WORLD OF WILDLIFE IN ONE CLASSROOM
WALKING into Dave Millington's classroom at Westbury Park Primary School is like stepping into a jungle – not in the way that many classrooms are like jungles with little boys swinging from the rafters like apes and little girls shrieking like parrots.
This classroom's jungle vibe is rather more ordered, with its tank of goldfish and its pupils' artwork – painted monkeys on one wall, cut-out black and white penguins on the other, and poems with an "allotment theme" on the other.
The fourth wall is taken up by an enormous, roll-down television screen, with a projector flickering into life on the ceiling projecting exquisite images of jungle animals.
For Dave's Year 4 pupils, this is their gateway to the natural world. The dulcet familiar tones of Sir David Attenborough has become the soundtrack to their schooldays.
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The scenes being viewed by the children are just a handful of the thousands gathered together for Life on Land, Attenborough's encyclopaedic DVD resource, which is now available to schools – or indeed to anyone with an interest in wildlife documentaries.
After a career in natural history film-making that spans more than five decades, Sir David Attenborough now feels he has completed his canonic collection of wildlife documentaries – in the words of BBC Natural History Unit producer Sharmila Choudhury: "it's enough to be called an encyclopaedia".
"Sir David feels passionately about the importance of natural history in education, and that's why he wanted his many documentaries to be reorganised into an accessible collection for use in the classroom," she says.
"That's where Dave Millington came into it," Sharmila explains. "Both of my children have been taught by Dave over the years, and I've always been impressed by the way he is able to integrate natural history and wildlife documentaries into his lessons.
"So when it came to finding an expert from the world of education to organise Sir David's enormous collection of film clips into a useful archive for teachers, I could think of nobody better than Dave."
With a decade of experience teaching in primary schools – with seven years at Westbury Park – the 35-year-old has picked up a broad understanding of how wildlife can inspire youngsters.
"It's not just about using the films in science lessons, as you might expect," Dave says. "I've been using natural history films in all kinds of lessons for a few years now.
"They can inspire art lessons, creative writing, even maths. For example, I recently showed the children a clip in which Sir David walks through the carcass of a Blue Whale, while reeling-off some of the enormous creature's vital statistics – the size of its stomach, the length of its ribs and so on.
"I then incorporated these figures into the maths lesson. We even went outside and chalked out the dimensions of a Blue Whale on the floor of the playground. Now that's the kind of lesson the children should never forget – they will always remember that a Blue Whale is exactly the same length as their school playground."
After an approach from Sharmila, a couple of years ago Dave took on the unexpected challenge of helping to condense Sir David's life's work into a useable schools archive.
"The idea is that teachers will not have to fast-forward through hours of documentary before they find the film clip they need," he explains. "They will be able to look up blue whale, for example, in the index and type in the relevant number, and the clip will play on the screen.
"I've always had a real passion for wildlife documentaries, and Sir David Attenborough really is an iconic figure so, for me, this was an unmissable opportunity."
This Saturday, Dave will experience another once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, when he takes to the stage to give a public talk alongside his screen hero.
Dave and Sir David will join forces to unveil the educational scope of the Life On Land collection at the annual Association for Science Education conference, which is this year being held in Reading.
"Sir David will talk about his lifetime of film-making, and why he believes it is important that schoolchildren should have access to his work, and I will be talking about the practicalities of how the films can be fitted into the National Curriculum," Dave says.
"Sir David believes strongly that when he was young children had more of a primary relationship with the natural world – they had the freedom to go out and play by themselves and discover nature the old fashioned way.
"Sadly, these days, children are more often in-tune with their games consoles than their local park. So for many children, TV documentaries are the main way they experience our planet's wildlife. So why not make use of that, and ensure these films are being used to their full potential as learning aids?"
For more details, visit www.davidattenborough.co.uk.