Pupils from Arnold Hill Comprehensive School in Nottingham will long remember the day they performed at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
Written and directed by teachers Jon Wakefield and Dave Quick, Twister's Run, the story of a sycamore seed's fight for survival, is a highly original and improbably successful blend of biology and ballet, chemistry and choruses. Its cast of pupils from Arnold Hill, augmented by children from local primary and dance schools, used elaborate chemical-chain dances and microscopic monsters in the form of aphids and millipedes.
Jon Wakefield says that he wants his audiences never to look at a blade of grass in the same way again; we all need to recognise the remarkable scientific processes going on beneath our feet. A series of songs and dances show the process of photosynthesis, where movement and words map out the couplings of atoms, as they take new partners and make new forms of life. Dancers dressed in red for oxygen, black for carbon and white for hydrogen, to act out the chemistry of photosynthesis.
The show has been a particular success with girls, says science teacher and wordsmith Dave Quick, perhaps because it offers a greater sense of narrative and human interest than the more conventional approach. This motivation has driven an improvement in the school's GCSE science results, he says, but not at the expense of scientific rigour: "It's not just superficial science. It's hard-edged, looking at topics that pupils wouldn't come across until A-level."
Mr Wakefield's "speculative letter" to the ROH was well-received by artistic director Deborah Bull, and a performance was arranged for its Linbury Studio. Twister's Run is the latest in a series of science performances from this staffroom team. They began in 1995 with a show about nuclear fusion and the Big Bang; others have looked at electrochemicals and the Earth from its origins to its destruction, while Salmonella was performed last year at the Nottingham Playhouse.
Many agonise about the curriculum crushing creativity, but these teachers have shown how much can be achieved using effort, ambition and the raw talent in every group of pupils.
Dave Quick and Jon Wakefield can be contacted at Arnold Hill School, Gedling Road, Arnold, Nottingham NG5 6NZ. Videos and songsheets available.
Tel: 0115 955 4804