Global creativity for control freaks

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Where did you get that from?

I remember when I was on a trip to Paris as a child with my parents. Like all first-time visitors to that beautiful city, I wanted the perfect souvenir. I decided that nothing said "Paris" like a small plastic Eiffel tower on a plastic fake marble plinth. I bought it, treasured it and spent much of the journey looking at it and it was then that I noticed. There, on a perfect replica of one of Gustav's girders, were stamped the words "Made in Taiwan".

Since then, I've always been on the lookout for labels and places of manufacture. The computer I'm typing on was made in Japan, the remote control I'm using to adjust the volume of the music I'm listening to was made in Korea, and the chocolate that's keeping me going was made in Italy.

Our classrooms are no exception - they have drawn on the manufacturing power of people all over the world. My rulers may have been made in England, as was my Blu-Tack, but were it not for the German pens we would not be able to write, just as we couldn't see without the Polish light bulbs.

This seemed to be a way of getting pupils to consider how much of the world surrounds them every day. I took something very simple - one of the plastic cups we use as paint and glue pots. I asked pupils to think about where it came from and got the inevitable "Tesco" answer. It was clear that many of them were not aware that a product's origins could often be found printed on it somewhere. I showed them the packaging and we saw that this plastic cup had come from Slovenia.

We used an atlas and our big world map to find the country and I talked about how somewhere in Slovenia was a factory where this very plastic cup had been made. It had then been transported from Slovenia and we discussed possible routes. How many countries had our plastic cup travelled through? The children were truly taken with this and I sent them to see if they could find any other "Made in..." locations on their stuff.

Since then, we have begun to label our world map like some kind of travel record, with all the objects whose place of manufacture we have tracked down. We have Indonesian lunch boxes, Thai sandwich bags and Malaysian CDs.

Pupils have found that stuff can be labelled "EEC" rather than a specific country, leading to speculation and, with it, a better understanding of the nations that comprise the EU. Pupils have learned that packaging is far more informative than individual items and they are really keen to find a product from a country as yet unrepresented on our map. My deepest joy came when a kid brought in some chopsticks made in - you guessed it - France.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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