Yet, as children and parents flocked around the unusual discovery in the middle of school drop off, their squeals of curiosity piercing the ash-stained air, staff sat back and rubbed their hands.
Their elaborate science stunt had gone off without a hitch.
“Some were suspicious, but others were really blown away, and we just fed them the story that we’d been called at about 2.30 in the morning by the police saying that they’d had reports from the neighbouring houses, and they got to school, found this [scene]…” associate principal Mari Dart says.
When the school’s science specialist Tara Grant posed the idea of staging a meteorite landing to get kids pumped ahead of a whole-school science day, teachers rose to the challenge.
“They came in pretty early in the morning and set up a cornered-off area, they had police tape around some cones, and they actually spray-painted some limestone boulders and then painted them black and had ash around it so it looked like the meteorite had come from the sky and bounced and ricocheted…” Dart recalls
“And then they did also light a little fire by the side of the meteorite so that when the kids came to school there was smoke and it was still also quite warm, so it was very believable.”
Intrigued by the wayward debris from space, children entered their classrooms armed with a barrage of questions.
Teachers, Dart says, “really ran with it”.
“We had some kids on their iPads who were on-the-spot reporters, so they were going around the school interviewing teachers, finding out how we were notified, what we think, what sort of damage was done.”
While some were producing video footage and wrote newspaper reports on the landing, others got stuck into the science behind meteorites, investigating their trajectories, momentum and formation.
“It actually sparked their own questions that they could explore and discover, so that whole inquiry approach, where an opportunity actually provokes them to ask the questions that they want to research and learn about,” Dart says.
Things had really taken off.
“There was a whole drama because a parent called a radio station and said it was real and then we had phone calls from the police, the Space Debris Recovery Unit, the Gravity (Discovery) Centre, the ABC – and apparently the people in the department who run Facebook said it went viral.”
Perhaps the only hitch in the plan were the perfectly preserved stone pavers that miraculously survived the crash landing.
“We were saying ‘we have very good quality pavers at Freshwater Bay’,” Dart laughs.