Abu Dhabi // Pupils arriving at school this week were stunned by an out-of-this-world surprise – an unidentified flying object had landed in their playground.
Police officers had sealed off the courtyard where the object had been found.
“I thought aliens invaded the world,” said Emirati Mohamed Al Romaithi, 11. “I was scared for a minute.”
Eshita Batra, 11, a grade 6 pupil, said: “When I walked in, there was a police car and the lights were blinking. Lots of kids were saying, ‘What’s going on?’ At first I thought it was an accident. I ran toward it, I thought it was weird.”
The curious children crowded excitedly behind the red and white police tape to see the mysterious, pentagon-shaped object that was the size of a small car.
“It’s a space ship,” said one young girl. “Can we open it?” asked another pupil.
Unknown to the children, aliens had not landed – the spaceship was part of an elaborate creative writing exercise at Al Mushrif School.
They were presented with evidence to support their suspicions the craft was a UFO. A homemade video showed footage of stormy clouds above the school followed by a spark of a bright light in the shape of the saucer.
The children scrambled around breathlessly exchanging stories of overnight power outages and seeing strange clouds in the sky.
“I couldn’t believe it because the sky was blue and then it turned red,” said Zaynab Ahmed, 10.
“Are you sure it wasn’t the sunrise?” asked Hana Shaalan, 10.
The pupils’ excitement increased when their teachers took the register to check no one had been abducted by aliens.
“I need to make sure everybody’s here and that they haven’t taken anybody,” said Matt Booth, a grade 6 teacher and head of the upper school. “Ali, Ali, are you safe? Hamdan, are you alive?”
With everyone accounted for, Mr Booth told the students to gather into groups.
“All lessons have been cancelled,” he told them. “We have to get to the bottom of what’s going on.”
All of the school’s pupils, from age 3 to 14, took part in a day-long exercise to piece together the story behind the flying saucer.
The older children acted as journalists. Armed with notebooks and pencils, they jotted down information from witnesses, including police officers, school staff and a pilot who visited during assembly.
The pupils were tasked with writing a newspaper article and a script for a television newscast based on the day’s events.
The exercise was the idea of the school’s principal, Alistair Bond.
“We wanted something that would really encourage them to use really enriched language, really develop their language and to have something that would cause them to ask lots and lots of questions,” he said.
“The teachers can then take that into a really interesting form of creative writing. It’s gone better than I thought.”
Mr Bond built the UFO in his home using plywood, duct tape, paint and plastic tarpaulin.
“As adults, we’re often guilty of not allowing our imagination to be set free,” he said. “The children are naturally creative, they’re imaginative, they’re inquisitive. Having days like this encourages them to increase their curiosity to have their imagination stimulated, but it’s also something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
For Mohamed, the assignment was a lot of fun.
“It was cool because it’s the first time we did something that’s not boring,” he said.