Addicted to the outdoors

Assembly – Addicted to the outdoors – delivered to Bradford Grammar School, 5th February 2015

I have an addiction.  I have been addicted for years now.  My teachers and parents helped me to become addicted.  In fact, many teachers here are helping you to become addicted too.

Strenuous efforts are made to get the whole of Year 7 addicted in their first term here.  Most of Year 10 choose to sign up for whole weekends dedicated to it, and dozens of Sixth Formers have devoted weeks of their lives to it.

These efforts are advertised quite openly around the school – you just need to listen carefully to the Daily Bulletin.  For some subjects, it is even part of the curriculum.

Once you are addicted, it is hard to go back.  It really is.  I satisfy my addiction about a dozen times a week.  Some of you – and that includes staff – have had binges lasting weeks or even months!

Many of us have been abroad to satisfy our addiction, but there are plenty of opportunities to do so on home turf.  There is a daily chance to get a quick hit every lunchtime here.  My last hit was yesterday afternoon.  So what am I talking about?  Here are some clues. [show 3 slides]

You might have guessed already – I am addicted to the great outdoors!

So, why do so many people get addicted to the great outdoors, and if you haven’t done so already, why should you join them?  Here are seven good reasons, illustrated by photos from fellow outdoor addicts from across the school.

The first reason is to try to achieve “a healthy mind in a healthy body”.

This is the first in the Roman poet Juvenal’s list of what is desirable in life.

But what does it mean in relation to the outdoors?

Well, getting outdoors can make you fit but it can also help you to stay mentally alert.

A 2013 UK government report showed that “Children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression”, whereas people who spend time in the outdoors usually find that their mental health improves.  Just like these two Year 11s!

This has even been recognised by psychologists, and ‘ecotherapy’ is now a common form of treating mental health problems.  In other words, “get some fresh air – it’ll do you good!”

Why does it work?  Partly because you need to co-operate with others in the outdoors, so your mind is distracted from your own worries.

For other people who choose to explore the outdoors alone, the solitude and lack of pressure to satisfy the demands of peers and family leads to significant improvements in self-esteem.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Reason 2: Improve your grades

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Those of you who have been to Pompeii, or to the Dales, or wherever you have been on school trips… how much easier did you find it once you sat the exam or did a project on it?  School trips in the outdoors aren’t just fun, they are a sneaky way of getting you to learn things!  And it’s not just school trips – just being out and about gets you to ask questions – and answer them!

So, what better way to learn about volcanoes than by walking in their shadow?…

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­…or even watching as they erupt?

Studies of adventure learning consistently show positive benefits on academic learning, as well as other outcomes such as self-confidence. On average, according to the Education Endowment Foundation, pupils who participate in structured adventure learning appear to make approximately three months additional progress over the course of a year over those who don’t.

On a personal level, I didn’t know how to explain a temperature inversion until I was in Tasmania and walked uphill through the clouds then saw this…

­­­­­­Reason 3: Stretch yourself in the outdoors and you will set yourself up for a rosy future.

­Succeeding in the outdoors can breed success in a competitive workplace.

Does that sound like fanciful thinking?

Well, apparently not!

The United Learning Trust (ULT) recently undertook a survey of major employers.  They were asked what attributes they looked for when taking on board new recruits.  The following were rated the highest: leadership, teamwork, self-motivation, communication, confidence, consideration, and the ability to learn.  For those of you who have taken part in Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expeditions, like this Gold group in the Lake District, these attributes must ring a bell!

And no wonder, because the sample was also asked what they considered to be the most important activities undertaken at school and were asked to rate them from 1-5, with 1 being the highest.  As you can see, outdoor activities like DofE and World Challenge are very highly valued by employers.

Incidentally, this argument is very useful the next time you are trying to persuade your parents to let you go on a school trip!

Reason 4: Travel broadens the mind!

From new experiences to new people, you will learn more about the world – and yourself – by heading outside – and away from home – for a few days or weeks.

On another level, you also learn to appreciate what you have in your comfortable life in the UK.

