Planning a Mantle Together

24th September 2014


On October 13th and 14th, 2014 Jane Manzone – @heymisssmith – and I will be teaching in her class using mantle of the expert. During the intervening two weeks we will plan the context together using this webpage to record our work.

Theme: Space
Students: 30, Year 6



My Year 6 class currently have a Connected Curriculum topic entitled ‘Out of This World’. It is a Science based topic but I am linking most of my Literacy, my Art (Starry Sky Van Gogh) my Music (Holst) and some Humanities to this. We are reading a book called ‘The Portal’ by Andrew Norriss. My class have expressed an interest in the idea of intergalactic travel. Today a child asked me if there was life somewhere else in the universe.

Initial Ideas

Bearing all this in mind, I thought we could devise a Mantle around the idea of a space crew discovering a portal which took them to a far part of the galaxy and maybe to a fabled ‘counter earth’? I have also shared a book called ‘Mrs Moore in Space’ (by Patrick Moore’s mother) there are lots of aliens and a counter earth in that.

Ultimately I would like them to think about adaptations alien life may have evolved to suit particular climates or terrains. Also I want to do a DT project at some point this term where they make an alien and a landscape. It would be good to get lunar and solar orbits and some Maths into the mantle somehow. Really I am sure we could go anywhere with it. I haven’t done any history yet, and I would quite like to talk to them about how people used to view the universe when we thought the earth was flat…. the idea of progress. Could we time travel somehow?

What do you think?


Thanks Jane. I’ve bought the Andrew Norriss book and will read it over the weekend.

As you know the ‘mantle’ represents the responsibilities and power the experts have in the fictional context. So, we will need to decide at some point on the three mantle aspects of the fictional frame:
– The expert team (the team of professionals)
– The client (who they work for)
– The commission (the purpose of their work)

However, it is often worth thinking around a context and the curriculum first before making a decision on the specifics.

With that in mind I’d like to ask you a few questions, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have all the answers, some of these things can be decided by the students. At the moment we’re just thinking around the context about the ‘givens’ and the ‘negotiables’.

– Do you want the creatures on the fictional world to parallel earth and, if so, to what extent?
– Or, do you want the fictional world to be alien?
– Or, perhaps you want an essentially human world but with alien interaction?
– Is the context set in the future or present day?
– Is the portal found or created?

Some thoughts

It probably makes sense to have the portal on the moon because of the curriculum you want the students to explore.
We might make your student’s question: Is there life elsewhere in the universe? the central inquiry question and the team’s commission.


Today I took my class across the road to the park where we measured out the Solar System. We only got as far as Saturn because we ran out of space in the park! The children now have a slight frame of reference for scale, but I still feel they need something extra to really ‘feel’ the enormity of space.

Upon return we completed a quiz, and although they remembered the order and sizes, I was surprised one child thought there was water on Mars. This made me think an investigation into what the chemical make up of the planets in our solar system, and why no life could be there might be the best starting point. We have written poems personifying Mars and Venus, so I’d like the children to investigate those two.

In the book there are many portals that take travellers to different ‘Federation’ worlds in the galaxy; it might be good to use that as a basis for our narrative. Maybe our second portal (after our moon) could be on one of Saturn’s moons? As we stopped there in the park today.We could continue the imaginary journey to the edge of the solar system until they find another portal to another system that mirrors ours but still in the Milky Way.

I think we need an essentially human world with alien interaction and maybe human like creatures on our counter earth. Should the children perhaps have to work out how to create a portal? One girl in my class is reading Northern Lights; I have mentioned to them all that in The Subtle Knife the characters have to do that.

Some other ideas for the commission I had, were: deciding what to take with them from earth, to create a new world, or, to report back on the new planets discovered through the portals to make a database.


Hi Jane, sorry its taken me a while to get back. This all sounds great. I love the portals idea, full of possibilities!

Have the children decided whether they make the portals, discover them, or are they made by someone else?

I like the idea of travelling through the portal to discover a world on the other side. It could be either the first time anyone has travelled through a portal or where portal travel is routine. Which do you think?

It might be worth taking a look at the tensions list and thinking about where the different tensions could arise. The obvious ones are – the herculean task, dangers known in advance, and uncontrollable threats. But some of the others might also come into play, such as Level 12 loss of faith in companions.

Have you given any thought to the ‘expert’ elements?
– The expert team
– The client
– The commission

Reading through you notes I might suggest:
– A team of space explorers (maybe like the early Star Treckers)?
– A big earth based organisation, like NASA?
– To explore the new world and bring back information (possibly without revealing their identity or disturbing the historical development of the world)?

This would bring in the curriculum we discussed above about the chemical make up of the planets and conditions for life. We could use the poems as part of the team’s history. There is a LOT we could do here, exploring events from the past – failed missions, contact with alien life, times when things went badly wrong (but somehow we survived)! Would create masses of reasons for writing – reports, diary entries, logs, messages home, newspaper reports etc.

After the curriculum, the expert framing elements, and tensions, the next planning elements are:
– Points of view
– Team activities and tasks
– Narrative events

Let me know what you think.


Hi Tim,

Thanks for this.

Since I last wrote about this my class have been busy inventing aliens and describing them in non chronological report. They are now inventing and describing a planet. They really enjoyed the Literacy Shed adaptation of the Avatar trailer, and have been inspired to write very detailed and imaginative descriptions. This makes me think they will do well as space explorers and will bring lots of ideas to the mantle.

We have begun looking at animal adaptations in Science in order to think about how aliens might also be adapted to unusual climates or terrains; this might be useful expert knowledge.

They are very interested in the character of Uncle Larry in The Portal, and all suspect him of some sort of shady dealing. I think if they travelled through a portal they would like a mystery to solve.

Saying that, I also think they might like to imagine the aliens were also a hazard.

I think they should be tasked to either find out lots of information to bring back, or maybe rescue some people who have become stranded on the planet, who might be surviving there?



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