Welcome to Trish Fong’s Ancient Egypt lessons, where mummification is explored in all of its gory detail.
“It actually came about as a bit of joke,” the educator from Sandgate District State High School says of her ‘chicken mummification’ exercise.
“We were talking to some of the other history teachers and we were saying ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could go back in time and mummify something?’
“And we thought ‘well, let’s put it together.
“Let’s research how they actually did it and do the very best we [can] to put the same processes in place’.”
Now when her Queensland students are faced with the task of preserving and laying to rest their deceased subjects, there’s a strict process that must be adhered to.
Using a pre-concocted herb and salt mixture, the embalmers wash out the bodies before placing the organs in specific jars just as their ancient muses did.
“All the kids have roles, so you’ll have the high priestess, you’ll have coffin makers…
“Then we actually pop [the chickens] in the coffin while we are saying prayers for them.
“Once that’s done we bandage them up, make sure amulets are in it like they did, then we put them in the sarcophagus and we bury them!” Fong elaborates.
Initial feelings of disgust soon turn to delight, as the children become engrossed in the process.
“It’s really funny because you’ll have the step by step instructions and you’ll have the kids saying ‘wait, you’ve missed step ten! and ‘you need to do this!’ … so it’s really amazing to see the kids so engaged in it,” Fong says.
Rather than getting “bogged down with doing PowerPoints and that lecture-style of teaching”, Fong says there’s so much value in making learning a student-driven pursuit.
The mummified chickens are just one case in point.
“It fulfils a part of learning where not only are we learning about a way of life but we are learning about the different religions and incorporating awareness of others and others’ cultures.
“I think one of the really major points that the kids get out of this is that, yes, its gross and disgusting and what-not, but we need to respect everyone and everything that goes on around us.
“And as gross as [mummification] seems to us, it was very vital to their life and their way of living,” Fong notes.
Late last year Fong was nominated and shortlisted for EducationHQ’s Unsung Heroes Awards, for her “outstanding” efforts both inside and outside of her classroom.
Praised for the “meaningful and long-lasting impact” that she leaves on “the lucky students who inhabit the seats of her classroom,” this year Fong is expanding her skills as she relishes her new role as the head of student development.