Scottish Learning Festival - Wellingtons, camera, action

18th September 2009 at 01:00
An Edinburgh primary uses technology to make outdoor education memorable, even though its first forays made staff seasick

Wellywalks are now a staple in many nursery and primary schools, so- called because pupils pull on a pair of Wellingtons and head off into the wilds of the local area, or simply the playground, to hunt down mini beasts and investigate what lurks in the undergrowth.

Following last year's Scottish Learning Festival, Alison Lydon was inspired to do more in relation to outdoor education in her role as head of ICT at The Mary Erskine and Stewart's Melville Junior School in Edinburgh. The problem was, she didn't quite know what, until her own daughter, then aged five, returned from a wellywalk.

"She had thought it was great, but when I asked her what she had done, she couldn't really remember," explains Ms Lydon. "I thought: let's take wellywalks and see how we can use technology to make them more memorable for children."

Working with the school's P1 classes and pre-school children, Ms Lydon's first thought was to make a film of the walk by attaching a camera to the Wellington boot of one of the children taking part.

"It was a disaster," she admits. "The erratic action of the child walking made watching the film feel like being on a boat."

But film was still the way forward, she felt. "If you video the whole experience, you can home in on the bits that are of interest. You can also capture the sounds as well as the sights - the noise the leaves make, for instance."

A flip video camera proved to be the answer. "It fits in pockets, is hand- held and can be passed around. You can also stick it straight into the interactive whiteboard and download the footage immediately, without having to save to a CD. By the time the kids take their wellies off, they can relive the experience," she says.

"That's really important, because teachers don't have the time to play with hundreds of toys that are complex and time-consuming. They need to get the education across quickly - that's the important bit, after all."

The technology provided teachers with the means to take the learning from the wellywalk even further, allowing them to focus on a particular type of plant or fungus. "They were just able to draw so much from being able to look and relive the parts they wanted to. The children's observation skills and vocabulary grew massively, simply because they were able to look again."

The P1s were studying the seasons. Thanks to the footage collected, they were able to compare their wellywalks in spring, summer, autumn and winter. "When you are four or five, it is hard to remember back six months and to think of the differences, what the trees looked like," explains Ms Lydon.

The school also made use of digital cameras and bought a digital microscope, which was used by the children to scrutinise the bits and pieces they had collected on their walks, such as leaves and berries.

"They were able to take photos of the leaf with the digital camera and then beside the photo, they could place the close-up images they had printed off from the microscope."

Talking postcards also proved very popular. "They are A5-size pieces of card with inbuilt sound recorders. The children stuck the item that interested them on the front - a sycamore leaf, say - and recorded themselves explaining why they liked it and why it had caught their interest on the walk. It was great, because at that age they aren't really writing, so this gave them the means to share their thoughts with each other."

Meanwhile, Google Earth, which lets the user glide over and zoom in on satellite images of anywhere on Earth, was used via the interactive whiteboard to show the children where they had been walking, to plot where they found different things and to help them plan their next wellywalk.

None of the equipment was very expensive, says Ms Lydon, with the talking postcards around pound;2 each. The microscope was bought for pound;30 and the video camera cost pound;65.



I have observed living things around me over a period of time and recorded information on them. I can demonstrate my curiosity about living things and their environment.

I have observed and recorded some features of living things, which allows me to place them in groups. Using this information I can sort living and non-living things into groups, giving reasons for my decisions.


I enjoy exploring and using technologies to communicate with others within and beyond my place of learning.

I capture and present my world and experiences by taking photographs, or recording sound and moving images.

As I play and learn, I am gaining confidence whilst using computer technology and can use my skills in new and different situations.

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