Keeping pupils confined within the school environment has its merits, but expanding horizons to utilise what the local environment has to offer is of great benefit for children and their learning. Visiting libraries, museums or exhibitions can really enhance learning, offering opportunities to be immersed in more concrete experiences which really stick in the mind. In this article extract, first published in the October 2014 Edition of UKEdMagazine (Click here to view the full article), Alex Fairlamb explores the credits of such immersive learning, advocating the opportunities to feel, see and to touch stories beyond our own and within differing contexts.
The study of History as a subject in school has encountered a renaissance in recent years with ministers redefining the place of this hitherto diminishing subject. Often criticised as a subject for its exclusive nature and inability to equip students with the skills and concepts to survive in the modern workplace in comparison to vocational subjects, the government have been keen to combat findings that the ‘average 13-year-old learns history for just one hour a week’ (bit.ly/uked14oct02). The All-Party Parliamentary Group on History and Archives attributes this decline in the study of History to “many schools regarding history as too tough for their weaker students and [so they] allow them to drop it after two years”. If we are to accept that History is too hard for many to engage with at Key Stage Three and Four, this could present schools with a challenge given the recent curriculum proposals in England set to be adopted 2014-2015 onwards. Is the past too much of a foreign place for some?
Given this greater emphasis on its importance, how might schools be able to contend with supporting their learners in engaging with this academically rigorous subject? A simplistic solution would be to increase the amount of hours this subject is studied. However, studies (Rosenzweig, R. (2000)) offer hints of an alternative, innovative solution to this. They found that learners felt disconnected to the past when they encountered it in books and in the classroom compared to a high connection in museums. Perhaps the answer to this potential problem lies outside the traditional classroom setting, in spaces such as museums, allowing for different practices deep rooted in often neglected realms of pedagogy.
Research already indicates that museum visits can enhance student attainment by 60% in comparative assessments including lower attaining students improving by a noticeable 71% (bit.ly/uked14oct03). A question I was keen to find out was, especially with lower attaining students, what more could we do if we considered the impact of immersive or experiential learning within these amazing spaces.
I focused on researching the impact of experiential learning and immersive learning experiences in differing contexts in order to support student progression in schools. I had taken a year’s break from teaching History to work at a living history museum in the Education Team and I wanted to work with a school in an area of high deprivation to explore the impact of immersive learning and to tie this in with the First World War in order to encourage interest in the commemoration programme. David Kolb suggests that students must ‘involving themselves fully in new experiences (concrete experience), reflect on their experiences (reflective observation), create concepts to integrate into theories (abstract conceptualisation) and use these theories to make decisions (active experimentation)’. Active learning engages students, and teachers should create situations where there are authentic tasks of the historian where students are required to work with documents or artefacts to gain further understanding.
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