Learning outside the classroom in Hawke's Bay

22 January 2019

Rachel Speedy is a great example of how the University of Waikato and EIT are working together to benefit Hawke’s Bay. Rachel is in the second-year of an EIT Bachelor of Teaching, Early Childhood Education and is currently doing a University of Waikato Summer Research Scholarship project. She is investigating how the natural environment can be used as an effective place to learn not just science, but reading, maths and other subjects.

Using the outdoors as a classroom for young people has several benefits. Its tactile, experiential nature enables students to retain and apply the knowledge gained there. Additionally, students develop empathy for the natural environment, thus establishing attitudes and behaviours that bode well for our planet’s future.

The project is part of a wider initiative led by EIT and Cape to City to better equip primary school and early childhood education teachers to use the environment in their teaching practices. In the future, pre-service teachers in EIT’s Bachelor of Teaching (Primary and Early Childhood Education) programmes will learn how to confidently take students into the environment and use it as a resource for their teaching throughout the curriculum.

Guided by Waikato’s Dr Chris Eames and Melissa Brignall-Theyer from Cape to City, Rachel’s project will assist EIT to develop its approach to teacher training outdoors. She is reviewing international and New Zealand-based literature so that developments are informed by the latest knowledge on the topic, compiling a database of existing resources (environmental projects, initiatives, and sites) that can be used by teachers, and developing questions that will be used in a teacher survey in the coming months.

“The partnership with EIT and Waikato has been an exciting development for us," says Ms Brignall-Theyer who leads the Cape to City engagement workstream. “We have been working with some of the EIT Bachelor of Teaching lecturers for a couple of years now, so this summer research scholarship is a great opportunity to not only work with Waikato, but to understand the most effective and strategic pathway for teacher education to include using the environment as a context for learning.”

Being involved in a research project has been challenging for Rachel, as it has meant learning to deal with large numbers of academic articles that must be found, read and summarised. However, it has also been an opportunity to apply her knowledge of cognition and learning processes, gained during her pre-service teaching studies. ”I’m really enjoying it” she says, noting that the experience has broadened her appreciation of the options for outdoor teaching. “I knew I liked the topic, but this has made me realise how interested I am!”

Rachel is the first EIT student to be awarded a Waikato Summer Research Scholarship, something that Waikato’s Hawke’s Bay-based Director Belinda Sleight hopes will become commonplace.

“In 2019 our institutes will be working to streamline processes for recognising each other’s qualifications for cross crediting and entry to further study across a wider range of academic programmes," he says.

Dr Eames, a lecturer from the University of Waikato's Faculty of Education, has found the cross-disciplinary teamwork and the opportunity to work with colleagues in Hawke’s Bay to be very productive. “I'm delighted with the conversations our team is having, and working with Rachel at a distance is proving no barrier to good progress," she says.

Professor Natalie Waran, Executive Dean at EIT says they're delighted to be working with the University of Waikato and their Cape to City partners on this initiative. "It will help inform the wider project we are leading to develop high quality environmental education at all levels across our region. More specifically, Rachel’s research findings will be used to further develop our very successful primary and early childhood teaching degrees so as to make good use of the new ‘outdoor learning centre’ being developed at the Taradale campus."

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