Shade mapping

What are the different factors that might affect what nature we find on a school site? How can we record them so that we can consider them when making decisions about the best ways to enhance school grounds for people and for nature? In this activity educators and young people can work together to build up knowledge about which areas are shaded or exposed to the sun on their education site using digital technology, as well as developing key skills of data collection and observation.

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This activity works well in combination with activities in Start Planning for Nature and alongside Investigate Weather and Microclimates, and Investigate Environmental quality. The results could be looked at together with Using Overlays.

Identifying opportunities

~ 1 hour


What you need
  • Teacher - smartphone or tablet
  • Learners - optional smartphone or tablet
Curriculum links
  • National Curriculum KS1-3 Geography
  • GCSE Geography
  • Science
  • Outside
Useful guidance

Once you have explored the Start planning for nature activities, take a look at our habitat enhancement guidance to find out how to turn 'grey to green' on your site. 

Guidance for Key Stages

Some areas of the school grounds will be shaded by buildings, trees and other features. Understanding shade across the site can help inform, for example, which areas might be suitable for different types of plants, as well as which parts of the site might benefit from changes to enhance them for people to use.

Using a simple app based tool learners of different ages can be supported to collect and interpret the following information about shade on the school site (compulsory fields are marked with a *):

  • Location (as a point on a map)*
  • Location name or description (e.g. playground)
  • Date and time of recording*
  • Shade assessment* (simple visual measurement of open, partially open, partially shaded or shaded)
  • Notes

There is also a 3D map displayed on the linked activity that allows students to explore shade created by buildings and trees on the school site and how it varies through time.

Key Stage 1 and 2

For learners at this age we suggest that teachers guide pupils to move to at least 5 different locations on the school site and agree together as a group on the assessment of the shade at each location.

At KS2 asking learners to suggest comments that could be added to the notes section in the survey about how the different levels of shade at each location impact their enjoyment or experience can help demonstrate the purpose of the activity. This information may be useful at a later stage when they are considering what changes could be made to enhance biodiversity as part of the Nature Park process (eg when deciding which parts of the site should be prioritised for improvement).

Learners should be competent in the geographical skills needed to collect, analyse and communicate with a range of data gathered through experiences of fieldwork that deepen their understanding of geographical processes and be able to interpret a range of sources of geographical information, including maps, diagrams, globes, aerial photographs and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Their interpretation of the final GIS map available via the link is one of these key skills.

Key Stage 3 and 4

For learners at this age they should be able to work in groups to independently complete the survey at a number of locations using the survey tool (or paper based notes) to record their observations, then view the results on the resulting map and draw conclusions.

If multiple groups survey the same locations they should review and discuss any differences in the shade assessments and suggest why it may be useful to have this information to use at a later stage when they are considering what changes could be made to enhance biodiversity as part of the Nature Park process.

Learners can also compare their results to other readings that will be gathered and presented on the live map from schools across England.

At KS3 learners should use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to view, analyse and interpret places and data. They should also use fieldwork in contrasting locations to collect, analyse and draw conclusions from geographical data, using multiple sources of increasingly complex information.

At GCSE, students should develop and extend their competence in a range of skills including those used in fieldwork, in using maps and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and in researching secondary evidence, including digital sources; and develop their competence in applying sound enquiry and investigative approaches to questions and hypotheses (study like a geographer).

They should also apply geographical knowledge, understanding, skills and approaches appropriately and creatively to real world contexts, including fieldwork, and to contemporary situations and issues; and develop well-evidenced arguments drawing on their geographical knowledge and understanding (applying geography). 

Thumbnail image: © RHS, Credit: RHS / Mark Bolton