The blue tit has landed

26th August 2011 at 01:00
Modern technology, the Glow intranet and good old-fashioned writing and drawing skills were a perfect combination to record the goings-on at one school's nesting box, reports Douglas Blane

Few people would be happy sharing their most intimate moments with everybody in school. But if you're a pregnant female bird you don't get a choice. "Our bird box has a camera in it," says Sophie Sutherland (P2). "It took photos and videos."

"We don't know her name," says Shanelle Parker (P2). "But we do know she is a blue tit. The videos and pictures are on Glow.

"We looked at the videos, then we made blue tits out of clay," says Kelvin McKeown (P2). "We wrote stories about them. True stories, not made up."

Every class at St John's Primary, East Renfrewshire, is working on some aspect of the little bird's home life, as I visit at the end of the summer term. "Primary 1 are writing stories and thinking up names for the mother. That was the children's idea," says principal teacher Marion Johnson.

"Primary 12 are making models and writing newspaper articles. P2 are using graphics tools to draw the bird with its eggs. P3 have been doing pastel paintings."

Further up the school, classes are writing poetry, researching fact files, looking at life-cycles and food-chains, making observational line drawings, and investigating birds from around the world.

"The blue-tit nesting box has caught everyone's imagination," says headteacher Catherine Dillon-Ruddy. "I've got parents asking me about it now and teachers from other schools wanting to know how we did it.

"The nesting box is in my garden. We were going to put it in the school grounds but couldn't find a good place. So when grass and twigs started appearing in the video, I thought it was my kids doing it. Then we saw the blue tit."

Glow pulls it all together, says Miss Johnson, and turns a nice learning stimulus into a genuinely whole-school, interdisciplinary project. "People sometimes see Glow as an add-on they don't have time for. So as Glow mentor, my idea was that the nesting box could get everybody using it as just another part of their work."

Having decided, in consultation with their classes, on a context for learning, each teacher was asked to enter this, together with the experiences and outcomes addressed, on the class page in the Glow Group.

Technical aspects of filming, editing and uploading the bird's activities in the nest are straightforward. But getting the whole school using Glow was more of a challenge. "It does take time," says Miss Johnson.

"Our authority rolled it out gradually, with Glow mentors using it themselves first, then with other ICT enthusiasts in school the following year, and aiming this year to get every teacher on board. This project gives everyone a safe environment and lots of support across the school to try it themselves. They are all using Glow now and so are the children, often at home."

It all began with just an empty wooden nesting box whose potential was anything but obvious, says Mrs Dillon-Ruddy. "But when we started seeing the images and going: `Oh my gosh, look at that!' we felt we just had to share it with the children. It is ridiculously exciting for all of us. And it will get even more so in a few days' time, when the chicks start to hatch."

THE TECH BIT

St John's Primary put the project together with cheap, easily obtained equipment and software, says Marion Johnson.

"We got the nesting box with the video camera already installed using Tesco vouchers. Then we bought a video capture cable to connect it to the computer.

"We use Windows Moviemaker to edit the videos, because a lot of the time the bird isn't doing much. Then we compress it before uploading to Glow using Freemake video converter.

"Total cost? About pound;16."

TAILS OF THE UNEXPECTED

Primary 12 teacher Lucy McCormick

"The blue tit project links into lots of subjects across the curriculum.

"We've been looking at materials in science, and the differences between living and non-living things. We've been studying shapes in maths, and making clay models of the blue tit and painting them for art.

"The children have been writing about blue tits, which has given us a context for learning new words, like `fledgeling', `texture' and `moulding'. We've been talking about the texture of the bird's feathers and trying to reproduce it in clay. The children are loving it."

Jennifer Jones (P3)

"I watched all the videos at home yesterday with my wee sister. The best bit was where the wee blue tit had seven babies - eggs, I mean. My mum is interested, so I'm going to show it to her. I put a comment on Glow, saying I hope they hatch soon. In class we drew pictures of the mummy blue tit in pastels. I like drawing so mine did look like a blue tit."

Kayleigh Ann Branston (P7)

"I heard about the blue tit at assembly and started going on Glow to find out more. We've been watching the videos and discussing them in class. We saw the bird laying her eggs - that was good. We've been doing line drawings of the blue tit and a research project on a bird of our choice. I talked to my dad and chose the white-tailed sea eagle, which you find on the west coast of Scotland. We do something on the blue tit pretty much every day now."

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