Operation twilight

23rd November 2012 at 00:00
From defence of the national heritage to James Bond-style capers, dramatic fictional scenarios are creating the backdrop for a dynamic approach to teachers' professional development - and soon pupils will get their turn. Jean McLeish reports. Photography John Lindsay

The instructions are to go to the cafe, order a drink and a "special" and speak to no one.

The woman behind the counter hands over an envelope containing details of the first assignment.

Minutes later a tall, academic-looking man arrives and describes the next stage of the mission. Grim-faced, he explains who he is and why everyone has been brought together at this Perth cafe on a cold, late October evening.

The 30 men and women listen in tense silence as he begins to speak, looking anxiously over his shoulder every so often out into the dark street.

A Jacobite map has been discovered in the nearby headquarters of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, he says. It is hugely valuable and of tremendous historical and political significance, particularly in the light of the upcoming referendum.

"We also have more worrying news," he says ominously. "A band of treasure hunters are on their way and could potentially already be in Perth. They have come direct from Spain and we believe they are interested in the map for financial reasons. This map could be worth millions. We believe the rightful place for this map is in Perth Museum."

As historical society members, the group has been urgently assembled to defend this iconic piece of Scotland's heritage. Within minutes, everyone is allocated to one of five teams, assigned a task and despatched out into the night.

Clan MacLean are given torches and measuring tapes to find a site to bury the map, should things turn nasty. Afterwards, they have to give a presentation to the other clans, giving them precise directions to the potential burial site.

They head purposefully out into the night, walking briskly and introducing themselves briefly as they go. It's the most exciting CPD session the teachers have come across and the leading actor running the show is convincingly intimidating.

He is Paul Gorman, head of education and participation at Visible Fictions Theatre Company, part of the partnership running this elaborate scenario. It's a set-up and everything is fiction except for that Jacobite Map; it's safely on display in the map room of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

But there's something affecting about Mr Gorman's demeanour and as they're plotting distances by torchlight on a nearby playing field, the members of Clan MacLean are surreptitiously scanning the shadows.

Every team has a different creative task linked with educational outcomes - there are code-breakers, communicators, cartographers, speechwriters - all battling to safeguard the map.

Mission accomplished, Clan MacLean heads back to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society headquarters for the presentations and debrief. Scotland's heritage will be safe in Clan MacLean's hands - like a crack team from BBC1's Spooks, they walk smartly back together through the evening traffic.

This twilight CPD session was initiated by Perth amp; Kinross Council's Creative Learning Network and led by PKC Arts Development Service with support from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and funding from Education Scotland and Creative Scotland. The idea is to support and encourage creative approaches to learning within Curriculum for Excellence.

The project was devised by Visible Fictions Theatre Company as a taster for a "Day of Danger", to give teachers a flavour of an immersive learning experience being staged for pupils in February next year.

Behind the Day of Danger is a belief that working within the unknown releases people's imagination and gets them to discover new things about how they approach learning and teaching,"Teachers from all sectors, youth and community workers, arts development workers and outdoor learning officers signed up for this project. The aim is to encourage them to think innovatively about learning and teaching and offer them the opportunity to continue to work together to create their own full-blown Day of Danger for pupils.

"It is a bit like Spooks, it's a bit like 24 - it's like any of these TV dramas when you're set against the clock and have to do something," says Mr Gorman. "And it should encourage the learner in this imagined scenario by making them the expert and saying, 'You need to help us.'"

While the project is exciting and fun, it also involves problem-solving and thinking skills across the curriculum. "It's about how we learn outside the classroom in a scenario-based model. And it's about processing information and feeding it back in a creative way," he says.

Liz Conacher, from Perth and Kinross's arts development service, says their objective is to encourage teachers to push the boundaries - "hopefully for them to go away with a clearer understanding of what immersive learning can be and to go away fired up and excited to take part in the rest of the process that we are going to go through.

