'Jackets on, out we go, it will be great!'
It is a while since teachers at Meldrum Primary had this much fun on a school day. It is raining and they are outside learning about the joys of teaching in the great outdoors.
In the distance, the top of Bennachie is shrouded in rain clouds, but these teachers are waterproof - only their faces peep out under fleecy hats and anorak hoods.
As smoke from the campfire drifts through the drizzle, it is like a day out with the Brownies. The college tutors have made minor concessions to creature comforts, supplying squares of terracotta carpet tile for sitting on tree stumps for a briefing. But these Aberdeenshire teachers are outdoorsy types, women used to hauling horses into stalls and battling through snowdrifts to get their shopping. You can tell they mean business from their sensible shoes.
Meldrum Primary in rural Aberdeenshire has wonderful grounds, a grassy field fringed with trees, where they have created a wildlife area with a pond and log seats. It is a safe space and a great resource for games and learning.
Today's in-service training day is led by a trio of tutors from Banff and Buchan College: Pam Tateson, John Mowlster and Amanda Copson, and headteacher Alastair Beaton is giving a short tour of their playing field and wildlife area. "We are doing our familiarisation, getting to grips with Curriculum for Excellence. This is looking at how to do literacy, numeracy, health and well-being outside," he explains.
Alastair's P7 pupils have spent the past year working with Banff and Buchan College on the SQA Level 2 Access course, Managing Environmental Resources. "This is a chance to let the staff in the earlier and middle stages of school get an idea of what our P7s have been doing this year," he says.
Under the trees, the teachers are having a great time, learning to fly by flapping their arms up and down as fast as they can in twos. "One of the pair is going to be a flier and one is a counter," John Mowlster explains. "I am going to give you 10 seconds to fly and the counter is going to see how fast you can go."
This frenzy of flapping leads on to calculations and a discussion about how many times birds and insects beat their wings per second. "A bee can do about 100 a second," says John. "One foreign midge they recorded, they got up to 1,000 beats."
The next project is another on numeracy, counting the types of lichen on the different types of trees which they also have to identify. P5 teacher Hazel Sim and P4 colleague Sally Buist are squinting at the bark.
"We all do bits and pieces, but if kids were more geared up and wore the correct clothing and footwear to school, we would be far more likely to take them outside," says Hazel.
"Once the staff have a better understanding of what we are doing and they can share it with the parents, I don't think it will be a problem. When we all understand why we are outside and it's relevant and an important part of education, we'll be fine," says Sally.
In another group, Pam Tateson is demonstrating how to draw a sound map of what teachers hear around them. "Find a place and listen, then draw what you hear. You may hear the wind, so draw it, or you may hear a bird," she tells them.
Depute head Mairi Manson has drawn a chainsaw, a bird and the wind. "Pam has been showing us tools we could use safely outdoors with children. There is an axe, so we have been looking at how to chop safely, and saw a piece of wood safely, showing a technique for children up to P3 who are able to do it on their own with close supervision."
Pam is chatting about proper clothing for children and protection from countryside hazards like nettles: "They need to learn what a nettle is, and how to avoid them. We have to be sensible about this, it's not a disaster to get stung by a nettle - it's a disaster if you fall into a pile of them though," she laughs.
Nearby, Amanda Copson is focusing on outdoor literacy, leading a team of teachers on a coded trail, laid out in sticks, which takes them to letters making up an anagram. "Children love the idea of a treasure hunt and the learning is in counting out the number of paces and then re-arranging the letters they find to spell a word," she says.
The word prompts a theme for a poetry session, describing something they can see.
At the other side of the field, Pam and headteacher Alastair are attempting to put up an old parachute marquee-style to provide shelter for the tea break. Then it's time for tea and cake by the campfire.
"This is excellent and you can see loads of things you can do with the kids to adapt and change it and keep it simplified for younger children," says classroom assistant Sheila Fell.
She needs no convincing about outdoor learning: "Jackets on, out we go - doesn't matter what the weather is, it will be great!"
Banff and Buchan College offers a wide range of short courses for teachers' CPD - from HSE First Aid at Work to Basic Sign Language, Psychology, Multi-media, Building a Blog and Polish Language Essentials - and tailors packages to suit needs.
- bsolutions@banff-buchan. ac.uk; T 0845 2701900.