Tales from a winded panda

6th May 2005 at 01:00
I am going to write a book about my secondment called Eats, Shoots His Mouth Off and Leaves. Perhaps I will adopt the pseudonym of Gregor Truss for the endeavour. After all, I am supposed to be providing support, ha ha ha ha ha (fade to gibbering).

The aforementioned title aptly describes many of the school visits I make.

The "eats" bit refers to my knack of timing visits to coincide with intervals and hence a free biscuit (two points on my "How Good Are Our Cakes?" scale) or a strawberry tart (four). I then work with staff or model a lesson. That's the "shoots" bit. Finally, I leave.

I was recently asked to work with a primary school that wanted to use a computer interface to enhance a weather science topic. Prior to the visit, I spent some time at base examining the equipment. It could record light intensity, temperature and sound. The last-mentioned I dismissed as irrelevant to a weather theme but decided that we could get a lot of mileage out of investigating the question: "Is it always warmer when it is bright?"

With this idea fixed in my mind, I set off for the primary with a few ideas about the ways in which I would stimulate the children to come up with my idea themselves. When I left the school, we had indeed collectively agreed to find out whether it was always warm when it was bright. Hypotheses had been formulated, potential experimental set-ups discussed.

I should have felt the routine contentment of someone who has done exactly what he set out to do, but I felt much more than that. I was simultaneously excited, elated and humbled.

Most of these emotions were stimulated by a quiet little chap whose group informed me that he had designed a wind speed detector. Diffidently, the boy stood up and explained his idea. He removed the top from his water bottle and blew across he top. It made a noise.

He reckoned that the faster the wind blew, the louder the noise would be.

The sound sensor would measure the noise and we would have a record of wind speed. This was so far removed from the tramlined thinking I had indulged in myself, that I was barely able to articulate how immensely impressed I was. Ultimately, we decided not to run with it for a number of reasons, but everyone was impressed.

In the days that followed, I cited this example of ingenuity to anyone who would listen. What grabbed me was not so much that I didn't think of it myself, rather I am not sure that I could have thought of it myself. Eats, shoots and leaves a little smaller than when he went in.

Gregor Steele feels that this story vindicates the free supply of water to primary children.

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