"There are another four planning sessions before the final, full-blown Day of Danger. So we are really hoping tonight to get these staff on board to be a part of that and to come back and plan with Visible Fictions to make sure they are going to connect and make sure they are getting the learning outcomes they need and that they want in their classrooms - but working with teams and new people they haven't necessarily worked with before, outwith their own schools," Miss Conacher says.

They have targeted teachers who see themselves as bold and imaginative risk-takers and there was no shortage of applicants. This event was over-subscribed, with teachers looking for something more exhilarating than Coronation Street after dark.

"I am expecting that people who are coming along tonight are prepared to take a risk and are looking for something exciting and different," she says. "We were quite surprised by the number of responses we got for this and we do also have a waiting list of people who weren't able to come along this evening."

Venturing out into Perth's dark streets on the run from an international group of thieves is just one of any number of potential scenarios for a bespoke educational Day of Danger.

Another James Bond-style escapade, organised for Glasgow college lecturers, had them hunting down a woman carrying an antidote after the River Clyde is "contaminated". "It involved throwing them on speedboats and running up the Clyde and working with scientists," says Mr Gorman.

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society aims to become a hub for innovative CPD in this community. "If we don't have imaginative teachers, if we don't have people who can seize opportunities, then everything in learning will just slip away," says its education officer, Dr Joyce Gilbert.

Once they've come back in from the cold, the teachers give their presentations and review their experiences at the RSGS headquarters at Fair Maid's House.

Chris McNally, PT guidance at The Community School of Auchterarder, says she was intrigued when she saw this event advertised. "And you trust no one now after being told, 'Don't speak to so and so, don't do this, don't do that,'" she laughs.

"I've not done anything like this before. I want it to inform my teaching and be something I can bring into the classroom - active learning. And because I deliver personal and social education it was something I wanted to use as part of a project or a theme and it would help me and help the pupils."

Shaun Bartlett, a community learning and development worker, says an event like this is something he could definitely use in his work: "I would certainly use this for teenagers - all the time. Storytelling is something I do quite a lot with them and the more 'off the wall' the better."

Later, when the clans gather together, the groups discuss how they felt about the immersive learning experience, what it was like embarking on something when they didn't have the full picture of what was going on and how they can translate this into something to benefit pupils.

Anne Melville P3-4 teacher at Ruthvenfield Primary says she has had great fun. "It's not sitting in a cold room writing notes, it's actually getting out and doing things and getting involved, which makes it much more interesting and much more exciting. And it's like a sort of spy story, which is great," she says.


It takes pride of place in the map room of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society's headquarters at the historic Fair Maid's House in Perth. An extraordinary relic of the Jacobite campaign is becoming a focal point for learning for Scottish school pupils after it was rediscovered in the society's collection.

"It's a map that was created by Bonnie Prince Charlie's head of artillery in 1749 in Paris. It was made out of linen, probably from the aristocracy in the city, and that's one of the reasons why it was so well preserved - because it's made of linen not paper," says Joyce Gilbert, education officer for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in Perth.

"It shows quite uniquely all the routes Charlie took during the campaign. It's annotated in French, so it shows his battle plans. It's got lists of the battles, which also talk about some of the decisions that were made and what the repercussions of those decisions were.

"It's beautifully illustrated, showing where his ships went and not just the routes his soldiers took on foot," says Dr Gilbert. "It comes from France, right through England into Scotland. And considering it was made in 1749, it's actually remarkably accurate."

The RSGS aims to continue delivering CPD opportunities for teachers, as well as events for school pupils, according to Dr Gilbert. "Next year I'm planning to work with schools on some of the routes Charlie took with his army, and look at the roads as more than just getting from A to B, but as places that hold stories - stories that are actually in the landscape."

It's hoped the map will continue to inspire a range of learning opportunities across the school curriculum: "I think in the past people thought the best way of preserving things was by hiding them," says Dr Gilbert. "Whereas now we're thinking how can we share this with a wider group of people."

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