London calling

10th June 2005 at 01:00
schooLMAte. Key stage 2-4 free history website. p

Becky Hewlitt looks at a website where pupils can explore London's diverse cultural heritage

London is a salad bowl of different races and cultures, all coming from various parts of the globe. From the Normans to the Huguenots, the French have had an enormous impact on the capital, as have the Irish, the Black and the Asian communities.

The schooLMAte website developed by London Metropolitan Archives offers an innovative approach to studying the history of these different Londoners.

Elma the Elf is the children's guide to the site and she presides over a cartoon suite which provides an animated portal to the content. This is divided into information about Black and Asian communities, the French, the Irish, and the city centre.

Each community is explored through images of places and buildings, stories about events in London (eg the Spitalfields riots), documents, maps and timelines. There is also an audio gallery with snippets of plays that explore the lives of people from the communities studied.The information is divided into sections based around either a major event or a character (Dick Whittington, and a slave, Mary Young, are both featured). Pupils then read through source material and click on the pictures to read more background information about the story. They can then cross-reference what they have found against the maps and timelines to build up a picture of the person or event. It's a clever idea that gives the children the experience of researching the topic and finding things out for themselves. The wide range of material would be just as suitable for key stage 3 as part of a local history unit or could form the basis of a certificate course at KS4.

Sandra McLeod, of Shacklewell School in Hackney, used the site with Year 3 as part of a school-wide celebration of Black History month. She found it to be "far reaching with a lot of uses", especially as it is so relevant to east London, where her school is.

Sandra put her pupils into differentiated pairs (as some of the texts are of a high level) and they used what they had found to complete project work about Black people living in London.

The students enjoyed using the interface and Sandra thinks older pupils should find it easy to access what they need to and would be able to work independently when researching the different topics. Pupils with special needs and those with English as an additional language mostly used the maps, pictures and audio sections. Sandra was also impressed with how the site helped pupils develop ICT skills and how it tackled cross-curricular issues.

The site provides teacher's notes, worksheets and level descriptors which help teachers reflect on how it tackles the national curriculum. This reduces the amount of preparation needed to use the site. There is also a list of suggested visits to complement pupils' studies, including the Maritime Museum, the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood and the London Film Archive.

Many schools are now using a topic-based approach at KS2 and this site could quite easily become the focus of a cross-curricular unit at KS2 or 3, involving ICT, geography, history, English and art.

Perhaps its most powerful and valuable aspect is how much it extends our idea of the history of the people of London, a city of diverse communities since medieval times. As Sandra says: "The schooLMAte site reminds pupils of the presence of ethnic minorities throughout the history of London. They learn that Black people didn't just arrive in the 1950s."

* London Metropolitan Archives

Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood

National Maritime Museum

London Film Archive

Becky Hewlitt teaches history in the West Midlands

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