Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shannaghmore Outdoor Education Centre

28 June pm
Shannaghmore Outdoor Education Centre Newcastle Northern Ireland

This afternoon was spent with Andy Carden from Shannaghmore Outdoor Education Centre.  A similar organisation to a Camp School in Western Australia.  However due to their location they are able to offer a wide range of outdoor experiences.  I was keen to see how an organisation of this nature linked in to schools and their outdoors programs.  This was different from many of my previous visits however a worthwhile addition to my Fellowship, from an independent organisations viewpoint that is involved with schools.

Andy’s official title is as a Warden, but he is essentially the Manager of Shannaghmore Outdoor Centre and was very generous with his time both discussing the centre and giving me a tour of the centre which was really appreciated.  Basically the centre offers residential placements for a variety of varying levels of “adventure” outdoor activities for both school students and teacher leadership training.  The Centre is subsidised by their Education Department which keeps costs down allowing many less well off students a cost effective residential outdoor camp experience.  Primary School residential camps usually run for 2 ½ days but can go for up to 6 days although the longer residential camps occur less  infrequently.  9 similar centres exist across different education districts in Northern Ireland .  Youth groups utilize the facility on weekends.

Due to its location in Newcastle it is nestled between Dundrum Bay (Irish Sea) and the Mourne Mountains, it is able to offer mountain, lake and sea based activities.   Specific activities offered include hill walking, orienteering, wet bouldering, climbing, and first aide leadership courses for staff.  The real focus of these leadership courses is to get the teacher taking their own classes outdoors.

Primary involvement is not linked directly to the curriculum unless schools specifically request so.  Student focus is really simply to experience the outdoors.  For many students this is their first experience in the outdoors.  Andy spoke of urbanised students who needed to  for example learn how to walk on rocky uneven surfaces as they had no previous experience. 

Andy took me on a tour of the centre which was well equipped with a large repository of resources to enhance outdoor experiences and ensure conditions outside didn’t detract from students learning opportunities.  Included in the store was the following equipment which would be of benefit to any school undertaking an outdoor program.
-                      Wellington boots;
-                      walking boots;
-                      wet weather gear raincoats and wet weather pants
-                      binoculars;
-                      pond dipping nets, buckets, magnifying glasses;
-                      jumpers;
-                      and litter bags

One element of the  centre is assisting with the John Muir Awards. One aim is to leave wild areas in a better state than they find them.  Litter bags are always taken into the woods and collecting, and cleaning up sites archives one on the John Muir aims of leaving a natural area better than you find it.  A real focus of the John Muir Awards is for disadvantaged children.  As part of this Award they get involved with exploring, canoeing, walking, wildlife habitat, environmental care and pond dipping.

Andy suggested a good contact for school grounds would be Liz Wallace of the Magilligan Field Centre. .  Also  which is the institute for outdoor learning.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hazelwood Integrated Primary School (Belfast Northern Ireland)

Hazelwood Integrated Primary School …Nthn Ireland.  I spent the morning with the P7 class who also took me on a tour of their woodland that backed on to the school ground.  The integrated part of the school name comes from both Protestant and Catholic students being enrolled at the school.  The school is located in an ideal location for an integrated campus.  On the school’s Northern boundary is a predominantly Protestant Estate and on the southern boundary is predominantly  Catholic Estate with the school sandwiched between.  To the schools west is the local woodland which is used extensively for the Forest School program.  In Northern Ireland approximately 8% of students are in an integrated school with other students enrolled in either Catholic or Protestant schools.  The school is full with a waiting list for families wanting to enrol their children.

Jim McDaid the Assistant Principal is the Forest School Coordinator at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School.  He was very generous in giving of his time and sharing resources.  At Hazelwood the Forest is managed by the local authority who work with the school in the management of the woodland.  The woodland is a public park however during the day few visitors mean essentially the school has it to themselves.  Beyond the woods in a huge hill overlooking Dublin.  It looks like a persons head lying down, and was the inspiration for the book “Gulliver’s Travels. 

