Historic Scotland's appointment of an education manager earlier this year testified to a new commitment to its education service. Underscoring what seems like a fresh beginning, the unit has launched an ambitious teaching pack on Skara Brae, the best preserved prehistoric settlement in north west Europe. Written by teachers on Orkney - Ann McRae and Valerie Steele of Glaithness Primary, plus Emile Flett and Myra Macdonald of Stromness and Stronsay Academies - the pack is designed for P1-6 and S1-2, and is linked to 5-14 guidelines. The materials are aimed at those with no ready access to the site.
A Pounds 12,000 project, the pack contains sheets offering information, activities, attainment tests, teaching notes, 24 colour slides and a poster. Although the materials are split into primary and secondary, differentiation is intended to be flexible, and the pack could stimulate a number of different learning and teaching approaches.
Archaeological study dovetails neatly with the tenets of environmental studies. In the primary section, focus is chiefly on the attainment outcomes of people in the past and technology in society, with some attention devoted to healthy and safe living and people in society.
Understanding of early settlers is developed through four units: the varied nature of evidence; people's homes; food and health; and work, crafts and beliefs. Suggestions for appropriate activities accompany each unit.
Making a coil pot, bow drill or shell jewellery fits in with applying skills and presenting solutions, for instance. Each unit includes 20 different worksheets with problem-solving questions, such as design and test ways of moving a load to the other side of the classroom.
The secondary section may be taught with the support of the Scottish Consultative Committee on the Curriculum's booklets on Early People and Fieldwork. Pupils are introduced to concepts like historical evidence, continuity and heritage. Materials are reduced to the familiar elements of knowledge and understanding, interpreting and evaluating, and collecting evidence, recording, presenting. Excellent slides and a companion questionnaire may be used as an introduction or form the basis of individual question cards. This section comprises information and activity sheets, and attainment tests with marking scheme.
Skara Brae already features as a topic in many schools, for which this would be a valuable resource. Attainment items, though sometimes simplistic, are time-saving. Activities designed to differentiate fact from opinion and reach conclusions are likely to be appreciated by those charged with inculcating some tricky concepts.
The unit is to be congratulated on setting a new standard. Now, it is reverting to its key role of encouraging teachers to visit Historic Scotland sites, and a school pack supporting the Scottish Burgh Survey, which looked at the medieval aspects of Musselburgh, Aberdeen and Stornoway, is in the pipeline.