Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Relationships That Emerged through Participation in a Year 9 Experiential Education Program

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Relationships That Emerged through Participation in a Year 9 Experiential Education Program

Article excerpt


In my recent doctoral studies into the way organised personal development learning experiences outside the classroom may lead to changes in the way Year 9 students engage in their classroom-based learning, three main themes were explored: organised personal learning experiences outside the classroom; Year 9 students as a cohort having special needs; and adolescent learning engagement. Interpretation of the data gathered for this study led to the emergence of a thread referring to the building of relationships between students and their teachers, students and their peers and students and their learning. Other threads to emerge included such themes as personal development, experiential learning, metacognition and transference of learning and are beyond the scope of this article.


Mention is made here of literature relating to the three themes that emerged from my doctoral studies focus. A more detailed discussion of the themes is found in my thesis, Experiential education and learning engagement for year nine students: a case study (Robinson, 2013).

Personal development learning experiences outside the classroom

The discussion of personal development and its relationship to outdoor and experiential education is ongoing. Proponents suggest there is significant personal development (Allen-Craig & Miller, 2007; Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997; Hewison & Martin, 2010; Martin & Fleming, 2010; McLeod & Allen-Craig, 2007; Neill, 2008; Robinson 2013). Some critics suggest that such claims may be assumed rather than actual, having more to do with the beliefs of the researchers and respondents and, even if they were real the likelihood of them being transferred to other contexts, is debatable at best (Brookes, 2002, 2003a, 2003b, 2004; Brown, 2010; Harmin, 2002; Web, 2003; Zink & Dyson, 2009) and "should be treated cautiously, if not sceptically" (Brookes, 2003a, p. 49). This debate is ongoing but should be seen as a 'both/and' rather than an 'either/or' discussion with the best of both arguments included into OE and EE programs at every opportunity for the best possible outcome for participants.

Year 9; a significant time in adolescent development

Dealing with adolescents around fourteen years of age is known as a difficult time for parents and teachers (Bissett, nd.). From my experiences as a teacher of adolescents for over 30 years it could be said to be a difficult time for the young people as well. Major changes are occurring in their physical, emotional and social makeup (Cole, Mahar & Vindurampulle, 2006a). The desire to find the limits of both themselves, and context in which they find themselves, sometimes pushes them to participate in what might be seen as dangerous, risky, or socially unacceptable behaviours (Brown & Knowles, 2007).

An important contributor to special needs of this age group is that the brain of young adolescents is undergoing huge changes with "blossoming" and "pruning" occurring in cycles across the development cycle (Brown & Knowles, 2007; Cole, et al., 2006a; Dahl, 2004). The resultant turmoil this causes is often expressed in unexpected behavioural exchanges and are responsible for the discovery of this second upsurge of brain development during adolescence proposing the "use it or lose it" principle to describe the "pruning-down process" (Cole, et al., 2006a, p. 5). Regarding this process Cole, et al (2006a) makes the comment "If this principle holds true, then the environment and the types of activities that adolescents engage in may have a significant impact on how the brain develops during this stage" (p. 5).

Learning engagement and adolescents

The Melbourne Declaration (2008) identifies the importance of engagement in learning for middle years students in the statement:

  The middle years are an important period of learning, in
  which knowledge of fundamental disciplines is developed,
  yet this is also a time when students are at the greatest
  risk of disengagement from learning. … 
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