Delphi thought this was probably wasn’t a very good prayer, so she tried singing a hymn but gave up on the second verse because she couldn’t remember the words.
“I hope that’s OK. Um… Thank you.” Still keeping her gaze on the floor, she slowly backed away and turned to leave.
“Why? I haven’t done anything!”
Delphi froze. The voice had sounded like two marble blocks being rubbed together and yet somehow also sounded light and cheerful. And it had come from right behind her.
This lesson explores ‘what if’ scenarios, with a focus on the ability to change your mind and update your ideas because of objections. This helps children recognise the collaborative element of doing philosophy – that ideas improve when people object and revise an idea together. This also helps children develop their logical thinking. The story focuses on the question of whether wealth will lead to happiness or becoming a good person, and is a retelling of the famous Midas myth.
Lesson Blog: The Wish
This lesson was our first one back after half term, and so I was curious to see what the children had remembered from last time. Especially as it had been such a memorable lesson!
This week we would be building on those skills in a lesson about a terrible wish, an overly enthusiastic god of wine and Delphi getting rather greedy. Except the lesson wasn’t about those things, really. It was actually about using ‘if’ and ‘then’, about how ideas improve when we change our minds, and about logic.
The story was written to be a retelling of the famous myth of King Midas, who wished that everything he touched turned to gold. As, in at least some versions of the myth, it was the wine-god Dionysus who granted this wish, I thought it might be fun if Delphi got to meet him and see what she made of this wish.
We start with a jealous Delphi, who is trying to find a suitable offering for the god and is cursing her lack of money. The warm-up discussion and question, what we would do if we had as much money as we wanted, surprised me. The children were keen to say they would help other children with their money, clearly still having the ideas around being a good person in their minds from last week (though there were quite a few, “I’m going to buy everything!” responses too!).
At this point, Delphi goes to the shrine of Dionysus to place her offering of a slightly nibbled-on honey cake to the god. I’ll hand it over to me to tell the next part of the story. If it looks like I’m having fun, it’s because I am.
Anyway, enough of me prattling on.
The children were quick to point out what was going to go wrong here. Notice that we’re still practising our ‘if’ and ‘then’ reasoning, a skill which I’ve really seen develop over the last few weeks.
Sure enough, the children were quite right and Delphi gets herself into a blind panic as she discovers the next morning that her wish had come true. She turns her clothes and a flower to gold, and feels excited, before trying to eat and drink, and she panics a bit, and then turns her dad to gold, and panics a lot.
The children agreed she should go back to Dionysus and try and change her wish. Dionysus is somewhat worse-for-wear this morning, but agrees to help her. This gets us on to the biggest and most important question of today’s lesson.
The purpose of this activity is to help the children understand that when we challenge an idea, it inspires us to make it better - more precise and more persuasive. Some children can find this very difficult at first, as they can feel like they’ve got something ‘wrong’ when someone challenges what they’ve said.
We start this gently, by using the word ‘except’, and Delphi does the same thing. I encouraged the children to work in pairs, suggesting a wish, and then their partner challenging it by identifying what could go wrong with it, and suggesting a better wish.
As we kept working at it, the children started to change the wish more and more. We got using a magic word to change something to gold (but what if you said it by accident?) and clapping to make a gold coin appear (but what happens if you were giving a round of applause?).
Some children wanted to build in a way of turning something back again in case there were any accidents (and get a unicorn out of it as well!)
We followed Delphi as she made these suggestions too, and more. How about a gold coin appears in her bedroom every five minutes?
By this time, the children’s wishes were getting more and more precise, and several children were starting to think that this maybe wasn’t a great wish to have after all. Delphi gives up on her wish and Dionysus agrees to forget the whole thing.
By this point, the children were very aware of our new sentence stem, which we had been using throughout the lesson: “I’ve changed my mind because…” We shared some examples of when we had changed our minds during today’s lesson. No-one was feeling irritated by having to change our minds by this point.
We ended the lesson by asking whether having as much money as you liked was actually a good thing after all. One girl said, “It doesn’t matter because it’s love that’s important, like your friends and family.” The last picture of Delphi hugging her father, who had returned to normal, was spot on where the children had ended up today.
It was another really fun session where the story had taken the children on a journey to develop their thinking – particularly in the power of being able to change your mind.
Over to Rosie, to see how her Year 5’s coped with the wish!
