Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The flea circus as a teaching resource

As previously mentioned I regularly trawl the web and blogs for people discussing flea circuses. A recent article came to my attention that raised the suggestion that flea circuses were not relevant to teachers.

So here are my thoughts on why it is relevant and some suggestions for teaching ideas. I'd like to point out that I'm not actually a teacher so you may need to adjust these ideas to meet the age range of your students and to meet the needs of your curiculum.


You’ve got magnification, magnetism (as used in lots of humbug style circuses), springs, syphoning (the flea is of the order siphonaptera), machining small items such as watch cogs (the first flea circuses were made by jewelers and watch makers), sensing heat and detecting CO2 (which is how fleas find their hosts) and even Nanotechnology although just plain old micromaching would be fine for a flea circus.


Look at Flea Circus Books and Flea Circus films discuss how the flea circus is used as a metaphor and how there is often a mysterious or sinister connection. Use the flea circus to introduce students to rhyming e.g. Freds Friendly Flea Finale. The British Council suggests that the flea circus can be used as a comprehension exercise.

Foreign Languages

What is a flea circus in different languages? Use the idea of a flea circus performance to introduce directions such as left, right, up down etc. See Portland Secondary College's "Le Cirque des impossibilités" project.


In my research I've been looking into historical flea circuses. I used genealogy techniques such as censuses, births, deaths and marriage records, church records and newspaper reports with regards to tracking down L.Bertolotto. Many towns had flea circuses, see if there was one in yours. Look at how social changes reduced flea populations and discuss what may have reduced peoples visits to shows such as flea circuses.

Look at the environmental conditions needed to sustain fleas and how that compares to other animals. Show how fleas and other parasites have transmitted diseases such as the plague.


Historically the flea circus was used to enact political satires of the time, also see the Death of a Flea Circus Director film.


For a junior audience a flea circus performance could be done. For teenagers there are many books and films that reference flea circuses and could be used as short plays. The ideas misdirection and comic timing can be examined.


There are many flea circus songs and music that can be used and analysed. Often the flea is expressed in staccato notes and stanzas often with big "jumps" in pitch. The Ukulele in Hawaiian means "jumping Flea".

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