Thinking about death with secondary students, and imagining flying homes with primary pupils

This week’s primary enrichment activity asks pupils to imagine living in flying houses and to consider the social consequences of populating the skies.

This week’s secondary enrichment activity looks at how we manage death and bereavement and asks pupils to consider whether a less sombre approach to funerals is a good or bad thing.

***Primary Enrichment***

KS2: Design and technology

During key stage 2 pupils work on their own and as part of a team on a range of designing and making activities. They think about what products are used for and the needs of the people who use them.

Living in the sky

With house prices falling in most areas and the cost of mortgages rising all the time, news from the European Space Agency may offer an answer to the problems of home ownership. One idea being discussed by the European Space Agency, for application and development in the future, is a space mission to put a balloon on one of the moons of Saturn, namely Titan. The mission, named ‘Tandem’, would explore two moons of Saturn, Titan and Enceladus. The proposal is for two spacecraft to deliver three probes to Titan and a balloon which would carry research instruments. On Earth airships are currently mainly used to advertise services or products. They can also be used as a ‘floating camera’ at sporting and other occasions. They could, of course, be used as floating homes with the ‘house’ attached underneath or even within the framework of the airship itself. One consequence of this would be that, rather like a houseboat or mobile home, one could take one’s home to a new area, avoiding the trouble of buying and selling houses and all the associated worry of financing the move.

Some questions for your pupils to consider and discuss:

  • Ask children to discuss the design for a flying home.
  • What things would they need to take into consideration in terms of comfort, practicality and external conditions such as the weather and the presence of other sky homes?
  • How would they like to live in the clouds?
  • What would the effect be on their lives of not being earthbound?
  • If everyone either lived on or under water or in the air, what changes would take place to the land that is presently used for living space?
  • How would people’s social lives change if we all lived in flying houses?
  • Would new social codes of behaviour be required for balloon communities?


Living under a balloon

Going further

In 2003, Professor Dial and his colleagues published a paper that showed how birds use their wings when running up steep inclines.

Birds don’t just use their wings when they fly or just their legs to run on the flat; in fact, they recruit both wings and legs for them to scale steep inclines, whether it be a boulder, a tree or a cliff.’

(‘Wing-Assisted Incline Running and the Evolution of Flight’ Science: 17 January 2003) Although hatchlings have small wings and are unable to fly, the research showed that when the hatchlings did run up steep inclines, they flapped their wings at the same angle as older flight-able birds do to help take flight. If you have access to a hill, it would be interesting to ask children to design a range of fixed wing designs to strap to their arms. These could be made from plastic sheeting on cane or willow frameworks. They could also be made from large cardboard sheets such as flattened cardboard boxes. Those living in flying houses will need to develop short-hop winged vehicles or something similar to transport them to and from the flying houses. Ask your children to research the best wing shape and angle of wing for gaining lift when running up a hill. They will need to measure rates of flapping as well as energy use or how tiring different designs are to flap. They could also research which wing designs are best for running or glide-running down hills.

Read the full story ‘Europe floats future space ideas’

Read about airships

Read the full story of the ‘secrets of bird flight revealed’

Read about flying houses

Learning and teaching Scotland

Introduction to 5-14 Technology Technology education is a distinct form of creative activity in which human beings interact with their environment − be it natural or built − in order to bring about change.

International Baccalaureate

Primary Years Programme. Curriculum framework: How the world works

***Secondary Enrichment***

KS4: Citizenship: Developing skills of enquiry and communication

Students should be taught to:

  • research a topical political, spiritual, moral, social or cultural issue, problem or event by analysing information from different sources, including ICT-based sources, showing an awareness of the use and abuse of statistics
  • express, justify and defend orally and in writing a personal opinion about such issues, problems or events
  • contribute to group and exploratory class discussions, and take part in formal debates.

Coffins and crying

Grief is one of the most difficult human experiences to cope with. Little can prepare a person for the emotional pain and turmoil experienced at the death and loss of an individual we love or feel a deep affection for. Coffins and caskets, the containers traditionally used for the containment of a dead body, do little to help people cope with bereavement. It is true that the traditional design lends a dignity to the occasion of a funeral, but for an increasing number of people it is not the preferred option. Mary Tomes, a 62-year-old grandmother, runs Colourful Coffins in Oxford, which prints individual designs to decorate caskets.

‘We’ve had the last of the Dambusters, who had a plaque on the top with bouncing bombs, the white cliffs of Dover and Lancaster bombers. And we had an ice cream van man, who had ice cream cones on his. He had the van leading the parade and they all stood round the grave eating Magnums,’ Mrs Tomes reportedly told the BBC.

Other designs have been made in a person’s favourite football team colours, and one casket was designed as a Kit Kat bar.

Some questions for your pupils to consider and discuss:

  • How should we manage death in the 21st century?
  • Is the ‘individualising’ of funerals a trend to be resisted or welcomed?

Without trivialising a serious subject, if they had been available at the time, what type of personalised coffin do you imagine would have been chosen by:

Henry VIII

Charles Dickens

Thomas Alva Edison

Edith Piaf

Alexander Graham Bell


Thinking about death

Going further

For doctors and others who have to manage the care of people who are dying, the usual behaviour is to not reveal any emotion. In the words of Dr Cody, doctors should try ‘to understand, to sympathize, to empathize and to reassure.’ He says his job ‘is not to be emotional and/or cry with my patients.’ (New York Times 22 April 2008) Invite a group of students to present the case for why they think this should be so and why a ‘professional’ stance needs to be adopted at all times. Invite another group to present the view that a demonstration of emotion is probably a good thing for both the medical professional and the patient. This debate should result in some interesting discussions concerning medical ethics, stress management and how society wishes individuals to be treated.

Read more on this debate ‘At Bedside, Stay Stoic or Display Emotions?’

Learning and teaching Scotland

The Scottish approach to education for citizenship differs from others areas of the United Kingdom, because it has not introduced a new subject or curricular area called ‘Citizenship’. Instead, it is expected that all subjects will make their relevance to education for citizenship explicit, and that the purposes and issues associated with citizenship will be developed through whole-school and cross-curricular activities. Raising awareness of important citizenship issues facing communities now and in the future is an important part of education for citizenship. These issues include: human rights, sustainable development, peace and conflict resolution, social equality and appreciation of diversity.

International Baccalaureate.

Diploma Programme curriculum: Individuals and society

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

About the author: John Senior is the author of Enrichment Activties for G&T Pupils. He is a teacher with 26 years’ experience of teaching Gifted and Talented children, working with parents and carers as a consultant on high ability, and peer mentoring.