All headteachers know the plummeting of the heart when the phone rings at 7.15am. I suddenly found myself having to teach for two days to cover a sick colleague. Ours is a very small school, and this was a mixed Year 23 class of 25 children. I had the teacher's outline plan for the week, but his resources and detailed planning were at home with him, so I decided to do a "one-off" that would need minimal preparation. I nipped into the shed and grabbed a bag of apples, and went off to school.
I put two apples on each table of four pupils, and the children brainstormed what we could do with them, first in their fours and then as a whole class. I said I wanted suggestions to do with English, maths, art and science. These are the ideas the children came up with, with a few leading questions from me:
* Describe the apples in terms of appearance, taste and texture, bringing in lots of vocabulary; write a poem about them; find some poems about apples in the school library.
* Weigh them; measure them. Will the measurements be the same? Why (not)? What shape is an apple? Is it a perfect sphere? Are both apples the same size, weight, shape, colour? What's the same? What's different?
* Drawpaint them. On the second day, do the apples look the same? Why not? Where did the brown marks come from? How many times did they fall on to the floor? Why was it hard to keep them on the table?
* What will happen if we leave them for a week? Cut them in half, one horizontally, the other vertically. What will the cut halves look like? Will all four halves have the same pattern in the middle? Will the bigger apple have more pips than the smaller one? Dig them out and count them, and make a chart on the board of the results. Use the cut surfaces to make prints (before we start digging out the pips).
* Can we plant the pips? Will they all grow into apple trees? What would we need to do to help them? Are they all "live" pips? One child stated that "live" pips floated and "dead" ones sank - or was it the other way round? - anyway, he had seen it on Blue Peter. We tried floating them. They all sank, except the ones which had been accidentally cut in half, and they floated. Why? Nobody knew.
We didn't get all that work done, but we did manage quite a lot of it. The children also asked if they could eat the apples, but in the end no one was interested!
Carol Rookwood is headteacher of St Mark's Church of England primary school in Eccles, Kent