Treasure Island Pedagogies: Episode 28, the one with the M&Ms

Posted on: 18 December 2023 by Dr Tunde Varga-Atkins in General

Host and Guests In Online Meeting
(Host and Guests in Online Meeting)

In Episode 28, our discussion of lightbulb moments, treasure island pedagogies/props and luxury items delved into the power of narrative and stories in capturing students' attention, the anxiety both educators and learners face, role-play and embodied learning, underscoring the importance of empathy, creating a conducive, safe learning environment with a holistic development of head, heart, and hands in education.

Speakers: Aga Buckley, Chris Mitchell, Graham Easton

Date: 18 December 2023

Treasure Island Pedagogies: Episode 28 podcast

(Treasure Island Pedagogies Episode 28 - Podcast Transcript)

Read or listen to find out our guests’ lightbulb moments, teaching props, pedagogies and luxury items that they would take to their Treasure Islands for precious contact time with students. 

Aga Buckley

Kingston University London, UK


  • Original discipline(s):Social Pedagogy, Social Work (Mental Health)
  • Current role: Course Lead/Programme Director Master of Social Work.
  • Lightbulb moment: Last time we got stuck discussing Statutory Principles of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 with students, it was late afternoon, we were all tired, and students could not ‘imagine’ how different legal terms matter. They asked again and again, about the difference between ‘the least’ restrictive principle (Mental Health Act 1983 (as amended) and ‘the less’ restrictive principle in the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Surprisingly to us all, what saved us was an open pack of M&Ms (peanut ones and there was no one with peanut allergies in the room!!!) is for ‘use what you have around you’ active learning strategy.
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: : Pestalozzi & pedagogies of love (Head, Heart & Hands) & I use physical props all the time, from kids' toys to artifacts (images, paper cuttings, video clips, including ‘homemade’ (e.g. spider play recording by my own kids/no faces, only hands and a very large spider that goes from hand to hand, accompanied by a very loud and funny narrative: used successfully during the Cognitive Behavioral Theory & Therapy session, this usually goes with a large selection of different size spiders (in resin) shared on tables with students (we are using health warning in case someone was to be really adversely affected by this approach).
  • Luxury item: Audiobooks – my family owns a large number of audio books already! Can Iialso have dark chocolate and red wine?

Chris Mitchell

Royal College of Art, England

  • Original discipline(s):Sociology
  • Current role: Deputy Director of Academic Development, and Programme Lead for MEd in Creative Education, at the Royal College of Art
  • Lightbulb moment: Repeating the mantra ‘I choose to be here’ during my first teaching experience, which involved teaching web design to older people. Once I was able to settle my own nerves, I was able to settle those of my students who were also terrified that they were going to do the wrong thing. I promised the students that within five minutes of the session starting they would have a functioning web page. And indeed they did. Anxiety can be such a barrier to learning, so let’s acknowledge and move beyond it
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: : Anything that allows me to make mindmaps. I don’t care whether that involves paper and pens, Jamboard or bits of broken shells. This is how I organise my thoughts - which are rarely linear – and make the connections I need to spark new ideas.
  • Luxury item: I would like to bring my French edition of the classic Alexandre Dumas novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. I am terrible at languages, but it hasn’t stopped me trying to learn them. I have started translating one of my favourite books to help improve my French. It’s a slow process…

Graham Easton

Queen Mary University, London, England

  • Original discipline(s): Medicine
  • Current role: Professor of medical education, heading up clinical and communication skills
  • Lightbulb moment: When I was telling stories, students became engaged, everyone looked up and I felt I had their full attention. The stories were about patients, near misses. Having worked as a journalist for BBC translating complex science for the audience, my training on how to tell stories became useful as an educator. At the time this was a gap, why were stories a Cinderella topic? My EdD research observed how educators used stories and how these stories were received in the classroom. Stories also kindle in us emotions and human connections, very useful when we try to ‘teach’ empathy to our medical students.
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: Role-play can be powerful in our toolbox to teach communication; it can engender anxieties but the return is hugely beneficial and many times transformative. I would also add a video camera, helping them recognise how adept they are at communicating, and in some cases seeing themselves can also offer transformative recognition of unhelpful patterns.
  • Luxury item: A massive television to help me watch stories! I like losing myself in stories, whether films or documentaries.

Any sparks? How might our joined-up Treasure Islands look like?

IWe couldn’t get enough of stories on our visit to Treasure Island today, they came in all shapes and sizes, touching on the importance or narrative and stories to help students connect with the subject or using a narrative structure when we plan teaching sessions with a a beginning/middle/end, or getting our students to view research as storytelling with data. Are we dumbing down the learning and teaching when using stories, children toys as props or experiential learning to level with our students and manage their (and our own) anxiety? Should we be worried about the lack of academic rigour in the choice of methods and teaching techniques expected at the university level? Are we at risk of infantilising academic practice when seeking analogies or metaphors in children’s stories to illustrate the doctoral journey? (see “A Little Stuck” by Oliver Jeffers” to answer this question). Perhaps finding the ‘inner child’, or the use of exciting narratives, just like the one in Alexandre Dumas “The Count of Monte Cristo” inspire our story, the story that helps students (and teachers) emotionally connect with learning and truly enjoy it. Our teaching props, pedagogies and luxury items were all about effective storytelling, creating meaningful structure between the learner, teacher and the learning itself. We found stories have always been and still are everywhere, vital to humanity and learning over centuries, they help us to make sense of life, consider the past and imagine the future.

Links / resources

From Chris:

  • Translation from The Count Monte Christo – as promised: “"On the 24th February 1815, the watch of the Notre Dame guard signalled that the three-masted ship, the Pharaon, was arriving via Smyrne, Trieste and Naples. As usual, a coastal pilot left port immediately, skirting around the Castle d’If and boarding the ship between the Morgion course and the island of Rion."

Facilitated by Dr Tünde Varga-Atkins, Sound: Chris Loxham/Sandra Samaca, Web design: Dennis Wong, Neil Murray @LivUniCIE