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Understanding Foundation Skills in Outdoor Education: Paving the pathway to learning

Carla Marschall, Former Director of Teaching and Learning, UWCSEA East
Chris Newman, Head of Outdoor Education, UWCSEA East
Oliver Sampson, Head of Outdoor Education, Dover Campus
19 April 2019

Outdoor Education at UWCSEA  builds practical expedition skills so as to equip students with essential qualities and skills.

Our Outdoor Education expeditions may be considered a jolly holiday by some, while others regard them as a gruelling challenge. However, all the experiences offered in our carefully constructed outdoor education curriculum are built around standards (significant concepts) that apply from K–12.

As described in previous articles about how our concept-based curriculum is structured, under each standard are conceptual understandings, which are conceptual statements written for specific developmental stages. In Outdoor Education, these are school-based rather than grade specific.

Grade-level benchmarks attached to each conceptual understanding, describing what a student should know or be able to do at each stage of their learning in order to have developed their understanding in each identified area (subject or stand).

By structuring the curriculum in this way, students are able to access the broader concepts in each standard, while simultaneously developing an understanding of specific concepts appropriate to the grade-level.

This example illustrates how carefully constructed, age-appropriate activities develop the essential practical skills identified in the ‘camp craft’ strand of the Expedition Skills standard in our Outdoor Education curriculum. The below examples describe how the stand 'camp craft' is developed under a school-based conceptual understanding that is developed by providing students with age-appropriate activities in each grade from Kindergarten to Grade 11.

UWCSEA K-12 Outdoor Education Standards (K-12)

1. Personal identity

2. Healthy relationships

3. Connectedness to nature

4. Expedition skills

Standard 4–Expedition Skills (K-12)

Individuals and groups can engage in outdoor contexts by developing and applying a set of practical skills.

Developing these practical skills is not the end goal of our programme. However, the successful development of these skills are the building blocks that allow us to access the situations where the learning outcomes around self, relationships to others and a connectedness to nature that are intended in the other three standards, can take place.

Our students are provided multiple opportunities to develop these skills in authentic settings, be it on campus, in Singapore or further afield. All of these activities are vehicles for learning opportunities that are crucial to support the development of the qualities and skills outlined in the College's learner profile.

Expedition Skills Strands (K-12)

Within 'expedition skills' there are four discrete strands in which we deliberately plan activities at age-appropriate levels (described below) so that students can work towards the standard. They are:

1. Travel

2. Navigation

3. Camp craft

4. Personal and group safety 

Primary School Conceptual Understanding (K1-G5)

Camp craft: By developing camp craft skills, individuals can interact with the natural environment to meet their needs.

K1 OED experiences on campus and in Singapore

Activity: Outdoor experiences on campus and in Singapore

Regular opportunities are intentionally provided for students to explore the natural, growing, creative and social spaces of the outdoor environments on both campuses. Students are regularly given opportunities to observe and investigate the natural world around them while safely challenging their own capabilities, both independently and in collaboration with others.

All our K1 classrooms have direct access to outdoor learning spaces and students naturally move between indoor and outdoor learning spaces each day. This also means exploring the campus gardens and other natural spaces as part of their school day, in support of their learning in the academic curriculum as well as the personal and social education programme.

On-campus activity is then extended through a range of field trips that encourage students to form connections in meaningful contexts within the wider Singapore landscape. 

Grade 2 students at an overnight camp at Singapore Zoo

Activity: Overnight camp at Singapore Zoo

Students are presented with exciting learning opportunities and fun and appropriate group challenges. With the support of teaching staff and their peers, they develop their confidence as they are guided through a programme designed to develop resilience, self-awareness and self-management skills.

With the support of their peers and teachers, it is a great pleasure to see them develop new skills in a novel context away from home and family.

