Making a science out of learning in the great outdoors

24th October 2014 at 01:00
National park course uses nature as a teaching partner

"I'm really not built for this," Liam Adkins insisted as he attempted to navigate his way down a fast-flowing stream with his classmates.

It was a variation on a common refrain from the group of 15 S3 pupils from Glasgow's St Paul's High School as they took part in an employability skills weekend course at Rowardennan Youth Hostel in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

The Life and Employability Skills through Outdoor Learning programme is run by SYHA Hostelling Scotland and the ScottishPower Foundation. It aims to offer S2 and S3 pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to combine adventure activities such as gorge walking with learning valuable scientific and engineering skills.

Using renewable technology as a theme, the programme sets young people outdoors challenges linked to the curriculum, including building a small water turbine using a bike wheel and pieces of milk carton. Designed to inspire pupils to think differently about their choices both at and beyond school, the project also gives participants a chance to talk to graduate engineers who volunteer on the residential courses.

Although the park is less than an hour's drive from Glasgow, few of the St Paul's High pupils had visited before, and putting on a wetsuit under the guidance of instructors from adventure firm Boots N Paddles was clearly an education, too.

Probationer physics teacher Stephen Hale said: "It's important that they have a balance between learning and fun. I think they are clearly enjoying themselves and all of them applied themselves, too, to varying degrees. It's a good opportunity to show them real-life examples of science in action."

Principal teacher Aileen McManus added: "A lot of the students might never have been somewhere like this before so even just coming here is a learning experience. The social skills aspect of being away from home, sitting at the table for dinner and getting on with each other in a small space is also valuable."

About 100 pupils have completed the programme since it was launched last year after the creation of the ScottishPower Foundation, which supports charities covering areas such as education, poverty, citizenship and environmental protection.

SYHA Hostelling Scotland set up the project with the foundation as part of a wider series of outdoor education residential programmes, which began a decade ago with Give us a Break.

The hostelling association recently launched a fundraising campaign to run a new science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) camp from this month, which also focuses on renewable energy and problem-solving tasks.

SYHA Hostelling Scotland chief executive Keith Legge said: "These curriculum-led programmes offer young people the chance to venture beyond their own backyard and experience the great Scottish outdoors, but really it's about getting them to realise their full potential, build confidence and grow self-esteem.

"The positive impact on the children who participate is clearly visible and for some youngsters it proves to be a life-changing experience."

To enquire about SYHA Hostelling Scotland programmes, contact Donna Thompson at


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