Amazing Science

 Practicals for Outdoor Spaces


Schools have been using outdoor lessons to help manage social distancing rules more easily. The UK government, alongside many others across the globe, is recommending steps you can take to reduce social interaction between people to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and return to normalcy as quickly as we can. With this in mind, the case for outdoor learning has never seemed so relevant.

Outdoor learning is a fantastic option for school leaders to educate children still in school whilst maintaining social distancing.

Forest School is an initiative well known in the UK and is one form of outdoor learning, centred around ‘learning by doing’ to nurture students curiosity. This has been adopted across schools with innovative outdoor learning activities being designed for many different subjects, learning numeracy by tying strings around trees or learning about local wildlife. Transitioning to a more outdoor focus could potentially help the current disruption in three ways:

  • Being outside will help teachers ensure there can be as much social distancing between the students as possible
  • The classes will help keep the students engaged and happy during a time where they could be worried about the future
  • With schools having to rely on a much-reduced workforce, potentially merging classes, this could be a way to reduce                the strain put on the staff


By taking lessons outside, this provides the opportunity to speak to the whole group at once. For example, direct teaching can be done outside with students moving off to work individually, either outside or back in the classroom.

This could also be flipped with the direct teaching inside and the students moving outside to work independently.

Clipboards are a lifesaver!

If you are taking children outside, you will need clipboards to organise the students’ papers and prevent them from blowing away in the wind.

Not often as utilised in secondary education, outdoor learning lends itself well to STEM subjects. Timstar team have collated some practicals, that are perfect for the great outdoors:

A Giant Solar System

Model the solar system orbits and relative distances on a school field and if you’re feeling adventurous, get the students to try and cycle (or walk) around the orbits at appropriate speeds (this can work well filmed and also requires some lateral mathematical thinking).

This practical activity, from the Royal Society, helps students to visualise the scale of our solar system by drawing out the planets’ orbits around the sun in a scale model. One astronomical unit is the distance between the Earth and the Sun, and this is used by astronomers to describe distances in space. A table is provided with the distance of each planet from the Sun given in astronomical units, which students can use to calculate a suitable scale for their model solar system based on the area they have available – the playground is ideal.

Rocket into the Skies

Take a water rocket kit outdoors and get the students to work out how high it goes (using some basic trigonometry) and its average speed.  You could link up with the mathematics department!

Quality Chromatography

Ask students to collect samples of different plant leaves and flowers. Extract the pigment (either in the field or back in the lab) and run paper (or thin layer) chromatography, as well as testing the supernatant as an acid/base indicator.

This protocol for a reliable and enjoyable practical allows students to observe the different pigments involved in photosynthesis using thin-layer chromatography (TLC). A low-cost method to get the most out of TLC sheets, including the opportunity to identify the pigments involved using Rf values.

Using Quadrats

GCSE Required practical – measuring population size in a habitat

Estimate the size of a population of a species within a habitat using sampling techniques and investigate a factor affecting population size.

AQA A-Level Biology required practical 12

An investigation into the effect of a named environmental factor on the distribution of a given species: e.g. investigation into the distribution of dandelions in a lawn not treated with herbicide and a lawn treated with herbicide using a point quadrat frame

Quadrats are square frames of wire usually 0.25 m2. These are placed on the ground to look at the plants or slow-moving animals within them.

When looking at plants in a quadrat the following sampling can be used:

  • The number of individual species: the total number of individuals of one species (e.g. daisies) is recorded.

  • Species richness: the number of different plant or animal species is recorded but not the number of individuals within a species.

  • Percentage cover: the percentage of the quadrat area that is covered by one species (eg grass). This is easier to estimate if a quadrat has wires making smaller sections. Percentage cover rather than the number of individuals is used when estimating plant frequencies if it is difficult to identify individual plants, such as grasses or moss.

Beautiful Birds

Observe birds in a bid to discover more about the wildlife in your local area. Suitable as a classroom or extended homework activity. Set a time limit and set about measuring the number of bird species in your area.

Why not download our useful activity sheet or purchase Timstar’s field binoculars and clipboard:

Looking for something different?

A clinometer is used to measure the angle of elevation, or angle from the ground, using trigonometry. You can use a clinometer to measure the height of tall things that you can’t reach to the top of, for example, flag poles, buildings and trees.