More Scholarly Pursuits

Being a scholar at Eversfield is an enormous amount of fun. If you happen to walk past the Denney shortly after eleven o’clock on a Thursday morning, you can be sure to hear peals of laughter ringing out as the scholars get to grips with their latest challenge. These challenges, designed to encourage independent and out-of-the-box thinking, might sometimes have a mathematical or a literary slant, and they range from plain, no nonsense challenging to completely absurd. Sometimes there is more hilarity than even Miss Freeman can cope with; about which, more later! There are now twelve members of the Scholarship Group. Five children from Form 3 joined in September and, at Christmas, George joined up from Form 4.

The mathematical challenges this year have certainly got the children thinking. Miss Freeman has had to do her homework in advance because she knows that, if there is a sequence to be discovered or a pattern to be explained, the scholars will find it. In the activity called Hamster Chute, the British team were taking part in the World Hamster Parachuting Competition. These sporting hamsters, which I am given to understand were not harmed in any way, parachuted down from an aeroplane to land on a pontoon marked out like an archery target. The aim was to land as close to the centre of the pontoon as possible in order to accrue a high score with their three jumps. Working systematically, the scholars’ job was to calculate the full range of possible scores. So good were they at this that Miss Freeman had to devise a new pontoon, marked out with the numbers 13, 21, 34 and 55. She thought these numbers were interesting and wondered if there was a link between them. Impressively, Shriyaa very quickly explained the connection between the numbers and used her knowledge to predict the next number in the sequence, which was 89. Can you see how she worked it out?

Perhaps the best task ever was the symmetrical challenge. It sounded quite mundane – make a list of as many symmetrical things as possible – but what made it special was the way in which individual children instinctively played to their own particular strengths. Lksh, for instance, specialised in world flags. Others opted to look at letters. Within minutes, symmetrical words were being generated all around the classroom, including some that are only symmetrical when written vertically. There were also some symmetrical calculations.

On a more literary theme, the scholars explored how some words work quite differently depending on the context. Take, for instance, the word spring. It can be a season, a movement or part of a watch. Making an educated guess at the meaning of certain idiomatic phrases proved to be very tricky, but it was fun to use the iPads afterwards to check the real meaning. Everyone learnt a lot, including Miss Freeman, who was completely unaware that the phrase ‘jump on the bandwagon’ has its origins in the Deep South of the United States, where political and religious leaders would attach themselves to popular groups of musicians in order to further their own ends. On another occasion, the children dreamed up lots of creative ways to make spelling fun. Miss Freeman emailed their ideas to the other teachers, who were very grateful for the suggestions.

Recently, the scholars attempted an inference challenge. They were given pictures of five very different types of footwear and were asked to suggest to whom they might belong. In fact, the task ended up going way beyond inference, as the children considered the assumptions they had made about male and female footwear, young and old styles, and were encouraged to question them.

The scholars have also staged a mini debate on the controversial proposal that ‘Children should not travel to school by car.’ Speakers were found for both sides of the argument, and the classroom was set up like the House of Commons, with a row of seats on each side. Miss Freeman was Miss Speaker, calling ‘Order! Order!’ when the debate became too lively, and she was very impressed with the children’s depth of thought about the subject and the way in which they listened to each other.

Once in a while, it is good to use an image as a stimulus, and last term the scholars looked at a painting by Uccello entitled The Battle of San Romano, which can be seen in London’s National Gallery. The key idea here was to observe closely in order to unpick what the painting was all about, and then to use it as a springboard for constructing a story. It was fascinating to note how different characters amongst the group took the story in completely opposing directions.

Last but not least, occasionally the scholars like to do something completely crazy. They had to interview a football. Mr Sliney sent Miss Freeman a nice, clean football ready to answer questions. The interviewers could choose whether to pose questions as though recruiting the football for a job at Eversfield, or to imagine that the football was so famous it was being interviewed on a chat show. As an alternative, they could choose to stage a police interview, imagining that the football had committed a crime. Alexander in particular threw himself in the role of a football with gusto, as did Aidan, a crime suspect football, who never once cracked under the interrogation of several interviewers.

Variety is what makes the Scholarship Group so much fun for the children and so rewarding for Miss Freeman. You never know what is going to happen next. Who would have thought that an activity called I’m a Potato could have become so iconic that a repeat performance is being begged for on a weekly, if not a daily basis? It seemed that saying I’m a Potato in completely different ways – miserable, surprised, frightened, suspicious etc. – with the appropriate body language, was the funniest thing ever. Miss Freeman is still recovering from that lesson, but she has promised to dream up something similar for the scholars in one of the upcoming sessions.