The national curriculum highlights certain "key elements" that must be taught to pupils, including chronology, understanding, interpretations, enquiry and communication. It is the teacher's job - a task made explicit in the new draft orders - to develop these historical "skills, knowledge and understanding" through the study units. In other words, we're not supposed to teach the pupils about "the Vikings" as such; we're required to teach them specified historical competences using the Vikings as the vehicle to do so.
It is a crucial distinction, and one which does not always make its way into the history classroom.
This is what makes this excellent package from Channel 4 Schools so very good. Eureka! Here Come the Vikings! will allow teachers to teach the historical skills, properly, in the context of the Viking era.
At the centre of the unit are three attractive video programmes. These focus upon Lucy and Jamie, two modern-day pupils, who learn about the Vikings during a visit to their grandfather. Lucy and Jamie visit an archaeological dig, talk to various experts, watch a local boat-maker and have a barbecue on the beach. They subject their grandfather to a stream of appropriate questions with the kind of keen interest you wish your own grandchildren would show more often.
Their enquiries form the scaffolding for a detailed account of the Vikings, covering all aspects of the subject - where they came from, where they went and conquered, Viking seafaring and home life, their society and sagas, technology and religion, and their legacy to the modern world. The responding adults convey the information clearly, with a suitable sense of awe, and the children react appropriately.
"Gross!" says Lucy, pulling a face when she tastes Viking blueberry juice. "Perhaps we should have added honey," reflects her grandfather.
Beyond the lively presentation of the programmes, this package directly fulfils teaching needs. A good accompanying teacher's guide clearly outlines each programme, and identifies learning outcomes and key vocabulary, along with the preparation needed: before viewing, and work ideas for while watching and after viewing. There are also fact files and activity sheets which you may find useful.
The first programme "They Came From the North", begins by questioning the common misconception of the Vikings as "raiders", allowing the teacher to demonstrate that the past can be, as has been, interpreted differently: were the Vikings "raiders" or "traders"? The teacher's guide suggests a timeline, note-taking, map-work and a standpointing exercise. The second programme, "The Vikings in Britain", addresses aspects of continuity and change. The guide suggests a group-work investigation to find out about the period (for instance, food, buildings, clothes, ships, crafts or gods) using the video as a starting point.
All the programmes, but especially programme three, "Digging up the Vikings", stress the importance of archaeological evidence as the factual basis for a reconstruction of Viking lifestyle. The questions "What do we know?" and "How do we know?" are addressed in all the programmes.
An accompanying activity book picks up themes from the video. The usefulness of such books always depends on the ability and interests of your own pupils, but you may find the well-produced, photocopiable worksheets helpful.
Eureka! Here Come the Vikings! should allow teachers to deliver both skills and content. With minimal teacher-ingenuity, it will inspire other areas of the curriculum, not least some story-telling, drama and role-play, map-work, craft-work, written or oral presentations and even, perhaps, some chess (though Lucy would probably recommend that you give the blueberry juice a miss).
John D Clare is head of history at Greenfield Comprehensive, Durham l The video costs pound;12.99; teacher's guide pound;3.95 and activity book pound;6.95 all from Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick, CV34 6TZ. Tel: 01926 436444