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Outdoor curiculum and activity centres - Roger Frost 1998 on
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 3D Education Activity Centres 
  • Roger Frost investigates a school field trip that mixes fun, physical activity with learning about ICT for the school curriculum (Published 2000)

Seek and you will find places to do a great sweep of activities from climbing to orienteering *and* put ICT to good uses too. If mixing computers with healthy outdoor stuff seems unreal, 3D’s Little Canada education & adventure centre is the kind of place making it happen.

There is something neat and cogent about integrating technology with all sorts of activities. For example, when the class can try their hand at archery, they keep their score data on a pocket diary spreadsheet and later, take these back to the computers to turn into graphs. Look at it this way: as pupils shoot arrows at targets, you can shoot ticks at the curriculum!  

And there’s something logical about going away to use ICT things, like computer sensors, that deserve a lot more use. So in a session called Pulse IT, pupils will abseil down a tall tower as a data logger records their pulse. Afterwards, back at the computers, they download the graph to show their pulse peaks throughout the descent. They put this in a report, labelling the stages when they were at rest and when their heart was in their mouth.

Computer control is another area to handle – here pupils might use Lego Control lab to manage the movement of a Lego railcar and fine-tune it to work just right. And at Barton Hall, a new centre in the same genre, they can use the latest Lego Robolab systems that open up some ambitious projects. Using the Lego Mindstorms intelligent brick, a tiny computer covered with Lego studs, pupils make robots that steer themselves smartly by following a line. They fit it with light sensors to help navigate, with touch sensors to avoid obstacles and do a big chunk of curriculum, between breakfast and break.

You might choose between field studies or adventure studies and then opt for as many ICT sessions that suit. One plan would be to use days for activities and visits, and use late sessions for ICT. For instance, pupils might use software to present a report on a visit or build a project file. They might garnish their work using animation software or collect data using pocket computers and digital cameras. In fact, it is interesting to see how good access to ICT resources helps field study trips at GCSE and advanced level. 

With teachers taking a more ‘in loco parentis’ role and doing less teaching even with the ICT, it is interesting that 3D’s staff are now accredited by the Institute of IT Training. This innovative scheme scrutinises ICT trainers on a multipoint checklist that’s like any teacher’s OFSTED nightmare. It’s easy to see the sense of this: with much ‘done-for-you’, you would want the reassurance that staff are qualified to handle not just archery say, but the ICT too. Of course, if you’re an ICT teacher that likes to get their hands on, it’s worth discussing upfront how much you want to be involved.

But more than learn about ICT, there a big other side to the activities on-site. Opting for Jacob’s Ladder will have your group working as a team while in Blind Trail they grapple with the loss of a vital sense. In The Matrix at 3D’s Little Canada, there’s more team work as pupils solve a puzzle made of rooms, hidden passages and trapdoors. 

Little Canada manager George Ross explains that there’s a breadth of learning here: pupils deal with choices and responsibility as staff encourage them to find a comfortable level for doing things, like hanging from a tower on a rope. He sums up the key to why this kind of school trip has teachers coming back each year, “Kids need to have success. At the back of all, we’re enhancing education with enjoyment in their own success”.

Superchoice (now called 3D Education) field studies centre - a different sort of hands-on

It's quiet at the Little Canada activity camp on the Isle of Wight. It's surprising because on this sunny morning, over 500 school children are very active somewhere on this woody site. If you really want to hear children having lots of fun, you have to go find them.

In the pool you'll hear the echoes of a group practising canoe, within the trees others are loudly discussing strategies on Jacob's ladder - a team-building obstacle course, while another group are revving up and driving their quad-bikes round a track. But the noise gets lost somewhere in 40 acres of woodland, water and log cabins, not too far from the Fishbourne ferry.

This is my first taste of 'Superchoice' - a rather un-cool name (now 3D Education) for a rather rich idea in school trips for seven to eighteen year olds. It's been running for five years, and is an enormously successful part of Scottish & Newcastle, famous for 'Centre Parcs'.

For teachers who will happily miss the hassle of running a trip this is perfect. They can pick and mix from four ready-made sessions a day of field studies or computers. Or they can choose from fencing, raft building, trampolining, orienteering - nearly forty, sporty things in all. And it's run a huge team of 70 instructors - so teachers can lead, or take a side seat as they choose. A day ends with something entertaining, which for me was the bar.

