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Kilchattan school undertook this topic from October to December 2008 in a
multi composite setting with P1 – P7. Although a 4-3 boy – girl figure looks
fairly balanced, with such small numbers personalities play a very large part
and here the boys definitely dominate much of the learning and teaching. The
Unsinkable Ship was specifically chosen since it was felt it would provide the
best opportunity to engage both boys and girls, and across the whole age
range. It has an Environmental Studies focus with language, art and
technology also playing significant parts in providing a stimulating context for
learning and with exciting, child friendly activities to motivate both pupils and
teachers. The key aspects to the topic were:
     Active learning
     Curriculum for Excellence – Purposes of the curriculum / Principles of
        curriculum design
     Research
     Assessment / setting standards
The topic was presented, as suggested in the topic pack, as a series of Top
Secret Missions which placed great emphasis on teamwork, citizenship,
problem solving and responsibility as key factors of success.
Having recently attended an inspiring three day inservice course on co-
operative learning I felt this topic would encourage and support the school to
employ co-operative learning strategies and Curriculum for Excellence to
bring something fresh and exciting to our teaching, and therefore to the

The children are usually enthusiastic (and loud!) learners and from the outset
this topic was met with much interest and excitement. Because of the very
tight timescale for the topic the first ‘secret mission’ was given to the children
by our second member of staff when I, the Head Teacher was out of school at
the start of the term. On my return two days later I found that the classroom
had indeed been ‘transformed into a place where the Titanic’s story comes
back to life”: already there was an enormous frieze of the ship dominating the
classroom (which had had to be specially re-arranged to allow child-friendly
access to the best bit of wall) the children had made secret agent badges,
begun personal research and there was an excited buzz about what might
happen next as well as a very enthusiastic explanation from staff and pupils of
what they had done and achieved so far.

Evaluating the topic against the key aspects these are our findings:

Active Learning:
With numbers as small as ours, and over such a wide age range, variety in
group/team work proved the biggest challenge. The children have their
preferred pairings/groupings for collaborative work and had to hone their skills
in co-operation and compromise in order to optimise the learning opportunities
presented to them.
As teachers, we had to hand over more control to the pupils in order to
empower them, but were supported in this through the ideas and structure in
the teaching pack to establish a stimulating and motivating learning
environment where the children worked together through tasks and
challenges with a high degree of independence.

Curriculum for Excellence:
Purpose of the curriculum: The four capacities were made explicit in a child
friendly way using the debriefing format suggested in the pack. The children
enjoyed reflecting on and evaluating their own and peer performance using
these criteria and are becoming more familiar with the language of the four
capacities and understand the skills and attitudes they promote. It has
encouraged them to be more critical of themselves and help each other to set
realistic but challenging targets for the future. This format proved so
successful that we have added it in our PLPs too.

All the principles of curriculum design were featured in this topic: challenges
and enjoyment featured strongly in the structure of the tasks (secret missions)
and was evident whenever the children were working on the topic, and their
requests to work on the topic when they weren’t! The collaborative tasks,
while challenging to structure in order to maintain enjoyment by all, gave
many opportunities for personalisation and choice. The ultimate choice they
all made was that the cabins should be individual rather than group. Co-
operation and compromise still featured heavily as they discussed their cabins
with each other, compared and shared ideas and resources. Coherence,
relevance and depth, progression and breadth were all achieved through the
planning of the tasks to include the curricular areas initially identified and in
the allocated time scale. However, it was felt by both staff and pupils that this
block of time was not long enough to succeed with every mission. If I hadn’t
been doing this topic as part of an authority project I would have let it run for
longer, while the children were still motivated to continue and to avoid the
slight frustration, evident in the end evaluation, that some missions were left
unfinished – ie the fact files.

The children loved the research! Collaborative learning strategies added focus
and a sense of urgency to the fact finding tasks. The children responded well
to working within strict time limits, ‘jigsawing’ information and becoming
‘experts’ in certain areas. Mixed ability groupings were used most of the time
and successfully encouraged a sharing of skills; but from time to time, at the
request of the older children, ability groupings were allowed to keep
motivation high. In these instances the younger children required more
structure to help them achieve success and avoid frustration.

Sifting and organising information once it had been found proved a challenge
for the younger and less mature children (P3 & P5) and collaboratve learning
will remain a challenge! However, all were able to evaluate their contribution
to a task and set themselves targets for the future.
Research findings were very successfully used to design, produce and
evaluate the technology task – a model of a cabin. This was, without doubt,
the highlight of the topic for every child. Although the cabins were individually
made, sufficient time was allowed at the end of each session to allow the
children to share ideas and inspect each others’ progress.

Assessment / setting standards:
There was a real sense of purpose and audience from the outset. The
emphasis on quality work proved a challenge for some of the children
although the learning intentions and success criteria were very clear. The
children became very good at finding positive things to say about each others’
work as well as making constructive criticisms. There was initially some
resistance from some of the boys to consistently producing their best work,
but peer assessment wore them down in the end and they responded
positively as the positive comments increased.

Staff have high expectations for all pupils and know their strengths and
development needs. We strived in this topic to build on the children’s self
confidence and give them strategies to help themselves improve. Methods
learned in this topic will be used in future.

In conclusion
Both staff and pupil evaluation of this topic was very positive. The topic has
motivated staff to continue to develop the strategies used and take a more
imaginative approach to future topics. The impact on learning and teaching
has been liberating and exciting.

          There’s been a real
          buzz planning how to
          make the frieze.

                                                  I loved making the cabin
                                                  and using the tools and the
                                                  glue gun.

                 Please can we work on our                             Pupil 1
                 fact files over playtime since
                 it’s too wet to go outside?

       Pupil 2

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