A collaborative effort

11th May 2007 at 01:00
French, modern studies and home economics teachers work together to create a fairer world

THE OUTRAGE in young Matthew's voice is hard to miss, as he talks about living conditions in poor parts of Africa.

"We watched this video about children only five years old, who were breaking up bricks with heavy hammers. It's what they did all day to make a living. This wee boy was sweating. The stones were sticking all over his face. But he had to keep working."

For a second-year pupil at Lenzie Academy, in a leafy location in East Dunbartonshire, the contrast with his own life was shocking.

Matthew says: "I'm quite happy now to spend a few extra pence on a bar of chocolate, if it means wee boys like him can go to school."

The link between chocolate and schooling is of course Fair Trade, which the second year at Lenzie Academy has been learning about, through the efforts of three different departments.

Modern languages, modern studies and home economics all used the topic as a focus for learning and teaching within the curriculum during two weeks in January. Their work was commended by HMIE in its latest report on modern languages.

In modern studies, pupils learned about the politics and economics of Fair Trade. In French, they followed the daily life of a young person in Cameroon. In home economics, they produced recipes and made food which they sold at a coffee morning to raise funds for charity.

While there was some overlap across the subjects, pupil activities were different and complementary, says Janice McIver, principal teacher of home economics.

"Some of the content was the same. They were hearing about the crops and how they are grown, the distribution of wealth in the world, the difference they can make. But they didn't see it as repetition, because each subject had its own way of getting them involved."

In French, the pupils read letters from a young boy called Adamu and wrote back to him. In modern studies, they took part in an international trade game from Oxfam, which gave them experience of the handicaps poor countries suffer.

Being able to see links across subjects added to the pupil appeal. "It was all about how we could help people in these countries," says Blair. "In modern studies we found out the changes Fair Trade could make. French is the language they speak in a lot of these countries. In home economics we were working with the things they grow and sell. So it all made sense."

The different departments at Lenzie Academy worked very well together, at a personal level and in terms of topic coverage, says modern languages principal teacher Linda Christie. "We now have a film of the kids doing a presentation in French about Fair Trade.

"You could never have imagined second-years doing that before - it was amazing."

But how easily such a project might be extended across a school is a question the teachers are undecided about.

"If you had more than three departments, it might become a big event rather than part of the curriculum," says Mrs Christie.

There is also the inescapable fact that falling rolls place non-core subjects in competition for students - and the more similar the subjects, the more marked the competition. "That means it can be easier to cooperate with teachers in subjects quite different from yours," says Alison Elliot, principal teacher of modern studies.

"This is the second year our three departments have taught in this way. We are learning and getting better all the time. The best part is that it really motivates the kids and gets them talking."

And the talking does not stop at the school gate. What has stuck most in their minds, say the pupils, is that small daily decisions they make can affect the lives of poor people in other countries. It's a message they have taken home to their families.

"It's amazing that wee things you do can have a big impact on farmers over there," says Gary. "I talked about it at home, and they thought it was good to buy Fair Trade stuff too."

So is he still buying these products now, even though the project has ended?

"My Mum is," Gary replies. "I'm no' a big shopper."

Oxfam Fair Trade resources for teaching:

www.oxfam.org.ukcoolplanetteachersfairtrade_resourcesindex.htm

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