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Outdoor learning reaches lofty new heights

Youth performing back flip

Urban Pursuit

10 March 2015

Helen Knowler, a Senior Lecturer in Education, has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ERSC) to develop an innovative treehouse-style outdoor learning environment for teenagers who struggle to cope in school.

Knowler was awarded the Exploratory Impact award from the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account for her project ‘Urban Pursuit Woodland Academy: designing, implementing and evaluating an outdoor curriculum’.

The project marks the beginning of an exciting collaboration between researchers at the Graduate School of Education (GSoE) and Urban Pursuit, a not-for-profit alternative education provider based in Bristol that provides outdoor learning opportunities for learners in Key Stage 3. To date, Urban Pursuit has worked with 14 schools in Bristol and with over 200 children and young people.

Over the course of the 18-month project, Knowler (Principal Investigator) and Neil Dennison from Urban Pursuit (Project Supervisor) will develop a range of engaging curriculum materials in Mathematics, Science and Technology that will delivered outside the classroom in a tree-house style learning environment. Once fully trialled and evaluated, the materials will form part of the wider Woodland Academy curriculum that will eventually include all National Curriculum subjects. 

GSoE Head of School Professor Justin Dillon will be working with the team as a Project Advisor, drawing from his extensive experience of science learning outside the classroom, particularly in museums, science centres and botanic gardens in the UK, Europe and elsewhere. 

Knowler said: ‘This funding has created an important opportunity for the project team to demonstrate the impact of our research by looking closely at educational interventions and curriculum design. The expertise of Neil and his team will be important in supporting us to test out our ideas about what kind of learning opportunities and curricular activities support engagement and enjoyment and the role of alternative approaches to education in developing inclusive approaches to learning.’

The project will run from 1 April 2015 to 31 December 2016.

For more information, please contact Helen Knowler,

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