Sunday, 22 October 2006

Marshmallows and Spaghetti – 12 October

Morning arrives far too soon. After breakfast, we head out into the gathering daylight, to take the tram to our first destination.

The cathedral rises beyond Place Kleber, shrouded in the early mist. It’s busier than I would have imagined this early, with people heading out for their work, and the tram – a modern, sleek and very clean machine – full of commuters. We are heading south of the city, to a secondary school– to deliver our first workshop; building towers from dry spaghetti and mini-marshmallows (see, I told you I’d tell you why Lucy’s luggage was full of them!).

What’s this to do with science? Well, it is a great way to teach the basic principles of engineering – strong shapes (triangles) versus weak (squares), material limitations (the marshmallows can only take so much!), task constraints (limited materials), and the need for precision (you need to make sure your spaghetti strands are broken to the same length, or suffer the consequences in terms of tower instability). Using simple materials makes it very accessible, and the sheer daftness of some of the ideas makes it a lot of fun. We have to explain this many times over the next few days, starting with the contact teacher at our first school.

Annette is the picture of calm, armed with maps and directions, and we alight from the tram on a wide street, tree-lined and cool. A brief consultation and we make our way to our destination. The sun is starting to break through as, at ten to nine, we arrive at the school gates, and the mist begins to clear.

It’s not quite what we were led to expect – we thought we were operating throughout in the International Schools, where most of the children speak English. Not so. Is this the time to explain that none of us is fluent in French? This school is in an Educational Priority Zone (ZEP) – which means a certain level of deprivation, and a certain level of - umm – how do you put it in this age of political correctness? – behavioural challenge. Apparently. In fact, we didn’t see it – the kids were great. Admittedly they looked at us as if we were mad to start with, but in this job you get used to that. They listened carefully, they grinned, and they set to with a will. And made some wonderful structures.

We had two classes at the secondary school, before heading back into town for lunch, (having had no dinner, by this time we were ravenous!) - and a date with the International School in the afternoon – three classes of primary level children, from five years up. Now, we haven’t done this with kids that young before, so it’s a challenge! We decide, for the youngest, to make triangles and squares, and take it from there – and they came up with some terrific constructions; the main problem was preventing them from eating the marshmallows, even though they had been on the floor by then. Fortunately, English is the main language here and we can explain in more detail why not! It was still an extremely sticky experience for all of us, and I hope the school cleaners will forgive us…

School finishes at 4.30 pm and we take our leave, heading back to the tram and to Place Broglie, where the Strasbourg Fête de la Science is taking place over the next three days. Two long tents in the middle of the market place, one for talks and one for stands; we discover that we have one small booth in which to do both workshops – building trees from paper without using tape or glue or staples, and building stags from whole sheets of newspaper and sticky tape – both aiming to make the tallest construction possible. It just ain’t possible in the allocated space (given that the nuclear physicists next door have nicked six inches of our space anyway!). One activity will have to go outside – which makes our original plan of two or three to do the activities at a time while the other takes a break rather unlikely. We are due to get a couple of students to help with translations, which is a blessing!

We set up as best we can, although it turns out that the projector provided to show the running slideshow (my job) doesn’t cope well with sunshine. By 7.30 pm we’ve done as much as we can, and head back to the hotel, to clean up and check on our luggage. Liz and Lucy’s has arrived – mine is still stranded in limbo somewhere….I go to wash out things for tomorrow.

We are recommended a place called ‘La Tête du Lard’ for dinner. To British ears this sounds a little off-putting, but it turns out to be excellent. We try the local speciality, ‘Tarte Flambée’ – like a very thin pizza with bacon and onions and – well, a selection of other things, such as cheese or mushrooms. Delicious! And an alcoholic ice-cream sort of dessert, and – because we obligingly moved halfway through to accommodate a large group – a complimentary glass of wine from the management!
Tomorrow we need to be back at the tent for 9.00 am, so head back to the hotel and bed.


mackie said...

wow - busy day. you must have been DEAD as soon as you hit the pillow.

the misty sun picture is so beautiful.

"the main problem was preventing them from eating the marshmallows, even though they had been on the floor by then."
so? we have a saying - "one can eat off my floor - one will always find SOMETHING."

Tats said...

Did anyone expect cooked spaghetti this time? Love that activity - educational fun at all ages, and a surprisingly good way to end a slightly drunken evening!

Poor you about the luggage - just as well you're not a 3 outfits a day kind of gal.

Sue D said...

Sounds like great stuff - love the way that some things just rise above language differences (clearly mashmallows and spaghetti fit into that category!).

Me being me I got most excited about the tarte flambee! I recall a restaurant where they just kept bring them, marking the number delivered on the paper tablecloth (on which we were also allowed to draw with coloured pencils...I was 7). Why do my memories most strongly recall food??

Tats - I think building with cooked spaghetti must surely be part of the advanced level syllabus! ;-)

mad said...

Well now, hark ye children - apparently you CAN build with cooked spaghetti - you let it dry, and it apparently becomes more structurally resiliant than the plain dry stuff! I have ideas about drying it in curves to see what can be done.....

Sue D said...

LOL! Mad I am looking forward to seeing your results! (and I thought I was mad building stuff with gingerbread!)

Anonymous said...

The building projects sound like such fun ans so clever! Our school has a mass produced spacial math related building system called Zoom Tools that is fun for the kids but certainly not as inventive and as creative as your marshmallow/spagetti creations. I love the endless possibilities with yours!

Those pizza thingies sound awesome.
Come on! Any restaraunt with the word "Lard" in it has to be exciting! LOL!


GfM said...

Ooooh, now I want to build a tower out of marshmallows and dry spaghetti! What a great idea, Mad :)
Tête du Lard sounds very yucky. Doesn't that mean Head of Fat? Did you eat any crème brûlée?
Btw, the links on the piccies all link to the same photo.

mad said...

AH - that'll be 'cos I did cut and paste after loading the first one!I'll go and sort it out.

I think it's 'Boar's Head - at least going by the menu cover.... and yes, we did have creme brulee, in the cafe on the third evening! Lucy and I succumbed to temptation and shared one - it was very good!