Racing pigeons help lesson fly by

13th June 2008 at 01:00
How far is it from Arras in northern France to Gateshead in Tyne and Wear? The answer depends on whether you ask a car satellite navigation system or a racing pigeon
How far is it from Arras in northern France to Gateshead in Tyne and Wear? The answer depends on whether you ask a car satellite navigation system or a racing pigeon.

Children at St Agnes' Primary in Crawcrook, Gateshead, have been learning these differences after adopting a team of racing pigeons as part of their geography studies.

Children as young as five have been poring over maps to work out their flight paths, while older pupils have been looking at wind speeds and studying the birds' destinations.

The birds were first brought into the school by Derek Graham, a local retired headteacher and pigeon fancier who is keen to promote the once popular sport.

The pigeons - named Hermione, April, Chirpy, Crystal, Phoebe, Sapphire and Sparkle by the pupils - have been competing every weekend since the racing season began in April. They frequently fly to France, but have also explored less exotic destinations, such as Maidstone in Kent.

Every Monday morning, Mr Graham emails the school with the weekend's results. The class whose pigeon was the fastest gets to keep a trophy for a week.

Studying the pigeons and their excursions has not just yielded excellent material for geography lessons. In science, pupils have been learning all about the animals, what they eat and how their body structure enables them to fly.

The heroic role of carrier pigeons in the Second World War has been the focus of history studies. For design and technology, pupils have been designing pigeon lofts. They have also written about their experiences in English lessons. There are even plans for the pigeons to inspire dance.

Lynn Hudson, St Agnes's headteacher, said: "I was talking to Derek at a wedding and he suggested bringing the pigeons in for an assembly in January, and they've come in several times since.

"Since they started racing, though, we've had to respect the fact they are also elite athletes and they've not come in so much.

"Children love animals anyway but they have really taken to them, and Derek's passion and ability to see the educational value has been a tremendous help.

"They're great for geography lessons, but it was only when we sat down and thought about it that we realised how many areas of the national curriculum we could cover with them."

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