Scott Wycherley, Education Manager, Field Studies Council
The importance of fieldwork can’t be summarised on a piece of paper. After two years of restrictions, getting back outdoors is essential. It brings the subject alive, developing critical skills that will help students move forward in geography or careers, but also in their personal development and wellbeing.
‘From an educational perspective contact with nature enhances young people’s knowledge of nature and their understanding of their place in the world’. (Wilson & Wilson 2007)
I began thinking about all the tasks that need to be done when organising fieldwork, and all the hurdles you must jump over as a teacher to get the group out. There’s the risk assessment, booking the buses, sorting out the cover, ensuring that there’s credit on the school emergency phone and of course getting permission from your leadership team! There is plenty to do.
I could write a big checklist, but instead I decided to focus on pointing you to some resources and offering some refreshers and personal thoughts that may be useful, whether you’re an experienced teacher or new to the profession.
Reading the spec will help you to check that you are hitting the requirements fully. The planning and teaching areas of the qualification pages for GCSE A, GCSE B and A Level also contain a whole host of supporting resources to help you plan the human and physical fieldwork.
For GCSE geography, as well as the specifications, look at the typical exam questions that students could be asked, which can include familiar and unfamiliar fieldwork. This will allow you to model questions and activities whilst out in the field or as part of any write up.
The six stages of the enquiry process, Field Studies Council
Of course, your investigation is based around the enquiry framework, but what about using it in other contexts? For example, using it across a sequence of lessons that may not be fieldwork related.
You could look at a case study and model this around the stages. This would pull in a range of skills, drawing conclusions and boosting student understanding of the model.
The more the students understand the process, language and stages, the more equipped they are to tackle the unfamiliar fieldwork. Always look to embed the opportunities within your curriculum across all key stages, don’t just leave the enquiry process as a bolt on. There is an excellent tool on the OCR website for both Spec A and Spec B, with ideas about how to embed the skills into GCSE lessons. If you are new to teaching, the OCR fieldwork fact sheet is a useful tool to take you through the questions at each stage.
As for any lesson, this is a critical tool. Since joining the Field studies Council, I have looked back at my fieldwork experiences and thought: did I evaluate enough? Had I become a bit too focused on collecting data, thinking that the students must visit ten sites? Had I become too method or data led? Perhaps if I had done five sites and built in time to reflect and be critical, it may have benefited students more in tackling the demands of some exam questions.
For example, you could get students to trial their own methodologies and experiment with different approaches before setting off on data collection. Peer or self-evaluation allows students to reflect upon these and learn from each other. You could consider whether the method allows for accuracy and precision. Or has the correct sample strategy been used to ensure it is representative of the study area? This approach not only supports the ownership of the process, but it will also allow students to be critical in their approach.
The big pay back here is when the students get to the evaluation section or conclusions: they have a clear understanding of the strength of the methods and any possible alternatives. The time invested here at the methods stage saves time later, but the evaluation process will also help students develop the skills for unfamiliar fieldwork questions.
The role of the teacher can have an impact on the whole fieldwork experience. Of course, a challenging group of students or a lack of experience can mean we take more control. Yet the closer we control what takes place in the field can mean opportunities are missed. In the ideal world different approaches are needed at various times as seen in the following graph:
At the start of the investigation the teacher clearly acts as the instructor, setting out the requirements, the context, how the fieldwork fits into the exam and planning the stages of the enquiry model. However, the argument for being more of a coach or facilitator is very strong especially with the A Level non-examined assessments (NEA), where students need to be more independent.
The question is, can we take the NEA and work this back into earlier fieldwork or the curriculum? Creating more independence at KS3 to take risks in their methods, even if they get things wrong initially, will allow students to be more critical and reflective. If these skills or opportunities are embedded in earlier fieldwork experiences the rewards can be greater. The students will have increased ownership and understanding of the process, but more importantly have those moments that allow for stickability and support those exams.
One way of achieving student led learning is to give the students a bucket of equipment with data collection tools in. For example, for a river investigation this may include a tape, ruler, a float, a flow meter and some red herrings – any other pieces of equipment that are easy to carry. And don’t forget a pencil as a field sketch is a method of data collection.
By undertaking a pilot study students may realise that there may be more than one way to measure the characteristics of a river, for example flow meter vs a float. The group then comes back together to share ideas while evaluating.
By allowing discussion and reflection of the data collection process another stage of the enquiry model has been hit (evaluation). The students have more ownership and therefore understanding, which helps them prepare for the unfamiliar fieldwork exam questions at the same time.
If you’re looking for a refresh or support, there are a number of useful resources:
Join the professional networks that exist online. Geography teachers are great at sharing ideas, resources and offering support.
Enjoy getting back out there and bringing geography alive.
Please share ideas below, send them to email@example.com or tweet @OCR_Geography. You can also sign up for email updates for information about resources and support.
Scott is the Education Manager for the Field Studies Council. Having gained a degree in geography from the University of Wales and undertaken a PGCE in secondary geography teaching, he spent 20 years in the classroom. During that time he taught and led geography from KS3 to KS5 but has also been a deputy head teacher with responsibility for quality of education. Scott continues to follow his passion for geography and education at the Field Studies Council.