Teaching Schools Air Quality Awareness

In spring 2014, SYSTRA undertook a programme on behalf of Dundee City Council to deliver in-class workshop sessions to all Primary 5 (P5) and P5 composite classes across the city’s 35 primary schools.

Our brief: to raise awareness of air quality issues in the city, and to show pupils (and importantly their wider family groups) how travel choices affect pollution. The whole of Dundee was declared an Air Quality Management Area in 2006, and in common with most other urban areas, the main source of pollution is from road traffic.

Our approach to delivering these workshops is firmly grounded on significant experience of schools-based sustainable travel programmes in Dundee and elsewhere. Underpinning all our primary school engagement is a reflective learning technique, making use of continuous engagement between our staff and pupils to share ideas and knowledge; we try hard not to lecture pupils. This is a workshop format we are particularly proud of.

Our workshop activities are explicitly linked to Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, therefore teaching staff can have confidence that our work helps meet children’s educational requirements. This is worth remembering when contacting schools and outlining the workshop programme content to school staff.

An idea trialled during these workshops included a twenty-minute air quality discussion, with pupils sitting on the floor gathered around a whiteboard. A chart indicating air quality values of between one and ten was fixed to the board and pupils shown a series of pictures. Pupils were asked to suggest what value the air quality in the picture might score on the scale. This session provoked lively discussion. Images used include public transport, a pedestrianised street, rural locations and even a volcano. We showed pupils ‘then and now’ comparisons of air quality in Dundee, illustrated by the use of two comparable pictures of the Tay estuary.

Previously tried and tested elements of these workshops included a Travel Trail, (a practical version of a ‘hands-up’ survey) in which pupils colour in a cartoon character corresponding to how they travelled into school that morning, and a homework task sheet handed out at the end of the session.

Our bespoke homework sheets explain the homework activity to pupils and are designed to reinforce the workshop’s aims. We ask pupils to describe in story or poem form, an active and sustainable journey they have made with their family.

In the spirit of the air quality theme, during 23 days of programme delivery, I used a car only three times to travel to the schools otherwise all travel to Dundee was by train and bicycle. This was also turned into a workshop theme as on several occasions class teachers asked ‘how did you travel here today’ upon hearing that I travelled to Dundee from south Fife. Using a bicycle and train helped reinforce key messages.

To discuss our schools workshop programmes, please contact Gary Cummins, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.