Scandinavian art of dismantling reveals secrets of a greener future

13th August 2010 at 01:00
Swedish scheme to develop creative thinking gets taken apart by primary pupils in Aberdeenshire

When it comes to saving the planet, pupils from a small rural school in Aberdeenshire will be able to teach the rest of us a thing or two.

They have been working on an innovative approach to learning, developed and used in Sweden. "Flashes of Genius" aims to encourage creative and entrepreneurial thinking in children of all ages.

Now pupils at Strathdon Primary have used the idea to come up with some highly-imaginative inventions to cope with the effects of climate change.

Head Lilian Field learned about the initiative while visiting a school in Swedish Lapland with a group of teachers from the Cairngorm National Park earlier this year.

The Scottish schools were part of "Clim-ATIC", a Northern periphery project on climate change which includes schools from Greenland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Last summer, pupils at Strathdon Primary explored the effects climate change would have on transport in the Cairngorms National Park and made a film, Hamish and The Electric Car, with help from Aberdeenshire Media Unit.

Earlier this year, Mrs Field joined a group of Scottish teachers to visit Sweden to see how pupils in Lycksele used the approach. She trained as an instructor in Flashes of Genius and was so impressed with its interdisciplinary and creative methods that she introduced it back home.

The idea involves pupils dismantling everyday objects like hairdryers and toasters to discover how they work, then creating new objects from the spare parts.

"Pottering is the first step of Flashes of Genius and it's guessing what's inside the thing we are going to be taking apart," says 12-year-old Rory Dobson (P7).

"Then later on we dismantle it and see what really is inside. Our object was really difficult to begin with. But then our teacher came and ripped it open with a hammer. Inside we found wires, screws, circuit boards, a hard drive, a graphics card, batteries, metal and a lot of plastic."

Using hammers, wire cutters, screwdrivers and pliers, the 36 pupils at Strathdon have been taking apart old computers and clocks. Broken laptops and vacuum cleaners were among items donated by this close-knit Upper Donside community. Then children like five-year-old Euan Gray got to work with hammers and pliers and pulled the whole lot to bits.

Children guess what they think might be inside, then compare their ideas with what's really inside.

"We had guessed some of the things right," says Rory. "Once we were in the computer, we started taking everything out with wire cutters, screwdrivers and a hammer. It was very good fun."

His group then used this array of spare parts to develop a new idea to help save the planet. "We started off making a boat that could run for ever, and then we had the idea to put the whole of Britain in it. U Boat K is the UK on a boat. It has an iceberg breaker on the front, so that, unlike Titanic, it can't be destroyed by icebergs," he says.

His team-mate Leon Daly, 11, says the boat has a back propeller which makes it go forward and a big mill wheel on the side which generates electricity to make the other propeller work.

Mrs Field says: "It can be a fantasy object or something realistic and they use all the bits they have actually dismantled to create a new object.

"It's just fabulous watching the children doing it. They really, really enjoyed using the tools and just discovering what's inside some of those things, which nobody ever opens up. They can also move on to learn different things about the objects - Who invented it? What made them have that idea?"

Later, the children recycle all the parts they don't need: "We do have a lot of bits left over, so the next stage is sorting those out so we can recycle them. That's very much part of the process, so you have children thinking about recycling and not just throwing everything in the bucket."

Class teacher Angela Roberts says health and safety was a priority and there were six adults supervising children using tools. Some of the youngest pupils showed great ability, she adds: "Even the P1 children gained a lot from the discipline of undoing things and manipulating tools that they'd never had the opportunity to use before."

Cara Mathieson, 8, and Maya Kelly-Noble, 11, have decided to make a time machine from a computer box which they have styled with a gold star and silver foil. "It means you can go into the past and stop things happening," says Cara.

Scott Foreman, 10, has made an eco factory out of a printer with his team: "The great thing about this factory is it absorbs carbon dioxide and turns it into oxygen," he says. He was preparing a PowerPoint presentation on his invention for an exhibition to parents, which is one of the seven stages suggested in the Flashes of Genius programme.

"It's gone really well," says Mrs Roberts. "It's been really good for the children, because it's a teamworking experience and it has brought in lots of elements of Curriculum for Excellence as well, particularly looking at the technology side of things and how things work." (An automatically translated version is available via most search engines);

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