Oilfield project helps pump up the curriculum

13th January 2012 at 00:00
Workshops about the energy industries are putting pupils in touch with CfE's four capacities

Two hundred miles out into the North Sea, the control-room operator of the Harding Field is waiting for the helicopter to take him back on shore. His flight home has been held up by fog and he is eager to get home and see his family.

While he waits for the helicopter, S1 pupils from Meldrum Academy quiz him about his job via video link from the BP headquarters in Dyce, Aberdeenshire. He answers questions about his offshore role and responsibilities and even shows them how to put on a survival suit in record time.

Their visit to BP's headquarters is part of the Meldrum Academy "energy capacity building course", a 10-week project aimed at developing the four capacities in line with Curriculum for Excellence.

There will be 160 S1 pupils visiting BP over the next two days for a series of workshops on the oil and gas sector. This is one of a range of capacity-building courses they undertake from Primary 7 and through into S1 and S2.

Many of these children have relatives who work in this industry. The helicopters flitting across the landscape, heading for the North Sea, are a familiar sight to them and the offshore "two weeks on, two weeks off"routine is part of the rhythm of family life.

But today they are finding out how oil exploration and extraction really work in a series of interactive sessions delivered by the men and women who work here.

Both of Vicky Kotts's parents are engineers in the oil industry: "I knew nothing about oil. I knew there were platforms, but I didn't know how they got it (the oil) or the processes they went through," says Vicky.

Her group has just visited the HIVE (highly immersive visualisation environment), which is like a massive home-entertainment system with a curved, room-sized screen, where a box of 3D glasses is passed around. The technology allows them to swoop down like Superman for a tour of the Schiehallion vessel, a purpose-built floating production, storage and offloading system.

This proves a hit with Vicky's friend Madeline Reid, who has just waved her father off on another trip offshore. "Probably being in the HIVE was a favourite, because we got to see 3D animations of offshore boats and the equipment they have there. I thought it was really cool to see it, because my dad works offshore on a boat," says Madeline.

The girls also have a seminar on rocks from Dave Storer, a geologist on the Clair field, some 50 miles west of Shetland. Mr Storer is a link coordinator with Meldrum Academy who delivers workshops to pupils and helps with mentoring as part of BP's Schools Link programme.

After his presentation, the first-years are given rock samples and magnifying glasses with key charts to help identification. "We're looking at the rocks and trying to explain how you get different types of rock within the sub-surface and how those can be related to what we do within BP to extract oil and gas," he explains.

Mr Storer is one of around 100 BP staff working as link coordinators in 57 primary and secondary schools around the north-east of Scotland.

"We wanted to deepen our engagement with a handful of secondary schools to develop the STEM skills within young people - so science, technology, engineering and maths," says BP's corporate responsibility manager, Lynne Staples-Scott.

BP worked with local authorities in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to identify schools where they could have a bigger, longer-term impact and are now focusing on Meldrum, alongside Dyce, Bucksburn and Inverurie academies.

"We've hopefully got another 25-40 years in this business here, and we want these young people looking at the industry positively - not necessarily coming to work for BP, but looking for a career within the oil industry," says Mrs Staples-Scott. "This is part of us playing our role in that and getting them excited about science and technology."

Looking to a future of alternative sources

When they are in S2, pupils explore alternative sources of energy as part of their energy capacity building course.

"We're looking at the oil and gas sector because that has huge relevance to the day-to-day working lives of a lot of people in north-east Scotland," says Meldrum Academy's depute head, Liz Prosser. "But we're also looking at alternative and renewable sources of energy."

These S1 pupils began their first capacity building course in Primary 7, with a games-based project on the Olympics, using Wii Fit. They moved on to a module on research and investigation skills, followed by a project on news gathering which linked to the BBC News School Report Day.

"We've already noticed with the S1s that there's definitely an increase in their skills of co-operative working and I think that's an obvious spin-off," says Mrs Prosser.

Based on past experience, the school is going to start the P7s working on their research and investigation skills first, before the Olympics project.

As well as meeting core outcomes of literacy, numeracy, health and well-being, the courses are designed to encourage in-depth research into single topics and nurture good teamworking.

"One of the capacity building courses we do at the beginning of S2 is True Colours and in that they evaluate what they learned in S1 about working together," says Mrs Prosser. Courses in diversity and health and well-being follow.

Young Luke Galea-Pace's father works for an oil company. "Today's been really good so far," he says. "I wouldn't mind going offshore and doing this."

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