Using a bus is not an obvious topic for 5-14 cross-curricular learning. After all, it is rather mundane. Yet, 100 pupils and their teachers at five Aberdeen primary schools are happy to argue otherwise.
Their participation in a project pioneered by the Aberdeen Environmental Education Centre and bus company First has involved English (functional writing), expressive arts (art and design), social subjects (people in society, and education for citizenship), numerical skills, use of the internet for research and working together to culminate in the production of A Bus User's Guide, a leaflet to educate people of all ages about aspects of travelling by bus.
Launched as a competition, the project asked pupils to include information on why it is good to use the bus from an environmental and sustainability perspective, how to use buses, how to behave on a bus, bus routes, timetables, ticket information and general information about buses.
First wanted to engage children in its local campaign against bad behaviour and vandalism on buses. It also wanted to encourage the public to think about the environmental benefits of using public transport, rather than their cars for every journey.
"We believe a guide written by children will be far more powerful in reaching other children and adults than any rules or suggestions issued directly by the company," explains Kevin McCormick of First.
Keen to develop a project that would directly support classroom learning, the company approached Allan Paterson at the AEEC, who enthusiastically developed a teaching support package. This includes the environmental education centre's Traffic First? learning and teaching programme (also sponsored by First), visits to the bus company's King Street depot, a behind-the-scenes tour and ride through a double-decker bus wash, and outreach assistance from a curriculum support officer for language skills applicable to the project.
"The project encouraged pupils to think about a real problem, consider possible solutions and design a booklet containing appropriate information to encourage individuals to make use of the bus service in a responsible manner," Mr Paterson explains.
The results did not disappoint. The imaginative designs were displayed at a special celebration involving all the participants from Marlpool, Skene Square, Greenbrae, Sunnybank and Kirkhill primary schools and their teachers. Mr Paterson praised the P5 to P7 pupils' use of clear language and innovative artwork, including icons that provide information at a glance.
"The results demonstrate the knowledge the pupils have acquired about the function of the bus service, the need for responsible behaviour and the environmental benefits of encouraging people to take the bus in preference to the car," he says.
The winning entry, designed by Ann Jones's P7 class at Skene Square Primary, was praised for its imaginative layout and unusual flap feature, which the judges said would help people remember the useful information underneath.
The guide will be published by First soon and be available on buses and distributed to local schools.
Jessica Harrier, 11, who had the idea of using a flap, says: "I feel more involved when I go on the bus now. It's exciting to think everybody is going to be reading our guide."
Her classmate, Graham Love, says he does not use the bus often but enjoyed the project very much. "I really like drawing and it was good that we got to design a page each."
Mrs Jones, who is the school's depute head, says entering the competition brought many benefits. "We're looking at citizenship at the moment, so the project came at a very appropriate time. It was also an opportunity to do some good language work and the children's social skills were improved by working in mixed ability groups."
Each young participant was presented with a certificate. In addition, the winners received gift tokens to buy art materials and took a celebratory open-top bus ride down Union Street to see the city's Christmas lights.
First is so pleased by the outcome that it has announced the project will be an annual event in Aberdeen and may be replicated in other parts of Scotland.
"One thing that might change, in recognition of the very high quality of all the designs submitted this year, is that in future the published guide may contain the best elements of several entries," says First's marketing officer, Paula Middleton.