Rock of ages

29th November 2002 at 00:00
Angela Youngman finds there's far more to Norwich Cathedral than one might expect

Churches and cathedrals are integral to every community and make a wonderful teaching resource. Norwich Cathedral is no exception. Built 900 years ago, it has withstood the vicissitudes of history, including wars and a major fire.

Its value is not just in the obvious subjects of RE and history. Science sessions are also on offer, and the building provides an uplifting opportunity to teach materials outside the classroom.

The Chemistry Trail is designed for older children, but can be adapted for primary level.It highlights at least 22 different materials used in the building, including alloys, natural and synthetic polymers, stone such as Clipsham and Caen, and glass.

The effects of chemical changes in stained glass over time can be seen in red and green glass becoming opaque and brittle. Extreme heat can damage stone. Red patches in the limestone of the presbytery are the result of a fire in 1463.

Depending on pupils' age range, there are lots of activities that can be undertaken. Where did the materials come from? It's a long way from Caen in France to Norwich in Norfolk. How was the stone transported? What were the environmental effects - interesting comparisons can be made in the light of present-day considerations about quarries and transport.

Looking at the impact of wind and rain on stonework links with environmental and chemical problems. It is possible to see how the limestone was formed - the fossilised bodies of sea creatures and corals can be seen in the stonework.

Comparisons can be made between modern and traditional materials. Plastic chairs, nylon carpets and halogen lights can be seen side by side with ironwork, silk and candles. Modern technology in the form of sandblasted toughened and engraved glass can be studied alongside traditionally made stained glass.

Ross Morley, science teacher at nearby Notre Dame High School, had a group of children studying the weathering of rocks as part of their Certificate of Achievement work. "There was this church right next to the school so I thought I would take them there for five minutes to have a look at how stone weathered. We spent two lessons there. They really got into it. These old churches were made of wonderful materials and the degree of weathering is very pronounced. The children started to examine the rocks and flints, and asked questions. It was a great visit which raised lots of issues."

The herb workshop, another science option, includes a visit to the cathedral's Benedictine herb garden, and offers the opportunity to to learn about the medicinal properties of herbs and make infusions. There are also history trails and tours, English and drama activities, art sessions and, of course, RE workshops.

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