Outdoor Classroom

Our environmental teaching sessions take place in local wild places or school grounds, using our fun and hands on teaching style, and are tailor made to fit in with the needs of teachers and pupils. We plan them to maximise their potential to integrate with the Curriculum for Excellence – whether the children go back to school with completed survey worksheets, photos or videos, or just inspiration, there is always an opportunity to continue the project with other subjects back in the classroom. To see examples of how exactly our sessions can fit into the CfE, please keep reading.

But just as importantly, remember our teaching sessions are a fantastic experience for the children… and the teachers!

Sample outdoor classroom

This example structure is based on a recent curriculum-based teaching project at Davidson’s Mains Primary School, where we worked with two Primary 5 classes who each had ten sessions in their local woodland. The project featured in TESS as an example of best-practice environmental education, showing its potential as the most cross-curricular and interdisciplinary of all topics.

Day 1: Exploration
Guidelines: Basic health and safety, setting boundaries, groups and study areas. Exploring and familiarisation with area.
Aim of the day: Ensure children are aware of main health and safety issues, split into their working groups and begin to explore their area. Children should be familiar with their ‘zone’ and comfortable in the woods.

Day 2: Mapping
Guidelines: measuring and marking out specific zones/habitats, identifying key features and landmarks.
Aim of the day: children should explore their whole zone and be able to mark on maps any key habitats or features that may be used as future study places.

Day 3: Trees
Guidelines: species ID, tree age, canopy size, regeneration. Canopy/under-storey/bush/ground layers. Pollination and seed dispersal.
Aim of the day: survey and record the majority of the trees in the woodland, categorise them as either canopy or under-storey, and to measure the age, height and canopy cover of several trees in each zone.

Day 4: Plants
Guidelines: species ID, measuring diversity and light, native versus exotic. Quadrats and ID books. Pollination and seed dispersal.
Aim of the day: carry out a professional survey of the woodland flora, with a slight emphasis on making children aware of the invasive plant species present. Children were taught how to make randomly placed quadrats.

Day 5: Minibeasts
Guidelines: habitats (trees, deadwood, flowers, soil etc). Diversity of species and classification. Sweep nets/sheets/magnifiers/ID books.
Aim of the day: children should gain an overview of the range of minibeasts living in the woods, realising the effect of different habitats on diversity, and begin an awareness of food chains and webs. Everything should be recorded on worksheets.

Day 6: Birds
Guidelines: signs (pellets, poo, bones, feathers, calls etc). Nesting sites, feeding places and sources. Species ID. Quiet focus.
Aim of the day: children should recognise the requirements of birds (and therefore all species – food, shelter, and breeding places), and survey their zones for their presence. Introduction to tracks and trails, and the importance of keeping quiet to watch birds.

Day 7: Mammals
Guidelines: Tracks and trails, signs (fur, prints, poo, scratch marks, homes, feeding remains etc). Species ID. Nocturnal vs diurnal.
Aim of the day: to gain an overview of the mammals inhabiting the woodland by searching for, recording and interpreting the signs they leave behind.

Day 8: Deadwood and decomposers
Guidelines: Life in the dead wood/leaf litter and the importance of fungi. Composting and soil formation. Species ID.
Aim of the day: to investigate and record the decomposers of the woods and get the children thinking about how everything is recycled.

Day 9: Human impact and conservation
Guidelines: Litter surveys, landscaping, invasive species, and recreation vs wildlife.
Aim of the day: assess the impact that humans have on the woodland in all forms, to carry out a detailed litter survey of the wood, and to think about any action we could take to reduce the negative impact of people on the woods.

Day 10: Life cycles and food chains
Guidelines: Woodland food chains, webs of life, relationships and interactions. Using knowledge gained from previous days of study.
Aim of the day: children were asked to portray an example of a woodland life cycle or food chain, either as a piece of artwork using natural materials or as a dramatic performance. The expressive arts helped them to grasp the idea of everything in the woodland interacting as a whole.

How do we fit into the curriculum?

