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1st year Social Subjects class were investigating an environmental issue today, specifically the funicular railway on Cairn Gorm. Is it an environmental disaster? Is it an economic blessing? Is it both?

I’ve set up a page on the school website to provide links to national parks, Cairngorms National Park and the funicular itself. The issue is a good one for them, but not simplistic. They are aware of both the need to care for the environment and the need for jobs, so their tendency is to gather data backing up their preferred argument. However, the information includes very few direct statements regarding the benefits or disadvantages of the funicular so most of the evidence requires a bit of lateral thinking, and that’s where the fun begins.

My preference is to ask them to gather as much information as possible and lay it out in two columns (one appearing to be for their argument and one against) demonstrating that the same information can be used to make different arguments. Other staff prefer to tell classes to make their minds up right away and seek out the information that backs up their argument.

Either way, as the pupils get stuck into the material, I wander around gently messing with their heads, challenging their ideas, pointing out evidence to support the opposite of their position and generally being helpful but awkward. Good fun, especially when the pupils start arguing back. It’s modelling the process for them, making the thinking visible, and giving them something to kick against.

Waiting for the bell at the end of the period we asked what they had discovered so far and it turned into an informal debate. They were brilliant. Every child wanted to have a say, and argued their points cogently and when one finished, the next was waiting.

Pupils aren’t always keen to share information, just in case they’re wrong. This was frankly, enchanting.