A forest of ideas makes learning fun

3rd November 2006 at 00:00
The scene is a classroom in St Peter's Primary, in Partick, Glasgow.

Outside, it's a wet, windy, typical Scottish Friday in October - nothing like the Amazon rainforest that is the focus of the day.

But inside, teachers from the Glasgow area and further afield are taking part in a day-long Storyline workshop led by Claire Ritzler and Carol Jones, from the Alliance Theatre Institute for Education in Atlanta, Georgia.

They have been role-playing, carrying out research, making puppets, and working in pairs and groups. They have covered science, art, drama, talking and listening, background research, and language skills.

The Storyline session concerns a group of scientists (pupils) who have arrived at an international conference to be greeted by Dr Ritz (a teacher), head of a rainforest reserve, and Gayla (a teacher), the voice of the rainforest.

The scientists are told they have to increase their depth of specialist knowledge. Dr Ritz gives each team (made up of a zoologist, biologist, anthropologist, botanist and so on) a research mission with questions about their subject and a kapok tree. They develop characters by creating "passports".

Next, teacher and pupils create a rainforest reserve setting in the classroom, and they paint and assemble the kapok tree.

Dr Ritz then checks the scientists' passports. The scientists share information about their backgrounds and do further research using books, computers, models and other resources.

Pupils and teachers then step out of role and build puppets to represent animals, plants and people in their field of study.

Back in role, Gayla tells the scientists that she has found an axe next to the trunk of the kapok tree and that a chunk is missing from the tree. They discuss the threat to the rainforest and discover a "man" who has come to clear the land to create a cattle ranch. A debate follows about rainforest clearance, but is not resolved.

Finally, the scientists present their findings and views to the international community. Possibilities include a journal of research findings with contributions from the different scientists, a scripted play, a PowerPoint presentation, a debate or even a letter-writing campaign to the "man". The pupils are then asked to reflect on their work.

Lesley Dunlop, creative links officer with Glasgow City Council, is enthusiastic about Storyline. "It's about experiential learning," she says.

"If you enjoy something, then learning is more effective."

Teachers should retain the best bits of 5-14 and marry them with Storyline as they embrace A Curriculum for Excellence, she says. "We have young teachers in the profession who are well qualified, who know how to teach maths and reading, but not Storyline, and this way of working within a context."

Colette Haddock, a P7 teacher at Merrylee Primary in Glasgow, now plans to adapt the rainforest topic she is doing. "This involves the children. It gives them a purpose," she said. "They have a role to play and through that, they find out different things, rather than just having to go away and look up a book - although they are still doing that. This is giving them a more dramatic insight."

Gordon Harrow, who teaches at Broomhill Primary, also in Glasgow, said the children in his P7 class would welcome the Storyline approach with open arms. "This is making learning fun," he says. "It is everything you want in a healthy classroom."

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