My school in Bangkok has regular fire drills, just like any other. But because of the history of political protest in Thailand's capital, we also rehearse for a situation known as "lockdown". This practice, where classroom doors are locked and children hide beneath their desks, provided the inspiration for what might otherwise have been a very ordinary science lesson.
I began by setting the scene: a prolonged lockdown, a power cut and a sleepy teacher. I encouraged my Year 4 class to imagine that the sun was setting and they were afraid of the dark. "Fortunately," I continued, "we've just started our electricity topic, and you've managed to find some light bulbs and all these other components."
The children's challenge was to make light while sitting underneath their desks.
I was surprised by how perfectly an AA battery holder could fit into a D battery holder, by how a light bulb could be inserted into a plastic cog, and also by how little my students knew about electricity.
"What's this called?" asked one group. "What does this do?" requested another. "How can I join these two things together?" enquired a third. Every time, I responded by reminding my students that I was curled up in the reading corner, fast asleep and unable to assist them.
With the students struggling but full of questions and eager to learn, I paused the activity occasionally to give clues that might guide them along the path to success. First, I explained that they didn't have to use everything they had been given. Several minutes later I listed the minimum ingredients necessary to make a functioning circuit. And finally, I asked the class to watch a silent, two-minute animation of how a cell works.
Armed with the knowledge that electrons flow around a complete circuit, the students darted back beneath their tables. Within a few minutes, the first cheers could be heard as a group finally managed to bring their bulb to life. I thought to myself how much better this activity was at promoting understanding than explaining everything at the beginning and simply showing the children how to do it.
Stuart Burrows teaches at Bangkok Prep International School in Thailand