We were asked this question on twitter: As a teacher what is the most interesting thing the kids have learned so far?
And it seems to us that that question requires an answer in more than 280 characters. Not least because we suspect that what we think is interesting, or indeed, what we think they’ve learned, may be very different from what they think.
For us, the first thing that springs to mind that we now know they’ve learned is: the capitals of some, if not all, of the countries we’ve been to. We were a little horrified when we arrived here, from Vienna, to find that two at least of them didn’t know what the capital of Austria was. Or even that we had been in Austria. Is that the one with the kangaroos?
After some fairly intense coaching (what else is lockdown for?) we have, we think, resolved that problem, and are now confident that they do know more about Brussels than that it was where we ate mussels, or about Berlin than that the wifi was rubbish.
But are capitals and names of countries interesting? Those are facts; complete in and of themselves. They provoke no further thoughts or questions. Are they actually what we were being asked about?
We asked the children what they thought. (We made them write it down and called it “academic time”). Here, spelling mistakes and all, are their answers:
Aurora: a) There is more food than pasta balinase and choclate b) You should enjoy the experetis through your eyes not your phone
Sophie: I’ve found the world war 2 things really interesting.
Magnus: Prater because its a massive funfair.
Lucy: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony’s motif is based on a birdsong.
Those answers are, in their own way, interesting, but we then had to ask, what does “interesting” actually mean? Is it something that gets you thinking after you have experienced it, or learned about it, or is it the experience itself? Does it need to be tangible, or is it more likely to be an idea or a concept?
We asked Lucy what she would pick as an engaging subject to teach when she returned to school: her first answer was “waffles, because my class like food”, which does at least chime with Aurora’s answer above.
In practice once the conversation opened up – and perhaps because she wasn’t being asked a specific question – Lucy went on to make some insightful observations about lots of the places we have been. Talking about the Hergé museum and Tintin, she mentioned that the Blue Lotus was a turning point for Hergé, as it is the first well-researched book in the series. All the books are fully researched and grounded in reality after that: he even built a scale model of the moon rocket for Explorers on the Moon.
She also mentioned the drastic measures that people took to escape over the Berlin Wall, jumping from 3rd floor windows. She was struck too by how much money people spend on (admittedly very skilled) horses in Vienna. As a final thought she said how kind people have been throughout lockdown.
Sophie, when asked why she found certain things interesting talked about the techniques for graffiti, in particular the layering of the paint, then about the World Wars. She was struck in particular by how difficult it must have been to be Jewish during the Second World War, and the kindness and unkindness that that provoked in other people.
She had also noticed all the different ways people make money in the countries we passed through, such as selling at markets, or looking at wildlife. That led to talking about the laziness of the Oder Delta Sea eagles, how they loved to be fed, and how much Iwona, our host and guide, knew about different animals and plants.
Magnus was a rather less forthcoming – in Vienna, he told us, there was a thing in the street where you turned a handle and could make your own whirlpool in a tube.
For Aurora, food featured heavily in the conversation. She has, she said, realised that even if a dish doesn’t look very nice, that does not mean it is not good or tasty. This started in Brussels with mussels, but cooking and eating different things in each country was an eye-opener. Mushrooms, cheese (previously off-limits except parmesan), potatoes (yes really), “all the cakes” and the meatballs with cherries we cooked in Brussels were all really nice, and the supper at the Oder Delta, with soup, was delicious, as well as chimney cakes and a “bunch of other stuff“.
Aurora also found all the different languages interesting: “they are so annoying“; and had spotted that graffiti was cool and it is not just for “gangsters“.
But of course, while those were their replies today, we suspect we might have entirely different responses on another day. We might actually get a response from Magnus too.
What is interesting, they perhaps concluded, can be, and is, all sorts of things.
We may have to ask them again in a month.