While walking through the woods several rabbits were spotted, I felt this was a fairly common occurrence however there was great excitement each time one was spotted.  We managed to get really close before they would scamper off. This 17 acre site is a real asset particularly being on the schools boundary. 

Jim has developed a set of resources for each year level.  These resources are the minimum expectation for students Forest School work.  Teachers are free to do more, and many do.  Classes usually visit the woods at lease once per month to complete the activities listed in their class book.  Jim has used the following web site for developing activities. 
Jim demonstrated a number of Forest School activities with his class.
1.                  The class went out and played a game of Camouflage… essentially hide and seek.
2.                  Tree hugging… a student was blindfolded, lead to a tree and had to memorise the tree by touch and was then led back to the start point.  The student then had to identify his tree.  This was achieved all be it unsuccessfully by going up to trees and feeling them to match the memory from hugging the tree when blindfolded.   Great fun and multi sensory.  The activity gave students a real micro experience with a tree.
Jim also spoke of other tree activities; Students were taught how to calculate the age of a tree.  2.3 divided by the circumference.  Students then had to find a tree that was the same age as them.  In another activity they would find the oldest tree in the wood.  In the case of this wood the oldest tree was 198 years old.  They would then research the period in history when the tree’s life began.  Students developed a real appreciation for what essentially will be the largest and oldest living thing many of them will ever meet. 

To develop the theme of camouflage one activity was to give all students two pieces of string, one brown and one yellow and having students hide them from each other.  All pieces of yellow string were found but none of the brown.

Jim saw the Forest School program as something to develop pastoral care and promote self esteem.  The curriculum content was important but not the primary focus. 

The school was also heavily involved in the John Muir Awards and used their wood for this.  Eco Schools was also big with particular emphasis on energy.

All in all a fabulous visit and very informative.   

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Giants' Causeway and photos of Ireland and Northern Ireland

Ireland and Northern Ireland in 2 days!

Giant's Causeway...County Antrim...Northern Ireland

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Ireland/Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland and Ireland in 2 days!

Hi all, this is Mrs Cumming.  We are up the north west of Ireland in County Donegal.  It is 10pm and Mr Cumming has gone off to find a mountain to climb! It is still light here so we are able to make the most of every day...working during the day for Mr Cumming and then exploring in the afternoon/evening. I read that it has been really cold in Bunbury..we have been very lucky over here, with hardly any rain.

We arrived in Ireland last week and had a few days off visiting Ireland's west coast.There are castles, ruins, cliffs, mountains, green hills, lakes everywhere and it is all so beautiful. We then drove across to Northern Ireland, near Belfast, where Mr Cumming visited the school (see last post), then that afternoon we headed up the coast to see the most stunning favourite was a place called the Giant's Causeway (see photos) which is a large mass of column rocks formed over 60 million years ago by volcanic activity.The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal although there are also some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (36 ft) high and they all fit together like a jigsaw. There are about 40 000 rocks in the area, but I'm not sure who counted them!  Ask Mr Cumming the other story of how they were formed which I think is a much better story..about the 2 giants!

We then drove along the coast but it took us 7 hrs to travel 160 kms because we kept stopping to look at all the amazing scenery.  This morning we found a very old castle called Dunluce Castle which was built in the 16th Century. It is perched high on a cliff and has started to fall down, but is great to see and read about. (see photos)
We then caught a car ferry to Ireland where we drove to the most northern point of Ireland..a place called Malin Head. Again the scenery was beautiful and we decided to take the car on a gravel track and walked about 1km to a magnificent set of cliffs. Ther are very high and sheer, which means they drop straight down into the ocean. It is really scary walking along the edge of them, but the views were breathtaking. I will put some photos up and if you look really carefully you may see Mr Cumming at the top of one and me at the top of another.
Tomorrow we will explore a tiny bit more of Ireland before driving back to Northern Ireland.  Mr Cumming is meeting with 3 different people on Monday in Belfast and then we drive to Dublin (Ireland's capital) to fly back to England where Mr Cumming has a conference as well as a school visit.  On Friday we have to be in Wales to visit another school! PHEW! So 4 countries in 1 week!
I know this is your last week of school, so have a safe holiday and we will see you all next term..
Seeya, Mrs Cumming

