Here, bear and everywhere

15th June 2007 at 01:00
THE BEST way to learn about people and places is to visit the second and talk to the first - and in the end that is what the infants at Knock Primary on the Isle of Lewis did. But first they sent an envoy, several months earlier, to explore the big city and make sure the natives were friendly.

His name was Seoras, the Gaelic equivalent of George, which funnily enough was also the name of the emissary the Primary 2 pupils at Hutchesons'

Grammar School in Glasgow sent to Knock in exchange.

The two Georges were teddy bears, and both survived their ad-ventures to come home safe again.

"Our George spent the night on a lighthouse on Lewis," says Hutchesons'

teacher Jill Heywood.

"He went on a helicopter trip with the coastguard, who was the dad of one of the Knock pupils.

"That led to discussions with my kids about what dads did and using coastguards in a city."

Each day brought something new as the bears accompanied different pupils home in the evening, pursuing activities that the kids then described in emails and a blog set up specifically for them.

"George went home with one child who lived on a farm and had a pet Highland cow," says Ms Heywood. "Ours have pet dogs, goldfish and hamsters. So that was something different.

"He went to the pier and looked in the lobster pots, walked on the beach and explored the caves.

"So we talked about what the kids can see when they look through their classroom windows. We see tenement buildings and big red double-decker buses. They see sheep in fields and sand dunes leading down to the sea."

Young Seoras, meanwhile, was sending daily dispatches back to Knock, says Primary 12 teacher Ann-Marie Mitchell.

"My kids were meant to be learning about Glasgow, and they did. But it made them think more about their own way of life.

"They were excited that Seoras was going to the cinema and the theatre, and they wished they could go too. Then they noticed the Glasgow kids were just as excited about our beaches, lambs and quad bikes. "It made them think more about what they had."

The project taught both sets of children a great deal about using technology.

"Each night one pupil would take Seoras home, along with our digital camera," says Jill Heywood.

"They emailed the photos they took to the school. The following day the class would look at them and put them on the blog. The kids amazed me with the amount they learned about handling photos, attaching them to emails, and uploading them to blogs.

"They are wee six-year-olds. It was incredible."

Besides ICT, the project also helped develop the capacities specified in the new curriculum, says Ms Hey-wood, particularly confidence and successful learning. "I talked them through it at first," she says. "Then they took a lot of decisions themselves.

"It was their responsibility to decide where they would take the teddy, then get the photos and put them on the blog.

"There was a lot of creative thinking. As time went by they became very confident and independent wee people."

The Knock Primary pupils were motivated to do a great deal of writing as the project progressed, says Ann-Marie Mitchell. At the end, all seven of them flew to Glasgow to take George back and bring Seoras home.

"We hired a coach and went around the city with the Hutchesons' class. We saw the Cathedral, and the Kelvingrove and Transport museums. Then they took us to their school. The number of pupils in the play-ground overwhelmed my kids."

The project is now over for this year, says Ms Heywood. "It was a great success. I will probably go to Lewis in the summer and talk about where we go next with George and Seoras."

Their destinations might not yet be decided but the educational literature shows that once teddy bears get a taste for travel, it's hard to keep them at home.

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