By Ray Laurence
What happens when the son of a Professor of Roman History brings home his Key Stage 2 project on the Romans? First thing, wife of Professor reveals to school Zak’s dad is slipping in and out of the school without mentioning the fact he may know a little about the Romans. Next step, school arranges for him to face down Year 3 for one lesson and for him to wonder: what on earth to say – luckily son on hand to give forthright advice. After much thought, it is set-up – explain what it is like to be a Roman child aged 7. Of course, this is the first age at which girls could be betrothed to boys some 10 years older than them – visualised by the concept of the large teenagers the kids see going to the secondary school. Third thing – do the lesson – a real blast of questions, interruptions, and so on. Everybody is happy. Roman project gets done too via going to British Museum (A-Z of Roman Objects). Job done, but then I met the animators.
Andrew Park set up an animation company in Folkestone a few years ago called Cognitive. His story of how he ended up doing this is set out in this TED Talk. He has kids in primary school too and we talked about my research and explaining Roman childhood. This became an idea that was pitched to TED.Ed, who marry together ‘educators’ and ‘animators’ to produce short films with big ideas. Luckily they said yes and I wrote the script, recorded the script with the help of Cognitive and the drawing began. Every so often, I would get a phone call or email from Andrew with a question: ‘What would be in the side-street?’ Answer: ‘boxing’ – we know Augustus liked to watch it; and another question: ‘Is it ok to put a polar bear in the bath-house?’ Maps were sent to Cognitive, images of reconstructions and so on and at the end of October 2012 the film was released.
Job done – you would think, especially with a second film released in 2013. But, oh no – 3 years later we realised there were over 1000 comments on YouTube discussing all sorts of stuff: the position of the Subura, whether Roman statues were painted, a dose of misogyny, a touch of racial stereo-typing to racism, a little dislike of my voice, and the final comment that caused me to do something: ‘Islam invented arranged marriages’. I’m working on setting up the means to link the film to resources that explain key themes that are embedded in the film. Thus, if teachers are using the film for homework, pupils can have access to key texts, short passages, a quiz and discussions. However, to take this all a bit further – why not have homework based on the writing of an animation script? A kind teacher piloted this for me and next year I hope to run a script-writing competition. University of Kent has stumped up some prize money and over the summer I will have to get my act together to roll this out. Please get in touch by email, if you are a teacher who uses this animation for teaching – I’d like to hear your views and what you would like to have in terms of resources built around these films.