Learnpad, Observations

No children were harmed in the teaching of this lesson…

Who would have thought that a blog I wrote in excitement, in all innocence and enthusiasm turned out to be a little bit controversial?

Imagine my surprise when, on checking my phone one lunchtime, I found a string of Twitter notifications discussing whether my actions during our work on aliens were ethical.  Sadly, by the time I read them, the brief debate was over, but the conversation can be found here.

I didn’t have the opportunity to defend my actions, so I am going to do so here.  For those who haven’t seen the tweet from Andrew Old, he was asking why I felt it necessary to lie to my children about aliens being seen on the school playground.  A fair point, and I completely respect his views on this.  And, if it’s any consolation, I did weigh up the pros and cons of whether I should tell my children that aliens have invaded or not.  But, I know my children well.  I know that they were mature enough (being Year 4) to deal with the excitement, for the vast majority of them to work out during the course of the day that this was a hoax, and to accept the reasons why I lied when I came clean and told them the truth.  For me, the benefits of the day far outweighed the naughtiness of bending the truth:

  • Every child, every single child, was engaged, enthused and excited throughout the whole day;
  • They were motivated and wrote brilliant letters to their parents, warning them of imminent invasions (some of the parents came to see me to say how impressed they were with the letters when they were sent home);
  • It was an amazing launchpad for our week of animation work;
  • The children produced animations which they were incredibly proud of;
  • It was clearly an experience that the children will never forget.

We made sure to tell the children not to discuss what we had been talking about on the playground with other children – no, we didn’t tell them to lie to anyone, but they don’t normally go out at break time and discuss their literacy with their brothers and sisters, so we just said to make sure they did the same with our alien work.  Any children who were a little unsure (and there were only 2 in a year group of 60) were brought “in on the act” from the beginning, and so helped to engage their peers. They were all told at the end of the day that aliens hadn’t been seen, and they were fascinated to know how the invasion footage was made.  Many even went home and filmed their own.

So was I wrong to lie to them? Maybe I was.  But how many other teachers have done the same?  When I was on my teaching practise many years ago, we were fortunate enough to have a small wood at the end of the field where we would take the children on a bear hunt – they had been led to believe that bears had been sighted there.  My 6 year old son comes home from school having received letters and phone calls from various fairy tale characters.  Apparently his teachers’ mobile phones have contact details for Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Jack (minus his beanstalk) and various wolves and bears.  MNQTH often used to dress up in random fairy tale character costumes and hide in the woods for his children to track him down (admittedly, in black and white, that really doesn’t sound good, but it was all legal and above board, I promise).  All of these are examples where teachers deliberately mislead their children.  We do it all the time.  My children, being that bit older, would have laughed at Little Red Riding Hood being sighted in the school, so I opted for something a little more grown up.  Does that make it wrong? I don’t know, I guess that depends on your moral viewpoint.  But from my point of view, I think it was worthwhile.  I think children need opportunities to explore and to be creative, and that’s not always possible when things are based in reality.  The feedback I got from parents has been fantastic, and what’s more, I received no complaints from either children or parents.

Would I do it again? Without a shadow of a doubt.  Provided, or course, the children were right for it.


8 thoughts on “No children were harmed in the teaching of this lesson…

  1. We have had a whole school alien invasion which was fantastic and produced some brilliant writing. In Year 2, we had a dragon egg appear in our wildlife area and we became dragon hunters. Parents told me how engaged the children were. Again amazing writing. We wrote dragon descriptions and instructions how to trap a dragon, along lines of Pie Corbett. we wrote letters and newspaper reports for the National Dragonology Department! Writing for a purpose!
    Keep up the amazing work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this approach should only be used for infant children. My experience is that, while many older children will ‘enjoy’ and have ‘fun’, there will be many who will have less respect for the teacher as a result. I think older children are under no illusions as to whether something is fake, and they then internalise the message that the teacher might be a bit stupid, or feel miffed that someone thought they were too stupid to see that the ‘alien landing’ was a complete hoax. Children don’t like to hurt teachers’ feelings so they tend not to say these things to the teachers, instead telling the teacher that they enjoyed it all etc.

    I also have a big problem with this style of teaching being used for the teaching of science/geology. Science should be about evidence and facts. Last time I checked, the possibility of aliens existing was a big fat zero.

    I feel quite curmudgeonly saying all this because, as you said, the children in your class enjoyed the experience. Tell me, how did it affect the lessons afterwards? Even if this style of teaching works, what happens to attitudes and behaviours during the inevitable ‘dry’ lesson that follows? I feel that one of the reasons children in this country do so poorly in maths is because they develop an attitude that lessons should always be fun and entertaining, and receive tacit permission to disengage during those lessons where they are required to just knuckle down and concentrate purely because it is the right thing to do.


    1. Why does a following lesson need to be “dry”? Of course not every lesson needs to be all “bells and whistles,” but that doesn’t mean that every day lessons need to be boring. Even the simplest of lessons can still be enjoyable with enthusiasm from the teacher. I do agree with you about science based subjects being fact based; I think children would easily be confused by misleading lessons. However, there was no scientific content in this lesson, and the children were left in no illusion as to whether we were actually discussing the possibility of alien existence.
      I completely disagree with your point about older children thinking they teacher “stupid” for having lessons like this. These children were year 4, and I have done similar with children up to year 6. If anything, I would say they have respect for the effort that is involved in setting it all up and intrigue for the technology involved. As far as my children have been concerned, I could see nothing detrimental to their learning. Perhaps I have been lucky. Or maybe I just have experienced appreciative children.


      1. I think you might have misinterpreted. Admittedly, I have used quite harsh language. I didn’t mean ‘boring’ and I’m surprised that you immediately interpreted ‘dry’ in that why. What I meant was those traditional lessons where the teacher teaches and the children practise. Nobody said anything about a teacher not being enthusiastic (again, a classic response and you are not alone in jumping to this conclusion; the assumption that lots of teachers out there don’t care).

        May I ask, what was the learning objective for the day?


      2. Apologies if I have misinterpreted… I read your comment when I woke up this morning through bleary eyes!!!
        We only did the alien investigation for the morning, and in our plan it was only for one lesson but we ran with it for longer as the children were so into their writing. The LO was actually planning and organising paragraphs around a theme, which is what they were doing in writing their letters to their parents- something that many of the children weren’t great at. I know some would think that it was a lot of effort to go to for such a small amount of time, but in actual fact, it took no longer to set up than a more conventional lesson. We went on in the week to write descriptions where we were focusing on expanded noun phrases, prepositional phrases etc and non-chron reports which used non-fiction organisational devices- I suppose lessons which could potentially be described as “dry”. However, even without the fireworks of investigating evidence on the playground or receiving phone calls from the PM, and having been told that none of it was true, lots of really good work was produced by the children.

        Liked by 1 person

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