Scottish Learning Festival

17th September 2010 at 01:00

HEALTH - Sex education - no fear

Most teachers are happy to teach children about sex and relationships, but some are still reticent about it, says Kerry Dalgetty, a youth development worker with NHS Tayside. So her organisation has designed a training pack for primary teachers to allay their fears and explain the importance of sex education, while giving them the resources to do so.

An anonymous note left on an NHS Tayside trainer's desk and featured in the pack - Sex and Relationships Education in the Primary School - highlights common concerns. The teacher feels "children know too much too soon nowadays" and parents, not teachers, should introduce "these intimate details to their children".

The pack tackles such qualms head-on. It says young children are exposed to sex through the media, so it's vital they have access to accurate information. And while parents have a role, so do teachers. "There are some things you don't want to go home and ask your mummy about," says Ms Dalgetty.

Sex and Relationships Education in the Primary School at the Scottish Learning Festival, September 22, 1.30pm.

MATHS - Maths champs hit numeracy

It set out to eradicate illiteracy; now West Dunbartonshire has its eye on numeracy.

Starting last year, every school in the authority nominated a member of staff to become a maths champion. These teachers joined other enthusiasts in their clusters and met half-a-dozen times over the year in a bid to share good practice and improve learning and teaching through professional dialogue.

Already they have produced materials to support Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes in maths, teasing out what is required and developing lines of progression and activities. Next, they will look at assessment and moderation.

"Obviously, the main aim is to raise attainment and achievement. Hopefully, what we're doing will have an impact," says Ronnie Thumath, a quality improvement officer with responsibility for numeracy and maths.

West Dunbartonshire Maths Champions at the Scottish Learning Festival, September 22, 12.30pm.

NUMERACY - Games to train brains

Computer games such as Nintendogs and Dr Kawashima's Brain Training have become regular fixtures in some primary mental maths classes, but Learning and Teaching Scotland's games-based learning gurus have been extending the repertoire.

Drawn to Life, a Nintendo DS game for very young children, allows players to collect rewards and credits in pounds or dollars as they progress. LTS has found that the children playing it can work with units of measurement in hundreds and thousands, when normally they would only be counting in units of 10, says Ollie Bray, development officer for emerging technologies and learning.

Building on research into Dr Kawashima's Brain Training, LTS has been using two other DS games - Professor Kageyama's Maths Training and Big Brain Academy - with pupils from P6-S2. They are "a lot more fun and promote more cognitive skills than simple mental maths", says Mr Bray.

Eight Glasgow secondaries are using the maths gaming website,, for S3 pupils upwards. Although the research has not yet been completed, Mr Bray says it looks as if tackling quite complex Pythagoras and trajectory calculations via a selection of mini-games featuring cartoon characters is boosting attainment.

Using Computer Games to Support Numeracy at the Scottish Learning Festival, September 22, 3.45pm.

MUSIC - No more bars to notation

Pupils from Lilybank special school in Inverclyde have joined Port Glasgow Academy's training orchestra, thanks to a new way to write and read musical notes.

The move would have been impossible before the school was introduced to Figurenotes by Drake Music Scotland, says Lilybank music teacher Annona Thornton; the charity believes disability is no barrier to making music.

"Some of our children were playing instruments a lot before Figurenotes, but we had no means to teach them how to read music," says Mrs Thornton. "Now a tune that would have taken several months to learn can be learnt in a couple of weeks. Anyone capable of matching two symbols can use Figurenotes."

Developed in Finland in 1995, Figurenotes swaps the notion of crotchets, quavers and breves for coloured symbols. Rather than reading music, musicians simply match the coloured symbols on stickers attached to the keys of a piano or the fret board of a guitar to the symbols on a page of music.

After using Figurenotes for two years, the school is seeing a knock-on benefit.

"It is improving communication," Mrs Thornton says. "They are enjoying themselves and motivated, so there is more eye contact and they want to communicate. It's also a huge boost to their self-esteem, because this is something they can do."

Achieve Success with Figurenotes: A New Approach to Music at the Scottish Learning Festival, September 22, 3.45pm.

LITERACY - Critical lessons from pupils

English teacher Nicola Wood's S2 class was struggling with critical essay writing; to improve their skills, she got them to teach the technique to S1.

