Learning Outside the Classroom – and through the Living Lab

The Living Lab gives the core team chances to go visiting other departments and their activities – to give talks about the project, or support teaching. It’s a brilliant chance to peep into other ‘countries’ of the university and learn from how they do things there. There are times, in fact, when we become intensely jealous of the experiences groups of students are being given!

As Living Lab coordinator, I’ve been having such feelings in relation to the third year Teacher Education module, ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’, led by Lucy Sors, Jen Huntsley and Stephanie Jach. The module is an obvious fit with the Living Lab’s focus on the local food system. The students start close to home and move further away: from exploring the wild spaces of our own campus (including its food growing spaces), to the Haxby Road community allotments, to the Foss Fairy Trail and beyond.

Education students at the York St John allotment trying nasturtium flowers

Students at the YSJ Haxby Road campus allotments, tasting nasturtium flowers

Students designing bug hotels


In relation to food growing, sensory exploration of the community gardens was a gateway for learning about the social and political history of allotments. Observation of ecological practices such as companion planting, composting, or planting for pollinators, led to practical activities students could later try out with children, such as designing bug hotels.




Students picking the last of the season’s peas from a staff member’s allotmentI’ve been struck, throughout, by how Lucy, Jen and Stephanie are always communicating with students on several levels simultaneously: as learners, as emerging teachers, and as sensing, feeling human beings. In the community garden and on the fairy trail, conversations were nurtured around students’ emotional responses and family memories of food growing or the natural world, as much as about teaching strategies or lesson plans. Students post their own photographs documenting their observations on a lively Padlet that builds as the course develops. No educator can teach children about our interdependence with ecosystems until they have explored their own relationship with them.

Storyteller telling students a story

Telling the students a ‘bidding story’ before they go exploring the Foss Fairy Trail

The Foss Fairy Trail visit was a (rare) excuse for me to tell a story, as the LOTC team wanted the students to experiment with oral storytelling as a route to engaging children with ecological justice issues. The students’ own stories, of how the Foss fairy community is tackling a threat to their homes and community garden, showed how ready they are to model joy and creativity for their own future pupils.

As the LOTC students are now developing CPD (Continuing Professional Development) workshops as their authentic assessment task, we are very much hoping to have some outdoor education and storytelling activities led by them at our culminating Living Lab event for this semester – the Midwinter Potluck (30th November, 3-6pm in the Canteen).