Outdoor learning

The Open Air Laboratories

The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) is a citizen science project running from the Glasgow Science Centre, offering schools and communities the resources and help to run practical outdoor science lessons. OPAL run eight different citizen science surveys that encourage people to get involved with real science surveys in their local area.

Citizen Science

Citizen Science is when members of the general public take part in collecting information or analysing the data from scientific experiments or surveys. It’s a powerful way of discovering new things about our planet allowing us to make many more observations than scientists would be able to make on their own. OPAL has been running citizen science surveys for almost ten years and so far members of the public have submitted over 62,000 surveys to us, meaning we have a huge amount of information about the health of the environment. All this information allows other environmental organisations, governments and local councils to make decisions about how to care for our precious green spaces.

OPAL for schools

OPAL has five Community Scientists in Scotland who help schools to run environmental science lessons in the outdoor classroom. Many schools are being encouraged to take pupils outside to learn however this can be daunting. OPAL’s Community Scientists will provide free resources, and advice on how to use the outdoor classroom to teach environmental and natural science. Some schools may even be eligible for a free school visit. Joanne Dempster is the Community Scientist based at the Glasgow Science Centre, working with schools in Glasgow to get in touch email joanne.dempster@glasgowsciencecentre.org or to find out who your local Community Scientist is have a look on the OPAL website and check your regional page. All of our lessons are Curriculum for Excellence linked to make sure that pupils get a quality learning experience whilst taking part in our surveys.

Curriculum for Excellence links: Biodiversity and interdependence, Processes of the planet, Earth's materials, Topical science

Our Eight Surveys

The eight OPAL survey topics are as follows:

  1. Bugs Count: Find out what invertebrates live in your outdoor classroom, from man-made surfaces to trees and grass, where will you find the most?

  2. Biodiversity Survey: Hedges are an important habitat for biodiversity, find out what this means and how animals and plants depend on each other for survival.

  3. Soil and Earthworm Survey: What’s going on beneath our feet? Soil is an important part of our life, from helping us grow our food, to preventing flooding after heavy rain. Learn more about this important resource and find out how worms work hard to perfect our soils.

  4. Water Health Survey: Did you know that there are some really simple tests that you can do to test how healthy the water is? Learn what makes a healthy water system and find out if your local pond is full of life?

  5. Tree health Survey: Trees can get ill, just like humans. Learn how to identify some of the many species of trees in Scotland and find out how to spot if they are sick.

  6. Air Quality Survey: Learn about lichens, a special combination of fungi and plant that is very sensitive to air pollution. These simple organisms will tell us a lot about the air we breathe, is it clean and fresh or full of pollution?

  7. New Zealand Flatworm Survey: The New Zealand Flatwom is an invasive nono-native species which arrived in the UK in the 60's. It has no natural predators in the UK and eats our native earthworms causing problems for our soil health. Help us find it and learn more about it's behaviour.

  8. Polli:Nation: Find out how good your local area is for pollinators by completing a habitat and pollinator survey. Look for pollinator friendly plants and keep an eye out for our Species Quest pollinators.

Whilst our surveys are the backbone of what we do in OPAL we also run many introductory lessons which do not require you to complete a survey all in one go. If you are unsure about whether your class can complete a survey then get in touch with your community scientist and they will talk to you about the most suitable way to use OPAL resources with your class. Example lesson plans are available on the OPAL website, complete with Curriculum for Excellence links.

Teacher info


Glasgow Science Centre