A class of Year 9 English pupils from Ulverston Victoria High school have been using Darwin’s letters to find out more about his personality, the way he worked and who he worked with. Teacher Alison Smith began the study without a mention of Darwin, but encouraged her pupils to do some detective work. Using the date and content of selected letters, pupils had to deduce who was the recipient.
Pretty soon, Darwin was identified and they began to research some of the 2,000 people who corresponded with him. They studied how Darwin’s tone and style changed according to who he was writing to and the differences between personal and public writing. Pupils commented how the letters enabled them to find out so much more about him, beyond the big idea that he was associated with.
Groups of pupils then created their own lesson plans, including learning objectives, and delivered a lesson to their class based on selected letters. On the day that they agreed to be filmed the lesson addressed whether the Beagle voyage met Darwin’s expectations or not. Some very helpful debate followed.
In a follow- up interview with a group of pupils it was interesting to hear what they were surprised to learn about Darwin:
‘I kind of thought of him as old and grey I didn’t think he’d started to go on the journey when he was 22′
‘I was quite surprised to find that he was so sociable because you always think of scientists as quite isolated people who just study on their own, but I was surprised that he had so many contacts and that he shared all his ideas.’ See ‘It worked for me’ for more details.