Natasha Howard (Tash for short) is the Community Learning Officer for Corncrake Calling. Read on to find out about her first term facilitating a series of "co-design" primary school sessions as a "Cheshire Cat floating head" and to see some of the students' pitches to her in the corncrake equivalent of "Dragon's Den". 

One of the Corncrake Calling project’s activities is an education programme which will design and produce an online School Activity Pack which can be used in schools to raise awareness of corncrakes and wildlife friendly farming. We want this pack to be full of fun ways to learn about these birds and the habitat they need. What better way is there to do this than by involving the experts themselves - the primary school students and teachers living and working in the project areas.  

Over the course of this summer (Term 4) students from P1 through to P7 from 7 primary schools on the Isles of Skye, Eigg, Rum and Muck worked with RSPB Scotland and their teachers, through “co-design” (an approach involving students in the design process), to generate and present their ideas for fun activities to learn about corncrakes. We decided to use co-design because it’s a great way of ensuring the students are integral and active participants in the design process from the point of receiving the brief to pitching their planned and tested ideas back to us.  

During the course of six weeks the students got to initiate, direct and lead the decision making for each step of the design process while the teachers and I had to take a back seat, relinquish control and act solely as facilitators enabling the students to bring their ideas to life. As you can imagine, for the adults, used to being in charge, this involved a terrifying leap of faith as we had no-idea what the results would be at the end of six weeks work. The students on the other hand had no qualms about their new found responsibilities, embracing their roles with alacrity and pouring their energies into imagining, designing, refining and presenting their truly innovative and fantastic corncrake activities. 

Co-design is a very interactive, group focused, hands on process – think sticky post it notes, group decision making, large sheets of paper covered in drawings, mind maps, games, group voting systems and you have the general idea. As schools had only just re-opened from lockdown there was no face-to-face external engagement permitted. So our first challenge was how to deliver hands on, interactive sessions online. The students were back in school so I was “live on their interactive whiteboards” (feeling a lot like the Cheshire Cat’s floating head) leading the session while the teachers and TA’s were my hands, eyes and ears on the ground. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible without their fantastic support and enthusiasm for the project, very much a collaborative effort all round.

Having been introduced to all things corncrake in the first session, the students then spent the next session researching the “end user” finding out how they and their colleagues like to learn and what things they enjoy doing in class. We then moved onto the brainstorming and selection of ideas for fun corncrake based activities. I had groups gleefully reporting they’d come up with 30 ideas!

Amazingly, selecting one idea to take forward from the 30 seemed to pose no problems (or certainly none that I could see from my spot on the wall). I’m not sure a group of adults would have found it so easy! The selection process was also a real test of the teachers’ and my ability to keep our opinions to ourselves as we watched ideas we thought would be excellent get tossed aside in favour of the ones the students thought were excellent.

Once each group had selected their activity or idea, they spent the next few sessions planning it before pitching it to me at the end of term – a bit like a mini “Dragons Den”. During the presentations I was blown away by the effort, thought and work that had gone into the various activities and the students’ presentation of them.

Some groups made videos to demonstrate how their activities worked, others had created PowerPoint presentations, others had made an entire book on Book Creator, one class programmed a computer animation explaining corncrake friendly farming, another group composed a short song sung to the sound of the corncrake’s crex-crex call, others had used google slides to combine photos, videos and text to bring their activities to life. Props had been made: eggs from tennis balls, corncrake nests from tyres, corncrake and predator bibs for games of tag and board games with all the pieces including plasticine corncrakes. Some groups had tested their activities out and then discussed what hadn’t worked before adjusting the rules and trying again. This try and test process was explained by a very feisty young lady looking like she was a presenter off BBC Breakfast! Then there were the little flairs that made each presentation unique from the insertion of exciting facts about corncrakes to military style obstacle courses to beautifully drawn maps and diagrams of how the various games were to be played. I was left with the unenviable task of selecting a shortlist from an amazing array of activities.

So what happens now? The co-design program will run throughout the project areas over the next two years. The best of the activities generated by the schools each term will be shortlisted and then at the end of the engagement phase the activities that will go into the Corncrake Activity Pack will be selected from this shortlist. If this first term is anything to go by it’s going to be a brilliant pack! 

In the meantime, a big thank you and congratulations to everyone involved I really enjoyed working with you all and hope you have a great summer holiday. 

 The activities developed: 

3 Books about corncrakes – fictional and factual 

2 Obstacle Courses 

2 Games of Hide and Seek 

3 Games of Tag 

1 Corncrake Song 

1 Build a corncrake nest 

2 Board Games 

1 Animation 

Natasha Howard

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