An ICT-based twinning project between an East Lothian and a Finnish primary has won acclaim
As parents and teachers were searching out their passports for the summer holidays, Scottish and Finnish primary pupils were signing off from their own "Healthy Passport" eTwinning project for the summer break.
"It was really funny to teach Finnish to you," posts a pupil from Kuvansin koulu Primary in Finland (330 kms north east of the capital, Helsinki) to his P5 peers at Yester Primary in Gifford, East Lothian.
"It was nice to learn many things about Scotland and Scots. Have a nice summer!" posts another.
"A Healthy Passport" is an award-winning ICT-based project between the two schools, which uses a blog to exchange information about the cultures and lifestyles of the children in the two countries. Topics covered to date include Self, Family, Where I live, Food and nutrition, A typical day at school, Exercise, sports and hobbies, Weather, Care of the environment and Friends around the world.
The project was awarded national Quality Labels by the eTwinning teams in both countries, and Yester Primary was awarded second prize from a shortlist of 10 drawn from 4,000 projects across the UK primary sector. They have won pound;200 to be spent on ICT equipment for the school.
"The biggest gain for the pupils in both schools has been the enormous amount that each class has found out about the other country," says Michael Purves, the Yester P5 teacher in charge of the project.
"It's difficult to imagine that many Scottish children might know lots about Finland, or that children in a Finnish primary school near the Russian border might know lots about Scotland, but both sets of pupils have learnt so much about the other class, and country."
Just how much they may have learnt - and how they have enjoyed the project - may be gauged by the number of posts and additional comments the pupils generated.
A total of 235 individual posts between the two classes generated a further 1,235 comments. The posts have included photographs, video and podcasting from both schools, making the blog several pages long. With 120 on the Scottish side and 115 on the Finnish, it shows both schools contributing equally to what one of the British Council judges called "an outstanding project with a high level of collaboration".
One judge, Baldev Singh, goes on to say: "It was amazing to see the sheer volume of work covered by both classes."
In terms of A Curriculum for Excellence, the project is aimed at helping the children to be successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.
"High pupil motivation has been key throughout," says Mr Purves. "Both sets of pupils learned many new ICT skills and have improved their language skills.
"My partner teacher Jykri Ikonen reports that his pupils have greatly increased their knowledge of English - and Scottish - as a direct result of reading the work we put on, listening to podcasts made by us and watching and listening to our videos, while my pupils have been taught a lot of Finnish phrases."
In one particular case, a Yester pupil who has additional support needs of a dyslexic nature, was motivated to write long comments to the Finnish class, something he would not have attempted before the project.
"Seeing his (moderated) work appear on the web has been the factor that has driven him on and made him noticeably more confident in writing," says Mr Purves, who began the project last August.
"More than anything, both sets of children have approached the project with enthusiasm and have had great fun interacting with each other."
That fun also included a visit to the East Lothian school by Finnish international footballer and Hibernian FC manager Mixu Paatelainen and speedway rider Tero Aarnio, who showed the pupils his racing motorbike - "a real highlight, especially for the boys," says Mr Purves.
"We feel the project has been an outstanding success and we intend it to go from strength to strength," says headteacher Dorothy Hilsley.
"Through our focus on health, fitness and lifestyle, our pupils have found out a lot about another culture and many have been spurred on to independent learning, researching about Finland themselves."
Next session, the Scottish and Finnish schools hope to invite a school from another country into the equation, to develop further an understanding of European culture.
The British Council are responsible for the UK part of the eTwinning website, which is based in Brussels. There are almost 40,000 schools across Europe registered with many thousands of on-going projects.
In the words of Mr Ikonen's pupils from Kuvansin koulu Primary: "Thank you for everything and have a nice holiday! We miss this project! Best wishes. Signed: Mr Ikonen's pupils."