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Outdoor work left in the cold

BIOLOGY fieldwork in schools could be heading for extinction, according to a report by the Field Studies Council (FSC) and British Ecological Society (BEC).

The report says the decline is likely to create a vicious cycle: as the number of trainee science teachers with outdoor experience and training falls, the less likely they are to "venture outside". This could lead to a severe worldwide shortage of biologists able to carry out conservation and sustainable development work.

The report, Teaching biology outside the classroom: is it heading for extinction? presents the main conclusions of a two-day focus group which explored practical work in school grounds and on residential field trips. The authors are Susan Barker of Warwick University, David Slingsby of the BEC and Stephen Tilling of the FSC.

The authors argue that students benefit from ecological fieldwork because they encounter animals and plants in real habitats. They get enjoyment in a content-dominated curriculum from working as a team in varying weather conditions and learning to link theory, observation and the data they have collected.

The report states: "Outdoor biology teaching can introduce students to unfamiliar environments which they may not otherwise see, engendering attitudes that can integrate communities and overcome mutual ignorance and misunderstandings (such as those between rural and urban areas, highlighted during the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis)."

Meanwhile, it says, teachers develop "a more positive and productive relationship with their students".

The authors recommend that fieldwork should become a curriculum requirement rather than an option. They also call for urgent provision of short courses in fieldwork teaching skills, and a clear statement from the Teacher Training Agency that fieldwork experience is an important part of teacher training in science.

For a free copy call the FSC on 01743 852100, or visit www.field-studies-council.orgbiologyfieldwork

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