It was a big day for pupils and teachers when the Romans invaded Musselburgh Burgh Primary. Actually, it was only one Roman rather than an invasion, but he was impressive, says depute head Erika Maclaughlan.
"He wandered into the staffroom in full uniform and you just thought, `It's Russell Crowe.'"
It wasn't. It was a member of the Antonine Guard, an organisation that brings history alive and gives interactive talks to pupils from P2 to S2.
"He told us lots of interesting stuff," says Olivia McDonald, 8. "The Romans' houses had marble floors and nice stones and they put flowers outside them. I learned a lot, but I'd like to find out more. I will go back to the Musselburgh Museum."
The soldier's visit was part of a project that saw two classes getting added value from a small grant from East Lothian Museums, says P34 teacher Dawn Flight (see panel). "The Romans had an encampment here at Inveresk, so it's a popular topic in our schools. They're still finding artefacts there and a lot are on display in the local museum."
It was the school's visit to the museum that produced the most vivid memory for Lucy Buchanan, 8, she says. "The saying `Watch you don't get the wrong end of the stick' came from when a new person joined the Roman army - they had a stick with a sponge on it to wipe their bottoms, when they went to the toilet. You didn't want to get the wrong end of that."
In line with personalisation and choice in the new curriculum, pupils at Musselburgh Burgh are invited, at the start of a new project, to decide what they would like to learn, explains Mrs Flight.
"We do need to ensure progression and a balance of topics across the year- groups. So we offer a selection. Once started, though, the pupils come up with all the questions they want answered. So they take the lead now with their learning."
This time they were keen to find out what it was like to be young and attend school in Roman times, she says. "The boys were also interested in the army and the battles."
Other questions pupils came up with to give direction and motivation to their activities included: "What were other jobs apart from fighting?", "Why did the Celts use blue paint?", "What were the Romans' treats?" and "Did the ladies fight in battle?"
It was fascinating stuff, say the pupils, made all the more interesting by being led by them. They also took the lead at a special assembly to which parents and the whole school came, says Luke Harknett, 8: "We dressed up as Romans and Celts and got to show everyone what we'd been doing. I was a Roman soldier. I found red shorts and we made a sword and shield in class, and I carried those."
The high point of the project was the Roman soldier's visit, says Murray Wilson, 8. "We had to think of one question each before he came. I liked asking him things. It's easier to learn if you get to see somebody and ask them questions, rather than going on the internet or just reading it in books."
The pupils prepared well and a Glow Meet was used to record the soldier's visit for posterity and other schools, says Lorna Steven, who recently began teaching the other participating class, Primary 45.
"He was asking them questions as well as telling them things. It was highly interactive. Most of the preparation had been done before I came here. I was impressed by how much the children knew, which meant they got a lot more out of it," she says.
"They really bought into it. So much so that when we were watching it on Glow afterwards, they were still putting their hands up to answer his questions." She laughs. "I said he's not going to answer you now."
The wider world's involvement did not end with the museum, the Glow Meet and the Roman soldier, says depute head Erika Maclaughlan. The school also had a Jewel and Esk College lecturer in, talking to them about the design of two Roman chariots.
"The students are now making those and the children are going to decorate them. They are big chariots. I had to measure the doors to make sure we could get them into the classrooms," she says.
As much as anything, this kind of project is about developing children's confidence, she adds. "They learn how to speak with an adult, to interact effectively with someone they don't know. They're aware this person is playing a role. But they were playing a role too, buying into the fantasy and asking their questions.
"It is sophisticated stuff from eight-year-olds."
`WHAT THE ROMANS DID FOR US'
The Roman project at Musselburgh Burgh Primary is one of six school projects supported by East Lothian Museums, using Creative Learning Network funding, says museums education officer Sarah Cowie.
"East Lothian received pound;5,900 in all, and pound;800 of that went to the Romans project at Musselburgh Burgh. There's a Glow wiki that gives the background to our Creative Learning Network," she says.
"Authorities were offered the chance to apply for CLN funding.
"We decided to include arts, heritage and culture in ours, which is why our museums are closely involved."
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