Copycat bear is boon to science

19th May 2006 at 01:00
A soft toy has performed a daredevil stunt in a bid to advance children's understanding. Adi Bloom reports

It was a record-breaking stunt, defying death, doctors and the laws of survival.

But when the performance artist emerged after seven days under water, the only sign of trauma was his slightly matted fur.

Barnaby Blaine bear, the intrepid ursine magician, is once again emulating his larger namesake, and undertaking death-defying stunts on a classroom scale.

So, when the illusionist David Blaine spent a week in a large acrylic fishbowl outside New York's Lincoln Centre, Barnaby decided to come out of retirement to spend a week immersed in a fish-tank in Anson primary, in Brent, north London.

Simon Pile, Year 3 and 4 teacher, and Barnaby's manager, insists that there is an educational element to the stunt.

"Sticking a bear in water can send odd messages to children," he said. "But there are broader lessons. It's about scientific experiments with water.

We've been looking at whether fruit floats or sinks, whether you can make Plasticene shapes that float, and what happens to chocolate in water.

Children ask specific questions: can bears swim? Will he shrink when he dries?

"They are thinking about science, and it's all through the adventures of a very brave bear."

Mr Pile is encouraging primaries across Brent to follow Barnaby's adventures through his website. He also hopes they will do water-based experiments.

This is not the first time Barnaby has mirrored David Blaine's stunts. When the magician embarked on a 44-day fast in a Perspex box suspended above the south bank of the Thames, Barnaby was placed in a cardboard box, with no access to bear-sized snacks. Whereas human Blaine stood on a column, bear Blaine stood on a bird-table so that pupils could observe passing wildlife.

And next year he is planning to run the London marathon. "He probably needs to start training now," said Mr Pile. "He has a podgy belly at the moment. But that may be water retention.

"The children care about what happens to him. When he came out of the water, one rushed over and started pumping his chest. Essentially, I come up with the ideas, and let them run away with it."

Evan Gairdner, nine, was relieved that Barnaby emerged safely. "I was scared he wouldn't survive," he said. "He was going for seven whole days without oxygen. If he hadn't made it, we'd have given him a proper burial.

He's probably very proud he came through. He's a lot cleaner now."

Barnaby spoke exclusively to The TES. He said: "I'm heading to Bearbados to relax and dry out in the sun and maybe do a bit of scubear-diving."




* Where does water come from? Examine the water cycle: what is rain, and where does it go afterit falls?

* Barnaby may find that his skin goes wrinkly after spending some time under the water. What causes this?

* Make different shapes with Plasticene and watch which shapes float and which shapes sink.

* Drop different materials in water and see which ones float and which ones sink.

* Drop chocolate bars and crisps into the waterand see what happens to them.

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