If you thought barcodes were just for supermarkets, think again. Children walking through the woods in Stonehaven can scan barcodes on trees with their iPods to access an audiovisual woodland guide on a website.
Primary schoolchildren are working on this innovative project in a grassy clearing in the woods, exploring their very contemporary woodland trail. The idea came from Mackie Academy technical teacher Alan Craig, who rigged up three battery-powered Wi-Fi transmitters in the woods to enable internet access.
"Dunnottar Woodland Wi-Fi" is a transition project for Primary 7 pupils at feeder schools for Mackie Academy. The week I visit, the orienteering course is being tested by pupils from Dunnottar and Mill O'Forest primary schools. When they use the iPods to scan the barcodes, they find a guide to the woods on a website created by S1 pupils at Mackie Academy.
The P7s use the app "i-nigma" to scan the barcode with their iPod and then use the iPod to photograph the trees and plant life they discover. Next they use My Picasa Photo Manager to upload their photographs on to the website.
The children listen to recorded descriptions of wild garlic put on to the website by the first years and learn how to identify its distinctive smell and triangular grass-like leaves. Other woodland plants they hear about include comfrey, rosebay willowherb and red campion as well as the ash, elm and beech trees.
Technical teacher Alan Craig has been running woodland transition projects for several years in Dunnottar wood. He became fascinated with the craft of bodging when he saw it at a workshop five years ago.
While primary pupils find their way around the woods with their iPods, the S4 craft and design students are mastering the ancient craft of bodging - or green woodworking - which they'll show the younger children once they've grasped it. "It's not difficult once you get the hang of it," says fourth-year Christine Drummond. She wants to be a farmer like her dad and wants experience working with different tools.
The woodland work has added value for the younger children, thanks to the Wi-Fi.
"This year we have put a technology twist on what the primary pupils do. I came across something called QR codes - quick response codes," says Mr Craig, an authentic-looking woodsman in a wide brimmed hat and checked shirt.
"I believe they originated from the Japanese automotive industry and I guess it was for robots to identify parts in their production process. They are like a little barcode, but you can make them link to anything that you want - electronically - like a web address," says Mr Craig, as the fourth-years get to grips with the pole lathe behind him.
"As part of Curriculum for Excellence at Mackie Academy with the first- year pupils, I had them creating content for the Dunnottar woods website."
Mr Craig is collaborating on this with primary ICT specialist Jean Forsyth, who is nearby with the younger children.
"Instead of just having pens and paper and reading about it, we use a QR code attached to the wireless network, which takes us to the website. Some of the older pupils in S1 have put information on the website," says Ms Forsyth.
"So when we use the iPod and scan it, it takes you straight there and you get an audio recording of what we're looking at, whether it's a tree or a plant or a piece of architecture. So the children have got the audio, they've got the visual and they can read it."
The children are digital natives, she says, so to them, this is as easy as a piece of paper or a book to us.
"They don't see it as so exciting because it's just normal, but we are digital immigrants and we're really excited about it," says Ms Forsyth.
The P7s will have continuing involvement, now that they have moved up to secondary school.
A SMALL WAY OF TAPPING INTO THE GREAT OUTDOORS
The Forestry Commission is watching Dunnottar Woodland Wi-Fi with great interest.
Julia White, a community and education ranger for the Forestry Commission, has helped pupils to assemble information about the woodland and today she's showing the younger children how to craft bows and arrows and dreamcatchers from green wood.
The Forestry Commission and the International Year of Forests 2011 is sponsoring Dunnottar Woodland Wi-Fi, along with Stonehaven Lions Club.
"We do a lot of outdoor learning with schools in forests. But this is the first time we have been involved in anything with the QR project," says Mrs White. "The Forestry Commission is just interested in whether it is a distraction or aids what they are learning."
Mackie Academy teacher Alan Craig's next plan is to involve the school's renewables group in using solar power for the Wi-Fi transmitters, which could then be used as a woodland community resource.
Cameron Grimshaw, 12, from Dunnottar Primary, has been orienteering and is about to try bodging. "I can't wait to do that," he says. "Me and dad work on wood in the house and make things. We made our deck by hand and we made raised beds out of scrap wood. Dad works in oil and gas but he's handy with that sort of stuff."
Cameron did some technical work on induction day at Mackie Academy and he's already hooked. "A month or two before, you are nervous and you don't have a clue what it's going to be like. But after the induction days and transition you can't wait, you are excited about it."