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Tall order being shipshape

Plasticine, marbles, string and plastic bottles created a science lesson with a difference. Deedee Cuddihy reports

Despite the proximity of a noisy motorway, a trip round the Tall Ship s.v. Glenlee, berthed on the River Clyde, can have a calming effect on the visitor - even in the company of 30 P5s.

The children, from Mossneuk Primary in East Kilbride, are visiting the ship as part of their Christopher Columbus topic in the run-up to National Science and Engineering Week. Their tour of the three-masted sailing ship - built in Port Glasgow in 1896 - was preceded by a new "Setting Sail" workshop in the quayside activities room, developed by education officer Lisa Gaston to introduce the "science of sail".

The youngsters will each assemble and test their own mini-sailboat. But first they have to think of ways to use a lump of Plasticine to make three marbles float in a basin of water. "And here's your clue," says education assistant Marlene Anderson. "Get the Plasticine to float first - by changing its shape - before you put in the marbles. Think of the Tall Ship - what shape is it?"

Quite a few premature cheers go up when momentary buoyancy is achieved, but eventually - and without giving away any design secrets - each group manages to get two of their three marbles to float.

Then it's "all hands on deck" to dry the tables in preparation for the miniature sailing ship assembly, where the pupils will use recycled plastic bottles, filled with a small amount of sand for ballast. "You have a big, tall mast and a sail," says Ms Anderson, "so what would happen if you had no ballast in your boat? That's right - it would tip over."

The P5s decorate their paper sails (among them a "Sea Princess" and a "Drunken Sailor"), then put on a mast before being issued with a single length of string for rigging.

Ms Anderson explains: "Your sails and masts will be floppy without rigging, which is something you'll see a lot of when you go on the ship. And once your rigging is in place, we'll help you test your ship just the way they would in a nautical architecture department. We have a tank - and wind!"

The "tank" is a length of plastic drain pipe, the "wind" created by an electric fan. Class teacher Sharon Ruddy is impressed: "I thought they'd have to blow," she says.

Many of the boats list to the side on their way down the canal, "which shows how critical it is to get the rigging right", points out Ms Anderson, as the "Drunken Sailor" appropriately keels over and under.

The "Setting Sail" workshop can also include a cargo-loading challenge when pupil teams compete to fill a mini boat with up to 20 identical rubbers without capsizing it.

Having built and tested their own sailing ships, the Mossneuk pupils now get to explore the real thing, checking out the deckhouse where the sailors lived and the tiny galley where food was prepared; finding out what the term "poop" means; turning the capstan; holding the wheel and ringing the ship's bell.

"I love getting the kids out," says Mrs Ruddy, "and this has been a great visit because it's brought our topic to life."

Ms Gaston says: "The new Setting Sail workshop is very much geared to A Curriculum for Excellence, because it's centred on team work and challenges. Visiting the Tall Ship introduces kids to another world with its own language and rules and, in fact, life at sea hasn't changed that much since the s.v. Glenlee first set sail more than 100 years ago."

She should know. Her father is an oil tanker captain and she spent summers during her childhood travelling the world - sometimes getting school work sent out if there was going to be a delay.

T: 0141 222 2513.

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