On the World Challenge expeditions that I have been on, students have been humbled by the conditions that many people in the developing world live in.  Here are some BGS World Challengers from the 2014 expedition to India on a school project.

But there are more benefits: many expeditioners abroad also learn that many of our material luxuries are just that – luxuries – and that human relationships are what makes the world go around.

Reason 5.   Awe and wonder.

For this reason, pictures speak louder than words.

Mr Leake took this photo on the 2013 BGS World Challenge trip to China…

…and Mr Smith took this on the soon to be repeated Geography tour of SW USA…

…whilst Mr Hoath took this picture in Ladakh, North-West India.  Imagine waking up to that in the morning!

So, awe and wonder – well it’s all very good being overawed and in a state of wonder, but isn’t it a fleeting emotion, lost upon your return to everyday life, lessons, and assemblies?

Well, the theory proves that being outdoors has a long-term impact on your way of thinking:  The feeling that you are the centre of the universe is called into question by the sheer scale and complexity of nature.  There is something bigger than you and your everyday worries – a mountain – a wide open plain – the open sky…And this feeling sticks with you.  And you become an addict, a follower of the outdoor religion… seeking converts wherever you go [look out into audience] J

Reason 6:  Getting back afterwards!

The next three photos were taken in the last fortnight at BGS.

I’ve got to be honest – going outdoors can be a bit of a slog (although these two were having fun running in the hail the other week)!

You too can have fun in the snow, sleet and rain!

Because at least you can get back indoors and earn that hot drink, meal and a shower!

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­And when it’s all over you can feel satisfied that you’ve challenged yourself!

And if you’ve lugged a heavy rucksack for up to eight hours a day through tough terrain and challenging weather, like many generations of Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditioners have, or if you’ve slogged your way through puddles the size of small lakes in a cross-country race, then a few hours of revision a day doesn’t seem quite as bad!

Just think of the relief when the Geography department returned from this visit to a geyser in Iceland!

This isn’t just conjecture: the Education Endowment Foundation suggest that skills such as perseverance and resilience are developed through adventure learning and that these skills have a knock-on impact on academic outcomes.

This winter, we’ve seen our fair share of inclement weather, but for those hardy souls who venture out in it, the sense of achievement has been massive!

And so we come to Reason 7: Let’s be honest – getting outdoors can just be fun!

Sometimes you just want to jump up in the air for joy, like these World Challengers…

…and you get to have a bit of fun with your surroundings.

Here’s a novel way of filling your cup – straight from Angel Falls in Venezuela.

This is something you won’t try everyday…

…and good times spent with friends will stay with you forever…

So get out there and explore – the world is your oyster!

­­­­­­­­So what can you do to get addicted to the outdoors?  Inside and outside of school, from a 30minute mini adventure to a month away, there’s a whole host of opportunities.  I’ll leave you with just a flavour – why not try something new?  Why not get addicted?  Thank you.

The crime of waste

Assembly – Waste – delivered to Bradford Grammar School, 8 Oct 2015

Feel free to adapt / edit / try out this assembly at your educational establishment.

[Start with ‘crime scene’ on stage]

What’s the world’s most serious crime?

Drug dealing? Murder? Mass murder? Torture? Terrorism?

In Year 8 Geography we discussed this question as part of our studies into where and why crime takes place.

We decided that to classify as ‘serious’ the crime should cause severe harm, affect many people, and its effects would last for a long time.

I received several answers similar to the ones I just gave until one made me stop in my tracks:

‘Overuse of the world’s resources’

This really got the conversation going!  That’s not a crime!  Who is affected?  You can’t go into prison for that!

But we approached it logically, and tested it out against the criteria mentioned above:

The crime should cause severe harm, affect many people, and its effects would last for a long time.

__________________________

Firstly, the severity of the harm caused.  Well, it’s not as severe as murder or torture, but let’s consider the waste and the by-products of energy generation used to make the things which end up as waste.  Well, these often cause injury, disease, and premature death.  Just think, for instance, of water pollution from factories soil contamination from the degradation of waste in landfill sites

and air pollution, which leads to asthma, breathing difficulties and climate change.