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fairview Primary School (Belfast Northern Ireland)

Fairview Primary School
Today I visited Neil McAllister from Fairview Primary School (500 students) in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Neil is a Year 6 Teacher who also co-ordinates the schools environmental programs.  I also met briefly with Mrs Maxwell the school Principal.  Neil was very generous with his time and despite undergoing his annual assessment the day of my visit was more than happy to have me sit in on his assessed lesson.  Neil’s passion for Fairview Primary extends over 6 years as a teacher and beyond that as an ex student. 
FairviewPrimary is currently involved in a number of programs I have already looked at to varying degrees:  Forest School, Learning Outside the Classroom, John Muir Award and Eco School.   What was particularly interesting was how the school incorporated all four programs into a holistic environmental program across the school.  Each program supplemented each other and worked well together. 
I was particularly interested in what the school did in relation to its Forest School program.  The deeper into Forest Schools I went the more it became apparent this was just a part of an overall approach.  Eco Schools, Learning Outside the Classroom, John Muir and Forest School all overlapped and supported each other.  Neil felt the opening up of the curriculum by the Education Department had made the outdoor environment more relevant.
Forest Schools
This operates across all three P6 classes.  Once a fortnight each class visits their local forest which is a 20 minute walk from the school.  Classes rotate lesson slots each fortnight. 
9:00am – 11:00am      Class 1
11:00am – 12:30pm    Class 2
1:15pm – 2:30pm        Class 3
Sessions are not always coordinated between classes.  Teachers run the sessions, however a forest expert provided by the local town authority, Dorothy Blackley remains all day in the forest to provide expert advice and support to lessons. This support is provided for the initial year of Forest Schools and will be withdrawn next year.  Teachers will then undertake the program in its entirety, having picked up expertise from Dorothy on the job throughout the year.
I had the opportunity to speak to Neil’s class about Forest Schools and they were so positive.  One common thread across the three P6 classes who undertook the program was when returning to class, students were required to keep a detailed diary.   Art, Health, Mathematics, Literacy, Science activities were all explained in detail by students.  They obviously had retained much of the information covered in Forest School and really didn’t liken this to in class lessons.  They just loved getting outside.  Next year the school is looking at linking each P6 class with a P2 class for some of their session with older students buddying up with younger students. 
School Grounds
The School Grounds have a well developed outdoor area with many spaces providing for future growth.  The area was more like a Forest within the school and included some outdoor classroom areas, tunnels and plenty of natural woodland areas.  Children were free to play in these areas during break times.  Staggered break times occurred due to constraints on facilities so younger students were not outside at the same time as older students.  When times do overlap students are restricted to Year level play areas.  Neil attended a Growing School Grounds conference in late 2009 which provided him with many ideas which he plans on developing into the school grounds in the future..  Many interesting grounds developments that I hadn’t seen before were as follows:

1.                    Each year level had a planter and looked after it for 12 months, each planter had a theme including, conifers, roses, healthy food.  Classes could add take away and develop these as they saw fit.
2.                    Year 7 leavers donated and planted a tree to the school grounds, and long term staff who were leaving the school also donated and planted trees.
The grounds development has been underway for four years and shows what is possible in such a short time.  The area had previously been a disused overgrown waste area of the school.

Eco Schools
This has also been underway for less than 12 months and the school is already on its Silver Award and looking towards its first Green Flag next year.  The driving force behind the Eco School plan is the Eco Committee consisting of 9 students and 2 teachers.  The school has major projects operating in Waste Management, Energy, Biodiversity, Water and Healthy Living.  There was evidence of all these projects throughout the school.  The real message here is Eco School is pupil lead.  There is not the legislative requirement to become an Eco School in Northern Ireland as there is in Scotland.  Travelling through Ireland earlier in the week the vast majority of Irish schools had Green Eco School flags flying.  It appears Northern Ireland is beginning to head in the same direction.

