Morocco Trip 2017: The Balance
One of the hardest things to get right on a school trip is 'the balance'. The balance between rest and activity; the balance between curriculum and broader knowledge; the balance between authority and friendliness. This challenge provides one of the greyest areas in teaching (a profession of grey areas). Teachers can try to pack in far too much, forgetting that students need more time to process their learning. We can also make it feel too much like school by continually talking about what is going to be on the exam. And walking the tightrope of the kind of relationship to have with students on a trip is extremely treacherous.
I am currently in Morocco on a 6.1 (Year 12) Geography field trip with Paul Turner, and I think that we have struck a great balance. It helps that we only have six students so there is somewhat a family holiday feel to the whole experience. But, more than that, there has been active learning and time for reflection, both of which are required for students to really take on board what they are experiencing.
Although everything the students are doing relates in some way to Geography, the academic focus throughout has been on the wider curriculum rather than on key points from the specification. Most of this has been conveyed through discussion with students. Sometimes this has been more formal and the students have had notebooks out to take down key information, on other occasions this has been pointing out geographical features on walks or one-on-one chats with students during the course of the day.
There have been formal sessions most days: for each of these we have allowed the discussion to move with the students' interests, moving from climate to gender equality when students are clearly ready to move on. This has ensured that the conversations have been engaging for students and they have been actively participating throughout. As we have not been trying to cover specific specification points, we have the freedom to move on when students' interests have moved elsewhere. We have also tried to have these conversations in stunning locations; on roof terraces in general.
Each day there has been a delicate equilibrium between new information and time to process. For example, when driving up from Marrakesh to Imlil we stopped at the Toubkal Information Centre for an extremely informative tour of the museum and were given a lot of food for thought about the physical geography of the region. However, rather than then trying to pack in more new information in the afternoon, we went for an acclimatisation walk. This is really important for students as it means they switch into diffuse mode thinking and can process and contextualise what they have been learning about.
With only six students, we have been able to have big family-style meals every breakfast, lunch and dinner. This has been an opportunity to get to know the students in a new light and also provide a more informal space for them to ask questions based on their experiences. Morocco is a very in-your-face change from sleepy Petersfield and students need a chance to ask the more unusual questions about life and culture here. Equally they provide downtime for everyone, but with students operating at a higher intellectual level as they are in the company of teachers. I have been able to get to know some students I had never met before extremely well (especially since going to the hammam with the female students) and share experiences and knowledge with them, which is part of the broader education we aim to provide.
On top of all of this, this kind of approach keeps staff sane and ensures that they are able to offer a life changing trip without having to kill themselves. We have been able to rest sufficiently to remain enthusiastic, caring, interested, curious and relaxed for four days so far. The photo below was taken on day one: we still look this good!
Here's to the next few days. Camel riding in the desert tomorrow...