Electricity off, creativity on

15th April 2011 at 01:00
A successful bid to the Climate Challenge Fund has resulted in a refreshing take on education called POLO, aka Power Off and Learn Outdoors, and many green fingers. Douglas Blane reports

So how does a teacher get pound;55,570 out of the Scottish Government? "It's not easy," says Morag Ferguson, who teaches science at Grange Academy and Annanhill Primary in Kilmarnock. "But it can be done."

She should know. Her bid to the Climate Challenge Fund was successful last year, and she has been managing the spending before the time runs out. "We had until April. If it wasn't spent by then, we would lose what was left."

POLO is the name of the project, explains Andrew Chapman (S2). "It stands for Power Off and Learn Outdoors. It's about not being stuck in a classroom, and about learning in a different way. It's also to help people who don't know much about the outdoors. We have wildlife out there now, such as ducks that visit our pond."

Parents take a real interest when they hear about lessons out of doors, Andrew says. "It's something they never got when they were at school. That means it's a good way to get the whole community involved."

POLO is a project for all three schools on the Grange Campus, as well as for the wider community, confirms Mrs Ferguson. "The mother and baby club will use the area. The community council will run classes there in summer."

Annanhill Primary pupils went out with pupils from another Kilmarnock school recently, one for children with additional needs, says Jillian Loudoun (P7). "We were getting to know them, showing each other what we found fun. We worked on sheets in class first, then went out in the fresh air. The sun was shining, there was a cat creeping around and you could smell the grass and all the plants."

Besides the new outdoor learning area, which is now being built, the project has two other main components, explains Mrs Ferguson. "We have bought energy monitoring equipment for school and home, and we're setting up a cycling to school scheme. We've bought 35 sets of bikes and helmets, and we'll be training the pupils and teachers."

The Climate Challenge Fund was set up in 2008 to provide support to communities aiming to reduce their carbon emissions. One reason for the Grange Campus proposal's success was the legacy it plans to leave - in the outdoor classroom, the raised beds for growing vegetables, and their reduced energy use and carbon emissions.

They estimated they could save over 550 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, through educating parents and the local community, using the energy monitors and cycling instead of driving to school, says Mrs Ferguson.

She unfolds a detailed drawing of the plans for the outdoor learning area. "We got lots of help in designing this from two retired members of the community - Alex Innes and Gibby Porter. So here is the pond the pupils were talking about, with decking for our children in wheelchairs who can't get near it now," she says, pointing to it.

"This is where we'll compost the waste from the kitchen. That is a small sheltered area, open on two sides, that's being built right now. We'll use it for storage or theatre or bands. We plan to be out there in all weathers and all seasons.

"This is the teaching area with benches for pupils. Over there is a large area where we'll grow as much food as we can in raised beds and up here, overlooking the garden, are the orchard and lawn."

Science will be just the start of outdoor learning on the Grange Campus, says Mrs Ferguson. "The idea is you switch off all the electricity in here and take your class outside. I'll be doing it with all mine, at least once a week. So we're looking at science outcomes we can deliver outdoors. In renewable energy, for instance, we now have a set of outdoor lessons, where they map and grid, take anemometer measurements and study the siting of wind-turbines.

"You can do loads of biology and biodiversity out there. But you can also do art, maths, geography and Duke of Edinburgh. The P1s were out this week getting lessons on safety and materials from the workmen. Teachers are talking about an alternative curriculum for children who aren't good attenders, but are keen on working outside. There is no end to what you can do with outdoor learning."

Being outside just puts you in a better frame of mind for learning, say Mrs Ferguson's pupils. "A lot of classes go out now," says Allaya Whiting (P7). "You get to see how nature works. You see things that have blossomed when they were teeny stalks before. You see flowers and all the colours coming out. It makes you smile."

Morag Ferguson was named scienceengineering teacher of the year at the 2010 SQA Star Awards


The Climate Challenge Fund has made pound;27.4 million available to communities across Scotland from 2008. It has now received applications - from "community groups who wish to make a real difference by reducing carbon emissions in their local area" - for activities to take place between April 2011 and March 2012.

"They give you a development officer to help," says Morag Ferguson. "I put our bid together with Polly Craig, who teaches at Park School on our campus. The main points are that what you propose will reduce your carbon emissions and that it is a real community effort."

Climate Challenge Fund: www.keepscotlandbeautiful.orgccf.asp.

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