Teaching science subjects outdoors instead of within closed classrooms can increase students’ motivation to learn and participate, a study has found.
The study by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the University of Mainz advises offering more outdoor instruction at the lower secondary level.
About 300 students participated in a programme called “researcher weeks” aimed at getting pupils excited about the natural sciences.
Students were prepared for a one-week stay in the classroom. This was then continued on site during the research week, culminating in a two-day research expedition with experiments.
Both before and after the course, the students completed a questionnaire on their satisfaction and overall motivation. At the end of the week, the students again shared their experiences during the outdoor class.
Basic psychological needs to experience autonomy and competence as well as positive social relationships exert the primary influences on motivational behaviour, researchers said.
The study showed that motivational behaviour in both contexts was influenced equally strongly by these three needs, albeit at different levels.
Basic needs are met to a significantly higher degree during outdoor instruction than in the classroom.
A sense of achievement particularly increases motivation during outdoor instruction.
On the other hand, the student-teacher or student-student relationships had little or no influence on this increase. Nor did gender have any influence on the results.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, found that outdoor instruction with explorative learning methodology significantly promotes the attitudes of students toward learning, ie their intrinsic motivation.
‘Explorative’ means nothing more than simply giving students the freedom to discover the subject matter through independently organised experiments.
These outdoor dynamics, which provide a strong boost to more situational interest for science and engagement with the subject, can be evoked in occasional outdoor instruction sessions as well.
The teaching techniques explored and developed for this instructional program should therefore be included as a standard feature of lessons in schools.
“Such models might even be suitable to bridge the existing gap between science education and environmental education in the long term,” said Ulrich Dettweiler, associate professor at the University of Stavanger in Norway, who was at TUM at the time of the study.