Pupils build a ship and sail it across school stage

7th October 2011 at 01:00
A collaboration with Clydebank Museum has brought maritime history to life for children at Dalreoch Primary, writes Douglas Blane

Some schools go to extraordinary lengths to enhance learning. At one primary in West Dunbartonshire, they had a showcase at the end of a project and launched a ship on the school stage.

"It came as a kit through Clydebank Museum and the kids and janitor put it together. It was huge!" says Karen Scott, who teaches at Dalreoch Primary.

"The curtains were pulled back, we sang God Save the Queen, the head's wife cracked a champagne bottle and the ship started to move across the stage. You can imagine the excitement."

In fact there's no need to imagine it. The entire cross-curricular, P5-7 shipbuilding project has been recorded in words, images and video, and is now available to all, online, in Glow Cookbooks.

The project had its origins in an earlier collaboration between Clydebank Museum and Dalreoch Primary, says Maeve Dixon, the museum's learning development officer. It had gone so well that she talked to Helena Gillis at Museums Galleries Scotland, who is keen for museums and schools to work more closely together.

"We decided to suggest another project, this time using Glow, and tying into our new shipbuilding exhibition."

Glow groups were set up at school and authority levels, designed to hold pupils' work, a discussion forum, documents and photos from the museum, and images of the showcase. The school group also allowed children to share their work with their parents.

Glow Meets enabled an actor playing Mr McDonald - "the irascible manager of Harland and Wolff shipyard" - to oversee pupils as they designed their own ships. There was also a session run from the museum store, so pupils could find out about relevant objects not on display. Netbooks were provided and a handling kit was loaned to the school by the museum.

"Maeve came in every Wednesday and gave them the historical background and lots of activities," says Mrs Scott. "She also brought real people, such as shipbuilding workers and documentation officers.

"Planning meetings beforehand helped make it a success. We got the timings right. We knew in advance where science and technology fit with history, and when pupils had the knowledge and skills to do the activities."

Another key ingredient was pupil choice. "They designed the entire showcase. They chose which expert groups to be in. They taught parents and grans all about blueprints, ship design, models, tank tests. They took them to the hall for the launch."

External partners and activities helped bring the project alive, say the pupils.

"We visited the museum and went to the Titan Crane," says Ewan Thompson (P7). "There was a lift because we couldn't walk up 150ft. That's what they used to do though, and some of them fell."

Visits to the Denny Tank Museum were eventful, says Christie Grierson (P7). "They have a big tank and a mini one where they tested little wooden hulls, with a pulley, a hook and a wave-machine. We took the boats we made there to test them and see if they would still float in waves. Some capsized, so you had to change them."

The first boat made by Kieran Upton (P5) capsized in school before it even saw a wave, he says. "I realised it wasn't symmetrical, so I made another one that was and it worked first time."

Making model ships from blue styrofoam was really satisfying, Ewan says. "You had to plan it, then use the saw and hand-drill to cut the boat and make adjustments. We knew a lot about shipbuilding by then - size, strength, how long they took to build. It was good to make something to represent what we knew."

Besides the activities, the new knowledge about working conditions seems to have stuck. "I won't forget the drawing room where they did blueprints of the boats," says Ewan. "Every time you spoke, you got money taken off your pay."

"I remember the different shipyard jobs," says Christie. "There were welders, riveters, apprentices, and managers with bowler hats. We got to try on a welder's mask and see how hard it was."

The working hours stick in Kieran's mind. "They had to work from 7am to 4pm every day, even on Sunday. They only got a few days' holiday per year."

The joint school-museum shipbuilding project was declared overall winner at the recent West Dunbartonshire achievement awards to highlight good practice in schools.

"It's a great project that shows the strengths of this school," says Sat Bance, appointed headteacher in January. "I was struck, when I came, by the sense of community here. The children all pull together. We are also proud of our pupil voice. They're fantastic. That played a big part in our winning the achievement award, I think. They might not live in the most affluent area, but boy can they talk about their learning!"


Testing the Waters - ingredients from Glow Cookbook

- Glow accounts for all participants;

- access to school Glow group for museum staff;

- a Glow group;

- internet access at school and museum;

- internet ready computer(s) at school and museum;

- digital cameras for recording the project;

- involvement of teacher and class;

- involvement of museum education officer;

- involvement of school Glow mentor;

- joint planning involving school and museum staff and local authority;

- local experts and enthusiasts;

- risk assessment for museum visits (available from the museum).

Testing the Waters: Schools and Museums Working Together http:cookbooks.glowscotland.org.ukblog20110525testing-the-waters- schools-and-museums-working-together

For more on how Scotland's museums can work with schools call Helena Gillis. T 0131 5504132.

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