Cluster project that plays to all talents
As a mountaineer and outdoor leader, Ollie Bray is used to situations that would terrify the rest of us. But facing bears, high ledges and white-water rapids are nothing compared to six primary heads who have been invited to let their senior pupils play Guitar Hero in class.
"You can imagine the expressions on some of their faces," says the depute head and geography teacher at Musselburgh Grammar, in East Lothian. "But, one way or another, everyone bought into the idea, and since the Primary 7 teachers first talked to their classes at the start of the project there has been no stopping the momentum."
Guitar Hero is a popular computer game that comprises a plastic guitar connected to software that delivers instant feedback to players as they accompany a rock group belting out music on-screen.
"Of course, it hasn't been about how well pupils play," explains Mr Bray. "It has been about a stimulus and context for learning in the primary schools, and about the P7s' transition to secondary school after the summer.
"At workshops all round the school today (June), they are getting to know each other while having fun," says Mr Bray. "We've organised them into the classes they'll be in when they come here. That means they are all going to different workshops. So their teachers back at primary can facilitate feedback and discussions, such as 'What is your new class like?'"
While today's events are a culmination of the term's cluster project, they are not quite the end of it. There will a coda after the summer. "Craft, design and technology, English and social subjects departments will keep it going for a few weeks," says Mr Bray.
"So, for instance, the guitar designs the pupils have been developing today will become postcards that they send to their former teachers in their primary schools."
The idea of using Guitar Hero as a vehicle for learning across the curriculum, transition and continuity came from Elrick Primary in Westhill, Aberdeenshire, where the game has been motivating many subjects, says Mr Bray.
"I learned about it at last year's Scottish Learning Festival. It got me thinking. We decided to widen the scope and try to get all our associated primary schools involved."
Each school has taken the project in different directions, says Mr Bray. Some ideas have included creative writing about musicians' lives, drama and role-play with virtual bands, drawing up around-the-world tour maps in geography lessons, and the use of maths. There has been dance and music-making, animation and the use of information technology, and the design of T-shirts, CD sleeves and promotional posters.
"We started our kids off with the game," says Jenny MacNair, who teaches at Whitecraig Primary. "Then we looked at music across the world. We got in dance instructors and ICT experts.
"Right from the start, working closely with Wallyford Primary, we looked at all areas of the curriculum to see what we could do, and to get the planning in place."
Planning was the key, says Stacey Betteridge, Wallyford Primary's acting principal teacher. "We focused on an enterprise project that touched every subject in school. Everything was about Guitar Hero. At first when we contacted people it was just another teacher asking for help. But as the project went on they realised how big it was. That made it easier to get people from outside the school to take part."
"The big difference from normal lessons," says Claire Ross, of Musselburgh Burgh Primary, "was that their project - on running a band with limited resources - pulled subjects together and made sense of them.
"You drew pictures of your rock star. You found out about them on the internet. You added up your money. It linked everything."
During the past term, just about every subject for the Primary 7s in the Musselburgh Grammar cluster has been given some kind of Guitar Hero treatment. "We formed bands," says Steffani White, a pupil at Campie Primary. "We wrote lyrics about moving on, leaving friends and what we're looking forward to at the grammar school."
Around Musselburgh Grammar today, primary pupils from all the schools are getting to know their secondary classmates through dance, drama, guitar and CD sleeve design workshops, iTunes challenges and battles of the bands.
"Don't forget Guitar Hero orienteering," says Mr Bray, indicating a group of fleet-footed pupils studying clues, maps and directions out in the playground.
As the children head out to the car park to find their way home, the P7s have had a good day, they say, and the thought of coming to Musselburgh Grammar after the summer is now less daunting.
But inevitably a little apprehension remains. "The one thing I'm still worried about is getting lost," says one lad. "This is a huge school."