This may look like a pile of mud, but it’s set to become the most innovative outdoor classroom in any British school.
What is Knowledge Garden? How does it work?
Knowledge Garden is an outdoor and literally living recycling system providing opportunities for students to explore the natural world; ecology and biodiversity in an immediate and continuous way. Uniquely, it does this by taking water from the school toilet block and passing it through a natural reed-bed system for cleaning before returning it to the toilet cisterns.
How was it created?
The project was constructed as part of Project Faraday – a UK government initiative to re-imagine science learning environments. The Government is concerned that university science departments are closing because children perceive science to be boring and detached from reality.
Accordingly, Knowledge Garden was also conceived as a space that is ‘beyond the science lab and beyond science’. Research at the school showed that students needed science lab facilities for only a third of their science lessons. Knowledge Garden allows the crossover of art and science to be made tangible, and to consider science’s relationship to geography, history, business studies and the like. The form of engagement is highly sensual and kinaesthetic, especially compared to traditional labs.
Where is it?
It’s at Abraham Guest High School in Wigan.
How does it work?
As an exemplar of sustainability in design, it recycles water while providing a haven for all sorts of wildlife. Effluent from the science block toilets is passed through a series of treatment beds. Native plants, bacteria and natural processes within these beds act to break down and remove contaminants. The clean water enters a wildlife pond before being extracted by a grey-water system for reuse in the toilets.
This system also treats and stores stormwater, allowing it to be slowly released into the local watercourse, providing the school with the ability to limit the impact of climate change on the surrounding environment.
How does it support the curriculum?
It was assessed by the Chief Examiner for Science in the NW of England and was given 10/10 for relevance to the curriculum and 9/10 for educational impact.
It supports numerous experiments in natural sciences, including biochemical oxygen demand, reproduction studies (plant and animal), nitrification and PH levels. Students using Knowledge Garden will be engaging in long term project management and collaborative learning. The site supports audio, visual and kinaesthetic learning. And of course, there is deep learning on the environment and climate change.
How will it be used in the future?
Knowledge Garden will literally grow with the school. As it establishes itself, a greater proportion of effluent will be passed through it. Water from the pond will be used to irrigate nearby allotments. A community garden will be created and children from nearby primary schools will be invited to use it, thus helping with the difficult issue of transition.
It was a UK government initiative to re-imagine science learning environments. The Government was concerned that university science departments are closing because children perceive science to be boring and detached from reality. Accordingly, it commissioned three different teams to create a mix of future science labs and interactive experiment zones. Sean McDougall of Stakeholder Design worked as one of the lead designers of experiments. He originated the idea for Knowledge Garden.
Are they expensive? How do I get one?
Constructed wetlands are expensive – about £150,000 in this case – which is twice the cost of a science lab. However, for that you will get an outdoor science lab, a community garden, an arts resource, a wildlife haven and an onsite forum to investigate climate change. Plus it will pay for itself over time through reduction in the water rates.
“Everything else in my new school will start to decay from the moment it arrives; but Knowledge Garden will grow with the school. We couldn’t have done it without Stakeholder Design.”
– Roy Caslake, Commissioning Headteacher, Abraham Guest High School
Thanks to WWT Consulting for their invaluable help and use of the pictures.