“What trouble is Delphi going to get into this week?” This was a genuine question asked by a child at the start of our philosophy lesson this week. It made everybody laugh and set the scene for what was going to be another disastrous episode for our young Athenian.
In this chapter, Delphi is sent to take an offering to the god Dionysus at his shrine behind his famous theatre. She feels embarrassed because her offering isn’t as extravagant as the others that have been left there and imagines what she could do instead if she was a wealthier. We had a class discussion about what it would be like to have all the money you ever wanted and what you would do with it. I expected that lots of the class would immediately jump onto the usual wild ideas of buying a sports car or getting a mansion but most of them said they would use the money to help other people like those that are homeless or can’t afford food. It was quite heartwarming actually. We managed to squeeze in a debate about whether money makes you happy. Lots of the class agreed that there was more to happiness than money but I was pleased to hear one child confidently respond to this by saying, “I’m not sure if money makes you completely happy because if you have too much it can make you greedy but also if you give your money to the poor then you’ve done something good so you would feel happy because of that.” It was an absolute jewel of an answer and it made lots of the other children begin to consider other examples where money could make you happy.
Anyway, while Delphi is at the shrine, the statue to the god suddenly comes alive and (in a rather drunken state) offers her a wish that can help to make her and her father richer. Delphi ponders for a while and Dionysus suggests the famous King Midas wish: “I wish that everything I touch turns to gold.” When Delphi agreed to this, my whole class instantly burst out with protests to her decision. They could immediately identify the dangers and the room was filled with all sorts of ‘What ifs’. Not one of them felt it was good idea and of course, they turned out to be right.
The children were then asked to consider changing the wish to make a perfect solution where Delphi could get as much gold as she needs with her golden touch without any bad consequences. This activity was a brilliant building block from our previous two lessons, which had all explored consequences, and now offered the chance to take an idea further by adapting it to change those consequences. It wasn’t easy for the children to think about and it required a lot of logical discussions with their partners or table groups. They were having to work really hard to push past those potentially dangerous outcomes of their wish.
We fed back as a class and realised that most of us had thought she should change her wish so that it would only turn the things she didn’t need to gold. Children from around the class could back up why this was the better of all other solutions but then one child said, “But what if she doesn’t need something today and then next week she needs it? She can’t use that thing anymore because it’s gold.” This changed everything and we were back to looking for an even better solution!
A pair of children came up with the idea that Delphi should have the ability to turn things back from being gold. They were challenged by someone else as they identified that Delphi wanted the gold to get richer so if everything turned back to what it was then it would be pointless. Another group suggested, in response to what happens to Delphi’s dad and what could happen to her pet tortoise, that only inanimate objects should be turned to gold. This, however, led back to the problem of the apple and water. Delphi would end up having to eat food that was alive in order to survive!
Even though some of my class found this activity frustrating at times, they never gave up in finding a solution. Their minds were following the exact thought process I was looking for in this lesson and they were using the new sentence stem: ‘I’ve changed my mind because…’ I could see them desperate to help Delphi in her quest but equally not afraid to question and change their own thinking. This skill didn’t exist with some of these children a couple of weeks ago but with the help of our philosophy lessons it now does. I think this is such an important skill to be able to change your own mind and it can be applied in so many other areas of the curriculum too, for example science investigations or maths problem solving. Furthermore, it was a delight to see the class’ confidence grow in changing their minds, which in itself is so important!
Overall, ‘The Wish’ provided a very powerful and thought provoking lesson with a fantastic story including a drunk Dionysus. They certainly found that part entertaining! The children’s thought processes were challenged in a different manner to how they have been before and I could definitely see the progress from beginning to end. I really feel like they are now philosophers in thought and with some abstract ideas coming up in future lessons, I am excited to see how they will take to them.
To help your children see the power of changing your mind, or if you just want to give your drunken Dionysus impression a go, you can download this enquiry by clicking the link below. Or you can download the entire Delphi the Philosopher scheme by clicking here!
Until next week, thanks for reading!
(This enquiry started life as an enquiry from The If Machine by Peter Worley, at the Philosophy Foundation, which offers a goldmine of philosophy resources and training. Many thanks to Peter for supporting our work!
Explicit consent has been obtained to publish the photos and videos on this website. Do not copy or replicate these in any way. Many thanks to parents/carers for their support and to Mrs Hegedus, TA superstar, for taking the photos.)