War and peace in land of wine

27th July 2007 at 01:00
plunder and a lust for land tempted the Vikings to invade Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and perhaps even America. Arriving in fast longboats, armed with axes, spears and a hunger for violence little matched by their victims, they rushed ashore and took what they wanted.

Further and further they ventured until they reached Vinland, in Iceland, the land of wine. Their exploits were told and retold through the generations until they were finally written down in the sagas of Eric the Red, and the Greenlanders, and became The Vinland Sagas.

More than a 1,000 years later, 25 Scottish students have been creating their own Vinland saga, but with a little less pillage and plunder. Instead of axes, they were armed with digital cameras. And as they landed at the Icelandic port of Seydisfjordur, a tiny village nestling at the end of a fjord and surrounded by mountains, the sun was shining. They had a day to retrace the footsteps of the early Viking settlers and to film their own dramas based on the saga.

The project grew out of the Schools of Ambition programme, and was the brainchild of Stewart Hay, depute head at Anderson High in Lerwick.

"One of the aims of the Schools of Ambition is to transcend boundaries and work on effective learning across the schools," he says. "We had a symposium last year, where ourselves, Hawick High from the Borders and St Ninian's from Kirkintilloch in East Dunbartonshire got together with a smaller number of pupils aboard the "Norrona", the ferry that sails between Scandinavia, Scotland and Iceland. It proved a success, so we wanted to repeat it."

But this year Mr Hay had a much greater vision in mind. At a Schools of Ambition conference held in Dunblane last Easter, he canvassed other schools for interest. "He mentioned it over lunch," says Fiona Malcolm, principal teacher of history at Lossiemouth High, near Elgin. "It had to be organised quickly but we wanted to be part of it."

Mr Hay managed to recruit another three schools, plus St Ninian's and Hawick who were already signed up after the success of the previous year. By the time the boat sailed, two schools from Orkney, Sanday Junior High and Kirkwall Grammar, and Inverness High were on board a party of 20 staff and 25 S1-3 students.

The plan was for students to work together in small groups to develop an idea for a story, which they would film at Seydisfjordur, and edit on the ferry back to Shetland. They began researching The Vinland Sagas before they left their schools. But the ideas were not developed until they were in their allocated groups.

"It wasn't like going on a holiday. It was a real adventure. Iceland turned out to be like it was a thousand years ago when Vikings first came to it. Amazing," says Tom Henderson, an S1 student at Anderson High.

The first day of the five-day visit was spent encouraging friendships across the schools through team-building exercises, including a show of Viking fashions made from newspapers and a treasure trail through the boat. They also had to develop their film ideas.

"Meeting new people from other Schools of Ambition, seeing new places like the Faroe Islands and Iceland, which are really different from Shetland, was exciting," says Kirsten McMillan, also in S1 at Anderson High. "Filming our saga was great fun and being there was like living in the past but, of course, being now."

Among the staff, Mr Hay brought some technicians from the school, employed under its School of Ambition project, older or ex- students of their partner schools from the Czech Republic, Japan, the United States and elsewhere. They helped the pupils with their filming and editing, freeing up the teachers to work together on how to improve cross-school projects and sharing good practice.

"The 'Norrona' has excellent conference facilities, which are no more expensive out of season than other conference halls and which come with the added attraction of transporting you to other lands," says Mr Hay.

"It is as good a place for us all to meet as any other. And while the students were participating in their activities, the teachers were able to work together on board."

It gave the teachers the opportunity to look at each other's ongoing Schools of Ambition projects. Inverness was able to showcase its organic farm and how it fitted into its eco-schools system. Anderson demonstrated a project it had with its partner schools, where they used video conferencing to discuss the rise of Nazi Germany with its partners in Germany and the Czech Republic.

"The idea of Schools of Ambition is for schools to work together, and that is what this trip was all about," he says. "Pupils and teachers getting an opportunity to meet and share ideas."

For Mr Hay, this year's trip was just the beginning. He would like to repeat the experience, bringing together more and more Schools of Ambition. As he points out, there are 52 such schools and the "Norrona" will accommodate 1,800.

"I regard this as a study group that goes across schools, gender and age, but it is also about extending the partnership of the Schools of Ambition. Getting us all working together," he says.

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