A river runs through it

4th July 2008 at 01:00
An urban renewal initiative on the Clyde is a voyage of discovery. Douglas Blane reports

An urban renewal initiative on the Clyde is a voyage of discovery. Douglas Blane reports

There are no tears as the boat casts off from a Glasgow pier and sails determinedly down the Clyde in a plume of pale grey smoke.

The summer-clad guests aboard "MV Kenilworth" are all smiles because they know they will be back on shore in an hour. But for many before them, the thrill, when a ship's siren sounded, was tinged with sorrow as they waved goodbye to loved ones they would never see again.

"I wanted the children to learn about people like my grandparents, who left Scotland on ships that sailed down the Clyde," says teacher Clare Harker, "to engage with the emotions of the people who lived and sometimes died on the river."

The employability and enterprise officer at King's Park Secondary is one of 40 teachers who participated in an education project commissioned by the Clyde Waterfront urban renewal initiative. She and her colleagues have created 200 lessons for classes from P6-S3.

These lessons and projects, which can be downloaded free, are organised into 12 themes: architecture; arts and culture; bridges; community; environment; green networks; health; homes; river basin; river use; tourism and leisure; and transport. They cover all eight curriculum areas, says enterprise in education specialist Moreen Smith, Clyde Waterfront's education project manager. "We provided participating teachers with a template and suggestions for tackling things in an enterprising way - getting businesses, parents and the community involved, providing practical contexts for learning. But the lessons are all based on the teachers' ideas."

One lesson by Lisa Hughes, an English teacher at Our Lady and St Patrick's High, Dumbarton, has pupils designing a leaflet, using their language, art and ICT skills, to promote sports and leisure facilities. "English can seem very academic to children, especially poetry. It can be hard for them to see the relevance. This project helped them make the connection between language skills and the commercial world, and see that language skills are important to all sorts of careers."

Nicola Hannan (S2) remembers the quality of the advertising leaflet her class produced. She liked the inclusive way the project was organised. "Everybody had a role. We worked well together."

There were similarities to essay writing, says classmate Chiara Blair, "but more relaxed. You were doing research and working with people. That made it fun and interesting."

As a young teacher approaching the end of her first year in the classroom, Lisa Hughes had her eyes opened, she says, to the creative possibilities of the new curriculum. "I liked how it got the boys as enthusiastic as the girls - which isn't always easy in English."

Elsewhere in the curriculum the new resources have been having a converse effect, with young girls getting turned on to traditionally male subjects and careers.

"We were learning about the bridges on the Clyde, and building our own in class," says Emma Campbell, in P7 at St Stephen's Primary. "A team of engineers came out to our school. Then we visited their offices. There were hardly any women. But from what I've seen, women can do the job just as well as men. I fancy being a civil engineer."

So does her classmate Rei Gashi. "It would be great," she says. "We did a bridge-building challenge in class and a bridge design challenge. Everywhere we went at Halcrow's, it was all high-tech."

The close involvement of this international company with Scottish roots contributed greatly to its classroom success, says Claire Gunn. "As employability and enterprise officer for the St Roch's learning community, I've worked on a number of enterprise projects. This one stands out because of the time and effort put in by the company. I have written the lessons in such a way that other teachers can use them, if they have to, without business involvement."

Getting local companies to play an active part in school lessons is one aspect of the enterprise in education approach that underpins the resources. This approach captures the interest of all the pupils, says Hazel Ruxton, who teaches at East Fulton Primary, Linwood, and designed several lessons. "They discover how to cope with disagreement - a valuable classroom skill. They also reflect on the learning and skills they've gained."

Working in groups, her class was asked to imagine themselves employed in the shipyards 100 years ago, explains P6 pupil Megan Beattie. "We had to plan our summer holiday. People in the 1800s went on holiday in July, because the shipyards closed. Nowadays, people go on holiday whatever month they want."

The resources from Clyde Waterfront cover a variety of themes and topics. But a single thread runs through them. Whether it's art or architecture, homes or health, transport or tourism, the lessons help pupils see beneath the surface - of the water to reveal its life and ecology; of the present to discover the many layers of the past; and especially of the people, to help children connect with the feelings behind the names and faces.

"I found it easy to imagine how Miss Harker's grandparents felt when they were young and sailed to America - and left their family behind," says Laura Martin, an S1 pupil at King's Park.

"We had to write a letter home. I did one from Catherine to her mum. It began like this: `I am missing you terribly already, but my beloved is taking good care of me. Being with Philip is a joy, and although parting with you filled me with sadness, my being with Philip is no mistake.'"

When Miss Harker asked her pupils what regeneration meant, one girl gave a great answer, she says - a new beginning. "That's what this is all about. But for a new beginning you have to understand the historical context. You have to connect people with the past and its emotions. This river has pulled families apart and it has brought them together. It is a moving, living thing. It breathes life into all our communities."

- www.clydewaterfront.com

Lessons to be learnt

- www.clydewaterfront.comaletter fromamerica.aspx (within the Clyde community theme)

- www.clydewaterfront.comabridge designcompanychallenge.aspx (in Bridges)

- www.clydewaterfront.comlanguageandvisualimageryin advertising.aspx (in Health)

- www.clydewaterfront.comholidays,thenandnow.aspx (in Tourism and Leisure)

- The "MV Kenilworth", which has carried more than two million passengers in its 70-year life, is being fitted as a floating classroom to complement the resources.

- Glasgow City has an employability and enterprise officer, tasked with delivering Determined to Succeed in each of its 29 learning communities.

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