Titanic Project

This is OLHS’ successful submission for North Lanarkshire’s Excellence and Equity Awards 2017: Productive Partnerships – Purposeful Learning.

As a result of changes to SQA exams, staff at Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell, spotted an opportunity to provide an exciting programme of interdisciplinary experiences for some of our National 4 students. Our aim was to help pupils gain additional qualifications while expanding their life experiences and raising awareness of the options available to them on leaving school, all through focusing on the Titanic disaster.

We are now approaching the third year of this vibrant project which runs over three weeks of the SQA diet. The programme coordinators are PT Pupil Support, Lyn Zambonini, and Library Resource Centre Manager, Jennifer Macfadyen, but the project involves staff from across Our Lady’s High School, local businesses, voluntary groups and national organisations.

Following an initial introduction, the programme is split into four broad areas: ship building and design; life aboard the Titanic; the disaster itself; and the rediscovery of the wreck.

We were stunned to discover that the steel plates that built Titanic had actually come from the Colville Steelworks in Motherwell, making a wonderful connection with our local heritage. Pupils were lucky to experience Tata, now Liberty Steel, in the process of rolling the steel plates with a guided tour by staff at the plant, who also provided pupils with many stories of life at the steelworks and a thorough grounding in Health and Safety routines.

Although the Titanic was built in Belfast, we were able to take advantage of the Clyde’s vast experience in ship-building, visiting the Titan Crane at Clydebank, and the Denny Tank Museum at Dumbarton. Titan staff explained how riveting gangs worked, how the shipyards were a part of the community and how dangerous life was while the Denny Flotation Tank demonstrated the engineering expertise involved in designing and testing ships’ hulls. The group also discovered that Denny’s was even involved in testing some of Titanic’s lifeboats. This information became invaluable when learning about buoyancy with Science teachers back at OLHS, and designing their own hulls.

Pupils also learned more about some of the passengers and crew aboard and the different lives they led on a luxury liner depending on their class. English showed the films, A Night to Remember and Titanic, and compared the special effects and factual reliability of each. Our group were able to put their new-found knowledge into practice by working with Lifestyle Development staff to create a shipboard lunch for staff – although staff did not know until the last minute whether they would receive the 1st, 2nd or 3rd class treatment and dining experience.

To bring everything up to date we contacted Greenock Ocean Terminal who kindly arranged for us to have a tour of the Caribbean Princess. We used this experience as a focus on careers, bringing along our Careers Advisor, Miss Ruth Robertson from SDS to provide detailed advice. Seeing aboard a real cruise ship gave pupils a whole new way of looking at the world, and the numerous careers open to them. They were also keen to compare the Caribbean Princess to what they had already learned about ship design. They were definitely impressed by the safety regulations and the numbers of lifeboats.

Turning our attention to the disaster itself, Mr Walter Lee from the RNLI kindly came along to demonstrate what happened with the iceberg and graphically explain what would have happened to the Titanic’s passengers in the water, including the effects of hypothermia – he even brought along his own mini iceberg!

Other activities have included creating a map of the world demonstrating the Titanic’s route (Social Subjects); printing and poster making (Art and Design); trying out Morse code (Science); an afternoon swimming courtesy of NL Leisure (Lifestyle Development); building their own model Titanic (Social Subjects / Art); discussion of moral issues relating to women and children first and the treatment of 3rd class passengers (RE); further moral issues relating to the wreck arose following a screening of Ghosts of the Abyss: should the Titanic be raised? Should material be removed? Should the ship be left to rust to nothing? (English); and multi-lingual newspaper front pages (Modern Languages).

With so many stories being generated from the project, we wanted pupils to be able to record the aspects that were most important to them, from the ‘women and children first’ policy, to the lifeboats, to the role of the wireless operator, so we introduced the group to storyteller, Allison Galbraith, thanks to part-funding from the Scottish Book Trust. Allison demonstrated the art of storytelling, and guided the group through creating and recording their own stories, helping them to record their own voices for posterity. Allison started by introducing herself and just talking with the group, building pupils’ confidence in speaking before a stranger. As a result, although pupils were nervous about recording, they were keen to participate. Allison also demonstrated breathing exercises and vocal warm-ups before recording began, with further advice on presentation as we worked through the stories. Despite occasionally breaking into the giggles, every pupil managed to record their own work beautifully.

