This week I received an unexpected piece of post. It was a little card from the Canadian Ecology Centre which told me that I had successfully completed Level 2 of the Green Check GPS Certification Program. Apparently I am able to identify and communicate a location using UTM and latitude/longitude coordinates with a map and compass. Basic navigation includes the relationship between the maps, the compass and the GPS Unit.
This was no junk mail. It is not the outdoor learning equivalent of being told that you’ve just won a holiday in a competition you entered recently. When I was in Canada as part of my Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, I drove up to the Canadian Ecology Center and trialled this award bearing course. I spend a morning outside walking around in subzero temperatures entering data into a GPS. In the afternoon I had to upload this, along with digital photos, onto a computer. Using a combination of Google Earth and a Microsoft paint programme we had to create maps of our outdoor journey. It all seemed terribly complex and best left to the likes of my husband who relies on such systems for mapping his forests.
However, this type of exercise is no longer the domain of map geeks, environmental or surveying professionals. Back in Toronto at the Urban Studies Centre, S2 pupils were doing exactly the same activity only this time they were using Arc GIS software and following an on-screen step-by-step video guide to complete the outdoor work undertaken in the morning. If you check the Curriculum for Excellence social studies experiences and outcomes SOC 3-14a and 4-14a both refer to using GIS.
Here, I believe the need for outdoor centres – day or residential – begins to come into its own. If we want our young people to have these sorts of experiences then off-site provision helps. The time taken to develop such high quality activities is hard to justify within a geography department with so many other needs and expectations. The cost of software and hardware is significant. Shared use through an environmental centre is much more economical. With the experiences and outcomes finalised, now is the ideal opportunity for all in the outdoor sector to look carefully at their provision and ensure the experiences and activities offered are not possible to easily provide within a school setting.
As for me, I feel quite de-skilled some days. I have yet to fathom out the GPS facility on my iPhone and download a relevant “app”. So to have a certificate proclaiming my proficiency is somewhat ironic. My son is about to enter S2. I think I’ll hand over my phone and get him to suss it out instead.