A mammoth adventure

20th March 2009 at 00:00
Tramping around Arthur's Seat has given teachers a lesson in earth science

There was not a single person living in Scotland 20,000 years ago, because it was buried in ice. So, too, was much of Europe, although bands of humans lived along the Mediterranean. They made tools. Created art. They told each other stories. They had no science, and certainly no science CPD for primary teachers. That came later.

In one particular science, it has not arrived yet for most teachers, which seems strange, since volcanoes, earthquakes and ice-ages all fascinate kids. But earth science found few slots in 5-14. The new curriculum offers more scope for stimulating youngsters with Scotland's spectacular landscapes.

This explains why a band of teachers have been tramping around Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, as well as performing ice-age activities in the cosier and no less inspiring setting of Our Dynamic Earth.

"In one activity, they got us to sit down outside and just listen," says Sue Burns, P5-6 teacher at Cuiken Primary. "You could hear the wind swooshing. In the distance was the rumble of cars. Birds were singing and cawing and you could even hear the rustle of the grass. We were hearing nature. It would be wonderful to do this with the children. We could then get them to transfer the sounds they heard into pictures, just as they showed us today."

Ice-Age Free - "a mammoth adventure through Scotland's changing landscape" - is a set of activities and resources created and delivered by a partnership of Our Dynamic Earth and the Scottish Earth Science Education Forum, and funded by the Scottish Government. "We are working more and more with SESEF," says Stuart Monro, science director at Our Dynamic Earth. "We have common aims and the partnership enables us to develop resources for schools, and gives teachers access to real science and scientists."

SESEF promotes understanding of Earth in schools, says co-founder Colin Graham, professor of geochemistry at Edinburgh University. "We bring earth science to the classroom at all stages, through physics, chemistry, biology, geography and increasingly geology itself. We pull together the sciences.

"Understanding how our planet works is an essential part of every young person's education - and vital for the environment's sustainability."

Teachers on the course take part in activities, including modelling glacier motion, creating ice-age timelines and observing outdoors using all their senses. Modern strategies for delivering science to a broad spectrum of learners feature strongly. They tell stories. They work in groups. They learn actively and experientially.

Besides their own learning and ideas, the teachers take back a comprehensive collection of background information, maps, lesson plans, suggestions and curricular connections. These resources are detailed, classroom-ready, scientifically authoritative and accessible to all. They are also beautifully written.

The ice-age timeline activity, for instance, invites learners to build physical models of Arthur's Seat at various periods of the past, using descriptions that imaginatively take them there: "A breeze wafts over you, carrying the scents of the forest. Underfoot, it is mossy and grassy. Small flowering shrubs nestle in crannies, and heathers and feathery-headed plants shimmer gently."

Catherine Morgan, SESEF project development officer and teacher, is enjoying the events as much as the teachers - a major reason is the feedback they are providing, she says.

"You put so much work into it and you wonder if the teachers will get as much as you hope. I watched them when they arrived, nervous and unsure, and now look. They're bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. They can't wait to get back to their classrooms and put it into practice."

The organisers played a big role in this transformation. But, so too, did the teachers. "In the final event, we were set a challenge, working in groups, to devise a new classroom activity. Our ideas were sparking off each other, creating loads of energy," said one. "What I've liked about these two days is everything's been practical. I can use it next week."

www.sesef.org.uk; www.ourdynamicearth.co.uk.

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