Ted's teaching tips

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Sea water has always fascinated humankind. The gentle rhythmic swish of the tide has long soothed away stresses for holidaymakers. But at its most ferocious, the sea is a killer. This striking picture raises other issues about our inner fears, such as acrophobia (fear of heights), and how we perceive the world.


Are there any seaside places you know particularly well? What are the waves like there: rough, or gentle, like the Mediterranean? Why is the sea both friend and foe (leisure pursuits such as sailing and swimming, transport, the fishing industry; storms can endanger life, tear away coastlines, flood communities)? What causes waves (the gravitational pull of the moon - and sun - produces the lapping in and out of tides, but wind is mainly responsible for bigger waves; abnormally high ones, 30 metres or more, can be caused by earthquakes)? What do waves do to the coastline (change the landscape by erosion, washing away cliffs, moving sand)? Can we control erosion (sea defences, such as breakwaters, or shoring up coastline)? Why do we like waves (timeless repetition fascinating, like the eastern philosophy of ebb and flow, compared with our linear perspective on life; musical sound, can be restful or dramatic, sinister even)?

Visual perception

Look at the line of the steps. What is happening (the various lines converge to a focal point, giving a sense of perspective, like a railway track)? How do you know where the light is coming from (the left-hand side of the rails is illuminated, the right-hand side in shade)? Draw or paint a picture using the same effects. Wha else can you tell from the angle of the photograph (steep drop, picture taken from close to the edge)? What effect does the picture have on you (danger signals, proceed carefully; urge to jump, but survival instinct stops us)?


What is "vertigo" (dizziness, feeling of disorientation and of loss of contact with the ground)? How do we balance and not fall over (our senses feed information to the brain, fluid-filled labyrinth in the inner ear helps us adjust our position)? When do people get vertigo (natural fear of heights, drunkenness, spinning movement, illness affecting balance)?


Listen to the music of Mendelssohn's "Fingal's Cave" and describe or paint the seascape it conjures up (mysterious, dramatic, rhythmic, power, spray, iridescent, translucent, awesome). Make up a story about why these particular steps and place mean so much to you.

Talking points

Should you just grit your teeth and conquer irrational fears?


We can be master or slave to our fears. Giving in to them shows weakness. You must be brave in childhood, battling against anxieties, especially irrational ones. If everyone had been terrified in the past we would have lost wars. Only wimps run away from a challenge.


Some people can be paralysed by anxiety, so therapy should be available to help them cope. Fear of heights is a natural defence against danger. Making children "tough" turns them into insensitive adults. It is more important to understand and manage your fears.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

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