Streets ahead in digital mapping

19th April 2013 at 01:00
Students across Aberdeen have created a website and iPhone app that offers an interactive guide to their city. Jean McLeish reports

It's one of the most ambitious educational projects launched in Aberdeen, involving 3,500 children at more than 50 city schools.

In an extraordinary collaboration, children across the city created a guide to their city's historic landmarks that is now freely available on a website and as an iPhone app.

During the 18-month venture by the Reading Bus, a team launched in 2006 to improve literacy in one of the city's least affluent communities, schoolchildren worked together to create the Apardion website and an iPhone app which offers an interactive guide to the city, using children's films, podcasts and books.

The guide has particular charm because it uses children's voices, artwork, writing, music and drama to illuminate Aberdeen's past during a tour of 14 of the city's most popular locations, including King's College Chapel and Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Apardion is the first city-wide endeavour by the Reading Bus, involving more than 100 classes, mainly in primary schools. An evaluation by the city council showed that working on this real-life project increased the children's motivation and their engagement with literacy. Researchers say the challenge now is to translate what they have learned from the venture into mainstream lessons.

"What we found was that authenticity of content and context were vitally important in terms of engaging young people with literacy and motivating them," says Kevin Stelfox, team leader for education, policy, planning and research at Aberdeen City Council.

"I think most of the teachers and young people stated in interviews that there was a real purpose to what they were doing."

The concept was inspired by Sheena Blackhall's book Apardion, a Leopard's Quest, the story of a spirit from the Northern Lights exploring Aberdeen. It is the fifth Reading Bus publication, and was introduced to Aberdonians as "a whistle-stop tour of their city through the ages", by HRH the Duchess of Rothesay, who wrote the foreword and visited the project.

On St Andrew's Day last year, a busload of VIPs made the first official Apardion tour of the city. Hundreds of students welcomed and entertained the guests at the locations along the route.

Among them was 11-year-old Nusrat Chowdhury and classmates from St Joseph's Primary, who based their artwork on paintings by Monet and other artists at Aberdeen Art Gallery.

"Apardion is about a leopard who comes to Aberdeen and looks around and looks through all the buildings. He visited lots of different places in Aberdeen and one of them was the art gallery," Nusrat explains.

"This is a video we made," she says, showing their work on an iPad. "Because we had lots of different art work, we took pictures of it and we decided to make it into a video, so it shows all the different art work. We also made poems about some of the pictures we saw."

St Joseph's head, Catherine Tominey, says the whole school became involved in Apardion. "Once it started, everyone was so inspired they had to join in. So they have done all these fantastic art works, taking inspiration from all the artists. And they also wrote poetry."

The Reading Bus worked with media partner AVC Media Enterprises on Apardion, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Talisman UK Ltd, TAQA Bratani Ltd, Hess Services and Scottish Book Trust.

Visit The Apardion iPhone app can be downloaded free from the app store

'They weren't afraid to ask each other'

Apardion has been showcased to hundreds of city teachers at the 2013 Aberdeen Learning Festival.

Researchers concluded: "Two factors have strongly and repeatedly emerged during this and previous evaluations. These are the authenticity of task and the nature and role of relationships in learning. It is easy to undervalue or marginalise these.

"The evidence from the Reading Bus suggests that these factors should be a focus for work and research."

Researchers were impressed by how using technology motivated children and how enthusiastically children responded.

"When they worked in groups they weren't afraid to ask each other, they were keen to learn," said Pam Bain, research and projects development officer for the city's department of education, culture and sport.

The Reading Bus venture was praised warmly by Gayle Gorman, Aberdeen's recently appointed director of education, culture and sport.

"It's a fantastic experience for our young children in Aberdeen. It's amazing what it brings together in terms of learning for children and captivates them all in one imaginative experience," Mrs Gorman said.

"It already has quite significant funding that it draws from other agencies and from Creative Scotland, and that's continuing. We see it as being central to our City of Culture bid as well."

Celebrating the completion of Apardion has signalled the end of an era for the energetic founder and coordinator of the Reading Bus, Jenny Watson. She has now returned to teaching as head of Middleton Park School, after running a highly imaginative six-year campaign promoting literacy.

"I have loved my time on the Reading Bus, but what I am looking forward to is taking everything I have learned and the skill set I have developed and putting it into place in one school," she said.

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