Envisioning a better Farnham at Heath End school

heath end school logoEvery day last week, Chris Secker and Alex Scrivens delivered a series of lessons to pupils at Heath End school. They delivered six lessons in total.

The lessons highlighted how the different organisms in an ecosystem rely on each other, and they then showed how the same links run through our human communities. Finally they encouraged the children to use this knowledge to create envision of how Farnham could be made better in the future.

There are more details below, and the lesson plans are now being used as input for a series of lessons to be shared across the whole Transition Network in the UK. Congratulations to Alex and Chris, and thanks to Jane from Heath End for helping and really useful input.

The Lesson Plan

We started the lesson with the Web of Life game, which highlights how organisms in ecosystems rely on each other, and how vulnerable the web if damaged. The children thought of British wildlife, wrote a creature or plant name on a lapel sticker  and became  various living things, and, standing in a circle around Chris or myself, they  passed a stringline to anyone or anything that they eat or are eaten by.

Very quickly, most children found something predatory about themselves and their classmates, and found themselves attached to a massive interconnected web.

Then we killed something off, Bees, for example, and the children released the string-lines as and when they were affected by a weak link in the web. The web collapsed quickly, leaving humans alone and hungry. We explained to the group that this was an eco-community and it had to be maintained well; the sun, soil, rain and the ecosystem itself were the drivers, the children soon realised.

Looking at Farnham as an example, the children identified the key components of this human community, the schools, hospitals, shops, homes and services as well as the parks, river and forests.

They then identified the human ecosytem drivers…food, money, energy, people, nature and we then explained how each of these drivers were under threat. We told them that we could spend more time discussing  each of these important issues, but for our lesson, we were focusing on oil.

Using pieces of the Weydon program, we explained to them about the uses of oil, and how it even finds it’s way into bananas, (via the shipping) and explained to them very briefly about population growth, resource demand and oil depletion.

We gave them a positive taster of things to come, and then asked them to envision a future Farnham, where they had to take account of the things they had learnt, but primarily to respect the needs of other living things around them.

The results will be with us at the next meeting.

Some pointers

It was fun working together, and we learned a key lesson about creating a teaching team.

A buddy system for teaching is a valuable method, as it exposes the teaching team to some form of critical peer review; allowing the lesson to be critiqued enabled us to shift and adapt the lesson,  as we learnt from unforeseen weaknesses we had presented in our original lesson plan.


The outcome of the lessons were  interesting and I thought I’d share the main things that we learnt together with the children:

– Eco-systems have a number of driving factors that keep them running, if they are damaged, the knock on effect is overwhelming, but in our web of life game, humans seemed to stand to the last alongside rats, dogs, foxes and sea life, although most other systems had failed. Not much of a world though.

– Human communities, we learnt with the kids, rely on energy, food, people, ecosystems and money to function.

– Energy depletion is one of the factors that poses a threat to humanity, but it’s not the only one, and certainly not the worse..wholesale ecosystem damage would appear  the most threatening, followed by population factors such as epidemics. Obviously, the entire system as a “general system” doesn’t differentiate between our definitions of driving forces as such, but children still have a “compartmental” education so it makes sense to break things down.

It resolves after six lessons  that the urgency for us to communicate to children is for sustainable living practice, and in order of urgency we find that we  need….

– utter respect for natural living systems, (children by and large had poor knowledge of the animals and plants around them, and took enormous prompting to name British wildlife on their stickers.)

– less reliance on imported food, (although many had veg growing families.)

– more learning about healthy living, eating  and disease resistance, (not cure),

– good community, creating good places to live,  (skate-parks seemed ubiquitous in their visions of future Farnham)

– respect for money and resources

– awareness that oil is in reducing supply and that changes will come, although we’re not sure how much they’ll buy into this until they see and feel it themselves.

– heightened awareness that most of the above is missing and ignored  in the way we’re living.

– to tell children that Tesco’s will not solve all the world problems. I told the children  that the British food reserve is currently 3 days and that left a few mouths hanging.

I’ll be forwarding this on to the transition  education team with a copy of the lesson plan, and hopefully we’ll get some feedback for the next lessons
we organise.

Also, it’s worth noting that lessons must be  booked *terms* in advance.

Thanks to  Chris for an illuminating week, and I look forward to working
with him again on the next program as and when it arises.

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