The healthy living project included a district competition “Green Mile” sponsored by the local government authority.  Students from competing schools either rode or walked to school for a week.  Records of distances were kept and submitted in two categories... most distance travelled and average distance per student. 

It is encouraging to see what can be achieved in such a short time with the whole school behind the project.
Link to more pictures. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bonfire Night

Last night at midnight huge bonfires were lit across the west of Ireland.  There was a large one opposite where we were staying.  The whole town came out to watch it burn.  Bonfire Night is an annual celebration held on the 23rd June (St. John’s Eve). The celebrations take place in towns and villages across the country and centred around the summer solstice.  Today I’m at Fairview primary in Belfast which is a Forest School.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Posted by PicasaIreland Pictures
I'm now in Ireland heading to Northen Ireland where I will be visiting schools and also the Belfast Activity Centre .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Forest School Wales

More Forest School Pictures

Here the Forest School program is delivered onsite.  The Head Teacher who was away today is seen as a driving force.  She actively promotes the use of the outdoors.  Through the use of Ed Assistants running and coordinating the Forest School Program all children receive exposure.  The program runs regardless of the weather - rain, hail snow or shine.  Staff involvement and utilisation of the outdoor facilities varies.  If the weather is fine there is a high frequency of usage.  One of the down sides to the use of staff running the program is that some staff perceive the outdoor program to be outside their area of teaching and infrequently use the facilities when the weather is inclement. However, the majority incorporate it into their teaching and learning program.  The transformation of reluctant learners in the classroom to confident children in the outdoors should be the driving force. The next PD for the staff will involve staff undertaking the role of the students in the Forest School for a day to truly see what their charges are doing when working with Charlotte.
The driving force behind Lisa’s position as a Forest School promoter and developer has come about due to the Government’s Foundation Program.  This new mandated policy by the Welsh Education Authority recognises the importance of hands on learning, and how nature can be utilised as the conduit to motivate students.

Small groups of students,(approximately 1/3 of the class), undertake either a morning or afternoon in the Forest School while the remaining 2/3 stay with the class teacher.  When undertaking the Outdoor classroom, they have all the students present.

I was really interested in how the program operated, and why it was so successful.  I had seen many similar facilities however their utilisation of these through the Forest School Program was different to the more formalised approach undertaken in Outdoor Classrooms.  In a similar vein to the Nature Kindergarten, activities were directed but if children chose to go in another direction to the planned lesson, this was fine, even encouraged.  What was great in this instance was I was able to observe the class practice.  Charlotte T, the Teacher Assistance who ran the program, together with Charlotte the Special Needs assistant were generous enough to let me sit in on their morning session and observe their interaction with nine 5 year old students.

Initially they went through a meet and greet routine where they virtually revised previous practice; this was followed with some discovery sessions on “Fairy” posts that had been left behind.  A sharing session where children went and collected interesting objects was followed by an introduction and practical session with wood working tools, utilising natural materials from the school woodland.  What was really interesting was that as Charlotte A went through the sessions the children guided and paced the session.  If something else took their fancy then that was fine.  One student spent a lot of time under a tarpaulin, another crawling through the grass, other students explored mole diggings. All this was fine and assisted in pacing the lesson to individual needs.  There seemed to be a great deal of flexibility built into the program.  The children also went through a process where they were learning the safety aspects of having a fire as they have a special area to light fires.  This was in preparation for doing some cooking in a few weeks.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Beach and BBQ last night of camp

20 more pictures from today

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Slate Mine & Portmeirion

Today we went for another long walk with the students from Moulsecoomb Primary who are on camp here in Wales.  A subtle change has come over the students.  They appear to have accepted that long walks are a part of what happens on camp, and the complaints of earlier in the week seem to have evaporated.  They have pushed their limits and I can fell a sense of achievement amongst them, when they may not have been aware of their own capabilities.  Our walk was interrupted by a possible sighting of a “Yeti” by a few of the students.  Most saw nothing, however many were convinced and the walk continued with some trepidation.  Unfortunately I was in the wrong place and missed all the commotion. 