Discussion with pupils led to an additional trip which saw us taking the ferry to Rothesay and the stunning Mount Stuart House. This mansion was completed in 1912, the same year as the Titanic disaster and thus pupils were not only able to experience actually travelling across water – a new experience for all of them – but to see luxurious interiors similar to those of the ship they’d been learning all about.

The Titanic Project continues to develop with partnerships emerging as various individuals and groups express an interest in participating. In 2016, our pupils were even able to join with St Brendan’s Primary as part of their anniversary visit to Belfast to see the Titanic Museum for themselves.

The Titanic Project has been a huge success over the last two years. We have seen the pupils blossom, gaining in confidence, pulling together as a team, and their ideas of what’s available to them in the future have expanded rapidly. Each year pupils have created an exhibition of their experiences which have been visited by classes from across OLHS and visitors to the school, leading to further discussions and expressions of interest. Last year all of the pupils involved achieved the SQA qualifications. “Local investigations” at SCQF level 4.

Feedback from pupils themselves has been outstanding:

”I thought it would be boring, but it was brilliant!”;

“I liked how we went on adventures and explored all the museums”;

“I seemed to get a better relationship with people that I hadn’t spoken to since primary”;

”I actually wanted to come to school!”

The Project continues to explore new ground and build new partnerships. Staff coordinators continue to collect materials, ideas and contacts and we look forward to its continuing success long into the future.

Categories: Books, Communication, Creativity, Curriculum for Excellence, Developing the Young Workforce, Expressive Arts, Health and Well-Being, Interdisciplinary Learning, Investigations, Languages, Learning and Teaching, Literacy, Maps, Mathematics, Numeracy, Outdoor education, Posters, RE / Religious and Moral Education, Resources, Sciences, Social Studies, Storytelling | Tags: | Leave a comment

S1 French Café

Anything food related, although granted the foods are ‘plastic’ artefacts, is right up my street. I had previously tried this activity with my ‘S1 Around the World Club’ last year and it was a huge hit. I decided to try and re-create a similar project with some S1 French pupils.
With the support of the Principal Teacher of Modern Languages, Lynn Kerr and my colleague Katarina Henderson we were able to enhance this learning activity, taking her S1 class on a French café journey before the library activity, was completed.

Various S1 classes came to the library in small groups over a period of weeks to take part in the activity (this was a trial project). Pupils sat at a table with a list of four or five words in French and asked to translate the words from French to English using i-pads. On another table there was a large selection of imitation French breakfast/café favourites. As a group and individually, pupils were asked to translate and locate the correct artefact.

At first pupils struggled to use the application, as many of the French words did not have a literal translation. However, it gave pupils an insight into why it is important to investigate words further. With closer attention they soon found the translations they needed. To complete the activity, pupils were then asked to place the French word at the correct artefact.

This was another opportunity for our pupils to use an online dictionary and come to the library for a very different, challenging type of learning activity. However, for myself, it has been a wonderful experience and one which I hope my job sharing partner and I will continue. I hope we keep developing our little ‘bibliothèque’.

Many thanks to Lynn Kerr, Principal Teacher of Modern Languages and the Modern Languages Department, particularly Katarina Henderson.

Categories: Curriculum for Excellence, Languages | Tags: , | Leave a comment

National Digital Learning Week 2015 article on Glow

Last week there was a letter in my tray from one of our DHT’s from Education Scotland about their initiative called ‘National Digital Learning Week 2015’. This particular event celebrated the use of technology in schools. What better way than promoting the work librarians make to their school community than a Wiki on Glow? As librarians, we use technology every day, so I thought, why not promote this very fact?

Have a look.

Categories: Advocacy, Languages, Literacy, School Librarians, Technologies | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Burns Competition Winners

To commemorate the birthday of Robert Burns S1 pupils took part in a competition to celebrate the Scots language and the work of Robert Burns.

