Scottish Learning Festival - Learning lab in the open woods
Langass Wood on North Uist is a welcome sight in a Hebridean landscape with few trees. It is a community-owned woodland, which has become a laboratory for learning and a powerhouse for creativity across the curriculum.
Birdsong inspires music, the trees encourage art and poetry, and children enjoy fresh air and exercise as they tramp the forest trails, learning about science, history, geography, ecology and much more.
North Uist Woodland Trust, which took it over from the Forestry Commission, wanted to encourage youth and community involvement in the woodland regeneration and approached Sgoil Lionacleit on Benbecula.
The school suggested the woods could be a focus for S2 pupils using a cross-curricular approach, in line with Curriculum for Excellence. Since the venture began, each S2 pupil has planted at least one tree.
"As a cauldron for learning, it's super and it's a different environment for our children. When we go there, we tend to go for a half-day or a whole day," says Anne Reid, art and design teacher at Sgoil Lionacleit, about 15 miles from Langass Wood.
"Four departments - English, science, social subjects and art have been involved, and to date we have had four visits to the woods.
"The woodland is on the peaty interior of North Uist on the main Lochmaddy road. The views are wonderful - fantastic views right up to the Harris hills."
Walking within Langass Wood is a Co-Create project for Glow, using a cross-curricular approach to interpret the heritage and ecology of the woodland. It's one of 10 partnership projects supported by Creative Scotland and Learning and Teaching Scotland, to explore Glow's potential to support new approaches to learning through the arts and develop online resources for schools.
This project developed as a collaborative venture with the Sgoil Lionacleit and Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre, which is keen to encourage more people to enjoy Langass Wood.
"The woodland lends itself naturally to CfE, because there are so many facets to it and it's really great to explore it creatively as well as factually," says Sarah McIntyre, cultural access officer for the museum and arts centre.
The partnership also includes North Uist Woodland Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage. Around 80 S2 pupils have taken part over the past year and children at Carinish and Lochmaddy primary schools have also been involved through workshops.
One of the key developments is the Letterbox Guide for Langass Wood, created by S2 pupils working alongside conceptual artist and poet Alec Finlay, with poets Colin Will and Ken Cockburn, and musician Rhodri Davis.
Alec has an ongoing project known as Worldwide Letter-boxing - this is a hobby in which walkers add value to their journey, searching the landscape for the letterboxes. Alec has boxes in locations as far away as Uruguay and India and wanted to link North Uist with the rest of his network.
Seven boxes are being installed at Langass, with an inkpad and rubber stamp of a circular poem composed by pupils, based on birds, trees and plants they have discovered in the woodland.
"I can imagine children enjoying collecting the seven different stamps and that will be evidence they have walked all through the wood," says Mrs Reid.
In school, art students collaborated with the English department, where pupils wrote Haiku poetry. The verse was then illustrated in art classes. One group used calligraphy; another class studied medieval manuscripts online before producing their own.
The children's work is also being showcased using the latest technology to inform future young visitors: interactive digital guides are being developed on hand-held mobiles, using images and information gathered and created by pupils in the woods. This material will then be fed into the Walking Within Langass Wood Glow group.
"There's a map of Langass which you are able to go into. It shows you in relation to the woodland as you move around it on the screen," says Ms McIntyre. The museum is working on the guide with outdoor education specialists Wild Knowledge, she explains.
"As you pass points of interest, which will be where the letterboxes are and any other points the pupils feel are important within the woodland, you click on them and you can access bits of information about them. So you can click onto a letterbox and find out about the species associated with it and then listen to the birdcall and listen to the pupil's poem.
"One of the lovely things about this is that the pupils are able to see what they've been working on. There's a tangible outcome, and hopefully soon they will be testing out the trail and the guide they have designed. It's really exciting for us to be using new technology like this."
The children's work is creating a lasting legacy for future generations of youngsters who visit these woods, providing a guide to the ecology and heritage of their woodland journeys using the latest technology.
Co-Creating with Glow: Walking Within Langass Wood at the Scottish Learning Festival on September 23, 1pm.