Case Study

Bringing the Outside Inside
02 February 2021

Bringing the Outside Inside: Interactive learning at a time of lockdown

One of the challenges during lockdown is to find ways of making online learning interactive. As someone who has specialised in using local streets and buildings as a teaching resource, I am very much aware that the area the school and the homes where children live is a rich stimulus for work in every area of the curriculum, especially the humanities (Scoffham, 2017). It was this in mind that a colleague and myself started planning a course on outdoor learning for trainee teachers. Then the lockdown tightened and we suddenly
found ourselves in tier 5. Any thought of planning outdoor work and getting students to report back online had to be
abandoned. The alternative was obvious – we had to bring the outside inside. All the activities would have to be done indoors, but how?

Constraints can sometimes be the mother of invention. Here are some of things wedid:

1) We started by asking the students to go on an imaginative journey. To give this exercise a structure we invited them to find out where some of things around about them had actually been made – electronic equipment from Japan, toys from China or clothes from Bangladesh, for example. This then invited the question, ‘How didthese things get here?’ The responses varied from research into trade and routes to poems about the ‘experience’ of the goods themselves.

2) The opportunity to make a map or plan of an indoor space was certainly not to be missed, so we made a feature of the chance to record not only the arrangement of walls and furniture but also the things that personalise the home environment. The idea of special places can be explored at different scales andgraphic representation communicates ideas in a way that words never can.

3) Places evoke feelings and responses from us on all sorts of levels. We asked students to make ‘viewing frames’ by cutting rectangular openings (about 12cmby 9 cm) in larger pieces of light card and to write a word on the frame itself. Using terms such as ‘happy’, ‘complicated’, ‘threatening’ or ‘fun’ to guide them, the students then identified objects or scenes that matched the word they had selected and took photographs to show their results.

4) Even a small area such a table top or kitchen draining board can illustrate change over time. Which items are the newest arrivals, which have been there longest? Students were asked to make simple drawings of six different items, cut out their drawings and arrange them in timeline. Is there a story behind the sequence and what might be added next? Even simple timelines like this can evoke considerable discussion.

5) There are views through the windows of even the most uncompromising tower blocks so the chance to make comparative surveys of people, traffic and weather at different times of the day was another opportunity. Two picture books by Jeannie Baker (Window and Belonging – both available on YouTube) develop this idea and show how the view through the window can (a) show how pollution can develop over time and (b) how gardens and open spaces can be nurtured to provide valuable green spaces.

These activities give some idea how, even at a time of lockdown and without face to face contact or direct outdoor experience, we can still build pupils’ sense of place and identity. Educationalist, David Orr (2020), argues that making connections has a central part play to
education. Pupils need to connect to places, to the past and to the future. They also need to connect to themselves and each other. The humanities have a unique role in promoting this process.

Stephen Scoffham

Visiting Reader in Sustainability and Education, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK

February 1st 2021


Orr, D (2020) Education As If The Earth Mattered: Webinar 22nd October 2020 available


Scoffham, S. (2017) ‘Streetwork: Investigating Streets and Buildings in the Local Area’. in Pickering, S. (ed.) Teaching Outdoors Creatively, London: Routledge

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