Posted by: Natalie | August 24, 2010

Lesson Ideas: Haywired by Alex Keller

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(For a none-teacher review, please visit The Solitary Bee to read my other review!).

For teachers of those little darlings aged 9-12 (as a start), this book is perfect! Alex Keller’s Haywired (Published by Mogzilla and out in September) not only provides a great read for both boys and girls, an increasingly rare commodity in the classroom, but provides countless options for the teaching of Literacy and beyond.

I am a big fan of the old-school style of a themed curriculum; everything being linked to one clear focal point. However, understanding the rules and regulations as to subject weight, timing and legal requirements, it can often be too difficult to make units of work fully integrated. But, I believe, this book holds some of the answers – the possibilities it throws up would enable you to maintain subject requirements while providing fun and engaging lessons.

Initially, many children in years 5&6 can immediately relate to the lead character, Ludwig von Guggenstein. Even though he leads a rather bizarre existence, it is to begin with one of contemporary dysfunction and loneliness. His mother is absent and his father too preoccupied to actually devote real time to his son. Ludwig is therefore left more-or-less to his own devices with his only friends being other adults connected to his world (instantly some PSD links).

Despite this, the children in your classroom would want to be Ludwig; who wouldn’t want to live in a castle with a mad scientist?! But a horrible death brings his life into chaos, with a runaway adventure that involves pirates and circus acts and kidnap and menacing killer robots! Soon a terrible war is raging and more hideous secrets loom behind closed doors. Along with his odd assembly of friends, Ludwig is determined to put an end to the madness – but will he be able to in time?

The length of the book makes it completely ideal, how often have you failed to reach the end of a novel with your class? It is not lengthy, and can be easily used across the curriculum in a unit of work. I won’t insult you by pulling apart all the curriculum angles available, but will simply list some of my personal ideas.

Reading:

  • Initially the text is useable across various ability groups with the simplistic level appropriate for teaching skills lower down the spectrum and the deeper levels of intrigue perfect for teaching inference and deduction skills. Also prediction.
  • Several areas of assessment can be touched upon using Haywired including historical context (AF7) as the ‘Steampunk’ genre includes Victorian detail. This could also link to comparing texts, using non-fiction books alongside.
  • Using larger chunks of the text across various chapters, children could generate detailed character profiles which could then in turn be used to develop their own characters.

Writing:

  • One of my favourite ideas involves a character called Nostworth. He is a stereotypical ‘adventurer’ of the day and regales part of a story from his travels. This allows room for a) writing in character and maintaining voice, b) writing openings and endings, c) Planning, writing and editing a missing chapter. This final suggestion could also be used to show Ludwig’s journey on the Pirate ship.
  • Certain themes can also be taught through this book such as: journeys, suspense, action, emotion, intrigue, science fiction, and so much more (maybe writing an account of their own escape from an evil, human-killing robot, or writing a description of a Guggenstein contraption of their own making).
  • Recounts, instructions, explanatory texts, adverts and persuasion, arguments, biography/autobiography and letters are just some of the non-fiction possibilities that could be gleaned from this book.
  • There are some good examples as prompts for writing ‘atmosphere’ and characterisation, as Keller’s characters and places are detailed, engaging and easily accessible.
  • Obviously, this book like every good teachers tool, provides ample opportunity for grammatical and structural prompts.

Numeracy (I may need another read to pull out more options, but they are there!):

  • The very start of the book provides a great prompt for teaching angles etc
  • As the robots multiply, they provide a great problem solving opportunity which would ultimately lead to writing ‘rules’ to problems (n=? etc). As each robot can make another in x amount of time, how long would it take to produce 100 robots? Etc.

Science and Design Technology:

I would be tempted to group the two together to look at forces, levers, cams and mechanisms, possibly resulting in children making their own Haywired contraption.

History:

An obvious route would be to look at Victorian inventions and their effect on our world (perhaps focussing on trains / transport). However, there is possibility to look at castles through the ages.

Geography:

Using Notsworth and the Victorians as a starting point, children could study about 19th/20th century explorers and the lands they visited. This could result in a biography of a contemporary explorer.

Art:

Vertical Constellation with Bomb by Alexander Calder (1943)

Obviously going with the Victorian theme, there are countless artists that could be emulated and their skills reproduced, however, should you want to ‘funk up’ your art lessons a little, you could go for something more ‘mechanical’; for example, looking at Kinetic art (art that depends on motion for its effects) by artists such as Alexander Calder, or its founder, Naum Gabo. A gallery visit somewhere may be necessary though – fun day out!

I am certain there are reams of suggestions that could be made for this book, these are by no means exhaustive. All I know is Haywired is a perfect length, perfect pitch and has perfect flexibility to make your classroom a vibrant, exciting and highly educational place!

Haywired by Alex Keller
Mogzilla September 2010
RRP: £7.99

Please contact publisher for all required permissions.

But feel free to contact ME should you wish to pick my brains any further.

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Responses

  1. Well, Natalie, if your intention was to hold a cram-session- a full day’s worth of learning… I’d say you’ve accomplished that! I especially am interested in Alexander Calder and have something that may get you to hone in on that “something” which can be studied, enjoyed, fun while learning. When I find it, I’ll pass it on or post it in my blog.

    From the looks of it, you’re gearing up for your return to the classroon – by-the-way, I don’t mind hearing your ideas here (the teaching bug has always been in me, I was a substitute teacher in my past life). I’ve enjoyed today’s lesson! ;-))

  2. […] gem that really made me smile was an edition of Alex Keller’s latest, Rewired, the sequel to Haywired which I thoroughly enjoyed. Yet another Steampunk Fairytale to devour – once I have conquered […]

  3. […] for the more able Primary readers, and a fabulous teaching tool for themed lessons in Key Stage 2 (see Haywired lesson ideas). I would genuinely use this series in my teaching – the swashbuckling storyline and wild and […]


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