Gonna make this a knight to remember?

10th June 2011 at 01:00
An archaeological treasure at Stirling Castle can add flesh to the bones of a cross-curricular topic, writes Douglas Blane

As education officer Kirsten Wood softly closes the door on the long- dead skeleton stretched out on the floor at Stirling Castle, a sudden thought makes her smile. "He's going to give the cleaners a fright in the morning."

The bones of the ancient knight were found 15 years ago in a forgotten chapel during renovation of the castle's Renaissance Palace. Research showed that he belonged to an earlier age - the Wars of Independence, when Wallace and Bruce strode the national stage around Stirling.

That aspect appeals to local pupils, says David Brown, principal teacher at Cambusbarron Primary. "They like that the Stirling Knight is our local history and it's national history."

Archaeology like this makes a great focus for a cross-curricular topic, says Mr Brown: "I'd been on a placement at the castle, looking at their educational resources. Then I decided to do a whole term's archaeology topic this year with my P6 class.

"We had a session up at the castle with the bones, where they learned about the knight and how we could find things out about him. It brought it all to life."

That school input to the resources on the Stirling Knight - developed by Historic Scotland and Archaeology Scotland - was invaluable, says outreach officer, Ruth Bordoli. "We have been taking hands-on workshops, with a traditional archaeology focus, out to schools around Edinburgh and the Lothians," she says.

"Curriculum for Excellence made us realise that the kind of forensic archaeology that told us all about the knight would be a fantastic way to give pupils a real cross-curricular experience, by bringing in history, science, numeracy and literacy. So we'll be taking the knight activities out to schools, and Kirsten will be using them for school visits to Stirling Castle."

To help create engaging activities for the battle-scarred knight, model- making expertise was enlisted from the former Glasgow Metropolitan College, explains Kirsten Wood (see panel).

"We've worked with them on a number of projects. For young people, getting their hands on things helps make history real. We wanted replicas of the bones so that they could figure out which went where and put the skeleton together," she says.

"We wanted replica weapons from the period, so they could hit a patch of plasticine and compare the mark with the wound in the knight's skull, and figure out which wound killed him."

A dig-box, a simulated carbon-dating activity and techniques for deciding the sex of a skeleton are also part of the new workshop - which will launch in Archaeology Month in September and then be available for school parties to the castle or school visits by Archaeology Scotland.

Initially aimed at upper primary, the topic will also work well in secondary school, says Ms Wood. "Pupils love getting their hands on the swords and weapons. We did think about that, but they're lightweight and they will be supervised."

The new workshop will become one of the discovery sessions run at Stirling Castle and other Historic Scotland sites, she says. "These last an hour- and-a half. Others include Castle Life, Mary Queen of Scots and the Wars of Independence."

Of all the archaeology activities, the one that went down best with Mr Brown's P6 pupils was the dig-box.

"They worked in co-operative learning groups. First they slowly scraped the sand away, then recorded the positions of objects they found, did a sketch, took a photograph," he says. "They came up with hypotheses and researched the item and who might have used it. Then they wrote it all up. They loved it."



Making historically accurate artefacts for schools is a challenging project for HND students, says City of Glasgow College lecturer Gordon Kydd. "There's a lot to think about, but it's working with a live client on a real job, which is a vital part of the course. It's good for their learning and their CVs and portfolios. Some students might prefer just to make models from drawings - and they could work that way when qualified, with separate design and model-making teams. But this lets them experience the whole design process. It's worth its weight in gold."

Getting into the heads of young children wasn't easy, says student Michelle Kavanagh, who devised a smart simulated carbon-dating activity. "The models had to be simplified but historically accurate. We weren't just making things. You had to think about what you wanted them to learn about the science and the history."

Making weapons the knight once used was very satisfying, says student Barry Wakenshaw, picking a spiked ball on a chain from a wicked-looking display of replica medieval hand-weapons. "I made this flail and the hammers, and the skull with the plasticine.

"The castle gave us information about the knight and the period, and we had to do research on the weapons. Then we scaled them down. They are made of resin, which is quite strong. You don't want them or the children to get damaged."

HND 3D Design: Model Making for the Creative Industries. www.glasgowmet.ac.ukmodelmaking-hnd.aspx

Barry Wakenshaw, professional model-making - "architectural, film, TV amp; theatre, prototyping, sculptural, animation, restoration". Barrywakenshaw@gmail.com


September is Scottish Archaeology Month, with free talks, tours, exhibitions, workshops and hands-on events from Orkney and Shetland to the Scottish Borders. For resources and information - or to talk about cross- curricular archaeology in schools - contact Ruth Bordoli or Catherine Knops via www.scottisharchaeology.org.uk.

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