Lessons learned with our brand NEW school workshops

This year started with a bit of a bang for us as we launched straight into a primary school workshop tour of the Thames Valley as part of the Cultural Olympiad, Tree of Light project. In just 19 days we delivered 29 workshops to schools and community groups in Henley, Windsor, Slough and Reading.

The education programme is an important part of the local build-up activity for the Tree of Light performances as well as delivering a project legacy through learning. The choreographers for the shows are also running sessions with the groups involved and there are choir sessions, creative writing lessons and a foundation in the life of trees.

It was a great opportunity for us to develop and tweak our all new educational workshop which we designed so we could spend two and half hours with up to 30 students and really help them get to grips with pedal-power and the physics behind it.

Our friends at the local Hollydale Primary school allowed us to pilot our new format before we took it on the road, the teachers observed and gave us feedback, whilst we tested out our new demonstrations with the kids. This proved invaluable. It's strange to say, but despite all of our previous experience, we felt a bit nervous about delivering the new session because for the first time we'd made a concerted effort to aline our demonstrations with the curriculum. In the past we'd had a lot of fun just letting the kids run wild on the bikes but this time we'd raised the stakes; we wanted to make sure we left the session knowing we'd embedded some learning.

A few things that we learned along the way:

Every school is very different

This was really exciting, if not a little wearing, every day we would turn up somewhere new and we'd have to respond to a variety of things, like a change of venue or number of kids we'd be working with on the day. We were really impressed with the creative approach to the school environment, particularly at primary schools. We saw open plan classrooms, chickens pens, a herb garden and a solar system recreated with inflatable planets pegged to a washing line suspended across the room.

Our most memorable moment was turning up at Langley Academy only to be told that we would be running a session in a lecture theatre with an audience of one hundred year 7 students. In order for us to keep such a large number of students engaged for the session we picked 15 girls and 15 boys to battle against each other with our YouWatt Energy Challenge. We managed to rig our laptop up to a large stage screen so the whole audience could watch the watt score for each cyclist. The competition was tense and LOUD, our ears are only just recovering. Quite honestly the closest someone working with pedal power will ever get to feeling like a rock star on a stage.

Timing is crucial

It only took one small thing to cause a delay and then we found ourselves really up against the clock to get all our demonstrations covered in the session time. We aimed to cover: - a brief intro to Electric Pedals and our work (the inspiration bit) - a big FAT energy quiz where we got to gauge the audiences knowledge of physics, energy awareness and fossil fuels (to assess the level of understanding for the session) - a look at the inner workings of the dynamo motor and an introduction to electro-magnetic induction - a physical demonstration of the an electrical circuit (lots of bod-popping fun) - smoothie making all whilst powering up a record player - and finishing with the YouWatt energy challenge

Perhaps we should learn that 'less is more' instead!?

There's no such thing as a half day workshop

This is a really tough one for schools but by the time we've arrived, set-up, run the workshop, packed up and headed back to base, it's a full days work. We recognise this poses a bit of a cost issue because we have to charge a full day rate. However we're thinking in future our advice will be to partner with another (very) local school and share the costs for the day between them. If we can run a half day session from the same location, with another school visiting, then even better.

It would be good to hear people's thoughts on this and whether it could work.

It's not always easy to do the green thing

We made a big point about having reuseable plastic cups for our smoothie making demonstration but it took AGES to wash them all up between sessions!! It was annoying but it still felt better than throwing away tons of disposable cups at the end of the day.

We made a point of talking about reducing food miles as a way of saving energy during our big FAT energy quiz and used the fruit we'd sourced for our smoothie demo as a bad example. A lot of what we took into schools had been grown in Egypt and Morocco! But we explained that if we'd brought in seasonal produce from England they would all be drinking rhubarb and carrot smoothies.

The new generation are ready for the shaping

We were really pleasantly surprised by the variety of ways students understood that energy could be saved. Recycling, turning off the lights and not leaving appliances on standby were the most commonly suggested ways. They DO listen, we just need to start making these suggestions while they're young! In more than one school the kids suggested services where you could recycle your mobile phone and other electrical appliances.

It's heartwarming to know the next generation are already thinking like this, particularly in our current consumer climate which seems to revolve more and more around upgrade and disposal of old technology.

Age is just a number

We'd taken the time to design workshops for different age groups (primary and secondary) but as we toured around we started to realize that most of our pedal-powered demonstrations work for all ages. So we could stick loosely to same format. We just needed to moderate our language to communicate with pupils who had more or less technical and scientific understanding.

In future we're going to test out workshops geared to specific interests or subjects. For example, if the students are more technical we can get them building some of our kit. If they're particularly interested in green issues we can gear the session to sustainable energy and calculating ways they can make daily savings.

Teachers rock

They do. How do they do it every day??

It really was quite a huge undertaking with days that quite often kicked off with a 5.00am start to get from London to the schools in good time for setting up and ended at about 7.30pm, once we'd fought our way back through commuter traffic and washed up all of our smoothie making kit ready for the next day! But we really enjoyed the baptism by fire experience and looking back on it, feel really proud with what we achieved. We even have the surreal memory of Maggie Philbin pedaling furiously as part of our energy challenge live on BBC Radio Berkshire, which we will treasure forever (she managed to generate about 118 watts for the record).

We're hoping to package these workshops up and give them a bit more of a push over the next year. So if you're interested in seeing how they could work for you, please do get in touch.