Harnessing Digital Technology as a Pedagogical Tool in Early Childhood Education

Harnessing Digital Technology as a Pedagogical Tool in Early Childhood Education

Children today are born into a world where digital technology is omnipresent and permeates all areas of their lives (O’Neill, 2018).  Yet one area which appears hesitant to embrace technology and harness the possibilities it can provide is the early childhood education sector (ECEC). 

Here in Ireland, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) has developed a digital strategy for primary and post-primary schools. This is fortified by a national support service which provides training and resources to support teachers in successfully incorporating technology in their educational practice. However, the DES has stopped short of recommendations for technology to enhance learning for children in ECEC and has instead recommended further research in this area (DES, 2020). 

Internationally, the European Commission has stated that 26 out of 38 countries included in their 2019 report are incorporating technology within their ECEC educational guidelines.  Ireland is not included in that list of 26 (European Commission, 2019).

From passive to active use of technology

Current research has found that young children are already proficient in digital technology use by the age of 3 years old (Marsh et al, 2015).  In addition, further research findings from the Growing up in Ireland longitudinal study report that technology is the most favoured form of play for 9-year-old children, more popular than reading a book or even playing with their friends (ESRI, 2021).

When considering technology, devices such as smartphones and tablets initially come to mind, but what if the foundations were laid at the ECEC stage for thinking about technology as much more than streaming animations, social media, and games?  An opportunity exists here for the introduction of technology as a developmentally appropriate pedagogical tool for ECEC children, many of whom are already technologically proficient, to open up the possibilities of technology for more than the aforementioned passive activities.  This knowledge could inform and expand children’s engagement with technology right through their educational lives.

Examples of active uses of technology

From an accessibility perspective, it is important to acknowledge that ECEC settings may have varying degrees of access to technology.  For example, access may be limited by resources, practitioner training, or funding, however, there are ways to incorporate technology which are both affordable and accessible and do not require a large investment.

Some simple methods for active uses of technology with ECEC children might include:

  • Examining bugs under a digital microscope.
  • Simple robotic sets.
  • Reflecting with children using photographs, video, and audio clips of them and their play.
  • Engaging with another setting as online “pen pals” via email or even video conferencing.
  • Invite parents who have an interesting job or story to tell into the setting via video conference.
  • Microphones for children to interview each other and listen back together.
  • Use an online tool such as Google Drawings to collaborate on artwork with family or with another setting.
  • Silent videos for children to narrate and act out.
  • Email and pictures from home – favourite food, my room, my favourite toy.
  • Search for recipes and order ingredients online, then cook together.

 

The future of technology in ECEC

Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

But why stop there! Imagine the possibilities of the future and how they could have been so useful for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.  For example, so many children missed out on their final year in ECEC and the associated social and emotional preparation for their transition to primary education that would have been provided. 

What if augmented or virtual reality technology had been mainstream and accessible during that time.  Children could have engaged in a virtual walkthrough of their new primary school environment and had a meet and greet with their primary school teacher and even classmates. This may sound like a somewhat futuristic idea for ECEC, but who would have imagined 30 years ago the technologies which exist today? Such technologies may be expensive now, but like all new technology, surely they will become more affordable over time.

Moving forward, a 2021 report on the uses of technology in ECEC, both pre- and post-pandemic, has highlighted the need for policies and procedures to be developed to provide appropriate guidance for increased utilisation of technology within ECEC pedagogical practice (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2021).  This is reflective of the current lack of direction on technology within the ECEC curriculum in Ireland’s Aistear curriculum and Síolta quality frameworks. Although notably, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) are currently engaged in a project to update the Aistear curriculum framework which will hopefully address this gap in an Irish context.  The OECD (2021) has also recommended the provision of practitioner training and the development of age-appropriate tools to further support the effective incorporation of technology in ECEC pedagogical practice. Of course, there are practical concerns that must be considered, such as ensuring that a balance is struck between engaging with technology for pedagogical use and avoiding an excess of screen time, as suggested by Finnish pedagogues (OECD, 2021). Additionally, we must ensure that the ECEC curriculum does not become dependent on technology so that those who do not have equitable access to technological tools are not disadvantaged. However, such issues further underpin the importance of developing and providing relevant training for ECEC professionals, appropriately embedding technology within the curriculum and quality frameworks, and considering the possibilities of technology in broader terms beyond merely smartphones, tablets, search engines, and streaming apps.