Secondly, the number of people affected by the waste – well these can be measured in the billions – 7.3 billion in fact – as we’re all affected in some way by the problems that I’ve just mentioned.

Thirdly, we can be affected by waste for a very long time indeed.  Not only are many non-biodegradable items taking up valuable land, but we are still dealing now with the problems caused by toxic metals leaching into groundwater.   In addition, the thermal inertia of the oceans means that there is a 25-50 year time lag between increased levels of CO2 and the oceans warming up by a corresponding amount – the oceans will continue to expand for decades to come, resulting in rising sea levels and coastal flooding.

_____________________________________

I could go on.  But if waste is a serious crime, then who are the criminals?  Who are the victims?  And who are the police?

Who are the criminals?  I’m a criminal.  I buy things I don’t need.  I throw things away.  I fly.  I forget to turn things off.  In a way, we are all criminals.  A sobering thought.

________________________________________

Who are the victims?  Well, I’ve begun to answer that one already.  The ones who suffer the most are the most vulnerable in society.

People who have breathing difficulties suffer from air pollution.

People who drink water from polluted watercourses in the countries where our goods are made.

And people who live on the coast in low-lying countries like Bangladesh, who are suffering from rising sea levels and coastal flooding thanks to climate change.

But we all suffer in a way.  Consider the financial angle.

Do you know what this represents?  (Point to a pile of waste)  A year’s waste per person in this room.  As a school last year we created 780 tonnes of solid waste.  Much of this is institutional waste like building rubble.  But much of it is food. Paper.  Plastic containers.  That’s 650kg per person – that’s two-thirds of a tonne for every pupil, teacher and other staff who work here.  Two-thirds of a tonne – that’s almost the weight of a SMART car!  The government charges £80 a tonne for putting our waste into landfill – so about £55 of each of your fees disappears into the ground!  We use £100,000 per year in electricity.  And over £100,000 in gas.  Much of this is unnecessary – so we’re pretty much throwing away money!  Money which could be used to invest in new facilities, reducing fees, and going towards new bursaries.  What a waste.

_______________________________________

So we are the criminals and the victims of this crime – a strange situation indeed.  But who are the police?  Weirdly, we all are – or at least we all can be.  We can help to prevent the crime which we commit and which we all suffer from.  What do I mean by ‘we’?

In the broadest sense, ‘we’ can mean the government elected by you and your parents.  OK – they have belatedly brought in a plastic bag charge (on Monday this week!) – and initiatives like the landfill tax I just mentioned.  But we can’t leave it to them.

How about the school?  Talking to the bursar and the estates manager, it’s apparent that some pretty big strides have been made in recent years to reduce waste here.  Most of these ways are behind the scenes.

Did you know that through the fitting of LED lights and motion sensors, the school has shaved £40,000 from its electricity bill in the past year?  That’s fifty PCs.  Or 6,000 textbooks.  Or four bursaries.  There are even some new ‘Dali’ lights which adjust to the amount of sunlight coming in through the window.

We recycled over 30 tonnes of waste last year – saving the school £2,400 in landfill taxes – although this is only 4% of our total waste – can you help to improve on this?

And did you know that heating the water in the swimming pool now costs 12% less that it did last year, thanks to a liquid which has been pumped into the water, which rises to the top when ripples have settled, forming an insulating layer just one molecule thick?

And simple measures have been taken by our head chef to reduce waste in the dining hall, by installing recycling bins and reusing leftovers in soups and other meals?

But we shouldn’t stop there.  How about you?  What can you do to prevent the crime of waste?

(Could show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ptp6JGAF3o0 at this point.)

So, here’s a small checklist of easy things you can do…

  • Turn lights off
  • Turn computers off
  • Recycle your waste paper and plastic containers
  • Refill water bottles rather than buying new ones
  • Only select what you are going to eat at lunch

These may only be small steps, but together we can make a difference – and we can all benefit.  Here and at home.  Now and in the future.

And finally, spread the word.  Waste is costly, waste is harmful – waste is criminal.

Thank you.