Time travel fiction and creative learning

Sarah Holding
Opinion - Children 05 February 2015

Sarah Holding explains the thinking behind the teaching packs she has produced to support her SF children's trilogy.

I'm a firm believer in a creative, proactive, joined-up approach to life. Perhaps it stems from my previous job as an architect, which made me very aware that while creativity and joined-up thinking are difficult, they are also the most rewarding. So, as a relatively new children's author who's been running a lot of workshops in schools lately, I can't help noticing a worrying absence of this kind of approach in today's classroom.

Outside school, children invent their own process of discovery, and as a mother of three, I've noticed when they come up against a problem, they don't divide it up into discipline-based tasks - they learn by trying things out and, most importantly, by making mistakes, which I remember doing a lot when I was growing up.

Not surprisingly then, in SeaBEAN my characters engage proactively with their surroundings and instinctively grasp the creative potential of the C-Bean, the time travel device at the heart of the story. When Alice first finds the strange black C-Bean on the beach on her island, she has no idea what it is. It's only when she gets inside it and finds herself stranded out in the bay, knee-deep in seawater, that she realises something she said or did made it move. Gradually Alice learns how to control this futuristic technology and, in so doing, lands up in all kinds of trouble, whether in the past, the present or the future. She has no choice but to figure out how to harness the C-Bean's unique capabilities in order to escape, learning a lot about the world in the process.

It's perfectly true that writing fiction is a kind of vicarious wish fulfillment; I would dearly like to have had the kinds of adventures Alice and her five friends experience! But I also sympathise with today's teachers, who, faced with 30 pupils in a class and lacking a time travel device, find it impossible to simulate this kind of free-range learning and would rather not risk failure. Consequently, schools tend to manage risk out of the classroom, which nevertheless leaves me wondering if that's ultimately right, given the challenging global conditions our children will inherit.

So what's the alternative? I was the kind of child who easily lost interest in a topic if I was not allowed to be investigative enough or if the challenge didn't captivate me, and, looking back, I would have responded better to what people now call topic-based teaching. That's why I've been putting together a cross curriculum teaching pack for KS2 and KS3 children in the 8-12 age bracket which focuses in particular on the sorts of issues encountered in the SeaBEAN trilogy. It's an exciting and stimulating scenario-based programme that foregrounds initiative, where children work in teams on hypothetical time-travel challenges using weird and wonderful combinations of maths, literacy, ICT, geography, history, music, art, science and design. They set their own methods of enquiry, then record and report back as they see fit. Success is not defined as completing the task in the terms set, it's being able to stand back and say honestly what you've learned.

Obviously it's not quite rocket science, but the results to date show that a science fiction novel - especially one like SeaBEAN with a colour-changing cover - can really fire pupils up and produce explosive results. By combining truth and fantasy, objectivity and subjectivity, creation and evaluation, children access new thinking that's completely outside the box - even a box like a C-Bean!

SeaRISE is the third book in the SeaBEAN trilogy by Sarah Holding, and is available from www.medinapublishing.com.

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