Metal detecting course helps pupils dig into the past

24th July 2015 at 01:00
New project aims to encourage `responsible' approach to hobby

The couple who unearthed one of the most important Viking hoards ever found in Scotland are looking to take metal detecting into schools.

Last year Derek McLennan discovered a haul of Viking treasure in a field in south-west Scotland; in total more than 100 items were recovered, including gold jewellery, an early Christian cross and a rare silver Carolingian pot. Estimated to be worth six figures, the hoard was described by experts as "a hugely significant find".

Now Mr McLennan and his partner Sharon McKee, a former principal teacher of English, have set up a not-for-profit organisation, Beyond the Beep, to raise the profile of metal detecting. They have already worked with two schools in Dumfries and Galloway.

In some circles, metal detecting is considered to be unfashionable. But this is clearly not the case at the 12-pupil Carsphairn Primary, where pupils have been introduced to safe, responsible metal detecting through the innovative educational project (see panel, opposite).

Ms McKee explained: "The idea was to offer schools a chance to go detecting in a safe and responsible fashion, and then develop the learning possibilities presented by the activity.

"The classroom work is just as important as the fieldwork. The process of identifying the find, classifying it, measuring it and putting it in its historical context offers up all sorts of opportunities to deliver a range of outcomes as regards literacy, numeracy, social subjects and science."

Ms McKee left her job at Auchinleck Academy in East Ayrshire last year to set up Beyond the Beep with Mr McLennan, having taken up metal detecting in her spare time.

"Teaching is obviously a very stressful and busy job. Five years ago I decided I needed a hobby to give me a break and it started from there," she said. "Detecting is so engaging, you can do it for hours and hours and never lose focus.

"That made me think about the impact it could have on pupils. And, of course, it's so inclusive - it doesn't matter what your ability is, you are going to be able to achieve success; you will find something."

Lost and found

The children at Carsphairn explored a field next door to the school and found objects including an 1881 silver sixpence, a variety of buckles and toy cars, and a toy cowboy gun from the 1950s. The oldest find was a penny dating to the reign of George III (1760-1820).

Each pupil put together their own tray of artefacts which they had to investigate, analyse and report on, generating a range of graphs and drawings in the process.

Class teacher Walker McKenna said: "We jumped at the chance to get involved with this project. Although our main topics this term have been the Egyptians and the Titanic, this project gave us the chance to put history in a wider context. It embodied what Curriculum for Excellence and interdisciplinary learning are all about."

S2 pupils at St Joseph's College in Dumfries have also completed the six-week course as part of the John Muir Award, an environmental scheme. Finds from their school playing field included a Boys' Brigade badge from 1908 and a musket ball.

Drama teacher John Glen, who ran the elective course, said: "What was very noticeable is that one or two members of the class who don't always engage were fully committed throughout and contributed to class discussions in a manner they don't normally. The experience has been a very positive one for all involved."

Striking gold

Metal detecting is not about digging up finds in the dark of night and selling them to the highest bidder, Sharon McKee says. The former English teacher is now dedicating her time to introducing responsible metal detecting to pupils through a specially designed course.

To use a metal detector responsibly, you must:

Always get permission from the landowner.

Never enter a field where crops are being grown or livestock farmed.

Leave behind no evidence of digging.

And if you strike gold it's not just a case of finders keepers, Ms McKee cautions: "You have to be aware when you dig in Scotland that what you find belongs to the Crown if it's more than 300 years old or of historical interest."

Find out more about Ms McKee and Derek McLennan's organisation at www.facebook.combeyondthebeep

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