Generous helping of healthy diet gets a big thumbs-up

1st January 2010 at 00:00
Schools in Stirling took over the timetable to teach pupils some lessons in lifestyle

Break is usually the time when crisps and Coke are cracked open or sweeties shared out. But not now. Not in the hall at Wallace High in Stirling.

Only a couple of girls, seated on tables near the large windows, are munching on deep-fried potatoes. The rest are more intent on the smoothies on offer from the S3 home economics students.

Could it be that they've digested the hideous facts, presented to them in a play by pupils from Balfron High, that the cheeseburger and milkshake they normally ate accounted for almost half their recommended daily calorie intake?

"I used to go to McDonald's," admitted Chelsea, in S2 at Wallace High. "But I haven't been for ages. I knew they were really fatty because my dad told me, but this project made me realise just how fatty they are. I will go again, but I'll go much less often, now I know."

Chelsea had just completed a stage presentation, with her classmate Joe, to three classes from her own school and the pupils from Balfron, near Stirling. During their PowerPoint presentation, they recapped on what Wallace pupils had done during a term-long, cross-curricular project looking at health and well-being.

Using data collected in the beep test in PE, the young people had developed charts in maths, plotting how fit they were and what they ate, composed essays and participated in a Dragons' Den-style event in English, kept food diaries in home economics and used IT to produce their work.

Standing nervously before nearly 100 peers, Chelsea and Joe had demonstrated what they had learnt about their own health and eating habits. Chelsea was able to show that she was one of the fittest in her group, while Joe revealed he ate quite a lot of fruit and vegetables. But, like most young people in Scotland, both ate far too much sugar and fat.

It might have been embarrassing to be so revealing, but getting personal was what it was all about.

"The idea was to create this cross-curricular project where the young people would use data about themselves, so that doing the maths and English would have a context for them," explained Innes MacLeod, a maths teacher at Wallace who worked closely with PE teacher Hamish McLachlan on the project.

Three of the nine S1 classes at Wallace took part. "We did some complicated graph work, but because the pupils were using data about themselves, they learned it really quickly."

Mr MacLeod pointed to a display of graphs and charts in the hall, which showed scarily high numbers of pupils eating few vegetables or fruit and lots of sugars and fats.

"For us teachers, it also made sense looking at their food pie charts and equating that with their behaviour," he added.

At Balfron, similar work was being carried out, but this time with the entire S1. With more pupils involved - 180 in total - the scale was much more ambitious and reached across PE, maths, personal and social education, home economics and ICT.

"The project followed on from a similar pilot, run by two probationers, Kris Lucas and Graeme Watson, which brought together PE and design and technology," explained Jenifer MacKay, principal teacher for pupil support. "It had involved just one class, but it taught us a lot about cross-curricular working."

Mr Lucas and Mr Watson collaborated over basketball. In PE, the class was divided into teams which competed against one another, while in design and technology they produced fanzines about their team.

The probationers' project linked Vicky Stevenson in PE and Andrew Kennedy with the maths, home economics and ICT departments, which allowed the pupils, like those at Wallace, to study graphs in a personal context. But the prior experience also showed that encouraging the pupils to produce some sort of presentation was crucial, so further exploration of the topic carried on through to personal and social education.

All nine classes were challenged to create a presentation that would interest their peers. The winning class would then be shuttled to Wallace to perform or present, followed by a healthy lunch at the new Peak Centre in Stirling and a chance to go swimming, skating or climbing.

Class 1E3 was picked by a panel of judges, which included Helen Sneddon, an education support officer with responsibility for encouraging cross-curricular work and supporting local schools as they embedded principles of Curriculum for Excellence.

"The presentations were excellent. The pupils were left to decide how they would present, but they were encouraged to be as creative as possible," she explained.

1E3 decided to put on a play about the effect that eating burgers daily can have. A cushion down the shirt of one pupil, Beth Gorman, clearly illustrated the effect, and this was reinforced by a PowerPoint presentation flashed up behind the actors. It showed that a Big Mac has nearly 500 calories and 21.5g of fat; a quarter pounder with cheese has even more calories and 26g of fat, while a milkshake has 380 calories and nine grams of fat. The list was scary, but it was the impact on the pupil that caught the audience's imagination. She couldn't run, she couldn't play football and she felt ill most of the time.

"We decided together to put on a play and the script sort of evolved," explained Jack, an S1 pupil at Balfron.

The pupils obviously enjoyed the creative part, but they were also positive about other elements.

"Working through the graphs and putting on the play was so much better than jotter work," added his classmate, Susan.

"Yeah," agreed Malcolm. "It made maths easy."

The teachers at the two schools have also found it easier to develop a cross-curricular approach to learning, thanks to the planning and support provided by Ms Sneddon. She has now returned to the classroom as depute head at Bannockburn Primary. But with the structure in place, both schools are determined to continue and expand the project.


While the overarching aim of the health and well-being projects running in Stirling has been to encourage positive partnerships and collaborative working within schools, there has been an additional aspiration - to bring individual schools to work together.

Last year, five of Stirling's secondary schools were approached to launch a cross-curricular project which aimed to develop the literacy, numeracy and health and well-being experiences and outcomes. All five accepted the challenge, with each approaching it differently.

Wallace began by experimenting with a smaller group over a larger curricular spread, while Balfron, which had the prior experience, opted for a comprehensive, creative, competitive approach.

The other high schools involved were McLaren, Stirling and Dunblane.

"We tried to encourage an inter-collegiate approach, bringing the schools together to share ideas, and resources," said Ms Sneddon.

"It is (in the) early stages at the moment, but the schools have made an excellent start. All fit well with Curriculum for Excellence."

Dunblane developed a project called Health Attack, led by Susan Domin, principal teacher of home economics, in which S1 pupils looked at diet and its impact on fitness across home economics, PE, PSE and computing.

Initial evaluations from the children highlighted a high level of enjoyment and knowledge gained, and a feeling that they were better equipped to make informed lifestyle choices.

Stirling High took a different road, celebrating diversity through cross-curricular ties. Its S2s explored the theme of Scotland as a multicultural society with pupils working across several departments, translating poems in French, asking "Who are the Scots?" in history, visiting the Islamic centre and discussing religious tolerance in RME, studying relevant texts in English and producing a display of luggage labels, cooking family meals in home economics, and building a model suitcase in art containing artefacts from different cultures. In PSE, a former Hibernian footballer led an assembly on Show Racism the Red Card.

The project culminated in a Question Time-style event, with a leader of the local Islamic community, a Christian minister and Robin Iffla, the first black policeman in Central region.

McLaren developed a project that used Bloom's taxonomy and multiple intelligences to enable the young people to learn collaboratively to research, analyse and evaluate health-related activities. The school's aim was to raise awareness of health-related issues and determine the impact of their study on the school and the local community.

The authority has worked closely with the lead teachers in each school to help them develop the projects and the links across the departments. Schools received support through regular planning meetings and teachers were given help in generating ideas to share with other schools. Stirling's approach is to develop effective learning and teaching and encourage reflective thinking through building up networks.

"My role within the authority was to facilitate the projects and encourage the teachers to think about what they are doing and what impact it would have on the teaching and learning," Ms Sneddon said.

"This meant asking reflective questions about the strategies that the schools would use to take it forward, rather than just telling them what to do.

"It is the teachers who put ideas into practice and take ownership of a project. In this way, they can ensure the learning to meet the needs of their young people, reflecting personalisation and choice."

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