Teaching the TEMI Way – the Teacher’s Experience

by Diana Bracewell, science teacher, CPD leader and creative artist

TEMI (Teaching Enquiry with Mysteries Incorporated) some might say, was the brainchild of Peter McOwan – a magician, scientist and roboticist of Queen Mary College, University of London. The TEMI International congress was the culmination and celebration of TEMI, as we have come to know it, a three year European Commission funded project that has spanned the globe. Thirteen partners from 11 countries descended upon the beautiful, sunny, canal city of Leiden, armed with matching bags and mysterious maps disguised as scarves (or maybe it was the other way round)

This teacher training programme, designed to rework STEM teaching with an inquiry based learning foundation, comprises of 4 key innovations:

  • Creating curiosity with mysteries
  • Teaching concepts with The 5 Es
  • Teaching skills with the gradual release of responsibility
  • Maintaining motivation with showmanship

Throughout the weekend, these four innovations underpinned every experience we attendees had; meticulously planned and executed with precision. Evidencing our journeys, hour by hour, a giant infographic poster by Sketching Maniacs grew organically recording feedback from every session, clearly showing the four TEMI themes in action.

Curiosity and Mystery

The pre-event sessions on Friday evening set the tone. The Leiden Old Observatory, built in 1860 is a building shrouded in history. Congress participants were taken on a guided tour of the world’s oldest, operating, university observatory, with only the Vatican Observatory pipping it to the title of overall, oldest, working observatory! Having workshops in venues such as this and Scheltema, a repurposed factory built in 1817, and now used as a cultural hub, certainly helped maintain the air of curiosity. As you moved in these spaces, you could not help but wonder at what the preserved objects and structures, around you had once been used for.

These environs provided the perfect backdrop to our workshops, most of which had taken the cue and opened with a mystery, a magic trick or both. More about the magic later. For now, let us discuss the food – I can honestly say I have never had a more mysterious eating experience; think edible, Alice in a science-lab, pic-n-mix and you may get an idea. Food came in all guises, and disguises: salad dressing in syringes, 3D printed chocolate, mounds of mysterious breads next to up-turned bell jars of black tuna, jelly beans (always mysterious) and all sorts of dainty, tasty, delights in little viewing boxes, a brilliantly curious experience, I wanted more!

The 5 Es

Moving from workshop to workshop (a process that involved peering alternately between one’s easy access, individualised programme – niftily attached to a lanyard and the maps that, mysteriously, kept changing to match the next round of sessions) it was easy to identify the 5 Es in action. Some workshops took you through the cycle, clearly identifying the phases, while others subtly nudged you through them. Whichever the method, we were Engaged in the topics, given the opportunity to Explore ideas further, then we attempted Explanations, Extended our learning beyond the initial situation, and Evaluated what and how we had learnt. This meant that by the end of each session, we had clear understanding and ownership of our own learning experience and journey.

Releasing Responsibility

This brings me nicely on to possibly the subtlest aspect of the Teaching the TEMI Way, letting go in the classroom, so to speak. This is often the scariest part for an educator, but this event showed on a grand scale, how and why this is ok, and indeed, extremely beneficial. Aside from a ten minute section on practicalities at the start of the main event, given ably by Patti Marke – I mean Matt Parker (our brilliant compere, also of Queen Mary’s), we were left to our own devices… So it would appear to the untrained eye. In fact, having already been engaged in the whole experience, having had our curiosities piqued, of course we would now want to explore it all further, and we had been given all the tools we needed to do so, independently!

Maps of the city, maps within the venue, info on our chosen sessions on our individual lanyards, we had everything we needed (plus a jazzy, heat sensitive mug and a mysteriously moustachioed pencil). The planning was so watertight (thank you Cristina Olivotto, Dorothee Loziak and their teams), at we should have been and at exactly the planned time, without anyone reminding us… Imagine that!


Now to the magic. Obviously magic is enthralling, and my, were we enthralled, repeatedly. From the lessons in slight-of-hand, light shows, and the maths behind card tricks during workshops, to the magic tricks over dinner on the Saturday evening, and finally a full show during the closing session of the weekend by Quintus – The Purple Musician, we were constantly being wowed. This wow factor is what the TEMI team call showmanship, taking an audience on a journey of your choosing, creating that curiosity, building suspense, keeping people with you, on their edge of their seats, wanting to know How? Why? Who? What? Where? and When? Now we could put magic into every lesson! But realistically, that will not help us tick off learning outcomes, rather what TEMI encourages is the injection of a touch of drama into the classroom. The magic is more of an analogy. By having that theatrical edge, this helps get your students hooked, then keeps them engaged, keeps their attention where we want it.

Life After Leiden

I left Leiden feeling inspired, excited and intrigued. Intrigued because I still had unresolved questions, the latest being why does the ring falling down a loop of chain end up entangled? (I think I worked out the answer as being linked to angular momentum…) I felt excited about telling others about what I had experienced. Teaching the TEMI Way works and is an excellent addition to the teaching tool box. TEMI manages to put into words some of the best learning experiences I have had, and explains how and why they worked. Better than that we now have a blueprint for creating inspirational learning experiences, based on real teaching and valid research.

I feel other participants shared this sentiment, with the feedback boards full of positive experiences and ideas moving forward. Social media was also buzzing with various TEMI hashtags as people enthused about their next TEMI steps.

My next TEMI steps were to, use my new mug (tick) and write up my experiences, trying to capture the essence of TEMI to hopefully get others interested in finding out more. So I will leave you with this cliff-hanger, this mystery: What are your TEMI next steps? Where will you let TEMI take you?

To start your TEMI journey…