People worry about sports, but the staff training here may be unparalleled. Every year 1500 applicants, and many graduates are whittled down, whisked off to ten days of personal skills, first aid, games and so on. If any of 150 survivors manage a sport, they will have its National Governing Body qualification at instructor level

And they have strict protocols: canoes must operate in a buoyed area, staff have radios, a twin-engine boat is on hand, the wind must be below force three and so on. The belt and braces might kill creativity, but kids will live with that.

Entering reception, there are files on display: staff records, equipment and accident records, even 'mid-week evaluations' - which, in search of the low-down, I piled into. But in a hundred forms a teacher's lock didn't work, another preferred showers to baths and another is sharing with ants. Despite this invitation to criticise there is much contentment, and high praise for the staff.

Osmington Bay in Weymouth is another Superchoice camp. Set in yet more holiday country, it's so well placed for Portland Bill or Corfe Castle. But there's so much to do on site, like their Active-IT programme which cleverly meshes hands-on computers with sport and team building exercises.

On this morning, Roehampton Church School - a London primary not only abseiled, they recorded their pulse rates on a data logger, as they descended the sheer drop from the tower.

Now in the afternoon they were learning to use the computers, one each, by drawing the climbing tower. Next session they will look at their pulse readings, anyone posing as unmoved by the experience will soon be exposed!

But this is day two. Tomorrow they might snap pictures on a digital camera and edit them using an image processor. If they do archery, they'll record scores on a tiny Pocket Book computer, and analyse them on a big computer. Or after a go on quad bikes, they'll use a computer model of the track, and tune virtual bikes for performance.

It's soon clear why IT co-ordinator, Patricia Peek has come back for a second year. Class sets of multimedia, Lego and computer controlled traffic lights are a rare thing in school, so she says this is an excellent way to enhance their IT and well as build their independence.

Her colleague Mary Freeman was also impressed, "The abseiling was good for those who'd be really scared of doing something like that independently. And they like the food and being in charge of what they eat, love sharing a room and having a door key".

Their accommodation was in chalets sleeping 2-4 children each with en-suite. The teacher's chalet is nearby, with tea making and a maid to do the bed making.

While the instructors run the sessions, teachers find it hard not to climb a tower, shoot an arrow at a target, or shoot a tick at an attainment target. As Mary Freeman adds and seems to be recommending, "It's a really full day - so highly structured it's amazing".

As these groups were mouse-ing their computers, others were field studying at nearby Durdle Door, a piece of coast rich in curriculum curiosities. The centre's field studies co-ordinator, Heather Marston knows the area well and champions its unique geology and contrasting environments. Before a visit she speaks to teacher about their imperatives and plans the programme with them. Whether its coastal erosion, marine zonation, or rocks and soils that's wanted, she supplies background notes, activity sheets and follow-up activities from her portfolio. And whether it's A level groups doing beach surveys or nine year olds doing rock pools, she adapts it to suit.

A former science and geography teacher, Heather Marston will tell you about Chesil Bank, a harsh lime bay and a very high energy beach. She explains how a quadrat analysis shows specific adaptions, like plants living close to the ground or having lots of cuticles. She'll show too how their study units handle the National Curriculum. Her knowledge is impressive, and almost frighteningly so. What's reassuring, is that pupils are going to be well focused.

They have soil augers, moisture meters and clipboards as you'd expect. Unusually, their 48 computers, pile of Pocket Book portables and IT expertise is put to use in the field. So pupils might use the portables to record pebble shapes and sizes and then work on the data, or write up their work back at base. And if this seems like no fun, or there are broader objectives to the trip, schools can opt for 'Field Studies Plus', meaning plus sports and activities.

Your Superchoice school trip, for pupils aged from seven upwards, can last from a long weekend to a week. Five nights on full board, costs about £150 in the July high season, with a slight differences between these two centres and another at Prestayn in North Wales. Your travel arrangements can be arranged in the same phone call - just remember that we school-types book way ahead.

Little Canada, with a million pounds just spent on it, is the smarter of these two camps. It also has better cover against the weather, like indoor climbing, although there's a solid plan to do this and more at Osmington Bay. The IT facilities at both impress, and a dreamy delivery of Lego computer control equipment will soon be on its way.

