Outdoor Learning at Dr Thomlinson Middle School


Since winning the 2013 Rolls Royce Science Prize, the school has used the £10,000 prize to invest in promoting outdoor learning for all our students.

For the past two years we Dr Thomlinson Middle School has been a Forest School and all our students have had opportunities to be involved in Forest School activities in Science, Design Technology and Cookery.  Students are also able to come to the Forest School club on Thursday lunchtime.  From November the school are also working in partnership with “Coquet Wild About”  - an outside club based in the Coquet Valley that promotes outdoor activities.  KS2 students are able to attend a Wild About club at the school on Friday lunchtime.

The school have also created an outdoor classroom and all subjects have benefitted from the chance to have some of their lessons outside.  All subjects have spent time outside during the spring or summer term.

Examples of Outdoor Learning activities are:

  • Year 5  generate ideas about 'Insects', focusing on aspects of symmetry, 3D wire/ willow and collaborative skills.- after investigating the space in the trees near the out-door classroom
  • Year 6 went on a bug hunt and looked at the habitats that their creatures were found in.  Year 6 explore artists work on 'birds' and dynamic line, developing birds nests with natural, found and re-cycled materials- inspired by the Forest school area/ respect for nests/ school chickens
  • Year 7 looked at different habitats around the world and compared them to our own local habitats in school, suggesting what features plants and animals would have that would help them to survive.  Year 7 study the local landscape and perspective, designing clay-tiles-  applying a variety of mark-making techniques based on our view across to Old Rothbury and Cragside Estate
  • Year 8 investigated gravity by hanging from the monkey bars and seeing how long they could hang on for. The heavier the person the shorter time they could hang on for as the effect of gravity on their mass was greater. Tim dropped a melon and an apple from the top of the hall roof and we saw that they both fell at the same rate, hitting the ground at the same time. This is contrary to what most people believe; that heavier thing fall faster.
  • Year 8 also spent most of the summer term doing a plant ecology topic outside, culminating in an investigation around the school grounds involving different sampling techniques.  Year 8 focus on developing more accurate drawing skills through close observational drawings of 'found natural objects' in our school grounds as well as from the art room collection of sheep skulls/ shells / dried seed- heads .
  • In the Summer term, the theme of 'Art and Nature' is set as an Enquiry Topic with all year groups in Art lessons.


Outdoor Learning was a very important part of our Year 5 transition day. 

June 2015 Outdoor Learning Transition Day report - Pupils were split into groups and assigned a teacher or practitioner. Our newly appointed Year 8 buddies (a group of students especially trained to welcome and work with students new to our school) were also on hand to help throughout the day and worked with groups of Year 4 pupils.

Firstly, we had a tour of the school, pupils noted where certain places were such as the toilets and dining room.  They were surprised  at the size of our school but, by the end of the day, they knew their way around really well.

Pupils then went on a bug hunt in the school grounds and found some of amazing creatures. We looked at them with hand lenses and discussed what features they had that helped them to survive in the different places they were found.

After lunch pupils then designed their own "creature" that could survive in school. The idea being that it gave them ideas to help them with transition to a new, larger school with larger classes and new friends to make.

Finally we all went outside and made the creatures the students had designed.  The creatures were made out of natural materials that we found around school. The results were amazing and we all had fun looking at each other's models.

Active Citizenship Week

In January 2015 Year 7 and Year 8 students took part in an Active Citizenship Day in which they were helping improve the school environment. Students were involved in laying a willow planation - which the school will use for basketry and building structures - for our Forest School .

Students also spent time designing improvements to our school pond area.  Over the summer holidays Mrs Sharkey and her family started to put these plans into action by spending three days emptying the old pond, digging out a new one, lining it and filling it with water. Hopefully this one will last longer than the previous one. The school are now in the process of planting up the area to attract insects as part of our outdoor learning programme.

The Monday Club is a club for specially selected pupils who work in teams to build two prayer gardens in school. The girls are working on one in the Forest School area that can be used during RE and PSHE lesson under supervision. It will have a wishing tree and seating as well as being fenced off in due course. They are currently designing this area using Google Sketchup. The boys are designing an area on the edge of the playing field that will provide a quiet place during break and lunchtime that pupils can use when they wish to be quiet and thoughtful. It currently has been planted with some apple, plum and pear trees and will also have a seating area.

We have also used out outdoor learning spaces for staff training and have had staff from many feeder first schools involved in promoting outdoor learning in their own schools.

Collingwood School in Morpeth worked with some of our pupils on a joint community cohesion project. Part of the project involved pond dipping and bug hunts round school and we found lots of interesting creatures to study with the hand lenses.