In 1994, Dorothy Heathcote worked over the course of a week on a Rolling Role project, with eight classes from different primary schools. She said:
The context for all this work is exactly the same, every day, for all the different classes, in that there is a village, there is a place, which can contain the whole of human culture. Therefore, it can contain every kind of study you would wish to make. So it's the careful building of that [culture].
Schools do not function at all like real communities function, which is a great sadness; and this is an attempt to make a community function. …
So we have one central problem, which is a terrible boiler disaster in 1860. This is [based on] an authentic boiler disaster, that happened in Bass’s Brewery … when eight schoolchildren were killed in the school yard from the steam; and the manager of the boiler house was nearly killed by the men who chased after him, because they had warned him for months that the seams on this boiler and the fire joints we're definitely not secure. …
But it struck me that in a place like that, in 1860, if eight kids were killed and four men killed the boss, there would be family feuds go on, that through the years could grow quite bitter - but people would have forgotten why. So you’d get things like, “They’re not coming to our wedding”; “You're not mixing with that lot”; and so it would go on. It struck me that it is a possibility for moving into the nature of how cultures can make and mend, and develop bondings ...
So the boiler disaster is what I have to focus on today, because that gives me my pulleys and levers. Now, that has made me create a map of a very special kind ... Had I been in a team, a geographer would have made a different kind of map. I’ve made a social, working, Junior School map, that later will require national - or Ordnance Survey, or this that and the other; but this is a human map, because it's the only kind of map I want to be bothered with, with juniors, at the beginning.
She created a map with steep hills built into it, “so that to put a new boiler in this boiler shed, is going to take several different problems of haulage and leverage”. The investigation of pulleys and levers was based in a “human problem”:
Nobody can work in this place, until that boiler gets put back. There's nobody brewing ale till that boiler gets put back. And there's no social security in 1860, so there's a lot of people not only grieving for dead kids, but they've got no bread; because you can't put all those men on the parish [charity], because the parish can't stand it. It hasn't got that sort of money. So getting the boiler back is our problem.
(From a recording of a teaching session at Kings Norton High School, 17.5 94. Thanks to Claire Armstrong Mills for the recording.
These are notes from by Dorothy Heathcote for a planned Rolling Role project.
Rolling Role project involves a team of teachers, and several different classes, who approach the work in different ways. The focus is a fictional community; and there is always a “point of change” in the community, which provides a common thread to the work of the different teams.
The notes show that this “point of change” represents a disturbance in the life of the whole community, reaching deep into the past.
This is what Dorothy wrote:
The historical situation.
There is a village community long established: sheep and goat farmers use the hills for grazing. There is a special tradition of spinning and weaving in the village and a special pattern of cutting and sewing warm winter shirts and skirts which is recognised in the area. Most villages wear these by a long tradition.
In a small valley there is a grove of very old olive trees which yield each year and are venerated as being a special place. There are 7 such trees - the last remaining survivors of an ancient grove. A new “stand” of olive trees has been planted and is now yielding crops. Some vines are grown.
Near the grove of old trees is some evidence of a shrine from earlier times - stone slabs well worn and the base of a pillar or remains of an altar.
Beside the grove of trees is a small pool which never dries or overflows. It is constant.
The point of change which always must be decided upon at the beginning of Rolling Role work is this:
There has been a small earthquake causing one tree to be uprooted and others damaged. There has appeared a gushing spring, providing water in abundance and causing some houses to be in danger from flooding.
This pure water is attracting the attention of a manufacturing firm of bottled spring water and they are in the process of acquiring rights to create a bottling plant and to use the water. This is under legal review at present and will bring changes to the village and the area around.
e.g. land changes.
the ancient shrine/grove of trees.
chemists and engineers.
Not all these changes need be feared. Some may make welcome changes to the lives of the community.
It is when the circumstances above have occurred, that the team of teachers would commence planning their class work using their special skills and subject areas. We shall use this context and point of change to see how R.R. operates realistically. See the chart under - Some primary schools have used Rolling Role with every class and all ability ranges being involved.
Dorothy produced a chart indicating some of the opportunities for curriculum teaching - for example, the science curriculum (water analysis, measurement of volume, landscape, climate, etc.); arts (weaving and designs, maps, portraits etc.); history (village history, timeline, daily work, worship, schooling etc.) It adds up to a kind of anthropological survey of a community through time.
[All work done by different classes becomes part of the ‘records’ of the community and these in turn are transformed or added to by other classes so that gradually an enormous amount of study material is generated and children can watch the results of their input affecting and being affected by other classes as they work upon the community as it develops.]