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outdoor science

ASE is committed to promoting fieldwork as an effective and inspirational way to teach science.

The 'outdoor classroom' provides a meaningful way to engage learners in practical science, giving them experience of collecting and analysing data, and making predictions in the real world, beyond the limitations of the classroom or laboratory. The wider educational benefits of teaching and learning science through fieldwork in the natural and built environments include teamwork, motivation and its potential to influence positively the choice of science as a future subject of study. As an oragnisation we are committed to changing the perception about the value of outdoor learning. 

In 2016 ASE will be supporting the Year of Fieldwork, alongside the Geographical Association, Royal Geographic Society with IBG and Field Studies Council. For further information on the Year of Fieldwork please visit http://www.fieldwork.org.uk/

Key Facts

  • Outdoor learning is not a priority in school due to local issues such as teacher confidence[1]
  • 95 percent of children surveyed said outdoor learning makes lessons more enjoyable
  • 93 percent of schools said outdoor learning improves pupils’ social skills
  • 92 percent said it improves pupils’ health and wellbeing and engages them with learning
  • 82 percent saw a positive impact on behaviour
  • 79 percent of teachers surveyed said outdoor learning had a positive impact on their teaching practice [2][3]
  • Only 8 percent of children (aged 6-15) in England visited the natural environment with their schools in an average month during 2013-2015[4]

Key Reports

Natural Connections Demonstration Project Transforming Outdoor Learning in Schools-Lessons (Teacher Guidance 2016)

IOE The Place of Fieldwork in Geography and Science Qualifications. (2014) 

ASE and FSC Outdoor Science - A co-ordinated approach to high-quality teaching and learning in fieldwork (2011)

Natural England Learning Outside the Classroom in Natural Environments (2012)

Ofsted Successful science: An evaluation of science education in England (2011)

ASE Initial Teacher Education and the Outdoor Classroom (2007)

Essential Reading

These are key article from ASE journals and elsewhere covering key aspects of outdoor learning and fieldwork. Please note that some articles may only be accessible by members of the Association.

Busting the myths on outdoor learning in schools (Blog from Natural England’s Principal Adviser for Outdoor Learning, Jim Burt)

Extract: In this blog, expert Jim Burt explores the most common myths about outdoor learning.

A Year of Fieldwork – why do we need it? (EiS February 2016 263)

Extract: Steve Tilling explores the Year of Fieldwork and it's aims to promote the benefits of fieldwork and secure its future for students studying science, geography and related subjects. ASE will be joining the campaign with a series of activities this year, building on its tradition of fighting for fieldwork as an essential part of science education.

The place of fieldwork in science qualifications (SSR December 2015 359) Author: David Lambert and Michael J. Reiss

Extract: Fieldwork is under threat but needs to have a central place in science qualifications.

Science app reviews: Apps outdoors! (SSR June 2014 353) Author: Emily Baker

Extract: The best tips and trick for using apps for outdoor learning. Why use app? Which ones? What are the hardware logistics and privacy concerns? Measuring, identification and presenting applications are reviewed.

Outdoor learning and sustainability education (SSR December 2013 351) Author: Margaret Fleming and Richard Dawson

Extract: Two ways of introducing sustainable development into science lessons.

The ‘real deal’ of Earth science: why, where and how to include fieldwork in teaching (SSR December 2012 347) Author: Duncan Hawley

Extract: Fieldwork plays a fundamental role in Earth science and the way we understand how the Earth works, and authentic teaching of Earth science should include fieldwork as a key experience.

Activities for the outdoor classroom

Fieldwork virtual reality research project

The focus of this project is to investigate the pedagogical and usability effectiveness of virtual reality (VR)-based virtual field trips – Google Expeditions (GEs) – in fieldwork, in subjects such as biology and geography that have a long tradition of physical fieldwork. The project aims to answer questions such as: whether VR-based field trips can be used effectively to support and enhance physical fieldwork; and can virtual field trips support self-directed inquiry-based learning?

The Great Bug Hunt Competition 

Use your outdoor classroom and join in the Great Bug Hunt Competition. An annual competition for primary schools to explore the bug world run in partnership with the Royal Entomological Society.

Thinking Beyond the Classroom 

Free resources for KS3 science from King’s College London, developed by ASE. The CPD resource has 10 activities encourage observation, group work and discussion and are easily carried out in school grounds and parks. The resource is designed to show how teaching strategies used in the classroom can be transferred to the outside.

Out of Classroom Learning 

Practical Information and guidance for schools and teachers publishing by RSPB. 

Outdoor Science Working Group (OSWG)

Convened by ASE in 2004 in response to a long and continuing decline in the use of outdoor fieldwork to teach science in the UK’s schools, particularly at secondary level. The OSWG feels that this is detrimental to the quality of science education and reduces the opportunities for children to appreciate everything that science has to offer them, both as future citizens and potential recruits to science careers. Read our mission statement.

Responses to Government:

ASE Response: Content and Assessment for teaching from September 2017

29 September 2015 - This response to the DfE and Ofqual consultation has been formulated in consultation with ASE’s national 11-19 Committee, Assembly and Outdoor Science Working Group. Together these groups bring expertise in secondary science education, from a range of viewpoints, including education research, classroom practitioners and professional development.


[1] These finding are from Outdoor learning: Kings College London reports (2011)
[2] These findings are from England’s largest outdoor learning project - Natural Connections Demonstration project
[3] This evidence is outline in The Call of the Wild, CPRT Blog, Cutler M, 2016
[4] These finding are from the Monitoring of Engagement with Natural Environment (MENE) survey
Photo Credit: Pete Boardman, FSC