Dynamic start to the first day of school

PROBABLY the last thing 12-year-old Grant Jenkins was expecting to do on his first day at secondary school was to learn about the causes of stress and perform warm-up exercises for the Japanese non-martial art of aikido.

Along with rest of the 108 pupils in the first-year intake at St Savour's High in Dundee, Grant spent the first four days of the new session learning about how to learn instead of embarking on "real" subjects like maths and French.

The St Saviour's programme, called "Dynamic Futures", has been organised in co-operation with Dundee's education department. It claims to be the first in Scotland to introduce a whole first-year cohort to the principles behind skills acquisition and continuing progress at school. The programme covered four areas - motivation, movement and health, mind matters and mind management.

The motivating force was organised by Hilda de Felice, former headteacher of St Luke's High in East Renfrewshire and now working with the education consultancy Trust Dynamics.

The aim is to give the pupils a concept of their potential to learn and teach them different learning styles, encouraging them to "open up" and try something new.

Ms de Felice said: "We want them to be aware of themselves as physical beings. This includes learning about the importance of an appropriate diet, about how water can be used as a way of sparking the brain and how movement is integral to learning."

George Burton, principal teacher of modern languages, is acting school co-ordinator for raising achievement. Mr Burton said that the school had put itself forward to be the city's pilot for the initiative "on the basis of the reputation we already have in terms of innovative thinking in relation to learning skills for pupils".

"We hope we will arm the children with skills that they will start to use once they go into departments and do what they call real learning. We are also trying to get teachers to create a learning environment in the classroom before they start delivering content."

Deirdre McVean, senior adviser with the council, said comments by pupils and teachers would be evaluated and, based on the conclusions, the education department hopes to replicate the programme across the city.

Joanne McIntosh said that she found her first day at St Saviour's different from expected but she enjoyed it just the same. "I especially liked the session on motivation which I feel will make me a better learner," she said.

Grant Jenkins appreciated his introduction to Japanese warm-up exercises. "I became more aware of the importance of having targets", he said.

Vicki Oram's reply was more ambiguous and could have been either a criticism or a compliment: "There wasn't any homework."

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