Primary Social Studies Fieldwork in Children’s Localities and Beyond, pp. 4 of 10

Inquiry Approach to Fieldwork

The fieldwork benefits mentioned earlier cannot be automatically reaped just because children are taken to the localities and beyond (Lonergan & Andreson, 1988). Thoughtful fieldwork planning is key to effective children learning. Various approaches can be used but the one advocated is inquiry-based fieldwork which is aligned to MOE’s adoption of inquiry for primary social studies teaching in schools (MOE, 2012b). Inquiry-based fieldwork is based on the four elements in Roberts’ (2003, 2013) inquiry learning framework and these are: a) creating the need to know, b) using data as evidence, c) making sense, and d) reflecting on learning. Creating a need to know is achieved through a set of teacher or pupil generated questions that leverages on the unique learning opportunities offered by the identified location to drive the on-site learning. Pupils collect relevant field data as evidence by using their five senses to answer the inquiry questions. They organise their data through selection, sorting, classification and sequencing for sense making. The latter involves describing, explaining, comparing, contrasting, analysing and concluding. Pupils reflect on their learning by evaluating and identifying the areas for improvement. In inquiry-based fieldwork, pupils are active participants in learning. They get to construct their knowledge through their interactions with the fieldwork site and people there as well as with their peers and teachers, and their own reflection (Vygotsky, 1986). The teacher functions primarily as a facilitator rather than a knowledge dispenser.

Planning for Fieldwork

As mentioned before, effective children’s learning through fieldwork demands careful planning and preparation (Foskett, 1996; Kent, Gibertson & Hunt, 1997; Milner et al., 2010; Nabors, Edwards & Murray, 2006; Yilmaz & Bilgi, 2011). The specific sites in children’s localities and beyond would be more easily identified if there is already a tentative theme or issue in mind (NHB, n.d.). The theme or themes can provide a more focused and targeted approach towards fulfilling the fieldwork objectives which are aligned to the primary social studies curriculum and enhancing the learners’ experience.  Doing background research on the locality and reconnaissance of the sites within the locality are next on the planning agenda. The reconnaissance will include photo-taking and recording of observations, impressions and thoughts. Other things to look out for include identifying gathering spots, rest and refuel spots and potential hazard zones such as road crossings along the way. As children’s safety is the top priority, doing a risk assessment is essential so that precautionary measures can be put in place before the start of fieldwork. A few reconnaissance trips may be necessary to fine-tune the details for planning the station activities to ensure that the fieldwork objectives can be achieved and the fieldwork questions can be answered. The activities should leverage on the uniqueness of the site characteristics which cannot be replicated in a classroom setting to make the fieldwork planning and implementation efforts worthwhile and to maximise learning. The overarching inquiry question/s and the specific guiding questions derived from the former drive the fieldwork activities. The activities should cater to the learners’ profiles and promote their engagement and active participation. The duration and sequencing of activities, transport mode, fieldwork resources and a wet weather plan for unsheltered sites are also important considerations. Generally, one should aim for a two to two and a half hour-long fieldwork for sustained children’s interest and motivation. Resources such as worksheets should be age appropriate and less structured with more open-ended questions to encourage a variety of responses to deepen children’s active exploration and engagement with the field setting. A variety of recording techniques such as recording information in a table, adding labels to a drawing, making sketches and drawing maps can be included in the activities. Parent/Teacher helpers should be thoroughly briefed so that they can carry out their roles effectively. The general MOE guideline is 1 teacher/helper to every 15 participants. Helpers should be familiar with the station sites, the fieldwork objectives and activities and emergency procedures. Children need to be prepared for the fieldwork too. They need to know about the fieldwork site, the agenda, and the objectives. Activation and connection of their prior learning to what they will learn at the locality are necessary. Other important things children need to be know include the inquiry questions and objectives, the pre-requisite fieldwork knowledge and skills, the performance task expectations and their cooperative learning roles and responsibilities. They also need to be informed about safety and fieldwork rules.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!