I’m at the end of a five day programme in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, delivering workshops for the local Learning Adventure Resource Network – and what an amazing five days it’s been. You can read about Days 1 and 2 here, and Day 3 here – but onto Days 4 and 5 …
Day 4: Spelling, Shakespeare – and Century Egg
Dinner at Namaste last night was a real family affair: Cordelia and her daughter Ling, Cassandra and her husband David – and their cousin Selina (who had been observing the programme all week). And me, of course. It was really nice to meet David at last – even though he turned out to be a Chelsea supporter. As, it transpired, was our waiter, who instantly became David’s new best friend. How is it that I’d travelled more than six and a half thousand miles, yet still couldn’t escape the scourge of Stamford Bridge?
Day 4 at the myIGCSE Learning Centre was Literacy Day – and we were joined by a new student, Ashley. She knew no-one at all, but the rest of the children and young people were quick to make her feel at home. We began with as creatives‘ newly developed programme exploring the intricacies of the English language, Grantham Grant and the Great Grammar Adventure. Grantham Grant is a wonderful chef – and his SPaG Bolognese is beyond compare. But he has a terrible memory – and as his Recipe Book has been stolen, he can now barely function in the kitchen, let alone whizz up a meal … So, after meeting Grantham (played by a puppet) and the suspects (played by themselves), the students worked on a series of age-differentiated grammar challenges, each yielding a clue to the identity of the thief. Many of the younger children had audibly groaned when they’d heard the word “grammar” – but they’d completely changed their minds by the time it came to lunch, despite having spent four hours exploring homonymic spellings, punctuation rules, parts of speech, tenses and (every UK teacher’s bête noire), fronted adverbials. Once again they were consciously putting the 5Rs into practice: by reflecting on what they’d already discovered, making relationships with other areas of the curriculum and using limited resources, they felt able to take risks with their approaches to learning – and resilient enough to cope when things didn’t go quite to plan.
And so to the afternoon, to Verona – and to a tale of star-crossed lovers. Most of the students had heard of Romeo and Juliet but, while a couple displayed detailed knowledge of the story, most knew little about it. As always with as creatives‘ Shakespeare programmes, this was a workshop designed and developed to treat participants to an “actor’s eye view” of the text, using a range and variety of drama techniques and methodologies to help them experience the entire narrative in just “the two hours traffic of our stage.” Exploring the backstory involved quite a lot of thumb-biting as the mobs supporting the Montagues and Capulets chanted their champions’ names – while we used activities we call human statues and human sculptures to bring to investigate the play’s principal characters and themes respectively. We brought the opening Chorus to life with movement and words (perfectly spoken iambic pentameter by one and all). The Masqued Ball and the Deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt passed by (with students learning some of the basics of stage fencing) – together with an examination of Friar Lawrence (whom they all thought dodgy in the extreme!). This play, of course, features one of Shakespeare’s great Unseen Scenes: The Funeral of Juliet. Dramatising that moment is always one of the highlights of this workshop for me; the grief the students evince never fails to be raw and harrowing – and you can actually see in their faces the growing understanding that, driven by passion though she may have been, Juliet’s actions are almost unbearably cruel.
With my first durian to come at the weekend, snacks today included ketayap, desiccated coconut with a touch of the infamous fruit, all wrapped in a pandan sponge. The durian was completely overpowered by the sugar, though, so I wasn’t able to get any hint of what’s yet to hit my palate. Durian propels Cordelia and Cassandra to polar extremes, with the former declaring it “absolutely horrible” but the other singing its praises. They both, though, love Century Egg, which I sample (with ginger) during the course of a steamboat meal at Crab Island. Pickled for an unspecified period, Century Egg looks disgusting (like a tiny, slimy, blackened aubergine) and smells not a lot better (like a sulphurous bog). In every way it can, it’s telling you not to put it in your mouth. Yet it melts on the tongue, creamily delicious.
Day 5: Pirates, Plains and Poses
Day 5 marked the final day of the programme and was given over to as creatives‘ dramatic take on science and technology: Pirate Science in the morning and The Story of Flight in the afternoon. Following activities designed to support them in considering how Blackbeard, Anne Bonny and Mary Read used the science of their day to both survive and thrive on the high seas, the students worked in three groups, each focusing on a different area of Pirate Science: diet, medicine and navigation. Taking the Ambassadorial approach we often adopt in our creative science workshops, each group was given a Fact Sheet, the challenge being to teach their peers new content by planning, preparing and presenting short dramas incorporating at least three Key Facts. After learning about the relationship (the 5Rs again!) between density and floatation through a unique activity we’ve developed combining storytelling and drama, they then designed and built their own Lolly Stick Pirate Rafts, complete with flags and flagpoles. And having built them, of course, they tested them. In water. Although one or two began to take on water quite quickly, every single one floated – including one constructed to an intriguing design by Harris (he’d set himself the personal challenge of using as few lolly sticks as possible). With one boat tested, it was time to build another – but with a different challenge: to adapt a pre-constructed bamboo boat by adding a flag and flagpole in such a way that the craft would not only be seaworthy but also be able to take on cargo.
And so it came, inexorably, to our final afternoon – and The Story of Flight. In a session combining a number of different drama methodologies, students explored and learned about key landmarks in the history of humankind’s efforts to conquer the skies. All of which allowed us to cover six thousand years of both history and technology, from the Battle Kites of ancient China to the Apollo moon landings, in little more than an hour! Then it was back in history again, to look at a story that lies at the heart of our obsession with flight: the tale of Icarus and Daedalus. Changing groups for the final time in the week, the students retold the Ancient Greek myth through series of tableaux – and time after time Icarus plunged to his watery death. The boy never learns.
And it was over. The five days had gone by astonishingly quickly and I couldn’t have asked for more enthusiasm and engagement from the students and the teachers and senior students who had been supporting me. As the parents began to gather outside the classroom, the students posed for one final photograph. And, with the great man due to make his first appearance in Rio the next day, what better representation of the 5Rs could they give me than their own version of Usain Bolt’s lightning bolt?