Come the holidays, Little Canada becomes an American-style Summer Camp. It's here that parents can lose their kids for a week of wall-to-wall activity. It costs about £250, and only a little more to have them picked from Portsmouth harbour.

I know that saying that the staff are accommodating, that the food is good, and time is so tight there's no time for mischief will raise expectations. But I did like it, and hint that if anyone prefers a shower or can't stand ants - to mention it before booking!

Superchoice Adventure Tel: 01273 676467. Little Canada Summer Camp: Tel: 01983 882523


The last pip of the day and the great last pip of summer make the sweetest sounds. For some it is a signal to take a break and have fun, for others it's a space to learn about IT and have their fun anyway.

Easy to get a fix on is the idea of after-school and holiday time computer lessons. If you're well used to parents rushing their children off to gym, swimming, riding and Kumon maths, you may soon hear about 'Futurekids' computer training. Just a few months old in the UK, 'Futurekids' has 1200 branches in over 90 countries, with a dozen more branches opening in high street locations. Adding to the late afternoon traffic, they seek to develop the IT skills that parents begin to see as crucial.

Working with kids aged 3 to 15, 'Futurekids' give them computer projects. The programme includes making a magazine using desktop publishers and the Internet or assembling a weather program using maps and satellite images. You can opt for a weekly after school slot or a holiday morning or afternoon computer camp. Whatever, this new competitor to ballet has kids dabbling with multimedia, inventing Lego robots, controlling things or using spreadsheets to do market research for a radio station.

All this could be seen as a competitor to school IT too. Small classes, new equipment, choice software and an easy atmosphere are some of the things to envy. The course folders with their detailed aims, methods and resources show the structure that sends OFSTED packing. I guess there's a lot you can do when you're this big a firm. Some schools are already using Futurekids to enrich their IT coverage, while in North London others are using them for teacher IT training.

Future Kids Ltd, 21 Gloucester Road, London SW7 4PL Tel: 071 584 8111 Web: www.futurekids.co.uk. Branches around London with others in Bradford, Tamworth and Lichfield.

Kingswood or Camp Beamont

A different kind of IT camp is offered by 'Kingswood' which schools have visited for some 18 years. With three activity centres, one on the Isle of Wight at the former Bembridge School, some will know them better as Camp Beaumont. Here parents can leave the sprogs of any age for a week. That way everyone has a good break.

On this particular summery week, 300 mostly primary school pupils were buzzing on neat mix of IT and physical activity. That the Norfolk coast location near Cromer is a turn of century seaside time bubble is lost on them. They're just buzzing.

What they're doing is getting a taste of caving, climbing, archery, quad bikes, canoe capsizing, fencing and safe even to the point of missing a thrill. They're keeping a diary using IT, making a newsletter as well as recording their archery scores and pulse rates on palmtops. They add their personal details to the camp database, and then work on it using graphing tools. The pupils start off with pre-made diary pages in Hyperstudio or Claris Works which just need the pupils to do the thinking bit. All through this work, you can find elements of team work, bonding and confidence building. The teachers, who oversee the fun, say they get to see their class in a different way. In their off duty bits, they too can get a bit of IT training or review CD-Roms if they wish.

Prices vary through the seasons and range from around £50 for a w/e to £150 for a week - plus travel. There are lots of options to pick and mix into a seven session day. These include controlling Roamer robots, Lego machines and making multimedia using digital cameras. It's good to see how they've integrated the IT - for example they will soon have pupils making 'techno' tunes on a computer screen, cutting a real CD and bopping to it at an evening disco. They use a package called 'Rebirth'.

A field studies option brings in IT too - pocket book computers record weather, sand height and long shore drift. This is transferred to desktops to prepare graphs, or write to the caravan park next door to tell them about the drift - though you'd think they must know by now.

Maybe there's another lesson to learn over the summer. All these events feature permanently set-up equipment, realistic projects and the time to do them. Add to this some repetition - doing things over so you don't forget - and there's a clue to making us all IT super teachers.

Kingswood IT Centres, West Runton, Norfolk, NR27 9NF. Tel: 01263 837776. Web: www.kingswood.co.uk Also Camp Beaumont summer camps: www.camp-beaumont.co.uk

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