Our stars shone in the sunshine

18th June 2004 at 01:00
A bookmaking project helped ease the transition to big school, write Tammy Nicholls and Alessandra Desbottes.

What makes two normally sane advanced skills teachers take on a project that involves six primary feeder schools and the top six pupils from Years 7-9?

Summer madness springs to mind, but this is what we did in the summer term of last year - all in the name of enhancing the opportunities for our gifted and talented students.

We thought the project would be an ideal way to involve primary feeder schools, so we arranged for four full days off timetable over a four-week period.

The book Masquerade by Kit Williams provided the inspiration. This text is a series of puzzles which, when fully solved, give directions to a bejewelled rabbit (worth a lot of money) that was buried in the English countryside. Our pupils would have no such rabbit to bury, but they would be able to create a puzzle book of equal worth.

And so we set to it. We got our primary children. We got our fruit. We got our water (hydration, hydration, hydration!) and set off to a "top-secret" computer room where the pupils were split into cross-phase, cross-talent groups to complete the tasks.

First, we gave the pupils puzzles to solve, only to find they were far better at these than we were. Then we gave the pupils some of the Masquerade book to find the answers. Finally, we set them off on their own books.

We were there to be facilitators while the pupils worked independently. It was, however, one of the hottest times of the year, spent in a classroom already heated by computers. Electric fans and hydration don't mix well.

Despite acting out scenes from Titanic each time water was spilt, something amazing happened: the pupils worked.

Choosing their own team leaders, the groups sorted out their workloads, researched puzzles and set about creating a series of masterpieces. And these were masterpieces indeed.

The pupils' work was fantastic, and we were made redundant, apart from perfunctory roles such as collecting art equipment.

One Year 9 pupil sat down to explain to a Year 6 pupil how simultaneous equations worked while the children set up their own websites to give the answers to the puzzle books.

In fact, all these tasks were completed so quickly that the children even produced Powerpoint presentations for the "book launch", which finally took place last term.

The pupils got a lot from this project, including:

* freedom

* greater motivation to succeed

* time to work on their strengths (artwork or logic problems or story writing)

* the opportunity to work in cross-phase groups

* the prospect of working on something they would not usually get the chance to do

* the chance to use ICT to complete a project from start to finish

* the ability to get on without teacher intervention, even at the "book launch".

In an education system in which we desire independent learners and creative thinkers, a project that triggers such critical thinking and communicative enquiry is invaluable. And was it worth the hours of heat, mopping up spilt water and trying to fund books out of nothing?

The books created are a testament to the work done and will outlive our teaching. If just one child has felt better about school and being "able", it was worth it.

Over the four weeks, we saw what education should be about. Children can, and will, lead themselves when they have the chance.

As far as we are concerned, that's what our job is all about.

The authors teach at Ulverston Victoria high school, Cumbria

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