Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Outdoor centres: making local walks more engaging

Outside of DofE work I often lead groups on short local walks and expeditions around the centre as part of their week long residential. The format for these days is usually;

Brief group
Walk to lunch spot
Cook and eat lunch
Walk back to centre

From an instructor point of view there is a huge variation in the skills and level of understanding of the groups that come to the centre each week.  Some of the young people grasp the fundamental concepts of map reading, navigation, and cooking very quickly and easily. Some however often see it as “not their cup of tea”, at which point it’s up to the instructor to engage them in any way possible. New technology can provide an additional tool in the instructors “toolbox” when teaching local expeditions and walks. If we look at each of the above 4 sections:

Brief: I have seen a number of briefs on expeditions over the time I have worked in the outdoors. These range from a long droning speech from an instructor steadfastly standing at the front of the room, to an animated and concise brief that captivates the attention of the group with ease. Modern technology can be an instructor’s friend when carrying out a brief. Many centres now have smart boards and projectors equipped in their teaching rooms. This provides the opportunity to use a well-designed PowerPoint to assist with the brief. It is essential that anything that you use is not just simply text on a plain background, there are a number of ways you can “jazz up” a PowerPoint;

1.       Animations: these vary from text flying from one side, to using “Motion paths” to create moving diagrams. For example, I created a diagram to show how to pack a bag. The slide consisted of a black rucksack outline with pieces of equipment round the outside. When you click the mouse 1 piece of equipment would “fly” into the bag in its correct space.

2.       Colours and pictures: using expedition pictures from personal trips that might peak interest in the day. Creating a real expedition feel is important, and well selected pictures and backgrounds can help.

3.       Videos: A short video to talk about something is a good way to keep attention focussed for a short while. These can be filmed yourself, or taking from YouTube or other sites.

Memory map is also an excellent program for teaching map work. The 3D view allows the group to more clearly visualise the route, and also get some data on the route when they get back.
Walk to the lunch spot and back: So you are packed and under way, the key now is to keep interest in the day. Obviously there is a certain degree of teaching and learning to be done during the expedition. However the rest of the time the group will be plodding along, perhaps glancing occasionally at their map. So how do you now keep them interested? One thing I have learned from my time working with groups is this: “Kids LOVE gadgets”. So, on that basis here are a number of ways to keep kids engaged:

1.       GPS sets with real time OS mapping. The lads especially love this. To them the GPS handset becomes some kind of Call of Duty style satellite tracker. However to the instructor it’s a way of getting the group to think about maps, orientation, speed, distance and route planning. MemoryMap adventurer, Garmin Oregan, and Airo units are ideal for this.

2.       Geocaching: The US hobbie of Geocaching made it across the pond a few years ago and has been growing in popularity ever since. From a groups point of view, introducing the concept of geocaching whilst still at base can be a rewarding activity for the group. Using the smart board to visit a Geocache website and choosing a few (pre checked for suitability) caches to hunt can ensure a rewarding and interesting activity. If needs be you can set your own geocaches with small rewards for the group.

3.       Walky talkies: Allocating a few young people to be a “leader team” and giving them a set of radios can really give the group a sense of control over their day. Whilst it doesn’t have much in the way of educational value, it does really keep them interested especially when the leader group can go “recon” a path to check it is right.

4. Simplified maps: Anyone with basic Photoshop skills can knock up a quick map trace to simplify the OS map for younger groups. (See picture below) this map took me around an hour, not finished, but gives you the idea:

Cook and eat lunch: On expeditions, normally a group get the chance to “cook their own”. This usually involves the group (who have been trained to use a stove the previous night), cooking tins of food for the group. This phase of the expedition can be made more interesting in a number of different ways:

1.       Taking a collection of stoves, not just the traditional Trangia units. Personally I take along my jetboil, a hexi stove, and a small gas stove. This gives the group chance to see other expedition stoves, and feel more “in the know”.

2.       Taking expedition food: dehydrated and boil in the bag food gives more of expedition feel. It also gives the group chance to taste “specialist food”.

All in all I think what I am trying to put across it that these local walks form the foundation of a young person’s attitude towards hiking. Ensuring an enjoyable and fun packed walk can provide a positive image of schemes like DofE, and encourage young people to get involved, without the negative memories of “that rubbish long walk they had to do”.

1 comment:

  1. What about including some laminated sheets of the flora and fauna that they are likely to see throughout the day. Then give them some tick sheets to see who can find the most?

    Or take a picture of a view from a vantage point and then label all the things that they can see. Then they can start putting what they can see on the map (the one you made on photoshop!) to what they can actually see in the distance.

    Just 2 more ideas to help you along!