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P4C Sequel Story: What Colour Are the Feathers on the Top of My Head?

This week, a “Sequel Story” initially created with 4-5 year olds at Manorfield Infants School, Long Stratton. Their curriculum is built around texts, and their book of the moment was, “How Big is a Million?” by Anna Milbourne. In the original story, Pipkin the penguin tries to find a million of something, and eventually sees a million stars, reproduced on a spectacular (and numerically accurate!) poster that folds out from the back of the book. It’s pasted below, but is also downloadable here.
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In this sequel, the penguin’s question is, “What colour are the feathers on the top of my head?” It becomes a quest for certainty, as our flippered hero tries different strategies to answer his question, but is unable to know for sure. The story is pasted below and attached.
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For (much!) older children, “The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear” is a grisly and interesting quest for knowledge from Grimm’s Fairy Tales which would make a provocative stimulus.
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Questions Arising
  • Can you be sure of anything?
  • How can you be sure of something?
  • When should you believe other people?
  • If lots of people believe something, should you believe it?
  • When is sure sure enough?
  • When do you know something and not just believe it?
  • How many penguins do you need to see to think another penguin will look the same?
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The story connects to the branch of philosophy called “epistemology” – the theory of knowledge. Our penguin seeks knowledge through:
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Perception – trying to see his feathers
Induction – reasoning to a general rule on the basis of many examples
Testimony – relying on the statements of others
Experiment – putting a theory to the test
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Sequel Stories
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Sequel stories are a “Storacy” technique in which you create a sequel to an existing text through interactive storytelling. Pick up on some aspect of the text – the journey, the setting, a character that is encountered, or in this case, that the penguin likes asking questions. Start with a suggestion for how that is going to be different in this story. Then create the new story together, by inviting suggestions for what happens next, solutions to the problems the hero encounters, and generally leaving gaps for them to fill in.
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On this occasion, we had the absolute gift that the first question suggested was, “What colour are the hairs (feathers) on the top of my head?” From then, it was just a matter of eliciting a solution, and then a problem with that solution, and a solution for that problem, and so on.
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Best wishes,
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Jason
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PS Now people are back in the swing of the new term, there has been a flurry of enquiries about training for this academic year, and for September and October, so have a think about any P4C initial training/refresher needs you have and get in touch.
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Once there was a penguin called Forster who liked asking questions. He asked questions about numbers and stars and ice and snow, and lots of questions about fish.
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As he got older, he noticed that his friends were changing from fluffy grey to a sleek black and white. They were looking more and more like the grown-up penguins. Forster noticed that his flippers were a sleek black as well, and that his tummy was not grey anymore but a bright white.
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But there was one part of himself he could not see. He asked himself, “What colour are the feathers on top of my head?”
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He tried to pull the feathers on the top of his head down in front of his eyes so that he could see for himself, but they were too short.r
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He looked around at all the other young penguins. He said to himself, “All the feathers on the tops of their heads are black, so mine must be black as well.”
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But Forster thought, “What if my feathers are different? How can I know for sure?”
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So, he asked his mum what colour the feathers were on the top of his head. “Why, black of course, like everyone else’s,” she said.
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But Forster thought, “What if my feathers were bright green? If they were bright green, my mum wouldn’t want me to be embarrassed. So, she’d still say they were black. How can I know for sure?”
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So, he asked a friend, and then another and another. “What colour are the feathers on the top of my head?”
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“Why, black, of course. The same as ours,” they all said, and laughed.
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But Forster thought, “What if they’re all playing a joke on me, and saying the feathers on my head are black when they’re really bright green? How can I know for sure?”
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Then Forster had an idea. He could look in a mirror! But the only mirror was on the post at the South Pole. There were people there, and he didn’t think he liked people. So, Forster tried to stop thinking about the feathers on the top of his head, and joined the other young penguins who were going to the sea to go fishing for the first time.
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It was a very calm day. When he got to the edge of the sea*, he looked down. There, looking up at him, was him! He moved left, and his reflection moved right. He moved right, and his reflection moved left. And then he looked down and up at the same time, and could see that the feathers on the top of his head really were black!
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But then Forster thought, “What if that isn’t my reflection? What if it’s another penguin just like me, under the water, moving when I move?”
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So, he dived into the water to see. All there was to see was himself. So, finally, he was sure that the feathers on the top of his head were black.
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But then Forster thought, “What about the feathers on the back of my head? How can I know what colour they are?”
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Just then, a tasty looking fish swam by, and Forster chased after it.
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*In the live story, he made a mirror out of ice and then had to shatter it to make sure there wasn’t another penguin behind it. But I’m not sure you can make a mirror out of ice unless you have a reflective backing for it, hence the switch to his reflection in the sea. Why I am worrying about optical physics in the context of an overthinking penguin, I’m not sure!

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