Grade 5 students at an adventure camp in Gopeng, Malaysia

Activity: Five-day adventure camp in Gopeng, Malaysia

This adventure takes place in the Kampar district, surrounded by majestic limestone hills with the Titiwangsa Mountains clearly visible in the distance. The expedition provides students with a chance to extend their learning opportunities far beyond the classroom as they take on experiential challenges that build resilience, collaboration and leadership. It provides an avenue for them to explore the natural environment in a safe setting, learn from mistakes and develop perseverance.

The camp is focused around adventure, enriched with team-building and team-bonding activities throughout. Our experienced partner provides facilitators at the Nomad Adventure Earth Camp who help guide our Grade 5 students through experiences ranging from tackling grade 1 rapids in a raft through to making the leap of faith at the Mountain School.

Middle School Conceptual Understanding (G6-G8)

Camp Craft: While setting up a campsite, individuals can make choices to co-exist safely with the natural environment.

Grade 7 sea-kayaking trip to Sibu, Malaysia

Activity: Five-day sea kayaking trip to Pulau Sibu, Malaysia

Students participate in foundational sea kayaking training in Singapore with UWCSEA’s Outdoor Education instructors, equipping them for their upcoming expedition, a five-day expedition on Pulau Sibu in Malaysia. On the trip, the first day is spent reviewing expectations and familiarising themselves with equipment, including a review of the 1 Star kayak skills learned in Singapore. They also start developing the 2 Star skills that will be refined on their two-night kayaking journey. The next three days are spent paddling to a different campsite each morning, arriving before lunch in order to set up camp.

Students are guided through a mix of free time, group activities and exploration before they prepare dinner and enjoy an evening activity and reflection time. On the final morning, they paddle back to the start point to clean and pack the equipment away before a debrief on the final evening. 

High School Conceptual Understanding (G9-G11)

Camp Craft: By developing camp craft skills, individuals can adapt to complex outdoor situations by making choices with resources to meet individual and group needs.

Grade 9 students join one of 20 OED expeditions

Activity: Students join at least one of over 20 expeditions during a school holiday

The trips provides tremendous opportunities for students to develop across all aspects of our learner profile. Given a vast array of options, students have an opportunity to specialise or explore further to find their passion. Students consider their previous experiences, their interests and their strengths before nominating three or four preferred trips. They are then allocated to one of their nominated trips, and we ask them to honour their choices, by committing to their allocated trip and to fully participate in trip preparation. This includes training on one or two weekends in the month prior to departure, which is during school holidays.

For the first time, students do not travel with their mentor group and mentor, but with other Grade 9 students from both campuses, an Outdoor Education trip leader and other staff from across the College.

Grade 11 students take part in independent project week trips

Activity: Project Week—independent trips by small groups of students

Project Week is an integral part of Grade 11 and a unique opportunity for students to learn more about themselves, different cultures and their ability to work effectively with others outside the classroom. Travelling in small groups of 4 or 5 to a destination of their choice in Southeast Asia (such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand or Indonesia), most trips include a mixture of service-based activities combined with an adventurous component, such as a hiking, sailing, diving, surfing, and/or a creative activity such as a cooking school.

Guided through a carefully planned process by a Project Week team that includes our Outdoor Education staff, students must demonstrate skills such as first aid, risk assessment, itinerary planning and budgeting.

We believe the learning objectives are best achieved by doing an independent, responsible, ethical and low-cost project, which challenges their resourcefulness and initiative thus demands greater self-reliance. 


Looking for more? Our UWCSEA learning programme is delivered through a bespoke K-12 concept-based curriculum. It aims to equip students with the knowledge, skills and qualities they will need in order to work towards fulfilling our mission to create a more peaceful and sustainable future.

Our holistic learning programme is made up of five elements: academics, activities, outdoor education, personal and social education and service. Learn more here.

Read about how the concept-based curriculum model works in the academic element of our learning programme here. 

Read about how we work towards developing Standard 3: Connectedness to Nature here.

Meet our team of specialist outdoor educators, who develop and deliver our bespoke outdoor education programme.