Paisley through young eyes

Douglas Blane

Primary 6 children who set out to make a guide for tourists got an award for innovation and a better understanding of careers. Douglas Blane reports

Children may be young, but they are astute enough to realise when educational activities designed to teach them about work have only a tenuous connection to the adult world. So although the environmental studies project for which St Catherine's Primary school in Paisley, Renfrewshire, won an NGfL Scotland ICT Innovation Award of pound;2,000 had a number of strands - the most obvious being the use of sophisticated technology by young children - its main aim was to help them gain genuine insights of the world of work. Information and communications technology was the medium; it was not the message.

Having said that, the medium did add a modern dimension to the Primary 6 study of the local area, in which pupils made a CD-Rom, a website and a digital film introducing visitors to sites of interest around the town. The work connection was in the form of a partnership with Reid Kerr College, opposite the school.

"Our P7s had been there to work in an office environment," says headteacher Eileen Low, "and for the first time they said things like 'That's what I want to do when I grow up' or 'That was awful. I'd hate to work in an office'."

Keen to take advantage of the children's realisation that people and activities in the college are part of the world they are growing up into, Ms Low set up a joint project in which mature multimedia students constructed a CD-Rom and a website with contents largely determined by pupils. Essentially the children were clients to the student designers.

The children worked in groups in class and then channelled their ideas through a few delegates. "By the time they came to us," says student Jean Hunter, "they were clear about what they wanted and very knowledgeable."

One of the project's most memorable moments took place among the shadows and stained glass of Paisley Abbey, the town's major tourist attraction.

Young visitors there dress up in grey cowls in the style of the Cluniac monks for whom the Abbey was once home. "It's quite holy," explains Ms Low. "The children walk in solemn procession and the minister tells them the history.

"When we got to the choir he suddenly said 'I don't suppose you could get the children to sing a hymn?' " Looking like miniature monks and sounding like angels, the youngsters took their places on the wooden pews and gave a faultless rendition of 'As I Kneel Before You', twice, the second time at the request of a party of tourists.

The association with Reid Kerr College has ended for now but the project continues in school under the supervision of depute head and ICT co-ordinator Wynne Connolly. Hours of film taken at the abbey have been cut by the children to minutes.

"They did the whole thing: edited the film, imported video clips, created fade-ins and fade-outs, wrote the script and organised themselves for the voice-overs.

"And they were using language they had never used before: 'That transition won't work', 'Let's slide it in here.' I wish I had made a film about them making the film."

Apart from technology skills learnt during the project, the children were fascinated to discover that having fun with computers might earn them a living one day. They were also surprised to find that students are not all fresh from school; indeed, "some are quite old".

Many of the youngsters already have clear ideas about what they want to do: Darlene is going to be a lawyer, David is keen to work with whales and Mark wants to be a fireman. Most now have a good grasp of the opportunities offered by college to gain more qualifications and skills, and a large number of them want to go to university.

Natasha enjoyed the project enormously, but doesn't want to work in any form of media. She wants to be a primary teacher.

Surely that would mean going straight from school to university then back to school without having much contact with the world outside education?, she is asked. "That's true," she says, "but the good thing is I'd come back as the boss." aim of the NGfL Scotland ICT Innovation Awards is to encourage innovative approaches to the use of ICT in small-scale, local learning projects. The winners of the second phase of Innovation Awards will be announced on September 20 at 3.30pm

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Douglas Blane

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