As an introduction to the use of Scots in poetry the classes watched a short film of Dundonian poet, Mark Thomson, discussing his use of Scots and the Dundonian dialect in his poetry. This was followed by listening to an emotive rendition of Auld Lang Syne sung by Paolo Nutini with Phil Cunningham on mandolin.

Each S1 class was divided into groups and asked to translate Scots words into English, note down interesting and expressive Scots words and create sentences using those words. The next task was to translate an extract from, To a Mouse. To finish the competition a pupil from each group took to the floor to recite, A Man’s a Man for A’ That.


The competition winners were a group from class 1H1. This group came up with an interesting selection of Scots words and used them to create humourous sentences. As a prize they each selected a book from a selection of current fiction titles.

Categories: Competitions, Creativity, Languages, Literacy | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Fred Freeman and Scots

On Tuesday 5th November 2013, Dr Fred Freeman came into Coatbridge High School to deliver a Scots Language workshop to two S1 classes. The event was organised as part of the Scotland IDL Project by the Librarian and the English Department.

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Dr Freeman used songs and poems by Scottish poets and songwriters, such as Robert Tannahill, to help the pupils translate words and phrases and help them realise how much of the ancient language we still use today.

The activities were good fun and it was an enjoyable experience with lots of tasks that allowed pupils to work competitively with their peers.

Categories: Curriculum for Excellence, Events, Languages, Learning and Teaching, Librarians, Literacy | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

El Dia de los Muertos 2013

You know when you reply to e-mails that start, “Would anyone be interested in …”. You never know what you’re going to get involved in, but it’s usually a lot of hard work, a fair bit of stress and a great big dollop of mixed relief and pride at the end!

That just about sums up El Dia de los Muertos – Our Lady’s style. This interdisciplinary project was the brainwave of Mr Pegard from the Modern Languages Department and run between Art, RE, Modern Languages and myself.

Day of the Dead is a cheerful festival remembering those who have died, and inviting them along to a massive party. In Mexico, people create ofrendas, or altars, covered in flowers and the deceased’s favourite things, dress up as Catrinas, or skeletons in costumes from the 1900s, and eat sugar skulls and pan de muertos or special bread, along with the usual party food. Celebrations are often held in cemeteries, and last for two days with bands playing and even parades.

So how do you transfer all of that into an afternoon for 2nd year pupils?

Well, RE took care of the altar, with pupils bringing photos and mementos of loved ones, and colouring crosses; Art made clay skulls and decorations; Modern Languages explained the background to the festival, and then there was me. What’s the role for a Librarian in all this?

Well, as usual, a bit of everything: ideas for activities (e.g. making hats for Catrina, after Rhona Skea pointed her out to me); identifying problems (if you hang out with Home Economics teachers, you’ll learn a lot about hygiene rules); identifying solutions (go and talk to the Home Economics Department, guys!); my personal favourites of taking photographs, researching, writing the quiz, and reporting everything afterwards; and of course being the go-to girl for the fiddly but necessary team lists. Well, I suppose when you insist on doing lots of investigations involving teams, it’s not surprising other people notice.

The whole event was a blast and the pupils loved it. They decorated cakes with fondant icing skulls, designed and made hats for Catrina, said prayers in Spanish and completed a Dia de los Muertos / Hallowe’en / All Saints Day quiz. The two hours flew past, ran like clockwork and the classes disappeared with their cakes and their photos, leaving us to tidy up, review what we did, think about what we should do differently, and put it all away for the next ten months.

Categories: Events, Expressive Arts, Health and Well-Being, Interdisciplinary Learning, Languages, Learning and Teaching, Literacy, RE / Religious and Moral Education, School Librarians | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Las Fallas

2013_0226_1245The Modern Languages Department decided to study Las Fallas for their Added Value Unit in S3 and contacted me for LRC involvement following the success of the pinatas with S1. Las Fallas is a Valencian fire festival in honour of St Joseph.

And so, Cardinal Newman Does Las Fallas was born.

Naturally we had to seek permission to build a bonfire for the traditional destruction of the Ninot, or model. After the Headteacher had picked herself up off the floor and told us we were mad, she tentatively agreed.

We arranged a visit from the Community Fire Safety Officer, who explained the Health and Safety aspects of our idea and assisted with planning.

