GeoBus Without Borders

13 October 2023

The initiative stems from GeoBus St Andrews, an outreach programme from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews, which has been running since 2012, and whose success also inspired the launch of a sister project at University College London in 2016.  GeoBus St Andrews has reached more than 80,000 students from over 250 schools across Scotland and since 2022 the team have been providing high quality professional learning courses for teachers across Scotland to support them in teaching engaging, interactive lessons on Earth science topics.  GeoBus Without Borders takes this successful approach to professional learning and applies it in other countries where teachers face similar challenges when delivering lessons in Earth science topics.

GeoBus courses introduce educators to low cost, engaging activities and teaching methods while connecting research, industry, and schools to highlight Earth science career opportunities and to include up to date research in teaching packages.  Some of the new research included is from GRIND (Geological Research through Integrated Neoproterozoic Drilling), an international research-focussed drilling project currently working in Namibia and Brazil that explores the conditions of Earth just before the dawn of complex life. 

There are many similarities between the school curriculum in Scotland and that of Namibia in terms of subject content and how Earth science topics are spread across a range of different subjects including geography, physics, chemistry, biology, and environmental science.  Therefore, it made sense that practical ideas which were successful for engaging students in Earth science topics in Scotland would also be suitable for use in schools in Namibia.

For the GeoBus Without Borders courses in Namibia, the Scottish-based GeoBus team of Lynn Daley and Lauren Urquhart were joined by Dr Catherine Rose (senior lecturer at University of St Andrews and member of the GRIND Central Science Team) and Lola Mors (Laidlaw intern and undergraduate student from the University of St Andrews).  The programme of workshops was developed in close collaboration with Josephine Uushona, Senior Geoscientist and Outreach Coordinator for GSN.

On Monday 2nd October, the team delivered three workshops for members of staff from GSN to facilitate future outreach visits across the country. The following two days saw 24 teachers from across Namibia taking part in 6 workshops that introduced curriculum-linked Earth science concepts through every-day objects and experiments. Workshops included activities such as cookie mining to explain sourcing of critical minerals in the production of smartphones, cores through layered biscuits to explain geological time, and so much more! The full list of workshops was Fluvial Processes, Monitoring Volcanoes, Coring Through Time, Earthquake Building Challenge, Introduction to Plate Tectonics and Rock Powered Smart Phone.

The feedback from the teachers was overwhelmingly positive, with lots of creative ideas to transfer the ideas to school grounds and classrooms as well as to minimise costs, for example using colourful, local clays instead of playdoh for modelling of rock layers. 

Josephine Uushona reflected on the experience: “As someone who aspires to communicate and educate in the field of geoscience, this workshop was truly enlightening.  The practical exercises presented were straightforward, practical, creative, and easily relatable.  They provide effective tools to simplify complex scientific concepts that often pose challenges for both learners and teachers (e.g. plate tectonics).  This initiative is truly remarkable and has inspired me.  I now feel even more motivated to collaborate with teachers and empower them to embrace innovation, helping them discover more ways to make their lessons more engaging and comprehensible for their students.”

The three days of workshops in Windhoek were an important step to developing a network of science and geography educators across Namibia.  GeoBus Without Borders hopes to build on this network to deliver further, regional workshops in Namibia to reach teachers who do not have the means to travel up to 900km to Windhoek and to provide them with the tools to deliver low cost, hands-on activities to help students understand Earth science topics.

By working with teachers and staff at GSN, the aim is to make GeoBus self-sustaining in Namibia.  The GeoBus Without Borders team hope to follow the success in Namibia by bringing these practical, interactive ideas to other countries.

None of this work would have been possible without the generous support of GRIND NEO Energy, and the Laidlaw Foundation.

The GeoBus team with a group of Namibian teachers who had attended the course