Children collected samples from the woods throughout the walk which really focused their observations.  Collected items will be used for art work on their return to Brighton.  Lunch by Miners Bridge, a crossing point near a set of waterfalls saw the group have a well deserved rest.  After a further hike to the coach the group headed off to Conwy Castle where after some sketching focused students observation a quick tour led by Head Teacher Charles Davis saw another tour led by a teacher for children reaping dividends.  The children were fascinated and participated enthusiastically in the question and answer session which Mr Davis ran as they moved throughout the castle ruins.
16 June 2010
Today the camp followed the historical theme with a visit to an underground slate mine, where we caught a train underground and were able to, for a short time, imagine what life had been like for a 12 year old boy who spent his entire life working in the mines….this was a guided tour and really interesting as a follow on of the slate theme of the past few days.    We then visited the resort village of Portmeirion.
“Despite repeated claims that it was based on the town of Portofino, Italy, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion's designer, denied this, stating only that he wanted to pay tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. He did, however, draw from a love of the Italian village stating, "How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site..."

The students all did some sketching of the buildings then headed off on a walk through a lush, green forest, followed by a swim at the beach, Today’s summer weather was similar to a sunny winter’s day in Bunbury and even I went for a swim!

As today was the last day of camp we were invited to a BBQ by the lake near the hostel and I was able to teach the kids a rendition of Aussie Aussie Aussie to chant while they were supporting Australia during the World Cup.

It was fantastic to spend time with Charles, Andrew, Jason, Pam and Dorinda…a dedicated staff that the children are obviously very comfortable with.  Their commitment was strongly evident and there was mutual respect amongst all staff and students.  A fantastic experience and a terrific week with the staff and Yr 6 students of Moulsecoomb Primary School and I appreciate them making me so welcome.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Conwy Castle

Pictures Conwy Castle Wales

Conwy Castle

Tuesday 16 June

Today we went for another long walk with the students from Moulsecoomb Primary who are on camp here in Wales. A subtle change has come over the students. They appear to have accepted that long walks are a part of what happens on camp, and the complaints of earlier in the week seem to have evaporated. They have pushed their limits and I can fell a sense of achievement amongst them, when they may not have been aware of their own capabilities. Our walk was interrupted by a possible sighting of a “Yeti” by a few of the students. Most saw nothing, however many were convinced and the walk continued with some trepidation. Unfortunately I was in the wrong place and missed all the commotion.

Children collected samples from the woods throughout the walk which really focused their observations. Collected items will be used for art work on their return to Brighton. Lunch by Miners Bridge, a crossing point near a set of waterfalls saw the group have a well deserved rest. After a further hike to the coach the group headed off to Conwy Castle. Here the children sketched different aspects of the castle. A quick tour led by Head Teacher Charles Davis had showed me the benefits of child centred tours. Children were fascinated and participated enthusiastically in the question and answer session which Mr Davis ran as they moved throughout the castle ruins.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Penrhyn Castle

Today the camp followed up on yesterday’s visit to the slate mine with a look at the other side of the equation. The owner of the mine built Penrhyn Castle as his family home with his money made from the slate mine as well as money he married into, and this was where today’s visit was centred. The contrast between the extremes of poverty in the mines yesterday and the absolute opulence of the mine owner who was then the 5th wealthiest man in Britain was highly evident. Unfortunately, I was unable to take cameras in so I couldn’t take any photos, but the extravagance was almost obscene! The children got to experience life in Victorian times, beginning with dressing in Victorian attire (Not the Australian state - the clothes of the period) and participated in three activities. Working in a print factory, playing with Victorian toys, and my favourite - attending a Victorian school. It was amazing to see how the children almost conformed once they had the clothes on and as soon as they were back in their own clothes they were back in 2010 mindset!

