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Chapter 5
The River

“You’re a naiad?” asked Delphi, her mouth hanging open.  “A river spirit?” Like all children in Athens, Delphi had been raised with a steady stream of stories about naiads, nature spirits and minor gods. Like everyone else, she’d always assumed they existed, but you never saw one because they hid away from humans.  They weren’t supposed to just appear in front of you and say hello.

The spirit laughed.  It sounded like water trickling over dry stones.

“You asked me a question,” the spirit said.

“Did I?”

“You asked me how many times you have crossed this river,” said the river spirit.  “And I say, this is your first time.”

Delphi’s brain started to click back to life as she struggled to stand up again.  It knew an argument was coming.

“It isn’t actually.  I’ve crossed this river loads of times.” Delphi insisted, but the spirit just shook her head and smiled.

“It is impossible to step in this river more than once,” said the spirit.

“No, it isn’t!” said Delphi.  “I could do it again now!”

The river spirit seemed to fade for a second before returning even closer to Delphi.

“Are you… challenging me?” she whispered.

It’s a well-known fact that you can’t step in the same river twice.  Well known that is, to everyone except Delphi, who is fairly sure you can step in the same river twice if you splash around fast enough. However, when she is challenged by a naiad, a local river spirit, Delphi starts to think it might be a bit more complicated than that…  She better think quickly too, otherwise she could turn out to be in deep trouble.  Delphi takes on a philosophical classic, and faces her demons, in this lively, yet dangerous tale.


Big Questions:

  • If Delphi was a bird, what else would be true about her?

  • Can you step in the same river twice?

  • If the river is always changing, then what else is also changing?


Skills focus:

  • extending ideas by using logic

  • making conceptual distinctions

  • using ‘would’ to form a logical structure


Lesson Overview

This lesson is based around the philosopher Heraclitus’ famous claim that it is impossible to step in the same river twice.  This is explored in a practical way, where you can literally make a river using buckets of water for the children to literally try to step into twice.  This helps children find the objection that the river is constantly changing.  The learning of this session is focused on logical consequence, initially with a thought experiment about what would else would be true if Delphi was a bird (she would have wings, because all birds have wings, but would she definitely be able to fly?).  This use of the ‘It would be true because’ sentence stem is then practiced in the context of the river, and leads to the children arguing in abstract terms about change and identity.  This challenging but fun enquiry is shorter than others, to give time during a lesson to go outside and make a river!

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