Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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11 Mar 2008

12 Tools for Transition: No. 6. Using visioning as a tool in peak oil education in schools – ‘Transition Tales’

hjHow might one introduce peak oil and the concept of Transition to young people? What follows is a collection of tools that were developed for working with students at King Edward VI Community College in Totnes, as part of the Transition Tales project. These were developed for working with Year 9 students, and we are presently developing an adaptation for Year 7, which I will let you know about in a couple of months. The tools set out below are still being developed but I hope you will find them useful.

Session 1:
The “What is peak oil?” session
Produce a large bag containing all kinds of household objects -– trainer shoes, hair gel, inner tubes, spoons, and so on – and ask the students what all these things have in common. Let the suggestions fly for a while until you have unpacked the whole bag, and then, if no-one has got it, tell them that they are all made of oil. Then whip out a litre bottle of oil, and make the point that a couple of tablespoons of it contain more energy than they could exert in a day, and that their lives require the equivalent of 50 people in their back garden pedalling frantically on bikes day and night. Then split them
into 5 groups, each group on a separate table with a different exercise on it. Move them round to another table every 15 minutes.

sdTable 1: The journey
Where does oil come from and what does peak oil mean in practice? What kind of state is the supply we depend on in? For this exercise, you’ll need a computer online, logged onto David Strahan’s Oil Depletion Map, and to have given each group a work sheet which asks them six questions they could only find out the answers to by roving around the map. This gives a good background and gets them thinking about what peak oil means and in particular how vulnerable the UK is becoming.

Table 2: War and oil
On this table, divide the group into two teams, and invite them to debate the motion, “the war in Iraq was caused by oil”. Cards with various reasons, such as ‘WMD’, ‘oil’, ‘democracy’ and so on can be arranged on the table, and the students invited to rank them in order of importance as they see them.

Table 3: What you can do with oil
On the table with the contents of your bag of oilmade items place a card reading: “Oil can be used to make a vast array of plastics, glues, paints, varnishes, medicines and other materials, most of which we take for granted in our lives. On this table are many of the things that we looked at earlier. Your task for the next ten minutes is to find at least one thing in this room that is not made using oil. If you can’t do that, try to think of something at home. You will need to think about all the elements and components of the objects you are thinking of.” Peculiarly, the group we did this with came up with three things, which were: “ourselves, hair, and the water in that jug”.

jkTable 4: How is oil used In Totnes?
On the table place a pile of copies of the local newspaper and some red marker pens, as well as some photocopies of copies of the same paper from the 1930s (some rummaging around in the local library or museum should provide these). In pairs, ask the students to go through the papers and circle any article which involves the use of oil, including adverts. Using the1940s cuttings offers an insight back to a time when the pressure was to use less, not more, and the contrast between the two can be quite illuminating.

Table 5: Life beyond oil
The card on this table reads “whether we see life beyond oil as a challenge or an opportunity will be down to us. Do we choose to see the move away from our dependence on it as a disaster, or as the opportunity to build something better?” Prepare sheets of flip-chart paper with two columns, “What would you look forward to?” and “What would you miss?”, and invite the students to brainstorm things for each column.

Session 2: Transition Tales
The next session turns to storytelling. It begins with a series of exercises designed to free up the students’ creative expression and imagination.

1. Stick stories
Divide students into groups of five, and each group is given a stick, just a normal stick you might find under any tree. They are given one minute to talk about the stick, without hesitation, deviation or repetition, passing to the next person after the minute. They start by just talking about the stick, but after a few goes, amazing tales began to emerge!

hj2. Tell the biggest lie!
Next, invite the students to choose any object from around the classroom, and then to tell outrageous lies about it and what it is for. The outrageous and ludicrous become mixed with the mundane and occasionally outrageous.

3. What are you doing?
Get the students into pairs, one then has to mime an activity and the other has to ask what they are doing. The student who is miming has to reply with another entirely different activity that the questioner then has to mime. This goes backwards and forwards for a while.

4. “In the city of Rome there was a street . . “
This activity is like the old game “I went to the market and I bought . . .” where you say one thing you got at the market, the next person has to say yours and then add their own, and so on around the group, getting longer and longer each time.
The rule of this version is that you add things that are observations, descriptions, rather than nouns, so that rather than telling a story, you are building up a descriptive picture of a scene.

5. The black box
Sitting in pairs, students are asked to imagine a black box between them, and to begin with, they go round the group, putting their hands in the box and pulling something out. They are asked not to think about it too much, to have no idea in mind what is in the box when they start to put their hand in, and just see what emerges. The second refinement to this is that you put your hand in, draw something out, and then the other person has to draw a story about the object out of you by asking questions, to which you can reply in the most fantastic ways, so that together you create a story about the object.

ffThe news from 2030
In groups of five, the students are then set the task of devising a TV news item from their powered- down community in 2030. They can do news bulletins, interviews, the weather, or whatever they choose. This is really the proof of the pudding in terms of whether they have really engaged with the previous two sessions. Film their presentations (something about having a camera makes them focus a lot more), and then edit them into a news bulletin. Remember if you are to use the footage, you will need written parental consent.

When we did this in Totnes, one group did a ‘Top Gear’-style car review of the latest transport sensation in Totnes, which consisted of hopping on his friend’s back and having a piggyback round the room. Another group did the weather (“cloudy and windy, so if you have solar panels, bad luck, you’ll have to
wait until tomorrow to do your washing, if you’ve got a wind turbine, you’ll have a greatday”) and one group of girls all dressed up in Edwardian dresses with lace parasols and bonnets and said that they didn’t need sun cream any more because they used parasols instead.

To view the final Transition Tales film, see below.

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Jane Buttigieg
11 Mar 12:09pm

This looks like an amazing tool. I think though, that it would be far better run by people in the community with teaching/youth experience, rather than just knowledgeable folk from local transition initiatives. This highlights the need for local transition initiatives to make contact with youth club leaders, school heads etc to introduce this to them and get them used to the concept of peak oil themselves before they can pass the idea onto the students!
When will the network have this ready and how and in what format will it be put forward to local initiatives? I am from a local transition neighbourhood in Bristol and would be very interested in seeing this run in local schools, guides, youth groups etc.
I also have a daughter in year 7 and would love to try this new module out on her at home to see what her response is.
Must admit though, I could not grasp the Transition Tales section (session 2)apart from news from the future which seems great fun. I could not relate it to the whole thing generally. By the way, the David Strahan link above is incomplete I think)
Looking forward to this come our way in Bristol!

Al K Myst
15 Mar 9:26pm

Teaching ‘Peak Oil’ as ‘fact’ is highly dubious.

Matthew Fairtlough
20 Jun 8:45pm

…but nothing like as dubious as teaching ‘infinite oil’ and ‘business as usual’.