For important lessons that cross curricular boundaries you need look no further than your own back yard, writes Gerald Haigh
Turn over the pages of your memory, says Tim Copeland of the International Centre for Heritage Education at Cheltenham and Gloucester College, and there always seems to be a street.
"It's our basic unit," he adds. "Our memories are likely to be of streets. But you go back home, and the streets are shorter than you remember."
A former primary head, he says teachers can use the familiarity of the immediate built environment in a range of curricular areas as well as the obvious ones of history and geography - developing citizenship, for example.
His book, Our Street, draws attention to details - differences between doors and door furniture, types of bricks, styles of brickwork - and to the way buildings differ according to their functions. One section covers street furniture, which has changed significantly over the years (once there was a need for horse troughs, now there are parking meters).
There are clear links here to history, geography, design technology and art. Tim Copeland's own enthusiasm, though is for maths - children can describe shapes and patterns, find tessellations, take measurements. All the time, though, the emphasis is on making judgments - what is attractive and what is not, and why?
One teacher who does make full use of a rich built environment is Pat Steward of Abbey Infants in Nuneaton, who regularly walks the surroun-ding area with her pupils, talking, looking, drawing.
"One of the things we do," she says, "is trace the bomb damage from the war - you can see where the gaps are, and where newer buildings have gone up. Then we can invite in people who remember it happening and can talk to us about it."
She looks forward during the coming year to using a new service from the National Monuments Record Centre (a department of English Heritage) whereby a school can buy aerial photographs of its immediate environment, taken at various times since the Forties. With their aid, her pupils will be able to see the local bomb damage, and its restoration.
Aerial photographs, especially if used with large-scale maps, are a superb resource for helping children to see how their area has changed, and how places lie in relation to each other.
Pat Steward's trips out, though, are as much to do with people and heritage as they are with facts and skills. A recent walk took them to Nuneaton's museum to see a special display about the town's favourite son, the late comedian Larry Grayson.
"He went to our school," she explains. "He lived his early life very close by, and we have a portrait which his sister gave us. So our children were able to tell the museum quite a few things."
TEACHING TIPS FOR WALKING OUT
* Always reconnoitre first - not just to find out what there is to be seen, but to check on practicalities such as toilets.
* Walk the route in advance, don't drive it. You need to see roadcrossings from the point of view of a party of children walking.
* If you're taking young children, make sure you have enough adults. Sounds obvious, but you don'twant to risk being understaffed if someone doesn't turn up at the last minute.
* Take a mobile phone. You may need to summon assistance from school, or you may want to do telephone research on the hoof.
* Check footwear. High-heel slingbacks are not appropriate, andyet there is always someone whowill turn up in them, given half a chance.
* Take the school camera, andor a video camera.
* Young children can't really cope with worksheets or questionnaires out of class, although older pupils might. So take plain paper and pencils, with clipboards, then do reinforcement work back in class while memories are still fresh.
* Use the kind of clipboards that have the clip attached. Improvised ones with separate clips are a nuisance.
* A set of five A3 aerial photographs, taken between the Forties and the Seventies, costs pound;15 from the National Monuments Record Centre. A list of all yourlocal listed buildings and structures. This costs pound;5, but if you have the aerial photographs as well, thetotal cost is pound;18. National Monuments Record Centre,Kemble Drive, Swindon SN2 2GZ.E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
* The English Heritage education service's catalogue has many useful publications, videos and packs that link local and environmental studies to the curriculum. English Heritage Education, Portland House, Stag Place, London SW1 5EE. Tel: 0171 973 3442
* "Our Street: Learning to See", developed by Tim Copeland from an award-winning project by student teachers is free from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Suitable for all age groups. 7 St James's Square, London SW1Y 4JU. Tel: 0171 839 6537
* A computer software package, "Local Studies" from Soft Teach Educational can be used to build up a map of your area. Soft Teach Educational, Sturgess Farmhouse, Longbridge Deverill, Warminster BA12 7EA. Tel: 01985 840329; email: email@example.com
* "McDonald's Our Town Story" is a project celebrating local communities organised by the New Millennium Experience Company. Most LEAs are involved, and every school has had curriculum packs. Contact Steven Hall, community affairs manager, McDonald's, 11-59 High Road, East Finchley, London N2