Primary 4 and 5 pupils at McLean school in Dunfermline are the "brightest sparks" in Scotland, and that's official. The 53 pupils are the winners of this year's World Wide Fund Hydro-Electric Bright Sparks Award for their project on people and trees.
They came top out of 67 primary and secondary schools across Scotland and were presented last week with a cheque for pound;1,000 plus a camcorder.
The Bright Sparks Award Scheme, now in its second year, supports classroom projects carried out in the context of environmental studies 5-14.
This year's topics were people and trees, and people and water. WWF's education adviser, Linda Cracknell, says: "The judges were extremely impressed, not only by the way the project fitted into the mainstream curriculum but also by the way the pupils had taken control of it. The drive came from the children themselves. It was not just that their work displayed informed attitudes, but it was the quality of the process that made their project stand out."
The idea behind the scheme is to stimulate the implementation of environmental studies 5-14 in a way that emphasises a cross-curricular approach and a positive attitude to the environment, she says.
"We wish to enhance a holistic approach which can lead pupils to make informed decisions in the future. The award scheme is there to highlight good practice."
As part of McLean Primary's project, which covered a range of activities and skills from telephoning and oral presentations to report-writing, letter-writing and storytelling, the pupils researched, designed and created their own mini-woodland in the school grounds.
"This will be a special legacy to all children who attend the school," says P5 class teacher Catherine Sinclair. Countryside ranger Stuart Bonar kick-started the project by giving the pupils an initial foundation in woodland knowledge.
"The resource that has been created for pupils is great. It's a small area, but it has enough examples of what makes a woodland area important." he says. "The children chose the kinds of trees - holly, rowan, blackthorn and hawthorn - after researching themselves.
"They designed the area and planted the trees along with snowdrops, bluebells and wood anemones. There's some dead wood included for insects and we have bat boxes and bird boxes. Already new birds are being attracted to the area, including tits and a robin."
The project was carried out last term and involved the pupils in addressing school assemblies, creating and updating a project noticeboard, designing, producing and distributing personalised leaflets to all neighbours, asking if there were any objections, and making a presentation to the headteacher in order that the school could apply for sponsorship for a Grounds for Learning environmental awards scheme. This was successful and raised the necessary pound;400 to carry out the work.
"Germination was an extended theme from the project and each pupil has also planted an acorn which they keep in a pot at home. They hope to plant them somewhere special," says Catherine Sinclair.
Not only have the pupils won the Bright Sparks competition and received the Grounds for Learning award, but the children have also been presented with special certificates from Fife Council in recognition of their "achievement in helping to enhance Fife's environment".
"The pupils took total ownership of the project and that meant following their timetable sometimes," says Ms Sinclair. "Their enthusiasm was brilliant and their self-esteem grew enormously. It was all about positive thinking. Their ownership and success means they would now tackle anything."
The project involved Ms Sinclair and P4 class teacher Karen Robertson in a high degree of team teaching. "It was something of a double act, really," says Ms Sinclair. "We'd play off each other and make jokes at each other's expense, which the children thought was great."
Both teachers enthused about the in-service training they were given through a WWF course last June before embarking on the project.
The communications officer for WWF, George Baxter, says: "The in-service training last year was attended by 126 teachers. From our evaluation 88 per cent said it provided great support in delivering the Bright Sparks scheme and widened their own understanding of environmental studies. They also said they got a lot out of meeting and working with other teachers and sharing their experiences of environmental education.
"Ninety per cent said the scheme raised the environmental awareness of pupils and 84 per cent said it raised the profile of environmental studies in their individual scheme. For us it's been a great success."
The enthusiasm of the children at McLean Primary is obvious from the pride of ownership which they display, as well as from the quality of their written, oral, design and art work which brought together religious and moral education including creation stories from different religions, mathematics including measurement, surveys and graphs, as well as language, drama and music.
Extension work includes studying Tu B'Shabat, the Jewish Spring Tree Festival this term.The classes also made a video of the official opening of their woodland and a parents afternoon which shows them enthusiastically demonstrating what the project was all about. "The pupils voted on everything to do with the project," says Karen Robertson. "They even decided open access to the woodland area was not the best approach. They decided it would be better environmental policy to have it fenced off with only supervised access."
Ranger Stuart Bonar says: "I have worked with a lot of schools through the Grounds for Learning scheme, but the enthusiasm and dedication these pupils showed was immense. It made it a real pleasure to work with them."
Perhaps that enthusiasm and dedication is best summed up by P5 pupil Shaun McAlpine in his poem "Nature Calls", which he wrote spontaneously at home: Nature Calls There grows the rowan tree Berries big and fat, There grows the sapling Smaller than my hat.
There flies the robin red breast very neat, There flies the blue-tit Colourful and sweet.
There in the woodland Planted by 4 and 5 There lives the honey bees Making their own hives.
There grows the happiness For ever more, There grows the memories Of P5 and P4.
For more information about the WWFHydro-Electric Bright Sparks Awards and about one-day in-service training courses which will run across Scotland in May (pound;15 each), contact Linda Cracknell, WWF education adviser, tel: 01887 820449
OTHER BRIGHT SPARKS PRIZEWINNERS
Bright Sparks runner-up schools that receive pound;500 each were:
Lunnasting Primary School, Shetland P4-P7
They compared water use and water cleanliness in Britain and in parts of Africa.
The project was inspired by a visit from "Saaba" drummers and dancers from Burkina Faso.
This led on to a cross-curricular project and a whole-school fun day to raise money for water aid charities.
They gained understanding of the difficult choices that water involves through undertaking a role play in which their water was cut off.
Roy Bridge Primary School, Inverness-shire, whole school The project began with the school's decision to transform their old bicycle shed in the playground by painting it with an "underwater world" mural.
It developed into a whole-school project on many related areas including local investigations into the pollution of rivers and seas, the new sewerage system for the village and their impact on the water cycle.
They made use of assemblies, musical performances and a wide range of contacts with organisations and individuals in the local community.
Hillhead Primary School, Kirkintilloch, P7
The pupils were closely involved in deciding on the direction of their project in response to the stimulus of the Forth and Clyde Canal, its future and investigations on wildlife habitats and water safety.
They also explored a global perspective on water use. The children discovered that they could make a positive contribution towards local and global environments as a result of informed decisions they had made.
Kirkpatrick Special School (previously Auchentoshan School), Clydebank, S1 The children explored the place of trees in their world, particularly highlighting those in their school grounds, and making a "voyage of discovery" through senses, emotions and imagination.
They looked at attitudes to trees and the natural world through the film Pocahontas, and particularly highlighted the idea of "listening with your heart".
The project involved a wide range of the school's departments - RE, home economics, technical and art - and enabled the children to share what they had learned with younger children. They also made a video.
Commended schools (pound;250 each):
Holy Family PS, Kirkintilloch; Avoch PS, Ross-shire; Dunipace PS, Falkirk; Golspie HS, Sutherland; Craigie HS, Dundee