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Kew On Wheels

Number 9 - July 1994

S. Hughes

The work of the Mobile Education Unit at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, U.K. began in October 1993. The aim of the Unit is to provide outreach education to schools about plants, their potential for environmental education and the work of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Target schools include those unable to visit Kew and those unaware of the resources that exist at Kew.

In developing this new programme the education staff at Kew felt more emphasis needed to be placed on schools, both locally and further afield, that were not benefiting from the resources available. The reasons identified for this were varied and included: insufficient support for outside visits, limited understanding of the value of plant based teaching and disabilities of the pupils. To address these issues and to promote environmental education across the curriculum, an outreach programme was seen to be a suitable development of Kew's core education programme.

The Unit, built to Kew's specification, is 7 metres in length. Staffed by one full-time teacher, Sharon Hughes, the Unit is towed by a Landrover. It incorporates an open stage area to one side, study benches, video, TV and slide projection facilities, laboratory equipment and a small specialised library which is changed frequently to compliment particular themes. Plant-based artifacts and live plant material are carried in the Unit to support the Economic Botany focus of the education programmes.

The Unit will be used for outreach to schools nationally, on a bookable basis, with both direct teaching and teacher training courses being run there. The Unit will also be used at a variety of educational events, conferences and exhibitions. It will be based at a central place within a local education authority area, usually a teachers' centre or at a school which is accessible for other schools. Generally the Unit will remain in one place for a week, working with local schools during the day and holding training courses in the early evening for teachers. These events will be organised in consultation with each local education authority in partnership with the local botanic garden and/or environmental groups.

The work of the Unit will support and highlight the Botanic Garden Education Network in the UK. It will encourage schools to investigate resources at their local botanic garden, aiming to raise the understanding of international conservation through development education and to set up local Agenda 21 initiatives, through addressing local conservation issues. By highlighting the uses and importance of the school grounds and the local built environment, opportunities will present themselves for community involvement.

The Unit's role as a networking facility is of paramount importance. In each area the Unit will work alongside local groups to provide them with resources from Kew in order to complement their work and highlight their role within schools.

The Royal Botanic Garden, Kew is currently producing a schools' pack called "Plants Across the Curriculum". The aim of the pack, which will be given free to all schools using the Unit, will be to encourage schools to use their local botanic gardens and to develop teaching activities through plant based information. The pack will contain teaching activities and resources, including slides of all the plants featured in the Unit. It will promote knowledge and uses of plants common to the local environment of city schools from around the world and will emphasise the multicultural relevance of plants within all aspects of the school curriculum.