Treetop Transport

This ¨Mantle of the Expert’ work took place in a Year 1 and 2 class, for an intensive period of two weeks and then intermittently during the following term. The work was started by Luke Abbott and Professor Brian Edmiston. They both came to work with the class for the first day, and then Brian returned for a couple of half days once the work was in full swing!

Luke started by introducing a few rusty toy lorries and a large sheet of blank paper. Within minutes, the children were immersed in the world of Treetop Transport , a haulage company based in the middle of a wood. Each lorry was named and allocated a parking space on the map that was rapidly emerging. Right from the beginning the company was established as a context that mattered to the children. This was to prove vital in providing a stimulus and reason for future work.

During the first day, the company really took shape and developed an identity. We went to great lengths to help a shark that a child reported washed up in the grounds. So when a call came through from Iraq asking for help to transport endangered animals, we were already recognized as a caring company. Pretend phone calls became an essential way of developing the drama, and the children were able to accept the adults in constantly changing roles.

On the phone to Iraq.

We quickly established an office in the corner of the classroom. This was a space for relevant, spontaneous work as opposed to meticulously presented specimens. On the walls we collected useful documents, such as a big annotated map, the children’s own labelled diagram of a lorry and the original plan of the site. A large pin board became home for emails, letters, printouts from the Internet and any other valuable documents. The children frequently added to this board and used it as a working source of information. When information was no longer significant, a group of children organised it into their own filing system.

The office

The next few days were taken up preparing for the ¨journey’ to Iraq. Letters, phone calls and emails were planted to give structure and objectives to the preparation. The main job was to produce a detailed plan for preparing the lorries. Each team of drivers had to consider the needs of their animal, for example its height, food requirements and ideal temperature. A group of Year 2s became designated researchers, and independently found out information such as the height of a giraffe. We then measured this out in the hall to give the children an idea of the scale involved. Other jobs included preparing passports (for which the children had to imagine themselves as adults), researching the construction and parts of a lorry and taking part in radio and television interviews. Our teaching assistant became a BBC reporter, who would travel with us to make a radio documentary about our work. I took on a range of roles to give the work focus and to make meaningful demands on standards. We even learnt a few essential Arabic phrases and studied some Arabic text, with the help of a knowledgeable parent! It was important not to forget the company’s everyday duties, so phone calls were made to customers to explain why we couldn’t make our deliveries. This compelled the children to consider the ethical priorities of the company.

Over the next two days we undertook the journey though drama, drawing and writing. Each child had a ¨travel journal’, which provided a context for written reports and graphic representations of the drive. As we travelled through different countries, terrains and climates, we considered the needs of the animals and lorries. The children solved a wide range of practical problems en route. The ¨travelling’ was an ideal opportunity for exploring geographical and cultural differences. Eventually we arrived at the zoo in Iraq. The teaching assistant adopted the role of the zookeeper and showed us to the lion. In a powerful drama session, children expressed the lion’s feelings and considered how best to transfer him to the lorry. Once this had been enacted, each team took responsibility for moving their animal into their lorry. Mission accomplished!

Once back at Treetop Transport headquarters, we reflected on the journey. Each child though of a time when they had worked together with someone else to complete a task that would have been impossible on their own. They illustrated this occasion through a dramatic freeze-frame, and then wrote about the chosen incident. We also checked our office and sorted out all the outstanding emails, faxes and phone messages! The class exuded a sense of achievement, having successfully carried out a task that meant a lot to each and every one of them.

A couple of weeks later I fulfilled a dream to travel to Norway to see killer whales swimming in the wild. When I returned, the children were greatly interested in my adventure, and soon became engrossed in the whole subject of whales. We started reading stories about whales, doing both fiction and non-fiction writing about them and finding out a great deal about the various types of whales. One boy said, Ûnow we’re learning about whales, I like learning about everything.« Realising how important whales were becoming to the children, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to rekindle the work of Treetop Transport .

One morning they received a note saying ¨URGENT. There is a humpback whale beached on our beach in Cornwall. It must get back into the water quickly! Can you help?’ As soon as they read the note, the children stepped automatically into their roles as employees of Treetop Transport , and were desperate to help. As speed was of the essence, they set about making plans immediately. Each child was assumed to be an expert both on whales and on transporting large animals, and they soon set about supplementing their existing knowledge of humpback whales with additional research. This knowledge, combined with problem solving skills, enabled the children to produce detailed and well-conceived plans for moving the whale into the sea. Each plan was presented to the class at an emergency meeting, where we considered the pros and cons of each solution. At the end of the meeting a vote was held and then we were ready for our next rescue adventure!

We set off on our journey, arriving in Cornwall with a sense of urgency and excitement. Having measured out the dimensions of a humpback in the school hall, we were able to stand round the whale. During the drama session for the actual rescue the children showed a great deal of empathy and an ability to use their knowledge to help them solve practical problems that matter to them. The whale was set free, and once again the children showed pride in their achievement. Once back in our office, the children wrote from the whale’s perspective what it was like to be freed. The results were moving and strikingly mature:

¨ I am free! Oh hurray! It’s great to feel the water stroking my body! Oh look there are my friends! Children you’ve grown so big! Oh it’s good to be home’ Ella, Y1

I’m going to swim my fastest to see if my children have grown. I feel great to be free. I can’t wait until I get a gulp of krill. I can’t wait until I feel the cold wavy sea touching my dorsal fin in the light of the moon.’ Adam, Y2

The class then received a letter from the Editor of the Cornish Times . He wanted some first-hand reports on the rescue of the humpback whale from the people who knew the most about it. This new stimulus provided many varied writing opportunities, which the children saw as relevant and exciting. A flexible approach enabled them to choose which article they wanted to write and work in the appropriate team. Over the next few days they produced high quality writing in a range of genres, for example a report of the rescue, a description of Treetop Transport and instructions on what to do if you find a stranded whale. At times the Editor intervened with demands, enabling me to focus on specific writing objectives.

After a while the children received an email from a fictional Norwegian, who gave reports on a sighting of our whale. This gave children a reason and desire to learn about the migration of whales. He also reported having seen hunters, leading to debate on whaling. By now the children instinctively took on the role of expert animal rescuers, and wrote letters against whale hunting. Following these developments, the Editor of the Cornish Times contacted us again for further articles. They wrote reports, descriptions, and even a whale quiz for the newspaper readers.

The newspaper