South of the River – Flying Saucer Attack

Compass-SouthComment logo 2Our story about aliens landing at New Bewerley Community School caught a lot of attention this week.

The story’s been viewed nearly 3,000 times. We usually only get that sort of traffic for crime, planning or jobs reports. It can’t have hurt to have the word ‘alien’ in the headline, but I hope that just worked to grab your attention and that we weren’t just visited by UFO nuts.

I was really inspired by the story and delighted to be invited into school, partly to help make the experience more real – look kids, here’s the press! But this wasn’t setting out to be a hoax, or to fool the children. A couple did get freaked out in assembly but I’m sure they were reassured quickly. Rather than a hoax it was an event that grabbed everyone’s attention and kicked off a week of teaching and learning.

We have had a lot of positive feedback about the story, but one comment on Facebook depressed me: “should be teaching kids about real stuff thats happening in the world not sh*** like this”.

It’s a failure to understand how children learn worthy of the government. I fear the author didn’t have a happy time in school, either that or they enjoyed learning by rote. It’s a view that puts knowing the answer ahead of seeing how interesting the question is.

The truth is we all learn better when we are having fun. Play is a much misunderstood and underrated activity. I think I really got to understand that through a charity I’m involved with, CISV. They bring children together from around the world to learn through play. It’s also called experiential learning and the programme was developed by an educational psychologist.

Imagine a room with fifty eleven year olds that don’t share a language. The first job is to learn names and then greetings that make everyone feel included. Name games are simple and fun, repeating the word for goodnight in each country’s language is a great way to end the day. As the weeks progress the games get more involved and touch on social issues. I’ve spoken to many children who describe the four week ‘village’ as life changing.

The point about the alien was to fire children’s imaginations. We need an imagination to ask the right questions and if we ask the right questions we will be motivated to work out the answers. That’s how we learn.

I worry that in the current education system, and despite the efforts of great teachers, children are taught how to pass tests, rather than how to learn.

Hopefully the alien will have sparked lots of great creative writing. Writing is a key skill that lags behind reading and maths, or certainly did when I was a governor at New Bewerley. No doubt there will be some great costumes at the parade this afternoon too. But it’s not just arts subjects that need imagination and creativity, science does too.

Take Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It all started with a thought experiment. ‘If I was sat on a light beam, travelling at the speed of light (obvs), what would I see?’ What a brilliantly imaginative question!

Can we bring the alien into Maths too? Of course we can. Rather than learning 4+4=8 by dint of repetition, lets look at the solar system. How many planets are there inside the asteroid belt? Four. And how many planets are there between the asteroid belt and the Kuiper belt? Four. So how many planets are there in the solar system? Eight.

As well as maths there’s a chance to find out what a planet is, an asteroid, comets; what are their names, why they are named after Roman gods – it just goes on and on.

Alternatively we could just chant our four times table. I know which I would prefer and I know which I would learn the most from.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.



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