Get creative about Europe! The Blue Star Programme is an education initiative for primary school students across Ireland. The idea of the programme is quite simple: to foster a better understanding and knowledge of Europe and how it affects the lives of Irish citizens among Irish primary pupils, through classroom projects and activities.
The Blue Star Programme has creativity at its core, and its structure and project work encourage teachers and pupils from all corners of Ireland to ‘think outside the box’. The wider school community is also encouraged to get involved and contribute to the programme.
Margaret Murphy of Scoil Mhuire na nGrást in Belgooly, Co. Cork, was her school’s Blue Star Programme coordinating teacher during the last academic year. Here’s what Margaret had to say about her experience working Blue Star into her day-to-day classroom life:
“Having taken part in many initiatives and programmes in my time teaching, I can highly recommend the Blue Star Programme as a worthwhile and engaging endeavour. The beauty of the Blue Star programme is that it is suitable for each class level, and it integrates seamlessly into many different curricular areas. Most importantly the students love it! Europe is a topic that every child can relate to. From receiving a variety of coins from different European countries in their change, to supporting Thomas Barr in the European Championships, to learning how to say “Hola” to their new Spanish classmate, Europe is part of the everyday lives of our primary school students.
“There are four key elements which the children explore: historical, geographical, cultural and creative, and institutional.
“In the historical section children explore the foundation and development of the European Union. This year with my 6th class we learned about the Holocaust, World War II and Ireland’s policy of neutrality. We researched Anne Frank and her family, and read extracts from her diary and biographies of her life. I found the students had a real interest in the historical element as they identified with Anne because of her age. They also enjoyed interviewing their grandparents to find out what they knew about “the Emergency” in Ireland and how Ireland was affected, even though it remained neutral.
“For the geographical section, pupils worked in pairs or small groups and chose two European Union member states to prepare a project on. The children researched their chosen countries and presented their projects to the rest of the class. We also looked at the differences between the continent of Europe and the EU and which countries are not members of the EU. This led to an investigation into the Eurovision and how many of the competing countries were member states. Inspired by the musical delights of Eurovision 2018 we also listened to the national anthems of other Member States.
“In the cultural and creative element, we linked our Blue Star activities with art and music. Working in pairs the students constructed Leaning Towers of Pisa using cardboard and paper. They also collected as many euro coins from different countries as they could and used the reverse of these to create art by doing coin rubbings. The highlight of this element had to be the day we painted in the style of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, by sticking paper on the underside of the school desks and painting while lying on the floor. In music we learned about the EU anthem “Ode to Joy” and listened to various renditions of the anthem being performed. We followed the #Ode2Joy challenge in the news and watched the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir performing the anthem at Newgrange as part of Ireland’s participation in this challenge. The children also learned “Ode to Joy” on the tin whistle. This element also linked to history as the pupils researched the story behind “Ode to Joy” and learned about the flag of the European Union and its symbolism. Finally, the students were introduced to some basic French, German, Italian and Hungarian phrases and shared any phrases from other European languages that they knew.
“The institutional section relates to how the EU works, how the different institutions cooperate with each other, and the impact of the EU on citizens’ lives. The students investigated the role of the European Parliament and the European Commission. They watched some of a committee meeting on culture and education on the European Parliament’s online TV channel. Using the website of the European Parliament Liaison Office in Ireland, we became familiar with Ireland’s MEPs for 2014-2019 (paying particular attention to those who represent us in the South Constituency!)
“Europe Day on May 9th provided an ideal opportunity to reflect on and showcase the pupils’ work on the programme. They visited the other classes in the school in small groups to perform “Ode to Joy” on their tin whistles, display the flag of the EU and share some facts about the EU. The other classes were also invited to our Europe Day display to view the students’ projects on the different Member States along with their artwork. Europe Day is celebrated on May 9th as it commemorates Robert Schumann’s speech which led to what is now the EU. We listened to an audio extract from his speech and learned about the declaration.
“With the constant Brexit coverage, the EU is more topical than ever!”
[ The above piece is as it appeared in the Evening Echo, Saturday 25 August ]