Set on a hillside with stunning views out to sea, the 3D Education and Adventure Centre at Osmington Bay in Dorset offers natural and technical resources that are second to none.
Located at the heart of England's only natural World Heritage Site, the centre is ideally placed for fieldwork in ecology, geology and geography.
Matching the wealth of natural resources are extensive ICT facilities for use at all levels. It is an impressive combination.
But such a combination does not automatically mean exciting learning. This takes far more than mere physical resources - most obviously imagination and enthusiasm, plus clear and attainable objectives. These, too, are in plentiful supply at Osmington Bay.
Take, for example, an especially successful exercise in key stage 2 geography that, suitably modified, serves students equally well up to AS and A2 levels. Devised by Heather Marston, the centre's field studies product development manager, the exercise satisfies such national curriculum requirements as collecting and recording evidence, asking geographical questions, explaining how decisions about places and environments affect the future quality of people's lives, and using ICT to help in geographical investigations. Less prescriptively, but just as important, this fieldwork exercise is good fun.
After a 20-minute briefing on the historical background to and development of nearby Weymouth, groups of no more than 12 pupils plus one instructor go into town. Each group has a digital camera, an electronic notepad and a landscape map of the town centre. The central idea is to compare and contrast different areas of Weymouth and to assess how these might be developed.
Developed, though, for what and for whom? With these questions in mind, each pupil assumes a specific identity, that of someone whose interests they take as their own when judging the potential of a part or the whole of Weymouth for development.
The pupils are offered a rich assortment of personalities. The wealthiest, Tarquin Binder, is a ruthless millionaire who wants to expand the local marina and build an entertainment complex. He's sure to clash with Mrs Phyllis White, a septuagenarian grandmother who wants to take Weymouth back to how it was when she first visited the town as a child. Mrs White is just as likely to get into the sun-bleached hair of 23-year-old Ken Lenny, a wave raver who sees Weymouth's future as the surf centre of the south, all fast-food outlets and surfwear shops.
Mindful that they they will have to present and justify their findings not only through their own eyes but those of these and other, equally interested parties, pupils count pedestrians and assess site potential in different areas of the town, recording data in the group pocketbook for later downloading on to a PC.
They are encouraged to consider the effects of variable visitor rates on the local economy, in particular retail, entertainment and catering. A visit to Brewers Quay, an area recently developed with many pubs, restaurants and tourist facilities, gives some idea of the benefits and the costs of tourism. After all, one of the main purposes of the exercise is to consider the balance between economic gain and environmental damage.
Not that this is likely to be uppermost in the mind of Tarquin Binder. Like the others, he later gets his chance to argue the case for a particular development policy. First, though, pupils' digital photographs of relevant sites are downloaded on to a PC and included in a PowerPoint presentation that each character uses to support arguments for development. Even at this relatively basic level, pupils are encouraged not only to consider the likely preferences of their character but also their slide presentation styles; for example, a sedate, perhaps more florid approach for Mrs White as opposed to Ken Lenny's groovy graphics.
And, of course, in acting out their parts pupils learn to appreciate and demonstrate the skills necessary - consideration, negotiation and compromise - for reasoned debate on any issue, however contentious. Even with children yet to enter secondary education, this exercise makes it possible to demonstrate the merits not only of solid research but also of civilised, reasoned debate between competing claims.
And let's not forget the use of ICT for more effective presentation of an argument. "The pupils and students are using ICT for a reason, the kind of thing they're likely to do later in life," says Heather Marston. "Learned early, it's a lesson that's never lost."
ADVICE FOR SCHOOLS
* Sort out activity preferences, group numbers and names of group members, and send lists to the activity centre before you arrive
* Remember that some students may need medication or may have a disability that could prevent them from taking part in certain activities. Some students may require special dietary arrangements. Inform the centre of any of these before you arrive.
* Make sure that students are dressed appropriately for an activity - for example, no jeans for aeroball and trampolining, and long sleeves for archery and rifles
* Before you arrive, make sure students know who they are rooming with
* Remind students that they should not take mobile phones on or wear jewellery for any of the activities
* Make sure that all group members have suitable footwear and wet weather clothing
* Let students know day start times, group session times and meal times before they arrive at the centre Contact 3D Education and Adventure Tel: 01273 676467 www.3d.co.ukeducationcentresosmington.cfm Other nearby venues Lulworth Cove Heritage and Field Studies Centre The Coach House, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5RQ www.lulworth. com Durlston Country Park Lighthouse Road, Swanage, Dorset BH19 2JL www.durlston.co.uk
Other activity centres www.kingswood.co.uk