You look at the excited children clamouring to get outside, laden with clipboards, cameras, digital recorders and do a last head count, check the permission slips and asthma pumps and feel the cold fear. You are in charge of 30 energetic children about to embark on what now seems like a suicidal encounter with the outside world. It's time to engage with geography fieldwork.
This is still a statutory part of the current national curriculum, but it is an activity often surrounded by uncertainty and apprehension. However, planning, preparation and pupil participation are commonsense ingredients for success.
Great fieldwork can be done locally: use the immediate school setting (KS1) or the area where most pupils live (KS2) to tap into children's personal and everyday geographies and link with wider world studies. As a teacher, walking the area around your school with fresh eyes is useful geography CPD and essential for risk assessment. Involving pupils in risk assessment is recognised as good practice by Ofsted and makes a great lesson. Use a mix of digital imaging and mapping to ask pupils to identify what they see, discussing features and possible routes in terms of risk and safety.
Pupils can write or draw their risk assessment guide for the trip. For each identified hazard, try to include a space for pupils to say what the risk is, what action they should take to stay safe and a "who is responsible" response. The latter is often a reality check for pupils.
Geography is an enquiry-led subject, so within your planning framework or theme for learning get pupils to identify and decide on the best questions, equipment needed and data collection methods. Use their ideas to write permission letters to parents, map routes and stops or plan any relevant interviews (my pupils relished getting in touch with local businesses to arrange a visit and deciding what questions they would ask them). It also pays to practise in school the skills you will need in the real world, such as using digital equipment, reading maps, interviewing, recording and annotated sketching.
After your careful preparation, you can take a deep (and relatively confident) breath and embark on an exciting journey of real world enquiry. It does get easier after the first time.
Dr Paula Owens is part-time primary curriculum development leader for the Geographical Association, author and part time educational consultant and trainer
My Risk Assessment
Find Paula Owen's template for a lesson on risk assessment based on the ideas in her article at http:tinyurl.com42zvb6v
Useful mapping sites
Google's Street View facility is useful for checking out exact routes around your school. And www.geography.org.uk is an educational charity committed to supporting the teaching of high-quality geography and fieldwork.
Allay your fears and check out the comprehensive collection of educational visits resources containing recommendations from Dr Owen.
In the forums
School trips - heaven or hell? Teachers share their real-life stories of trips. There is also a dedicated school-trips forum for advice on where to go and details of the latest deals.
All links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources004.