Where history comes alive

30th November 2007 at 00:00
Jackie Cosh finds out about Am Baile, a digital archive of Highland history and culture, which is turning pupils on to the subject.The number of pupils sitting Higher history fell from 8,120 in 2006 to 7,817 this year. With figures fluctuating from year to year and strong competition from subjects such as modern studies and business studies, it faces a struggle to keep its place.

But the recently published HM Inspectorate of Education report History - a portrait of current practice in Scottish secondary schools highlights the potential for history teaching to develop in children and young people the four capacities of A Curriculum for Excellence. It stresses that if vitality and imagination are brought into the way history is taught, the educational and social benefits for pupils far surpass knowledge of a list of dates.

Many schools are turning to information and computer technology as a means of teaching the subject, making it more accessible and bringing it alive. One resource is Am Baile, a digital archive of Highland history and culture. Visitors can view historical documents online. They can learn about Highland culture and discover what history projects other schools are involved in. Rather than being taught about events, in some cases they can go to the original newspaper reports and read for themselves.

Jamie Gaukroger, the content organiser, says: "Originally, we were trying to stay away from A Curriculum for Excellence and make it a learning-for-all resource. But the longer we went on, the clearer it became that there was a need and a desire to support curriculum subjects. So we got together with teachers to develop the content."

His colleague Maggie Johnstone has received good feedback: "Comments from teachers and pupils have been positive. The teachers report that putting their project on the internet is an added stimulus to pupils to do the work."

Caroline Leach is a cultural co-ordinator in the Inverness area and has used Am Baile with schools. "As part of a larger project, we used it for a time traveller project and visited local places of historical interest," she says. "Information was collected, sketches were made, and images collated on to the computer, creating a collage which was downloaded on to the Am Baile website.

"It is great for pupils and teachers to be able to look at projects which other schools have been involved in. It is a versatile resource and provides pupils with a sense of pride. It can also be linked into different aspects of the curriculum."

Tracy Rennie, a history teacher at Fortrose Academy, used Am Baile to document a school trip to Orkney with the history club. She was pleased at the level of commitment pupils showed to writing up their work for the website.

"Because the work was going onto the internet, the children focused more on their literacy than they would otherwise, and made fewer mistakes," she says. "Seeing their work online gave them a sense of achievement and encouraged the less academic pupils."

At St Ninian's High, in Kirkintilloch, the history department has used interactive CD-Roms to help foster an interest in the subject. One title they have used is "Wallace and Bruce" from Heehaw Publishing. "We try to build their use into investigations," says John McGuinnes, head of history. "Pupils work in groups, conducting research using the CD-Roms. Once this has been collated, they use the information to make presentations."

"Wallace and Bruce" is just one of several CD-Roms in the series developed in line with the 5-14 curriculum. The discs are designed for pupils from P2-S3 and explore the most significant eras in Scotland's history. Video clips feature interviews with the ghosts of key historical figures and, in the case of the Second World War, real survivors. History is brought alive through comprehensive accounts of people's lives, places, and events.

"Without a doubt, it has made history more appealing to the children," says Mr McGuinness. "The only problem, as with many schools, is getting access to the computer suites to use the CD-Roms. The pupils benefit from getting time to use them on their own rather than as a group."


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