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Picturing the chaos theory

When the Institute of Education in London asked if my Year 6 pupils would like to take part in a week-long science and art project based on the chaos theory, I was a little uncertain. It sounded very advanced and I wondered if the pupils would understand such a difficult concept. However, it turned out to be an exciting and rewarding experience in which the children helped design a mural for the new National Science Learning Centre, which provides in-service training for teachers.

Our library was transformed into an art studio for the week. Year 6 pupils worked on the project in three groups of 10 for an hour and a half each day.

The centre arranged two educational artists to work with the children. They discussed the scientific basis of the chaos theory and the pupils learned that in our chaotic world, where everything seems to be increasingly disordered, nature is often amazingly well ordered. They learned that examples of these ordered phenomena are called fractals and include waves, snowflakes, patterns of tornados and lightning. Pupils based their designs on fractal patterns and produced collages using tissue paper, string and gold paint. They also worked on a panel of painted silk.

Children's comments reflect the impact the project had on them: "It connected to maths, because we looked at repeating patterns"; "Art and science together made science interesting, even if you weren't interested in it before"; "We had to co-operate and work as a team"; "We were able to try lots of techniques, like sprinkling salt on the silk to make little white spots"; "If someone flapped their hands in Stoneleigh, it could cause a hurricane on the other side of the world".

The project gave pupils the chance to explore and discuss new ideas, which crossed many subject boundaries. All the class were involved and benefited enormously. It was a good example of the motivation and interest that can be generated by cross-curricular projects.

Gerry Dibsdall Headteacher, Nonsuch Primary School, Stoneleigh, Surrey

* Science Learning Centre in London www.sciencelearningcentres.org.uk

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