The S2s from Balfron High in Stirling were split into three groups with each assigned to a different S1 class. The S2s spent seven lessons cementing their own knowledge and preparing the worksheets and PowerPoints they were going to use to teach their younger peers. Each group did something slightly different, but they all produced effective lessons with minimal teacher input, says Ms Wood.

"It was important for them to prepare the lesson themselves, for it to have the best effect. My only role was to be the chief photocopier," she says. "This was great, as they lacked independence prior to the project. Previously with this class, when it came to critical essay writing they needed constant reassurance that what they were doing was correct."

When their spell as instructors was over, the S2s returned to their own critical essay writing and tackled an essay on the short story "On the Sidewalk Bleeding", by Evan Hunter.

"Attainment increased and they were more confident in their ability to write a critical essay," says Ms Wood. "Later on in the year, they wrote critical essays on Romeo and Juliet and they were fantastic, compared to what they had been producing before."

How We Can Contribute to Curriculum for Excellence through Learning by Teaching at the Scottish Learning Festival, September 22, 3.45pm.

SCIENCE - Dual dynamic

Around 40 physics and geography teachers got a working seismometer for their schools, 15 chemists visited Edinburgh University for a workshop on cheap solar electricity, and 20 biologists spent a day at the Roslin Institute learning about genetically-modified animals. A total of 149 Scottish teachers have benefited from a Research Councils UK initiative, aimed at bringing teachers and researchers together to promote the teaching of exciting contemporary science.

Science should not be seen by pupils as the ideas of clever people who are either old or dead, says Gregor Steele, head of chemistry, physics and technology at the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre, which develops and delivers the courses in Scotland. "These RCUK days are answering that `what has this got to do with my world' question, by bringing the cutting edge into the classroom."

Contemporary Science - Teachers and Researchers Working Together at the Scottish Learning Festival, September 22, 3.45pm.

PE - Thinking beyond sports

Physical education turns pupils off by focusing on sports-specific skills, says Thomas Dowens, director of coaching for the Scottish Volleyball Association.

Better Movers and Thinkers is "an innovative and challenging PE programme", he says, which instead focuses on developing the attributes people need to excel in sport - good movement, problem-solving skills, timing, co-ordination and rhythm.

"You switch kids off if you give them sports-specific activities before they can manage their bodies, because they are destined to fail," he says.

BMT classes look much like ordinary PE classes. "Pupils still run, change direction, skip, hop, whatever," he says, "but the emphasis is on improving these attributes of movement and rhythm."

The scheme has been piloted in North Lanarkshire schools with great success, says Mr Downes, a joint creator of BMT; the pupils enjoy PE more and the course can impact on academic performance.

Suzanne Hargreaves, health and well-being development officer at Learning and Teaching Scotland says the programme is "transformational". Sharing Practice in Planning for the Experiences and Outcomes across Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport (PEPAS) at the Scottish Learning Festival, September 22, 3.45pm.

MODERN LANGUAGES - Francophiles get into role

Everyone from French president Nicolas Sarkozy to fashion designer Coco Chanel has made an appearance at Grantown Grammar in Highland, where the modern languages department has been working on Curriculum for Excellence.

"According to the outcomes, pupils have to give presentations and learn about the country they are studying," says modern languages teacher Thea Searle.

So S1 pupils at Grantown Grammar have been learning about festivals in France and taking on the personae of famous French men and women to give presentations to their classmates, with basic information such as name, age and where they come from.

"They give more in-depth biographical information in English, because Curriculum for Excellence also makes literacy the responsibility of every department," explains Ms Searle.

Another project involved S1 pupils learning to draw animals in art, and learning their names and how to describe them in French. Their drawings and language skills were then combined to create animations which were sent to the local primary as modern languages resources.

Meanwhile, S2 pupils set up their own European cafes, embracing the emphasis on enterprise in the new curriculum. They prepared their product in home economics, decided on what they would charge to make a profit in maths, learned about advertising and slogans in English, and got to grips with the vocabulary needed to buy and sell in French and German.

Enhancing Experiences and Raising Standards through the Experiences and Outcomes - Modern Languages, at the Scottish Learning Festival on September 22, 12.30pm.

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