Scottish Learning Festival - Bad weather reveals its brighter side

17th September 2010 at 01:00
Changeable outlook across Scotland is boon to climate-change projects, say website developers

The vagaries of Scotland's climate may be viewed as a mixed blessing by some, but Ian Menzies clearly believes every cloud has a silver lining.

"You only have to step outside your doorstep to encounter wind, rain, sunshine or whatever else Scotland's weather cares to throw at you on any one day," says the man behind a new weather and climate-change website for primary schools.

The development officer for Learning and Teaching Scotland's Developing Global Citizens programme, Mr Menzies believes the changeable Scottish weather acts as a stimulus for weather projects from early years upwards.

The site is not only cross-curricular in scope, covering everything from science, maths and social studies to geography; it also comes under the Developing Global Citizens area of the curriculum, because of the growing importance of climate change as an international challenge.

Teachers, even in primary, need to be aware of the employment prospects in the burgeoning "green" sector in Scotland, says Mr Menzies, a former maths and physics teacher who has spent the past 13 years with the aid charity SCIAF. This learning resource is, he believes, the first step in developing those skills for work.

He also hopes it will encourage pupils and teachers to debate the role of man in creating climate change - is it man-made or not? - and to analyse media reporting of scientific issues.

The website, launched earlier this month by former BBC weather forecaster turned science educator Heather Reid, aims to make it easier for primary teachers, many of whom may lack confidence in teaching scientific concepts, to tackle weather and climate-change topics.

"We have tried to do all the hard work for teachers," says Mr Menzies.

That includes offering 52 videos that can be downloaded for use without an internet connection; links to related websites; a series of reflective questions for teachers to consider as they prepare lessons; a news section with RSS feeds from media outlets; image banks; and links to local science centres.

Some of the videos have been helpfully broken up into bite-sized chunks for class work and there are two series presented by Dr Reid, one explaining various aspects of the global climate, the other on weather forecasting.

Most exciting perhaps are the videos presented by pupils from eight primaries across Scotland:

- environmentally-friendly Acharacle Primary describes its journey to become a Highland "school of the future", where the classrooms are heated by the pupils' bodies;

- Dalmally Primary visits Cruachan power station in Argyll;

- Eaglesham Primary features Whitelee, Europe's largest onshore wind farm, and describes how the East Renfrewshire local community reacted to its construction;

- Eigg Primary in the Inner Hebrides, describes how the community buyout of the island led to the development of a renewable electricity supply (see panel);

- Ladyloan Primary in Angus showcases its energy efficiency survey;

- Lawthorn Primary in North Ayrshire has done award-winning work on reducing its global footprint;

- Shapinsay Primary delves into the world-leading research into wave and tidal power being carried out on Orkney; and

- Buchanan Primary in Drymen helped Dr Reid measure and record weather.

Christine Balloch, science co-ordinator at Eaglesham Primary, is enthusiastic about the new LTS website, particularly the fact that all the relevant information is now located in a central area, rather than "here, there and everywhere".

The videos are "amazing", she says, because the diagrams they contain make it so much easier to explain concepts such as evaporation and condensation to pupils.

All seven schools were given a script by LTS, which they could develop themselves. Mrs Balloch believes the very act of presenting the videos improved the pupils' learning experience.

Luke Butterfield, who was in P7 last year, when they made the video, agrees: "It looks really easy to just speak in front of a camera, but it took a while to get right."

He adds: "You don't realise how important renewable energy is - you don't understand or care about what happens - until you do a project like this."

Climate Change as a Context for New Learning at the Scottish Learning Festival, September 23, 9.30am.


Since the community buyout of the Island of Eigg in 1997, the islanders have been setting up their own renewable electricity system to replace the noisy, polluting diesel generators of the past.

The 10 pupils at Eigg Primary are very aware of climate-change issues, because the weather impacts so directly on their lives, says headteacher Hilda Ibrahim.

"The last six months have been abnormally dry for us. We have had no water. Three-quarters of our energy comes from hydro-electric, but our rivers and streams have dried up - whenever that happens, the whole community needs to be very careful," she says.

But they have also had very calm weather, which has affected their wind power. That, she says, is why they got solar power too: "If there's no rain or wind or sun, we've got a problem."

Similarly, if the weather is wild, there is no boat - "that's our lifeline service". When the children reach secondary age, they go to school in Mallaig and come home every other weekend: "If there's no boat, they can't get home or back to school."

The children on Eigg are more aware than many of their peers of the impact of climate change around the world, she believes. They have been very concerned about the floods in Pakistan in recent weeks.

But she welcomes the new climate-change resource wholeheartedly, particularly the schools' videos.

"I'm already inspired," she says, "by the other videos."

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