Take a team of 11 teaching professionals, add several copies of the latest environmental studies 5-14 curriculum guidelines, leave them alone for a few months and what do you get? In Aberdeenshire education department's case, a set of materials that will save teachers hours of planning and ensure a quality learning experience for pupils.
Every Aberdeenshire primary school has been sent a copy of the Environmental Studies 5-14 pack, which gives a complex subject a practical, manageable format with logically planned topic and assessment recommendations.
Among themes suggested for P1 classes are toys and materials; for P3s, things we eat, magnetism and the Egyptians; for P5s, Wallace and Bruce, pollution, conservation and living things; and for P7s, getting about and Japan.
"We wanted to save schools having to reinvent the wheel in their individual interpretation of the new 5-14 guidelines," explains John Finnie, head of service (quality management). "We believed it would be more efficient and effective to develop a set of materials which would provide all teachers with learning programmes and assessment practices."
Mr Finnie invited teachers to help develop the pack and last spring put together a team comprising headteachers, depute heads, senior and class teachers, led by acting education officer and curriculum development specialist Marlene Yule. The team spent some days out of school to discuss and write the materials, returned to the classroom to test them out and regrouped to rewrite accordingly. Their work was audited throughout by the senior team members and collated and streamlined by Mrs Yule.
"The teamwork was superb," she says. "In terms of their own professional development alone, the exercise was invaluable."
To address the authority's high number of small rural primary schools, the two-volume ring-binder pack was developed in two versions: for single stream schools and for composite class primaries.
Team member Iain Bell is a class teacher at Banchory-Devenick Primary, a composite three-class school. He is in no doubt of the value of the pack since its introduction last August.
"It has dramatically cut down planning and supported us in tackling subjects that are new to us, such as technology, with greater confidence," he says. "It also enables me to teach my class of P5-P7 pupils discrete subjects within the environmental studies framework, which would have been impossible if I'd had to plan them from scratch before term."
The developers are keen to emphasise that the pack is not prescriptive, but rather offers teachers a flexible model that can be developed to suit their individual classes and resources. It can be used either as a complete package, a dip-into guide or an audit tool to help staff decide on possible changes to their existing study programmes to fit the framework of the revised national guidelines.
"The pack places emphasis on balance, breadth, continuity and progression and enables teachers to plan in a clear, concise and manageable way, as well as providing a means of assessment and record keeping," says Mr Finnie.
Work has now started on a similar pack for teachers at S1 and S2.
For more about the pack, contact John Finnie, tel 01224 664630