2013_0226_1244Game On!

In Valencia, they burn well known and political characters, so after considering various local dignitaries we agreed that a mythological character would be more appropriate. And so we’ve built a 9′ tall Devil from papier mache and chicken wire!


Pupils from the Technical Department created the body, and created a passeo or palanquin for participants to carry.

To add a Scottish flavour we’ve booked a pipe band to play along with our own musicians.

Meanwhile, the pupils are studying the fire festival of Las Fallas in their Spanish classes. Each pupil has been asked to write an essay in Spanish about the festival, and the most interesting contributors (six male, six female)will be invited to participate in the event itself.

Watch this space!

Categories: Arts and Crafts, Creativity, Events, Interdisciplinary Learning, Languages, Literacy, RE / Religious and Moral Education, Technologies | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Christmas pinatas

The life of a school librarian is never dull, but some days stick in your mind, like the day I was asked to dress a skeleton for the Day of the Dead.

They were pleased with the result and the event, which included a mariachi band, was a great success. The PT Modern Languages and I then wondered what we could develop as a rich task for S1.

The result? The Cardinal Newman Christmas Pinata Competition! (also known as 200 1st years, a blindfold and baseball bat).

Following extensive research, we purchased nine large balloons, glue, lots of tissue paper, and millions of nice things for the contents.

The making of the pinatas turned into a whole school obsession. The Art Department and LRC turned into papier mache factories and any passing person was welcome to stick layers of paper on the balloons.

By 1st December, we had nine huge papier mache balloons just waiting for decoration. Enter the S5 Int I Spanish class! The LRC became awash with glitter, tissue paper and assorted shiny bits as the S5s competed to create the most complicated pinatas.  They took a real pride in their work (even becoming rather possessive).

Back in Spanish, the S1s were studying pinatas in Mexico and learning a poem in Spanish called ‘Dale, Dale, Dale’ which you recite while attempting to ‘break’ the pinata.

On the day, the tallest 6th year boy was responsible for hanging the pinatas in the LRC and manoevering them out of harms way as frustrated S1s atempted to destroy it.

The 1st years came along by class, with one pinata per class. With Spnaish music playing the background, pupils were called out one at a time to have a go. Unfortunately, the pinatas were rock hard and despite the best efforts of S1, resisted all attempts to fulfill their purpose in life.

Ultimately, they were done in with a baseball bat from PE, wielded by the S6 pupil to allow the pupils to claim their prizes.

Fortunately, the pupils then went on to enjoy their ceilidh, and did not have to go to their next classes full of Spanish glee.

Categories: Arts and Crafts, Creativity, Curriculum for Excellence, Expressive Arts, Languages | Tags: , , | Leave a comment


The following article was sent to SCILT, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, who published it in their Summer 2012 Newsletter.

The Modern Languages Department and the Librarian at Taylor High, New Stevenston, have been celebrating languages, particularly Spanish, in a number of ways over the last year.

Both departments have created a Spanish Dictionary Mission for all S1s. Pupils learn how to use a bilingual dictionary, learn new words in Spanish as well as using words they have been learning in class, and learn how to create a Mind-Map. A variety of different questions are asked in both Spanish and English to enable pupils to use both sections of the dictionary. Once pupils have completed this activity they get an opportunity to decorate their Mind-Map and the most creative are then displayed in the Modern Languages corridor.

Together with the class teacher, the Librarian helps pupils use a Spanish Dictionary. This gives S1s one of their first opportunities to use a Spanish Dictionary. This exercise increases pupils’ confidence when using a bilingual dictionary and in the Spanish language.

The S1 Euro Club also runs every Thursday at lunchtime from 1pm – 1:45pm and we explore a variety of topics such as European foods and leisure activities. Exploring various leisure activities has been an enjoyable experience for pupils as they have learned how to play boules, table football and games on the Wii, particularly a Maracas game. Pupils have to keep time with the music by pretending to play these musical instruments. By researching different leisure activities pupils have learned to build resilience and confidence by participating in a wide range of activities that promote a healthy lifestyle and contribute to the wider community.

Categories: Curriculum for Excellence, Expressive Arts, Languages | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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