Whodunnits give new pupils a clue

19th December 2008 at 00:00
A Fife school is using detective games to help newcomers hit the ground running, reports Emma Seith

A pupil broke into a teacher's classroom, ate her chocolates, jumped on the desks and used her favourite CD as a Frisbee before writing a note telling her it was "mince". But who would commit such a heinous crime?

This was the mystery that P7 pupils were charged with solving when they arrived at Auchmuty High in Glenrothes in June for a two-day taster session.

The school has been recognised for its fresh approach by School Leaders Scotland, which awarded it the Pounds 1,000 Homework Diary Award at its annual conference last month. The project was chosen, according to the General Secretary, Ken Cunningham, because it was cross-curricular and sustainable.

Staff at Auchmuty had heard about other schools using the popular TV drama CSI as the basis for projects and decided to do something in that vein. A teacher with forensic science materials from the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre sealed the deal.

David Wilson, the headteacher, says: "We were looking for ideas to freshen up our transitions programme and make it relevant and exciting. It was about harnessing the enthusiasm of the young people and making sure they hit the ground running."

Caroline Thomson, the depute head, adds: "Rather than having the children listen to the rules of my classroom several times a day, we thought: 'We can do better than that.'"

English teacher Gemma Casey managed the project in which most departments in the school got on board. In English, the pupils-turned-super-sleuths practised interview techniques, exploring both open and closed questioning so that they were ready when the opportunity arose to give the suspects a good grilling.

The first major piece of evidence, however, came when the pupils visited the science lab. There, they investigated finger prints and experimented with chromatography, comparing the ink left on the note with the ink from the pens of the four suspects. In geography, they hunted for clues placed around the school, with S6 pupils acting as their guides.

This was more than just a treasure hunt. Ms Thomson explains: "The population of our school is 1,250; it's a large footprint. Manycome from village schools, so it can be a big shock. We wanted to get the children round the school and finding appropriate points, like the dining hall and the guidance suite."

Further clues were available in the modern languages department, thanks to Standard grade pupils who delivered eye-witness accounts in French and German.

When pupils arrived in art and design, they had to create a "wanted" poster, using their imaginations to decide what they thought the culprit might look like. In modern studies, they were taught about crime and punishment throughout history.

This lesson has stuck with Charlisse Stark, now in S1. She said: "Pupils used to get caned or belted instead of detention. The teacher showed us how hard they used to hit pupils with the belt, using the desk. It was so hard, a textbook fell on the floor!"

Their second major clue as to the identity of the school vandal came in maths, when pupils decoded a secret message by replacing letters with numbers.

Back in English, the P7s were given the chance to put their newly acquired interviewing skills to the test when they came face-to-face with the suspects: Claire Smith, Wayne Walker, Jamie Jenkins and Dougal Munro, played by S3 drama students.

Claire, with her high-pitched voice and hysterical laugh, was one of the cool kids and was friends with Wayne and Jamie. Dougal, on the other hand, was a geek who was in love with the teacher and bullied by the others.

Finally, it was time to reveal whodunnit and, on the last period of the second day, S1 gathered for the trial. They saw how events had unfolded from the perspective of each of the four suspects, with year head Ian Thomson waiting to deliver his verdict and dish out the punishment.

Wayne was the culprit.

S1 pupil Emma Louise Gibson says: "When I went to high school I thought it would be really scary, but I ended up loving it."

Case closed.

WHO WON IT?

Last year, Stirling High's eco club, called the Green Club, scooped the Pounds 1,000 Homework Diary Award.

The money has been used to kick start a number of projects, they told the School Leaders Scotland conference.

Club members work in Beechwood and Kings Park and carry out regular litter picking. They have also created a wild flower garden and purchased a poly tunnel for the school, which they plan to use for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers, some of which they will sell.

Their new building is particularly suited to their green-fingered activities, they reported. It has its own "environmental roof", complete with greenhouses, which is accessible from the home economics and biology departments "Our old building was 40 years old - no one was allowed near the roof," says Niall McGeachy, club chair and S4 pupil.

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