Victorian games and toys were so basic; much was left up to children’s imagination. It reminded me of much of what was said at the Mindstretchers Conference. The Victorians had to use their imagination and improvisation really added another element to learning through play which is not prevalent in today’s games. Interestingly many of the children commented on how they would prefer these games to the ones they played now. Perhaps they were just in the moment.

The day ended with a tour of the castle, followed by an hour session in a large forested adventure playground. The enthusiasm of the staff on camp is fantastic and having a teacher run a tour of a stately home as opposed to a tour guide was brilliant. He was able to put everything at the children’s level and the questions posed to them by Andrew (their teacher) made all they were seeing so relevant. A great day...even though I was teased mercilessly by the students for Australia’s 4 – 0 loss to Germany!

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Snowdon View (In Song) Head Teacher & Yr 6 Teacher

Monday, June 14, 2010

Snowdonia National Park

More Pictures

Today was spent undertaking some planned visits to local areas of interest.  The day started with a visit to Electric Mountain, a hydro pump storage electric generating plant located under a mountain in Northern Wales.  We ended up over a km under the mountain!  We then did a trip up Snowdon Mountain on a small cog driven mountain railway.  Although not a serious hike, the 6 – 7 + hour walk, up what were some very serious trails for 11 year olds would have been beyond many of the students on camp.  Having climbed up to waterfalls on the mountain the previous day, the trip on the railway felt in order.  For the students getting up so high, and amongst the clouds was a first experience for many of them.  Speaking to Head Teacher Charles Davis, the risk benefit to having the children climb the mountain themselves could not be legitimised. 

The day ended with a hike up an old slate mine, where children collected slate for a later art project back at Moulsecoomb School in Brighton.  Although we began today with a fairly set planned educational program, the day ended with a serious physical challenge.   Walking the slate path, miners, (many of who were close to the students own age), in only the last century, took this walk daily to work up the side of the slate mine. It really gave the children an appreciation of working conditions in the mine at the time. The old stone structures that once housed a workforce of some 3000 were also explored.    The path up was steep and physically challenging with many students wanting to stop. Fortunately they persisted and were rewarded with fantastic views. The descent was also quite challenging and ended late in the afternoon.  There was a great sense of achievement from the students and by the time they arrived back at the hostel all the pain seemed to have been forgotten!

What was important about today, was there was still a outdoor based element.  Although not the focus of the day it connected to what was being studied.  Learning through being outdoors with a physical hands on component tested students both physically and mentally. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Moulsecoomb Primary School (Wales Camp)

I arrived in Northern Wales last night after a long drive from Keswick in Northern England. I am staying in a small village called Beddgelert and will be spending this week with 30 Year 6 students and 5 staff from Moulsecoomb Primary School in Brighton who are on a school camp in this area.

The main aim for me attending this camp is to see the advantages and disadvantages of a school run camp as opposed to a more structured independently run camp where external providers are utilised to deliver activities.

This school camp differs from activities Withers do on school camps in that there are many more outdoor adventure activities that are all run by the school.  Today was the students first day on camp after they undertook an 8hr bus trip from Brighton.  We walked ½ way up Mt Snowdon which is the highest mountain in England and Wales, and students were encouraged to have a swim in one of the mountain streams.  We then walked to a lake for lunch followed by free time.  We finished our walk at Beddgelert where the students were treated to some local Welsh stories.  On their return to school they will be using this for much of the basis of their own story writing.  They all had to purchase a postcard and write to their parents which I thought was a great idea.

The long trek over approx 8 miles (16kms) took all day and was a real challenge for students and gave them a sense of achievement at the end of the day.  The group seemed more close knit following this strenuous walk.  The night was finished off with an English draw in the World Cup against USA. Go the Aussies tomorrow against Germany.


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