 

Paula Walshe

Paula Walshe

ECEC Trainer and FET Assessor

Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector.

LinkedIn: Paula Walshe

Twitter: @digitalearlyed

Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator

Paula and an ECEC colleague have also established a Twitter page @ECEQualityIrl – a community of professionals sharing ideas and knowledge on all things quality, pedagogy, and professional practice in ECEC in Ireland.

References and Further Reading

Department of Education and Skills. (2019). Digital Learning Framework for Primary Schools. Dublin: Stationery Office. https://www.dlplanning.ie 

DES. (2017). Síolta the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education. Dublin: Early Years Education and Policy Unit. https://siolta.ie/manuals.php 

DES. (2020). Digital Learning 2020: Reporting on practice in Early Learning and Care, Primary and Post-Primary Contexts. Dublin: Stationery Office. https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c0053-digital-learning-2020-reporting-on-practice-in-early-learning-and-care-primary-and-post-primary-contexts/ 

ESRI. (2021). Growing Up in Ireland, National Longitudinal Study of Children: The lives of 9 year olds of cohort ‘08. Dublin: ESRI. https://www.esri.ie/publications/growing-up-in-ireland-the-lives-of-9-year-olds-of-cohort-08 

European Commission. (2019). Key Data on Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe – Eurydice Report 2019. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/content/key-data-early-childhood-education-and-care-europe-–-2019-edition_en 

Marsh, J. 2014. The Relationship Between Online and Offline Play: Friendship and Exclusion. In Children’s Games in the New Media Age, edited by A. Burn and C. Richards, 109–134. London: Ashgate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303572020_The_relationship_between_online_and_offline_play_friendship_and_exclusion

National Council for Curriculum Assessment. (2009). Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. Dublin: NCCA. https://ncca.ie/media/4151/aistear_theearlychildhoodcurriculumframework.pdf 

O’Neill, S. (2018). Technology Use in Early Learning and Care: A Practice Dilemma. ChildLinks: Children and the Digital World, Barnardo’s, Issue 3, 2018. https://shop.barnardos.ie/products/ebook-childlinks-children-and-the-digital-world-issue-3-2018 

OECD. (2021). Using Digital Technologies for Early Education during COVID-19:  OECD report for the G20 2020 Education Working Group. Paris: OECD Publishing. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/using-digital-technologies-for-early-education-during-covid-19_fe8d68ad-en 

Hackathons: A Creative Approach to Developing Researchers and Solving Educational Challenges

Hackathons: A Creative Approach to Developing Researchers and Solving Educational Challenges

What do we expect from our education postgraduate research graduates in the 21st Century? The pace of society and its workplaces demands innovative, creative thinkers. This sits alongside all of the composite research skills they should acquire during their research degree (Ireland’s Nationals Skills Strategy 2025, DES; Doctoral Skills Statement, IUA).

During the slow burn of a research degree, it can be tricky to obtain fast-paced transversal skills, such as innovation, dynamism, and quick problem-solving. Events that allow research students to use strategies like design-based thinking (Razzouk & Shute, 2012) through challenge-based learning (CBL) tasks offer a way to do this. An example of one such event is a hackathon. A hackathon is a rapid, time-bound, pressurised problem-solving event.

Hackathons first emerged in the late 1990s. The ‘tech’ community broadly agrees that software programmers working on the export of cryptographic software in the OpenBSD project coined the phrase ‘hack’ to describe the exploratory work they were doing. Since then, Hackathons have been used widely in companies the world over; for example, they have led to the creation of many so-called ‘unicorn’ companies. More recently, their worth has been recognised in addressing worldwide challenges affecting climate and education

DCU Institute of Education held its own two-day virtual hackathon event called ‘Hack to Transform. This weekend event for postgraduate research students invited participants to solve/hack an education challenge for the 21st Century. In Hack to Transform, the focus was on one particular quadrant of The DCU IoE Postgraduate Researcher Development Framework: Personal Effectiveness Competencies. These intangible competencies include personal agility, teamwork, independence and creativity. Hack to Transform enabled research students to practise their creative problem-solving skills in order to create a pragmatic solution to the education challenge. The education challenge was broad enough to cover the range of research interests among the teams:

How can we ensure the most effective education experience for all in the 21st Century?

