

This article explains the rationale behind active, outdoor and creative pedagogical practices being delivered within the School of Education at the University of Glasgow.

Many government policies are pushing for children in Scottish schools to lead and live healthier and active lifestyles due to pressing issues such as obesity and mental health. Within our practice we showcase how students can be creative in their delivery of all curricular areas within schools. For example, active and outdoor learning for any child in Scottish Schools must include opportunities for a series of planned, quality outdoor learning experiences (Scottish Government, 2010). Furthermore, from an andragogical perspective, the broad context of learning, teaching and activities within higher education is changing rapidly where lecturers are required to teach in a more interactive way. This has been even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic where all learning has been mediated by various online platforms and lecturers have had to think innovatively to engage students with the key ideas and concepts in various courses.

It is imperative that our practices are not only of the highest standards but also fit with the National Guidelines of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) which is the National Curriculum for Scottish schools. However, within the Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes at the University of Glasgow there are large lectures groups of up to 450 students and seminar groups of around 25 to 30, so how is it possible to demonstrate active and creative learning?

“The nature of our curriculum is that we do not have a national template we do not specify at national level that this or that must be taught. It is very much up to the teaching profession to formulate approaches in the classroom that meet the expectations of the guidance on the curriculum. That is inherent in the thinking behind curriculum for excellence”

Source: Education and Skills Committee 08 March 2017, John Swinney, contrib. 564

Moreover, there is a growing expectation for academics to use their skills in research, scholarship and higher order thinking to improve and develop the students overall learning experience (Cleaver et. al., 2014). Nevertheless, does this bode well with all educators? Some who have significant subject knowledge in an area of expertise but use didactic approaches to teaching and learning? Will subject specialists struggle with creative approaches to learning and teaching? What is evident is that students have changed over the last 20 years, which many believe is in responses to their engagement with technology (Taylor and Parson 2011). For example, the impact of social media on our young people has seen changes in their lifestyle, this can be both positive and negative. A study carried out by (Goodall et. al., 2018) highlighted that (46%) of the young people sampled reported changes in their health-related behaviours as a direct result of accessing content from social media. The study also highlighted that some young people reported they have developed obsessive/addictive monitoring behaviours, engaged with extreme diets and/or exercises, and experienced heightened levels of body dissatisfaction as a result of accessing material from social media. We can see why we are trying to get our young people to put down the technology devices and engage with more activity. Teachers need to lead by example, demonstrating active and outdoor learning and being creative in their pedagogies practice can only enhance this shift in thought process.

Recent research indicates that students are becoming less engaged within lectures and seminars (Goss & Sonnemann, 2017) and educators need to address andragogical practices to stimulate engagement and generate interest (Taylor & Parson, 2011). Past research indicates that games and activities have the potential to draw students into the learning process and encourage students to participate and become more engaged through an interactive environment (Gosen & Washbush, 2004). For this reason, many of our lessons are examples of how prospective teachers can ‘bring lessons alive’ within schools, where we utilise the environment and third space on our doorstep to make lessons interesting, fun and above all, relevant to the children and their futures.

Learners working as a team outdoors
Learners working as a team outdoors

We are fortunate to have Kelvingrove park on our doorstep and we use this to our advantage, where we demonstrate with a large number of students how to teach areas of the curriculum through interactive approaches. For example, students will measure trees and use apps on their phone to find out the various types of trees within the park. Students also perform activities such as the heritage trail and use the history of many of the sculptures within the park using Physical Education as a vehicle to deliver many areas of the CfE.

It is important to have students active within lessons when possible as research has highlighted a direct correlation between Physical Activity (PA) and higher neurochemical levels of hormones such as serotonin, adrenaline and endorphins, all of which facilitate mood and emotion. There are also many other physiological changes that occur within the brain through PA, for example, as blood flow increases, more oxygen is carried to the brain which, in turn, alters emotions and readiness for learning and facilitates learning (Edmund and Panteleimon, 2006).

Fig 1 below from Hillman et. al. (2009) highlights the impact of acute treadmill walking on the cognitive control and academic achievement in children, this study highlights the impact of activity and the cognitive benefits associated with movement. For this reason, we encourage our students who are the future teachers of tomorrow to promote active, outdoor and creative pedagogical practice within schools around Scotland and beyond.

Research/Scan compliments of Dr. Chuck Hillman University of Illinois

Outwith the physiological advantages of active and creative learning there are many other life skills students develop, for example, teamwork, collegiality, resilience, self-esteem and confidence to deliver a high-quality learning experience for the pupils they will serve as teachers in Scottish schools.

Active, outdoor and creative pedagogies enhance the overall student experience and aid them in learning how to be creative in their approaches in delivering CfE, making our students prospective teachers of the 21st century classroom, equipped to develop both learners academic skills and skills for learning, life and work.

, Breslin Mark Cooper Lynne