Tony Chalk is an experienced teacher with a focus on physics and nontraditional classroom settings. In one of Tony's most successfuI projects, he organised a research and environmental monitoring project at an ex British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) site with all the KS4 students at his school. The site was used by BNFL initially as a quarry to supply stone to build the roads to the local reactor and then to test pipes. The site was never contaminated but was finally abandoned as a testing site. The broad aim was to look at the environmental impact of human activity. The project used species of butterflies and moths as indicators to measure the extent of biodiversity and how an abandoned industrial area returns to nature. The results contributed to a national survey of moth and butterfly species. The students were at a special school for pupils with behaviour and emotional difficulties and they had all been excluded from a mainstream school. I arranged a number of visits to the site and the students had to identify several species of butterflies and plants and record the numbers observed on that day. These were submitted to a national database. The students then analysed the whole school’s findings by comparing their estimated population size with national trends. The site was a fantastic environment for the students who were able to be serious and play and seek adventure all at the same time.
The project was a major success in so many ways. The students faced difficulties accessing education in the traditional ways in a formal structured classroom but were able to engage fully moving between classroom and fieldwork over a sustained period of time. They were excited to be part of a national survey and for many it was the first time their contribution towards something was genuinely valued and felt like it made an impact. The students developed a range of skills and most importantly, a sense of belief and value in themselves and in what they do.