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The GeoBus journey

Five years on, GeoBus is still going strong, making more stops than ever across the country to deliver Earth Science educational resources in secondary schools, writes Jennifer Brooke.

jklhIn early 2017, GeoBus – an Earth Science education project based at the University of St Andrews – celebrated five years since setting off on its first journey around Scotland. Developed to support the teaching of Earth Science in the Scottish curriculum through hands-on learning experiences, the project now employs a team of three people and visits Scottish secondary schools from Gretna to Shetland.

With the removal of the Intermediate and Higher Geology qualification from the Scottish curriculum in 2015, the inclusion of Earth Science principles and skills across other subjects has become increasingly important, as has providing support for teachers who may be less confident delivering unfamiliar materials. The recent introduction of the new set of Environmental Science qualifications (incorporating, for example, a module on Earth’s Resource) has revived some of the fundamentals of Geology in schools where it is offered, and GeoBus is currently developing new workshops and resources to support this.

Picture: The GeoBus team (Jen, Kathyrn, Ruth, Sean) celebrating having taught over 50,000 pupils

Over the past five years, GeoBus has worked with over 54,000 school pupils and, in autumn 2016, the fleet was expanded with the launch of a sister project at University College London. Part of the NERC ‘Deep Volatiles’ research programme, GeoBus UCL is still in its early stages but has started visiting primary schools in London to enthuse younger pupils about Earth Science.

Every single workshop we have been involved with has been absolutely excellent. Over the years, the GeoBus has become an integral part of our school curriculum, and one which we plan to use for as long as it exists.”  Ailith Stewart, Teacher at Kingussie High School

North of the border, GeoBus remains in high demand and teachers can choose from 25 different workshops covering topics from Scotland’s Rock Story, to Plate Tectonics, to Renewable Energy. Schools often request several workshops during each visit and a standard GeoBus day can involve anything from measuring and identifying dinosaur tracks to modelling igneous intrusions using jelly and strawberry sauce.  Several workshops are supported by additional teaching resources that are available on the GeoBus website, and the ‘What to do with CO2’ and ‘Exploring Beneath Our Feet’ Discovery Events (involving multiple linked workshops over the course of a full school day) have been accredited such that participating pupils are eligible to apply to the British Science Association (BSA) CREST Award scheme. In conjunction with this, the project was awarded some funding specifically to support pkljhupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their CREST Discovery/Bronze awards. With the rise of social media as a tool for engagement, GeoBus is also exploring new science communication approaches in order to reach a wider interested audience. For example, the team has developed a series of ‘Geology In A Minute’ videos (available on the GeoBus YouTube channel) – many of which were designed by our creative undergraduate interns – and interaction between schools, researchers and industry on is promoted through Twitter (@GeoBus_StA).

Picture: Jen investigating igneous intrusions using jelly & strawberry sauce

The delivery and development of teaching packages for schools is a constant learning curve, but one of the successful aspects of the project from the start has been the direct involvement of University of St Andrews academics who study all branches of Earth Science, including; planetary geology and exploration, astronomy, climate change science, the evolution of oceans and atmospheres, mineral exploration, glaciology, remote sensing technology, and understanding major events in Earth’s history. This allows GeoBus to deliver material directly related to current scientific research and to serve as a bridge between academia, industry, and education. As a result, teachers interacting with the project are constantly updated with the latest research outcomes, and GeoBus is able to help pupils discover the education and employment opportunities available to them – both in Earth Science and in wider STEM subject areas.

In addition to classroom-based workshops, GeoBus supports senior pupils carrying out project fieldwork for Geography qualifications and introduces key investigation skills with a particular focus on geological aspects – such as rock type studies in river fieldwork and glaciation studies. A residential Geology field camp for pupils aged 16+ was successfully introduced in summer 2015 and will run again in June 2017, allowing participants to gain experience of geology fieldwork with excursions around the Fife and Lothian coast.


Getting the opportunity to work with amazing people [on the GeoBus field camp] was really helpful in influencing my decision about my future in studying … I've also been able to transfer those skills into other subjects.Eilidh Henderson, student participant in GeoBus field-camp 2016


jklhPicture:  Pebble analysis as part of a geological study during river fiedlwork with GeoBus

Earth Science has an important place in the education of the next generation, and by engaging pupils who would not otherwise have been exposed to the subject, GeoBus is able to introduce its diversity and integration with other subjects – lessons often end with comments along the lines of “who knew Geology wasn’t just rocks”. The subject is truly interdisciplinary, and one of the aims of GeoBus is to demonstrate the wide range of options available to anyone entering an Earth Science related career.

GeoBus has by no means reached its final destination and everyone involved with the project is looking forward to the next five years, and more. In the meantime, if you spot the van trundling around Scotland, be sure to give us a wave!


GeoBus is grateful for past and present support from RCUK, industry and professional societies. Our current Principle Sponsors are NERC, PremierOil and Shell, and we are also supported by the UK Space Agency. For more information on the project and what we get up to, please see or find us on Twitter (@GeoBus_StA) and Facebook (GeoBus St Andrews).