After one-minute pitches delivered by the students to their fellow participants on their proposed approaches, they voted on the five most workable solutions, using Tricider. They then formed five teams of three within which they could hack. The research students used the six stages of Design Thinking as a foundation for their approach to the challenge (Razzouk & Shute, 2012).  These are:

  1. Empathy – gaining an empathetic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve. Setting aside your assumptions and gaining insight into users and their needs
  2. Define – stating users’ needs and problems. Defining the core needs and creating the problem statement.
  3. Ideate – challenging assumptions and creating ideas… thinking outside the box. Looking for alternative ways to solve the problem
  4. Prototype – creating some possible solutions
  5. Test – checking with key stakeholders regarding viability of prototype…seeing if solution meets stakeholders’ needs
  6. Launch – putting the solution out to ‘market’. This was not achievable in the short space of time on this event. 

Working in a new team was central to the event. Education research students can often operate in a workspace vacuum, working in a solitary independent manner on their research (Carpenter, 2012, Pyhalt Toom, Stubb, Lonka, 2012). Indeed, most of the students who participated in this event had never met one another. The feeling of togetherness (even virtually) generated in working towards a common goal intensively over the two days developed relationships among the students which didn’t exist previously. They relied on one another and pulled expertise from a wide-ranging pool of resources.

The teams of research students were each supported by a mentor from outside of the university and academic setting. This increased their awareness of differing audiences for their work and the importance of clarity in what they were suggesting as a solution.  Mentors were approached as they were experienced leaders in their fields. Some were international and some were from the tech industry, from where Hackathons are thought to have originally emerged 

Students were encouraged to present their solution to the assembled judging panel in an innovative way, so no slide decks! Some solutions included short films and interviews with key stakeholders. Judging criteria were provided in advance, and a scoring rubric was used by the five judges to pick the worthy winner: FUNdamential Education, which offered a novel approach to delivering education in the future.    

The experienced judging panel remarked on the “high standard and innovation of the student presentations despite the limited timeframe”. Both they and the mentors were impressed by the professionalism, creativity, and reflexivity exhibited by the first-time participants. Mentors observed the bi-directional learning that occurred between themselves and their team. Strong working relationships were built.  

Feedback from the students was also very positive, with many of them citing the “fun” they had and the opportunities they had to networkwith people with whom [they] otherwise would not be in contact” and “to work on creative ideas under pressure”. One student stated, “It has been fantastic to share this experience with people interested in solving big questions in education”. Many of the wider staff in the Faculty (including Management) attended the final presentations and prize-giving ceremony. Their presence and subsequent endorsement of the event, coupled with the positive feedback from participants, has ensured that Hack to Transform will be an annual fixture on the Faculty’s research events calendar into the future. 

This Nano CBL event provided an opportunity for the realisation of the vision for Doctoral study in the Institute of Education at DCU. That vision espouses the principle that postgraduate study does not operate within a blank space, but rather within a vibrant, dynamic, and interactive academic community. 

Dr Gillian Lake

Dr Gillian Lake

Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education and Chair of Postgraduate Studies by Research at DCU Institute of Education

Gillian is an Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education and Chair of Postgraduate Studies by Research at DCU Institute of Education. She is also a Fellow of Advance HE, (FHEA) in the UK.

She was a Primary Teacher in Ireland for many years before first undertaking an MSc in Child Development & Education (University of Oxford). She was then awarded the Elfrida Talbot Scholarship to undertake a Doctorate of Philosophy in Education at University of Oxford, focusing on language development and Early Childhood Education. She has continued to work in this area, both as a lecturer (DCU & Oxford Brookes University, UK) and a researcher.

