Challenges over, it's awards time

18th June 2004 at 01:00
The hard work is over; now for the prizes. Douglas Blane and Judy Mackie report on two cross-curricular team activities.

Challenge Glasgow is a web-based competition that sets P6-S2 schoolchildren adrift in a virtual hot-air balloon for two months to explore a country, its people, geography and culture using their initiative, creativity, collaboration and problem-solving abilities.

However, Laurie O'Donnell, Learning and Teaching Scotland's head of information and communications technology development, feels that the most challenging aspect of this year's event was choosing a winner from the six finalists. As chair of the judging panel, he has a different perspective from the participating teams from 59 - about a quarter - of the city's schools, including half of its secondaries.

They say the hardest parts were learning to co-operate, communicate and fully exploit the various skills and temperaments of the members of their team and finding answers to questions when experts did not respond to their e-mail messages.

This was the second Challenge Glasgow. The competition is run by the city council and aimed at 10- to 14-year-olds who have access to the Glasgow Schools Network. Teams of up to six pupils, from one or more year groups at one or more schools, choose one of three challenges and work through the tasks set using online clues (which are cross-curricular), keeping a travelogue of their progress. Then they have to prepare a multimedia presentation that lasts 5-7 minutes and a one-page report that summarises their experiences.

The primary and secondary teams are judged on equal terms, but for the second time it has been won by a primary school. The Wee Roch Stars from St Roch's Primary have been awarded the Challenge Glasgow Trophy and pound;2,000 of ICT equipment from the sponsor, Mitel. The five runners-up - Caledonia Primary, Sandaig Primary, Holyrood Secondary, Notre Dame High and St Andrew's Secondary - receive pound;1,000 of Mitel equipment.

"This is the second year we have entered and made it to the finals," said Susan Allan, who teaches the P7 team from St Roch's Primary.

"The competition's great for developing the kids' ICT and research skills, but what I really notice is the effect on classroom ethos. When they are working on the challenge, the kids are so nice to each other. If someone finds something, no matter how small or relevant, the others say: 'That's great, well done.'

"They are in sets for language and maths, which means most of the time they are working with people of similar abilities. So maybe it's the mixed ability teams in the challenge that makes the difference. They see that it's about pooling their talents and skills: it's not all about academic ability."

"Our whole team has good talents but different, so we had to learn to work together," says winning team member Stephanie.

"Task 1 was really hard. We worked on it for ages, then decided as a team to leave it and go on to a different task. Then we came back with fresh minds, and that seemed to work.

"It didn't help that our project was on India, but the river we were trying to identify from a satellite photo was the Indus, which is in Pakistan."

At the awards ceremony at the Glasgow Film Theatre, the quality and content of the six finalists' presentations, and a colourful leaflet each was asked to produce about their activities, were used to select the winner. The teams also displayed imaginative stands illustrating their work and answered questions from visitors and judges.

The prize-giving speeches indicate the importance with which cross-disciplinary and team-working activities, such as those set by the challenge, are increasingly regarded among education policy-makers.

George Gardner, Glasgow's depute director of education, who presented the awards, said: "In only its second year, Challenge Glasgow is already very successful. I do believe that the work you are doing will determine and give a direction to the way we organise major elements of the curriculum in future in Glasgow."

Mr O'Donnell said: "We are just about to start looking at the curriculum in our schools. I think what we've seen in Challenge Glasgow is a glimpse of the future of what will happen in schools in Scotland. I hope we are going to see a more holistic, more integrated approach to learning.

"What we've seen today are lots of young people who have learned about history, geography, culture, religion, language, mathematics I all brought together in a way that makes them interesting. That's fantastic. And for me it's the future of education in Scotland."

www.challengeglasgow.co.uk

A TYPICAL CHALLENGE GLASGOW ACTIVITY

The balloon makes good progress, still moving towards the north east crossing the Gulf of St Lawrence and approaching another World Heritage site, L'Anse aux Meadows.

You cross the site where the adventurers in the picture are supposed to have settled.

What are they supposed to have done 500 years before Columbus?

What did they name this land?

Do you think the people above were here before you and Columbus?

Find an archaeologist to share your ideas with.

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