Hans Perrson and the chirping chicken

About 10 years ago, I went to the Association of Science Educators annual conference with my colleague Majella Dempsey. (We were at the time working together as Development Officers with the Science Support Service. One of the topics we were focussing on was electricity – how to evolve the teaching of this concept, and deepen the understanding of both students and teachers. We’d settled on a model devised by the School of Education at York University, The Big Circuit, bundled with some pre- and post- diagnostic questions.) When the ASE programme showed a workshop on electricity, off we went. Good move. Move of a lifetime, to be honest!

The workshop was being given by a Swede called Hans Perrson. To my shame it has taken me way too long a time to check out his details and learn more. He needs to be as well known as his compatriot, the late Hans Rosling. (What is it with Swedes called Hans who are amazing at explaining complicated concepts in simple ways? Up with this sort of thing, I say).

Hans Perrson is a gifted teacher. Being in the room with him just that once is still sharp in my memory. He ran us through a ‘human circuit’ method of engaging students in thinking about conduction in a circuit. His golden idea was to use a small chirpy chicken toy as the focus. Everyone in the room was charmed. When the workshop was over, we all got a yellow fluffy chirping chicken to take away.

It has become one of my favourite teaching aids. I have used it a lot in a lesson that has been named “chicken and chips”. It is a starter activity for both physics and computer science lessons, and at coderdojo camp. (We even made the wall of honour at the Scratch Conference in Amsterdam 2015.) Over the years with ideas suggested by colleagues and students I have added in coal, pencil graphite in ever decreasing layers (thanks Bianca Ní Ghrógáin), silicon (thanks Diarmuid O’Leary), water, thermo-sensitive pawpid-img_20150815_120247.jpgper (thanks Majella Dempsey), and diodes (thanks Michelle Rogan) to the circuit trials. I have yet to find one human who has not been intrigued and charmed by the exercise, or a student too young or too experienced to learn in this fashion. And even tough the talk is of conductors and semiconductors, the most frequent question asked is “where did you get the chicken?”. That’s when I always tell them about the fabulous Swedish teacher Hans Perrson. I hope his ears have burned each time!

So, ten years on, it is time to say thank you in public, Hans. Your idea of us all holding hands with the chirpy little Kycklingen has helped a lot of teachers and students with their understanding, and more importantly, made them smile. If anyone knows anyone who knows Hans, please pass this message along.

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