Her current research projects in the area of Early Childhood Education have allowed her to collaborate with industry, the early childhood sector and international research partners. She was recently invited to join the review panel for the International Journal of Early Years Education and is a regular reviewer for the European Early Childhood Education Research Journal.

Gillian was shortlisted for both the DCU President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the DCU President’s Award for Engagement in 2021. She is DCU’s representative on the National Academic Integrity Network and has just secured SATLE Funding – €15, 000 (National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education) for a project which is investigating Awareness of Academic Integrity across all DCU stakeholders.

Profile DCU 

Tricky Physics: What’s Fun Got To Do With It?

Tricky Physics: What’s Fun Got To Do With It?

When Katherine Langford spoke to six GCSE Physics teachers about the challenges encountered by children in the classroom, they all mentioned the use of fun approaches to learning. Thanks to The Open University’s spaces for interdisciplinary conversations between doctoral students, this caught Emily Dowdeswell’s attention. Emily is currently researching children’s perceptions of ‘fun’ in learning within the RUMPUS research group. While fun is often mentioned in interview data, the concept itself is typically taken for granted, or at face value. Are education researchers and practitioners missing a trick by not engaging with “fun” more deeply?

Should studying Physics be more fun? Or is fun simply too inconsequential for ‘hard’ subjects like Physics? The teachers interviewed engage their students by making Physics more fun and approachable. One teacher said, “I feel strongly that if children aren’t enjoying a lesson, they’re not going to learn it. If the class are bored stiff by what you’re doing, nothing is going in”.

What Makes Physics Tricky?

Still taken from video by Katherine Langford

It’s no secret that some Physics topics are particularly tricky for students to understand. Mukesh Tekwani, a retired college teacher with 35 years of experience, discussed this in his 2020 blog post, arguing that once you know why students find topics difficult, you can work your way to make them easy, interesting, and useful. So, why is Physics often tricky to students?

All the teachers interviewed mentioned three topics – electricity, forces, and radioactivity – that students frequently find tricky. However, identifying why these topics are tricky was more problematic. Analysing the interviews revealed 55 interconnected and subtle factors that the teachers discussed as barriers to students learning Physics. These included:

  1. Misconceptions are difficult to get rid of as students often reject scientifically accurate concepts in preference of keeping their own incorrect ideas
  2. Many Physics concepts are abstract or difficult to picture
  3. Past teaching (particularly at primary school) can cause misconceptions
  4. Students do not have the Maths skills needed
  5. Students often fail to make links between related concepts
  6. Misconceptions can be caused by language (e.g., the nucleus of an atom being confused with the nucleus of a cell in Biology)
  7. Misconceptions can be caused by popular culture, like films
  8. Simple concepts can link to difficult concepts
  9. Physics concepts are often counterintuitive and conflict with students’ everyday experiences
  10. Even scientists don’t fully understand some concepts yet
Still taken from video by Katherine Langford

Several of the 55 factors related to students’ attitudes towards Physics. Two of the main attitude factors were that Physics is hard and that Physics is boring. According to one teacher, students who find Physics difficult sometimes “automatically think that they can’t do it”. Often students believe Physics is the hardest of the sciences. Some convince themselves Physics is difficult before they enter the classroom. Two teachers discussed how students switch off from learning if they do not see the point of the lesson. This attitude is particularly evident amongst students who have decided not to continue with Physics beyond GCSE.

Still taken from video by Katherine Langford

So, many complex and interrelated factors affect Physics learning. Student attitudes regarding Physics being difficult and boring negatively impact their learning. A study by Jennifer DeWit, Louise Archer, and Julie Moote explores what insights might be gained from students themselves. Their study confirms the influence of cultural assumptions around Physics leads many students to conclude that Physics ‘is not for me’. Highlighting that participation in post-compulsory Physics increasingly matters for both economic and equity reasons, they concluded that making changes to the way Physics is taught and experienced in the classroom was a priority.

