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Learning Zone marks a new chapter for National Library

Whether physically or virtually, visiting historical sites and learning about key events has just become a whole lot easier, says Raymond Ross

Whether physically or virtually, visiting historical sites and learning about key events has just become a whole lot easier, says Raymond Ross

One way to learn about Scottish history and culture is to get out and about, as schools are clearly being encouraged to do by the one-year extension of the Government scheme to help fund trips to heritage sites such as New Lanark and Stirling Castle.

But now, with the launch of its Learning Zone, the National Library of Scotland (NLS) is offering schools the opportunity to travel by (computer) mouse rather than by bus; and to travel a lot farther and more quickly.

Here you can travel far back in history as well as visiting countries on the other side of the world, andor examine more contemporary topics or issues closer to home.

This is a clear and colourful interactive zone which divides neatly into six learning resource areas:

Literature and language (focusing on the written word in English, Gaelic, Scots and modern languages);

Creativity (writing, art, music and drama);

Science and technology (Scotland's contribution to scientific discovery);

History (Scotland's history through its people, events and society);

Politics and society (resources that support learning about citizenship);

Geography and exploration (how explorers have developed our understanding of the world).

Innovative features include an introduction to the 10 greatest Scottish scientists (as chosen by the public); an analysis of the creative process used by author, poet and artist Alasdair Gray (with splendid examples of his own drawings and designs); an exploration of the ideas that led to the Scottish Enlightenment; and an interactive online workshop to support creative writing.

Some quirky details seem designed to grab pupils' attention: for example, that John Logie Baird "used a coffin lid and biscuit tin to create his first television" and, more graphically, that Alexander Fleming "found that nasal mucus could destroy bacteria, and called his discovery `penicillin'."

The Learning Zone has been specially designed to support pupils from P5 to S6, as well as adult learners, teachers and adult tutors. All the material is drawn from the library's vast collection of more than 14 million items, including the John Murray Archive and the Scottish Screen Archive, while many of the projects and teaching packs have been designed by teachers.

The site is accessible in design and easy to negotiate with each of the six main topic areas offering further links to learning resources (to support classroom teaching), research tools and web features (NLS websites featuring collection items with interpretation and background information).

There are library video guides and short films to encourage learners not just to digest the information, but to develop critical skills in evaluating and analysing content, and the main topics are clearly focused, allowing immediate access to a wealth of material. Under history, for example, you can follow the stories of Scottish emigrant families, look at first-hand accounts of Scots involved in the First World War, learn about early tourism or the life and times of Winston Churchill, examine the women's suffrage movement in Scotland andor work with primary sources related to the Scottish Enlightenment.

Unlike many online resources, one thing the NLS Learning Zone can guarantee is that their sources are reliable and accurate, and the fact that it is part of the wider NLS website means you can extend your research much further if you want to.

The site is highly visual with lots of appealing "zoom features" for younger pupils and the clear terminology makes it easy to follow.

Material is constantly being added and the library is happy to respond to users' suggestions. One recent suggestion, from a secondary teacher, certainly seems pertinent: "The Learning Zone should hook up with LTS (now Education Scotland), especially the outcomes and experiences highlighted by LTS for the CfE (Curriculum for Excellence).

"If they can show a tie-in then teachers will use it. Teachers like electronic resources and many will be re-writing entire curriculums in the next few years, so the opportunity is there."


Great movements

Under history, "A Guid Cause: the Women's Suffrage Movement in Scotland" includes documents from NLS collections and three suggested cross- curricular projects designed by teachers to support Curriculum for Excellence, Standard and Higher grade history.

Project one

Explore the history. Investigate archive sources to find out how and why women campaigned for the right to vote.

Project two

Make a film documentary about the women's suffrage movement in Scotland. Learn how to research, plan and structure your documentary.

Project three

Improve your critical thinking, evaluation and research skills. Organise a class debate and find out how to use the archive sources to support your extended essay.

Note for teachers:

Project two will work best if the history, English and drama departments work collaboratively with one class.

Pupils have to work in teams and need to discuss and agree the roles of researcher, scriptwriter, director, presenterinterviewer, actors (if required) and cameraproduction crew.

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