In The Classroom with Josh Jenner: Part 1
With the 22/23 academic coming to a close, we finally got to sit down with Josh, the CEO and founder of The Outdoor Classroom for a good chat about all we do and exciting things to come!
Thanks for taking the time to chat, I know you're insanely busy right now. I think, probably, the best way to start is to just go right from the beginning if that's okay. So how did you come up with the idea for The Outdoor Classroom?
The Outdoor classroom came from my background in Orienteering and almost 15 years experience working with schools. Traditionally I would work with a school and set them up with everything they need to teach Orienteering on site. This includes mapping the school, supplying a set of permanent Orienteering plaques and delivering an after-school staff training session.
This setup is great, but it's not the same as the experience you would get if you went to an Orienteering competition. At a competition, we would use electronic timing to time the athletes around a course but this equipment is prohibitively expensive for schools to purchase. I always thought this was a shame and a large barrier to enjoying Orienteering, and so I spotted an opportunity to create a new system that works the same way, but with existing equipment the school may already have.
In the first instance, I created The Outdoor Classroom to simply replace the electronic timing equipment and instead of using an electronic chip, schools would use an iPad. Instead of using electronic controls, they would just scan the permanent plaques that they already have. This way, we can recreate an authentic orienteering competition directly on a school site for a fraction of the cost.
Very quickly I realised that there was also an opportunity to do much more than just time the children around a course, they could also do an activity or task at each location. As well as recording the time taken, the children can also be presented with a learning opportunity to take all aspects of the curriculum outside of the classroom and reap the endless benefits of being outdoors and navigating around the school grounds.
Why choose to adapt orienteering for schools as opposed to a different audience?
I never got the opportunity to do Orienteering at school. Instead, on the weekend, my parents took me all over the country, and abroad, to pursue my interest and hobby. Growing up I have been extremely fortunate to have received this experience and I have received countless coaching hours and extra support to take part in a sport that has taught me so much, not just from a sporting point of view, but from a personal development perspective also.
Because of this I always wanted to give something back and if possible, do my bit to create opportunities for future generations, to give them the benefit of the experience I am so grateful to have had.
I also sort of fell into my career by chance… I failed university (because I was too distracted by the outdoor adventure sports on offer in North Wales) and when looking for a job, I made a list of my skills. The biggest strength I had was my knowledge of Orienteering and a coaching certificate. One day, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to help out at a school she was teaching Orienteering at for an afternoon and I loved it! As a bonus I got paid, and so from then on I knew I wanted to turn my passion into my career.
What does your average day look like?
A typical working day for me is very varied. I am often travelling around the country mapping schools, parks, outdoor centres and woodlands. This work takes me to some amazing places and satisfies my desire for adventure and passion for being outdoors.
To keep our prices for The Outdoor Classroom as low as possible, we don't have a central office and all our staff work remotely. When I moved into my current house, me and my wife had a garden office built so we could separate home life from work life and create a good balance between the two.
When I'm in the home office, I am answering emails, meeting with colleagues and clients via video call and discussing new proposals and plans with the tech team to improve our product and keep innovating to progress the business and the experience for our customers.
If I have a full day in the home office, I need regular breaks to walk our dog Eddie, go for a run with our running club Harold Wood or get a quick bike spin session to burn off some energy as I am definitely not one to sit still for too long!
How would you describe your mapping work to someone who's never heard of it before?
Orienteering maps are very colourful, detailed pictures of small areas that are great for children to understand map reading and teach important geography skills. To create an Orienteering map from scratch, it involves a few stages, from creating a base map then doing a ground survey to drawing up the sketches in a specialist computer software program.
The technology we use is always evolving and in the 20 years I have been mapping, the process is generally the same but is nowadays much faster with the experience and digital tools we have available.
What typically happens on your coaching days with schools?
Our coaching days are primarily designed to give as many children in a school the opportunity to try the sport of Orienteering during one visit. We work with all ages from Nursery right through to Year 13. The sessions are typically delivered on rotation with a short session for each class.
During the sessions, each child gets the opportunity to understand the basics of navigation through playing games and then take part in an electronic timed competition. This format can be adapted for any location, age group or learning ability or built on for linked sessions. The main emphasis is on providing a fun and engaging experience for all children to try Orienteering.
There's so much more to this conversation! Get notified next week when Part 2 of our interview with Josh drops, find out more on our website or follow us on Instagram or Twitter so keep up to date with all of our ongoing projects!