A new home for the spirit of adventure

23rd March 2012 at 00:00
A twilight programme at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society's new education centre in Perth offers an innovative approach to CPD. Jean McLeish reports

Treasured memoirs and mementoes of incredible journeys are given pride of place here, like the flag from the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition led by William Speirs Bruce aboard the Scotia in 1902.

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society's (RSGS) new visitor and education centre at the Fair Maid's House in Perth provides a home for the society's fascinating collection of journals, books, maps and photographs. They document stories of scientific exploration and adventures from the past, inspiring and informing fresh endeavours.

Schools have already begun visiting the new centre in the recently refurbished Fair Maid's House - a location of interest in its own right as the oldest house in Perth, dating back to the 15th century.

Now teachers and pupils can benefit from the expertise of RSGS education officer Joyce Gilbert, a teacher on secondment from Perth and Kinross Council and a former education officer with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Schools that have already visited with pupils have been delighted with what's on offer: "It's a fantastic resource for Perth and the surrounding area," says geography teacher Louise Macleod, who brought first years here from Perth Academy.

"The map collection alone is fantastic. It's a bit of history, it's exploration - it's things that kids today are actually quite interested in. The Explorers' Room as well - the idea of seeing equipment that people who have been to the South Pole have actually used."

But there's more. "At the moment they have storytellers in there, telling about the lives of people who have done the exploring, and their journals are sitting on the wall in there," says Mrs Macleod, who is joining an educational CPD session being run at Fair Maid's House this evening.

"It's connecting literacy and numeracy and storytelling - it's the kind of thing children want to hear," she says.

This twilight programme is being run by the RSGS in partnership with Perth and Kinross's Creative Learning Network.

"Our role is to educate, but really it's not to tell you the whole story - it's just to get you thinking. That's what we're here for," says RSGS chief executive Mike Robinson.

"Our collection is fairly extensive - we have about 300,000 maps, between 70,000 and 100,000 books and all sorts of diary notes, articles and artefacts that people have brought back from expeditions. Something in here should interest and inspire you to want to go and find out a bit more - and that's what we're all about."

Tonight teachers and education officials are being given a tour of the educational resources and facilities here and invited to think creatively about how they can be used in learning and teaching.

Sheena Devlin, head of education (early years and primary) at Perth and Kinross, says: "We're looking at an innovative approach to CPD for staff, making them aware of this brilliant resource, of the role of the education officer and what she can do in terms of outreach work and how schools can link that into any planned topic, tasks or activities they are involved in.

"We're taking the opportunity to link development of this as an educational resource with Curriculum for Excellence in its broadest sense, looking at interdisciplinary learning, outdoor learning - all of these things we think are important for any young person's experience."

This evening, the Explorers' Room provides an ideal location for two storytellers who take the roles of the botanist and explorer David Douglas and Isabella Bird, one of the 19th century's most intrepid women travellers.

"Storytelling is a fantastic resource, using the idea of dressing up to create atmosphere," says Mrs Macleod. "They have props - whether they're real or not doesn't matter. If you can tell the story to go along with the prop, that hooks the children's interest and you can take it from there."


Fair Maid's House in Perth is the Royal Scottish Geographical Society's first dedicated education and visitor centre - a centre of excellence for geography.

Facilities include an Earth Room with an astonishing lighted globe, which allows visitors to see the planet as if from space. It's constantly changing to show different information about the Earth - its geology and population statistics.

There's also a dedicated education room and the Explorers' Room, which celebrates the achievements of international adventurers. "When you walk in the door, the hope is that you become an explorer - you want to explore," says Mike Robinson, RSGS chief executive.

"You're meant to want to open a couple of drawers or look in a cupboard or lift up a book. It's very much about wanting to show off the eclectic nature of our collection."

RSGS education officer Joyce Gilbert says she is inspired by what she is discovering in her new role: "Scotland has probably produced the most explorers of any country - if you just look at maps of the world, a lot of rivers and mountain ranges are named after Scots.

"So, for me, working with RSGS is another learning journey, because every time I come in, something else has appeared from the archives which our excellent archivist Margaret Wilkes has pulled out of the box and I can start to think of the educational possibilities."

Primary teacher Alison Wilson has a background in geography and is already enthusiastic as she tours the new facility. She is on secondment from her post at Robert Douglas Memorial Primary in Scone to help develop outdoor learning in the authority. "This is an absolutely marvellous resource," she says. "I think this is a brilliant place to bring children."

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