Ted's teaching tips

24th March 2000 at 00:00
This eerie desert scene may look beautiful, but it is a hostile environment in which the unwary would die within a few days. Yet life can survive there and the camel is a striking example of successful adaptation. This beautiful landscape can also inspire some exciting design work.

Deserts Find some well-known deserts on the map (Sahara, Kalahari, Gobi; Australian, American and Indian deserts). What qualifies an area to be a desert (10 inches, 250mm, or less of rain a year, which is about a quarter of our rainfall; deserts can be in cold areas as well as hot)? What sort of life can survive in the desert (water-conserving plants, often spiky, such as cactus, with waxy skin and deep roots; animals that can re-use fluids, eat plants containing little moisture, or sleep during the day)?

Camels What kind of camels are there (the single-humped Arabian camel or dromedary, the double-humped Bactrian camel)? How do they survive in the desert (can digest thorny plants, have double eyelids that keep out sand, drink more than 20 gallons,100 litres, of water when available, can turn their body fat into water by a process of oxidation, last over two weeks without water)? How do they serve people (beasts of burden with amazing stamina, able to walk for 15 hours or more at a time; shed their thick coat in spring, camel hair clothes being much desired)?

Art, design and technology Use this spectacular scene as an inspiration for a paper chain, a frieze, a pot decoration, or a painting. Can you recreae the colours, shades and shapes? Make a paper chain or frieze with a different animal shape, bodies linked, like a horse, lion, or giraffe.

Writing (a) Write about how you and a friend were stranded in a desert and had to survive;(b) pretend you are in charge of a group of camels and describe how you run a business.


These camels represent a link with times long past, since camels were in use in biblical times. Shouldn't people be modernising, rather than simply preserving old lifestyles?

For The past is all very well, but we should use modern knowledge to improve people's lot. A decent road and some jeeps would be more efficient and safer than camels. It is a romantic myth that people were happier in simpler times. Many died needlessly. The past was riddled with ignorance, disease and superstition. Modern ideas in science, technology and medicine have created a far better society than at any previous time.

Against "Progress" is not automatically a good thing. Camels are a natural part of the environment, jeeps and diesel fumes are not. We should not look down on those who maintain past practice, as it is often effective. Generations of people have learned to live in deserts or other hostile surroundings. Why impose an alien lifestyle on them, just because it suits us? It is patronising to pretend they are "primitive" and we are "civilised".

SECTION:Features NO PHYSICAL FILETed Wragg is professor of education at the University of Exeter

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