As our sessions are tailor made, we can help you complete outcomes and progress through lines of development – building on what the children have already learnt and taking it further. See below for basic examples of how it can slot together, bearing in mind that many other areas (Expressive Arts, Maths and Numeracy etc) can also be explored.

Case study 1: How does a session on Deadwood and Decomposers contribute to outcomes in the Planet Earth framework?

Some questions we might cover and study:
What happens when green plants die? How does the energy the plant gained from the sun return back to the earth? Which habitats might be present? Are there certain animals or plants involved in decomposition? Are any food chains or webs associated with it?

The best method is to explore dead wood or leaf litter, and find what is living in or around it. Children will discover a wide range of minibeasts and realise that an entire food web survives on this one habitat of decomposing plant material. They can record what they find on worksheets, classify the minibeasts as predator or prey, carnivore or detrivore, and work out their place in the food chain.  We might find fungi, also decomposers, or animals higher up the food chain – birds looking for bugs in the leaf litter, or signs that a badger has ripped open some dead wood to eat the beetle larvae inside.   Children should find wood in various stages of decay, and see that eventually it does return back to the soil, the nutrients and energy within it having either entered the food chain via the decomposer minibeasts, or been returned back to the earth to sustain new plant growth.

The above would be adjusted depending on age, but for levels 0, 1 and 2, we can cover many points in outcomes SCN 0-01a, 1-01a, 1-02a, 2-01a, 2-02a and 2-02b.

Potential classroom work:
Data collected from minibeast surveys can be analysed and contribute to many Maths and Numeracy outcomes, for example MNU 1-20a, 1-20b, 2-20a and 2-20b, and also MTH 1-21a and 2-21a.  If the session is used to inspire a writing task, Literacy and English outcomes can be included, or a creative challenge in the Expressive Arts area – even with a simple task in Art and Design it can contribute to EXA 0-05a, 1-05a and 2-05a. The list goes on!

Case study 2: How a session on trees provides ample opportunity for cross-curricular learning outdoors.

Some questions we might cover:
Why are trees important and what other life depends on them? How to identify different tree species, and what is the difference between native and introduced species? How do trees reproduce and disperse their seeds?

A teaching session concentrating on trees can be taken in many different directions depending on the needs of the class. We can teach children how to identify trees by looking at the leaves and bark, take bark rubbings and leaf samples, and then let them categorise the trees as they feel suitable (leaf shape/colour/feel, bark colour/feel etc). All trees flower and produce seeds which come in many forms and use different dispersal methods, introducing the requirements of space, sunlight, water and nutrients for seedlings, and the reliance on external factors like wind and animals for seed dispersal. We can study minibeasts that live on the leaves, and find out through surveying whether or not minibeast diversity differs between tree species. For a mathematical slant, using different techniques we can estimate the age, height and canopy cover of particular trees, providing plenty of data for classroom work.

Again, the level would be tailored depending on the age of the class. During the outdoor session, we can contribute to outcomes SCN 0-01a, 1-01a, 1-02a, 2-01a, 2-02a and 2-02b. If measuring aspects of trees, outcomes in Maths and Numeracy can be covered, such as MNU 1-11b, 2-11a and 2-11c. We can also introduce the topic of introduced or invasive non-native species as a Topical Science project for SCN 1-20a and 2-20b.

Potential classroom work:
Once tree species have been identified, leaf samples can be taken back to the classroom and used to create a tree identification key – touching both Literacy and English outcomes, for example LIT 2-26a and 2-28a, and potentially outcomes in Art and Design. Data collected from minibeast surveys or measuring trees can be analysed and contribute to MNU 1-20a, 1-20b, 2-20a and 2-20b and MTH 1-21a and 2-21a. The experience can be used to inspire any number of challenges in many curriculum areas, for example ICT (TCH 1-04b and 2-04b), and by learning about their local environment can contribute to outcomes in Social Studies too, for example SOC 1-08a, 2-08a and 2-08b. Again, the list goes on!