Using Fun to Change Attitudes to Physics

The teachers interviewed use fun experiments and demonstrations to change how students experience Physics. Several teachers mentioned collecting resources – particularly videos and online materials – to aid student understanding in an enjoyable way. Another strategy involved offering real-life examples to demonstrate that Physics is relevant to their everyday life. The teachers invest in these practices– that are often time-consuming – because they feel student enjoyment is linked to their motivation which impacts their understanding. So, is their faith in fun approaches to learning justified by research? What evidence is there to show fun is having any impact at all?

Peter Gray noticed the concept of ‘fun’ emerging repeatedly during his time as Research Fellow of the Early Professional Learning (EPL) project. He described a broader trend to attach fun to Physics without any meaningful engagement into its usefulness as a concept to teachers. Gray argued that fun played a part in the classroom ecology of teaching and learning whether teachers invested in its creation or not. The study underlined that fun was missing from the language of educational policymakers, and that fun was often positioned as disruptive. Fun was linked to intrinsic motivation and could be combined with effective learning as the antithesis to boring, ineffective learning. Even typically hard subjects could be fun, so that the teaching rather than the topic was crucial.

The debate regarding the usefulness of fun is reflected in a 2020 study into fun in online learning. The majority of students agreed that enjoyment, happiness and fun were important to effective learning. Yet, 19% of students also agreed that fun activities can get in the way of learning. Like Gray, Ale Okada and Kieron Sheehy discussed how fun can be positioned as transgressive, embraced by some but seen as an unnecessary distraction by those who adopt traditional transmission views of learning. This highlights the need for further research to ensure that well intentioned attempts to make learning fun don’t backfire and cause students to become less engaged.

Image by Katherine Langford

All six teachers interviewed noted that student attitudes towards Physics influenced their learning. They are clearly aware of the importance of student enjoyment and its link to motivation and are prepared to invest in potentially time-consuming activities despite the pressures on their time.

However, fun is under-researched, as past classroom research has shown that what teachers think is fun is not necessarily the same as what students find fun. Nor do we know what the impact of fun is clearly. While the interviews are a preliminary study, the findings resonate with the wider literature. So what do these teachers now need from education research? How can we support them to change perceptions about Physics? Perhaps we need to challenge our perceptions of fun being frivolous and convince leadership and policymakers to allow teachers the time to invest in fun.

Emily Dowdeswell

Emily Dowdeswell

2nd Year PhD Student

Emily Dowdeswell is approaching the end of her first year of doctoral research at the Open University’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS).

Her area of study includes the intersections between anthropology, the arts, creativity and education.

You can find out more about Emily’s research at http://wels.open.ac.uk/rumpus or on Twitter https://twitter.com/intracommons 

Katherine Langford

Katherine Langford

PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)

Katherine Langford, BSc (Hons), MBPsS, is a third-year

Katherine Langford

part-time PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). She is researching how secondary school students develop an understanding of especially tricky Physics topics including what intuitive theories, common problems, and misconceptions they have.
Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0080-6023

References and Further Reading

DeWitt, J., Archer, L. & Moote, J. (2019) “15/16-Year-Old Students’ Reasons for Choosing and Not Choosing Physics at A Level”. International Journal of Science and Math Education 17, 1071–1087. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-018-9900-4

Gray, P. “Fun in theory and practice: new teachers, pupil opinion and classroom environments” in McNally, J., & Blake, A. (Eds.). (2009). Improving Learning in a Professional Context: A Research Perspective on the New Teacher in School (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203867020

Okada, A., & Sheehy, K. (2020). “Factors and Recommendations to Support Students’ Enjoyment of Online Learning with Fun: A Mixed Method Study During COVID-19”. Frontiers in Education (Lausanne), 5, Frontiers in education (Lausanne), 2020-12-01, Vol.5. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2020.584351

Taber, K.S. (2014) Student Thinking and Learning in Science: Perspectives on the Nature and Development of Learners’ Ideas. Routledge.

Chitson, S. (2014) “Why I won’t be studying physics at A-level”. The Guardian retrieved at https://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2014/jul/03/why-i-am-dropping-physics-a-level-student 

If you want to find out more about teaching tricky topics, then you may be interested in this free OpenLearn course.

