Rich pickings at Dunblane

14th December 2007 at 00:00
Peevers, clootie dumplings and a shindig on 'Scotland Day' create a true Curriculum for Excellence. Raymond Ross reports.Dunblane primary was a rather busy place on St Andrew's Day, with some 800 family and community visitors attending a film premiere, a concert of Scottish songs, an art gallery opening, an exhibition about Scottish inventors, a baronial banqueting hall and a Scottish cafe, as the school celebrated what it called "Scotland Day".

The culmination of a year's advance planning, a term's detailed preparation and a seven-week project involving the whole school, Scotland Day was designed to show the fruits of a "rich task" approach to exploring A Curriculum for Excellence in a truly practical way.

This involved the pupils in reading, writing and researching; painting, singing, sculpting and film-making; and exploring history, geography, science, the environment, culture and food.

The idea of a "rich task", which Stirling Council is exploring as part of A Curriculum for Excellence, originates in Queensland, Australia, where the department for education describes it as "a re-conceptualisation of the notion of outcome as demonstration or display of mastery. That is, students display their understandings, knowledges and skills through performance on transdisciplinary activities that have an obvious connection to the wide world".

Joy Macfarlane, Dunblane's headteacher, says: "Working with the Curriculum for Excellence team from the council, we decided that St Andrew's Day would be a good focus for our 'rich task' and we set about planning a cross-curricular project which would involve the pupils in real depth learning and give them a genuine element of personal choice."

The results were as varied and as colourful as you could expect and the pupils were nothing if not enthused, each one keeping a log book of their own learning.

P1s used the Maisie and Katie Morag stories to explore and contrast city and island life. They looked at characters and settings and produced a display of paintings along with a papier mache island and a 3D cityscape.

"I enjoyed making the island because I liked getting my hands messy," says Anna Brown-Wight, while her classmate Jorja Howie says: "I really enjoyed my special file because I maked (sic) the stuff."

P2-3s had a "travelling mouse" (living in a set of old bagpipes) which took them round the country, looking at different industries and ways of life and the songs associated with them. This culminated in a "shindig" with renditions of Herrin's Heid, The Jeely Piece Song and Mairi's Wedding.

Other P3s learned (and demonstrated) traditional Scottish street games. "I liked the rich task, because we did team work and had lots of fun learning to play games like peevers, Mr Wolf, Grandma's Footsteps and marbles," says pupil Ali Collins.

P3-4s studied Scottish artists and, after a visit to the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh, were inspired by the Paolozzi exhibits to try their hand at sculpture, while some P5s and 6s decided to turn their classroom into a banqueting hall after a visit to Stirling Castle and its kitchens.

P4-5s explored a Taste of Scotland, focusing on where our food comes from and how healthy it is. With an emphasis on pupil-led learning, the children suggested and organised visits to an oatcake factory, a farm-shop and a local butcher's where they made their own sausages.

There was a positive clamour of enthusiastic responses from the food group: "We had more say in what we learned about and we decided the menus and logos for our cafe"; "Writing letters to food companies and getting replies was fun" and "We liked tasting the Scottish food and learning about clootie dumpling".

P6s concentrated on Scottish inventors and were visited by, among others, the Guinness Book of Records' holder for inventing the world's smallest TV. While they made a short film about famous inventors (in which they all wrote, filmed, acted and edited), P7s explored multicultural Scotland through sport, producing 12 short animated films which were shown at a special premiere (complete with drinks, canapes, photographers and bouncers) on St Andrew's Day, where they were all dressed as only the best celebs can.

"The experience finished with the children having the opportunity to see one another's contributions," says Mrs Macfarlane. "It was particularly touching and interesting to see the oldest children's views of the youngest ones' work and vice versa - the appreciation of the youngest children for the P7s' animation. The vast majority enjoyed the opportunity and were very respectful of each other's work, at times expressing amazement at the quality of work at different stages."

Parents' comments were equally positive, not to say glowing, and the one word which repeated from every teacher's lips about their own pupils' attitude and performance was "motivation".

"They took great pride, even the little ones, in putting their best work in their folders and had great joy in showing it to parents and visitors as well as to pupils from other classes and stages," says Mrs Macfarlane.

"The project was wonderful for the school ethos, for co-operative learning, for school community relations and for children leading their own learning.

"It has had such an impact on achievement - the pupils are so proud - that I think it must impact on attainment."


- working with popular kids' books, Maisie (pictured left) and Katie Morag;

- learning Scottish street games, for example, peever (hopscotch);

- learning about Scottish artists (Paolozzi sculptures at Dean Gallery in Edinburgh);

- turning their classroom into banqueting hall at Stirling Castle.

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