‘How many people in this class have actually touched real snow?’ Fifteen small hands shoot up and there are a few cries of ‘yes!’ But this is still only approximately half the class of children who are attending the latest onsite education programme at Ski Dubai in Mall of the Emirates.
‘The course is an opportunity for many of them to touch and explore snow for the first time, as well as learn about its scientific properties,’ explains Francesca McGeary, managing director at IngeniusEd – the company that initiated the programme. The field trip part of the snow course, where the children get to visit the snow park, she explains, is just the practical bit which makes the lessons come alive for them.
Prior to their half-day visit to Ski Dubai, IngeniusEd sends the participating schools lesson notes so that the children can study the subject prior to their snowy field trip. ‘And once they’ve done the practical programme at Ski Dubai, we provide more lesson plans and activities for them to complete the module,’ says Francesca, who points out that the course directly supports the curriculum the children are currently studying in class.
While this may sound terribly sensible and academic, one can hardly dismiss the fun side of the trip – and the anticipation of the children, who can’t wait to get dressed up in their thermal suits and explore the snow and ice. But there is more classroom work first, which takes place in a private function room at Ski Dubai, with windows onto the snow park.
‘We look at several things within the lesson, including the freezing and melting process, how snow crystals are formed, and the theories behind solid matter turning into liquid and then to gas, as well as the water cycle. But it’s all great fun because the children get to play with real snow and ice,’ says Francesca, before firing off a series of questions at her new class of 30 young students, aged between nine and 10, from Greenfield International School – and getting lots of enthusiastic answers back.
They examine blocks of ice – each table gets to guess how long the ice will take to melt, with and without the addition of some room-temperature water. After that, there’s a lesson in snowflake and ice-crystal formation, where cupfuls of real snow are deposited at each table, and the children examine them with magnifying glasses and watch them melt.
Fifteen minutes later, they are all dressed in thermal gear and gathered in a specially cordoned off area at the snow park, containing several large blocks of the cold stuff in varying forms of frozen-ness, from slush to ice blocks and large mounds of gloriously fluffy snow. The children are enchanted. ‘I never expected it to be crunchy when walked on,’ laughs nine-year-old Maryam, whose red-cheeked excitement and delight is infectious. ‘It’s like popcorn!’ Meanwhile, working in groups of three, the children take it in turns to examine the properties of ice and snow, packing it onto their gloves, making it into balls, using the sledge ‘to test the slipperiness of it’ says Francesca, as three whooping boys whizz gleefully past – and even taste-testing it. When everyone gets a bit chilly, they do some jumping and stamping exercises, and talk about how and why their breath becomes white in the snow.
Nazila Varankesh, the science lab technician who assists in the lessons, explains, ‘Every experience can be turned into a lesson for children. Even when we go back into the classroom to warm up, they will be served hot chocolate and muffins, and we’ll talk about steam and evaporation as they have their snack. This is about making sure they learn from their environment instead of just having fun in it.’
Nadia Saeed, the children’s class teacher, agrees. ‘Eighty percent of my students are Emirati, and they are well-travelled, but most of their travelling happens in the summer, so quite a few of them have never experienced snow before. We were very keen for them to get involved in the programme because they are studying this at school and it just helps them to understand the process so much better.’
Omar El Banna, marketing and sales director, Majid Al Futtaim Leisure and Entertainment is keen to see more schools making use of Ski Dubai’s facilities. As the programme is an educational initiative, the cost has been kept to a minimum to ensure more children can participate.
‘The on-site learning program was introduced at Ski Dubai because it provides a unique way to get children out of the classrooms and into a real life environment, where they can learn about abstract concepts through direct engagement. For many of the children who grow up in the UAE, snow and its elements are a relatively unfamiliar concept and this program provides a memorable and exciting way for them to gain first-hand experience,’ he says.
And the course has been tailored to suit children all the way up to high school level. ‘The program for kindergarten students focuses on discovering the properties and characteristics of snow through exploration, investigation and play, while the older children learn about the semantics of crystal growth and how bio-mimicry uses snowflakes as a model for many important applications in our world,’ he explains.
For more information the Ski Dubai and IngeniusEd on-site learning programme, schools should contact Francesca McGeary on 04 421 8443 or visit www.ingeniused.com.