Education Outside the Classroom – An Innovative Teaching Concept During COVID-19

Education Outside the Classroom – An Innovative Teaching Concept During COVID-19

These days, pupils’ everyday life is characterized by health-endangering behaviors e.g. lack of physical activity or excessive sedentary times, resulting in physical but also mental health problems.

Additionally, pupils nowadays have to deal with unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Imposed restrictions of contact and limitations of recreational activities or sport might affect their physical and mental health status negatively. 

Pupils – mandatorily – spend most of their waking hours in schools. Schools further have been identified as stress-provoking, which can be a source of mental health problems. Consequently, schools represent an ideal setting for health-related interventions reaching all kids and adolescents. This is where Education Outside the Classroom (EOtC) comes in. EOtC represents a health-related intervention in terms of a teaching concept which aims to counteract the abovementioned health risks and further support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

But what is Education Outside the Classroom (EOtC) exactly?

Is EOtC an outdoor excursion over several consecutive days in summer, detached from the core curriculum? No!

EotC is integrated into the regular curriculum. On a regular and long-term basis, learning environments are deliberately moved outside the regular classroom setting.

EOtC typically takes place in nature, e.g. in forests, fields, or parks. Places of cultural, political, and social significance, such as museums, libraries, and other public institutions, further represent suitable learning environments.

Wherever EOtC takes place, the outdoor location most often becomes part of the object of learning. EOtC is by no means limited to subjects that everyone would immediately associate with outdoor lessons, such as biology, physical education, or geography. EOtC can be integrated into the regular curriculum and enhance teaching of all school subjects.

Research into EOtC

In a systematic literature review, we found several studies reporting positive effects of EOtC on pupils’ social interaction, learning motivation, physical activity, and mental health. Our early results from this evolving research field—both on a practical and scientific level—are supported by more recent findings, e.g.:

Practical Implementation of Education Outside the Classroom

In our opinion, teachers cannot simply transfer indoor teaching and the respective teaching methods to an outdoor learning environment. Similar to regular classroom teaching, teaching outside the classroom requires thorough planning geared to the respective setting in order to enable EOtC to its highest potential.

EOtC involves e.g. the following characteristic features:

  • no walls limiting the learning environment
  • unpredictable and changing weather conditions
  • new and unknown materials
  • a variety of affordances and stimuli (e.g. interaction with natural elements such as trees, rivers, living animals)
  • several logistical challenges (e.g. active transport to the outdoor learning environment, transport of material for an outdoor laboratory)

EOtC’s organization differs depending on e.g. the school subject, weather, and location. If schools have a suitable permanent outdoor location nearby, classes can e.g. build long-term shelters with branches for rainy days, plant their own vegetables or use tree trunks as seating accommodations. Regardless of the general variety and flexibility in EOtC, fixed routines can provide clarity and promote discipline as well as motivation.

EOtC has great potential to enable pupil-centered and hands-on learning experiences in which teachers support pupils’ autonomy in their learning process by e.g. transferring responsibility to the students. Examples in this regard are learning by doing, trial and error, and the experience of competence or social relatedness.  

Education Outside the Classroom during COVID-19 

EOtC is a teaching concept that might help to reduce the risk of a SARS-CoV-2 infection as study results indicate that the risk of infection is highly increased in closed environments via aerosols in comparison to outdoor environments. Outdoor infection is very unlikely if distance and hygiene rules are being followed (Nishiura et al., 2020; Qian et al., 2020).

During the tuberculosis-pandemic in the 20th century, ill pupils or pupils suspected to have tuberculosis were taught outside (Open-Air-Schools) to separate them from healthy children. Instead of getting the infectious disease or becoming more ill, most pupils stayed healthy or recovered in the Open-Air Schools. In these Open-Air Schools, pupils sat on their normal tables in open-air environments, such as rooftops, factories without windows, walls, or gardens. In a New York Times article, Open-Air Schools were lately reconsidered as a promising approach during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similar to the idea of Open-Air-Schools, EOtC could enhance teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. The outdoor learning environment on the one hand involves a provably reduced – but by no means non-existent – risk of infection. On the other hand, EOtC might issue a challenge to teachers as well as students – and their parents – who are not used to outdoor teaching and learning. By our work, we aim to meet these challenges and form a basis which facilitates including EOtC into everyday teaching – now and in the future.

