The famous and fantastic of Scotland

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
Stuck for a visit that's relevant to the curriculum? Judy Mackie and, below, Raymond Ross have ideas for where to go

So, you think you ken yir Scotland? Well then, what's the difference between C. Macintosh and C.R. Mackintosh? Between J. Dewar and D. Dewar? What was invented by Sir J. Black? By Professor I. Donald? Professor J. Mallard?

Huvnae a clue? Well, one place to learn the answers is at Shaping a Nation, a multi-media, inter-active entertainment complex at Edinburgh's Fountain Park.

"Our slogan is to educate and entertain," says project manager Nigel Benson. "Shaping a Nation is a unique, interactive exhibition which shows the qualities and flavours of Scotland without prejudice and with humour.

"The kids are usually buzzing when they come out. Because it's so interactive, because we use so many computer screens, I think the knowledge gets into their heads. It's a fun education visit."

Since it opened three years ago more than 100,000 visitors have passed through its doors, mostly children. The centre receives, on average, one school visit a day, mostly from mid to upper primary classes, some from as far away as England and Northern Ireland.

Teacher notes are available and worksheets help guide pupils around the displays in order to answer questions as various as the date of St Columba's foundation of the monastery on Iona (563AD), who was the world's first oil man (James "Paraffin" Young, in case you didnae ken) and where was Scotland's first new town (East Kilbride).

There is a cloning booth in honour of the late Dolly where you can replicate yourself by mirrors and think about meeting your double. There's a multi-screen theatre where ordinary folk give mostly ordinary opinions about what it means to be Scottish, what they think Scotland's image is and what they think of the weather. There's an interactive 3D computer display covering Scots language, songs and ballads. And, although sometimes the exhibition is so relentlessly Scottish it seems like parochialism writ large, the Kailyard is for the most part avoided.

Other themes include great Scots, the Industrial Revolution, engineering technology, sickness and health and landscapes.

The TurboVenture is, for most young people, the most impressive activity, involving a simulated helicopter flight around Scotland which takes place in the only digital motion simulated theatre in Europe and one of only four in the world.

You can also take a ride where you land on the moon before plummeting back to Earth, piercing through the surface to its molten core and re-emerging to dodge the dinosaurs, which disappear in a great burst of asteroids. No wonder children are buzzing when they come out.

Shaping a Nation helps to develop: an understanding of the meaning of heritage, political, cultural, economic and social aspects of history; communication and language skills; skills in critical evaluation and making informed judgements; skills in self-directed learning and personal research and a sense of social and environmental responsibility. Common 5-14 curriculum links covered include people and places, people in society and in the past, science, Earth and space and language.

Before leaving, school grouips are invited to decorate the Wall of Life with impressions of the exhibitions; it's a colourful splash of energy and ideas.

If there is a criticism, it is that the glasses through which Scotland and its history are seen are a little rose-tinted. Certainly poverty, famine, plague, the Darien Scheme, the Killing Times, Culloden, the Highland clearances, the slums and sectarianism are hardly writ large if writ at all.

The school sheet asks: Is there is any famous Scot who is not there that you think should be? Quite a few, actually, but here are two. There is simply no excuse for not having a picture of the 20th century giant of Scottish letters, Hugh MacDiarmid; and why have a shot of Sir Alex Ferguson holding the European Cup and not one of Jock Stein, the first Scot, and first Briton, to lift the trophy in 1967?

Shaping a Nation, tel 0131 229 0300 www

So, you think you ken yir Scotland? Answers: Charles Macintosh invented the waterproof cloth; Charles Rennie Mackintosh was an architect and designer. James Dewar invented the vacuum flask; Donald Dewar was First Minister and died in 2000. Nobel prizewinner Sir James Black's discoveries led to beta blockers; Professor Ian Donald pioneered ultrasound scans in obstetrics; Professor John Mallard developed the MRI scanner.

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