We hope that the current need for innovative teaching concepts which involve minimal risk of infection and enable regular classroom teaching will create awareness of EOtC’s various possibilities.

Together with colleagues from the German Forest Conservation Society, we publish EOtC teaching materials for various subjects and grade levels open access. These documents may help interested teachers taking their pupils outdoors more often. 

If now is not the time to teach pupils outside the classroom in forests, on fields, in parks, or anywhere in nature, when will it be?

References and Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, you can find out more about our research here. 

 Global trends in insufficient physical activity among adolescents: a pooled analysis of 298 population-based surveys with 1·6 million participants – Guthold, Stevens, Riley, & Bull, 2020

Analysis of Sedentary Times of Children and Adolescents between 4 and 20 YearsHubert & Köppel, 2017

The pandemic of physical inactivity: global action for public health, Kohl et al,. 2012

Child and adolescent mental health worldwide: evidence for action Kieling et al., 2011

Sources of stress and worry in the development of stress-related mental health problems: A longitudinal investigation from early- to mid-adolescence – Anniko et al., 2018

The extent and dissemination of udeskole in Danish schools Bentsen et al., 2009

 Effects of Regular Classes in Outdoor Education Settings: A Systematic Review on Students’ Learning, Social and Health DimensionsBecker et al., 2017

 Stress in School. Some Empirical Hints on the Circadian Cortisol Rhythm of Children in Outdoor and Indoor Classes Dettweiler et al., 2017

 Stress Response and Cognitive Performance Modulation in Classroom versus Natural Environments: A Quasi-Experimental Pilot Study with Children – Mygind, et al., 2018a

 Stress in School. Some Empirical Hints on the Circadian Cortisol Rhythm of Children in Outdoor and Indoor Classes – Dettweiler et al., 2017; Becker et al., 2019

 Children’s physical activity during a segmented school week: results from a quasi-experimental education outside the classroom intervention – Schneller et al., 2017

 The association between education outside the classroom and students’ school motivation: Results from a one-school-year quasi-experiment – Bølling et al., 2018

 Primary teachers’ experiences with weekly education outside the classroom during a year  – Mygind et al., 2018b

 Closed environments facilitate secondary transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)Nishiura et al., 2020

 Indoor transmission of SARS-CoV-2Qian et al., 2020

Dr. Christoph Mall

Dr. Christoph Mall

Senior Research Fellow at the Associate Professorship of Didactics in Sport and Health, Department of Sport and Health Sciences, Technical University of Munich (TUM).

Christoph is a sports scientist particularly interested in student physical activity, health, and learning motivation during Education Outside the Classroom. He furthermore studies how interventions taking place in open community spaces promote children’s and adolescents’ physical as well as psychological well-being. He is the project leader of Active City Innovation within the international Sports-Innovation-Network (SINN-i). He is the founding member of the Play, Learn and Teach Outdoors Network (PLaTO-Net).

See Christophs’ Twitter, Researchgate and ORCID profiles.

Jan Ellinger

Jan Ellinger

2nd Year PhD Student, Technical University of Munich (TUM).

Jan is a sports scientist and works at the Associate Professorship of Didactics in Sport and Health, Department of Sport and Health Sciences at TUM. His doctoral research focuses on health promotion and prevention in the population of children and adolescents. Jan’s research focuses on the school setting, but also considers other living environments, such as the community.

Leslie Bernhardt

Leslie Bernhardt

Student Assistant, Technical University of Munich (TUM)

Leslie studies Health Science in the 5th semester at TUM and works as a student assistant at the Associate Professorship of Didactics in Sport and Health at TUM. She is involved in the project Education Outside the Classroom which investigates the effects of regular school lessons outside the classroom on the behavior and health of pupils. She will graduate in 2021.