Zombie crime scene helping kids learn about science

A race against time to find a kidnapped scientist and prevent a zombie outbreak — it sounds like the plot of a B-grade film but it's actually part of a new learning initiative at a school in Sydney's west.

The amateur detective program was designed by teachers at Penrith Valley School, a facility for children with behavioural problems or complex emotional needs who have struggled with mainstream learning.

"A lot of them have had a lot of poor experiences in the classroom so they've got an expectation of failure that they're bringing in," principal Nic Danta said.

"And so the first stage is just to re-build that trust and connect them with education."

Through a series of videos filmed and performed by the school's teachers, the students are briefed on their mission to track down a missing scientist named Dr Stein and recreate his zombie vaccine before an outbreak spreads from the Moon to Earth.

Dressed in protective clothing, they're led to a 'crime scene' complete with gory props where they start searching for clues about the scientist's disappearance.

To crack the case, they'll also need to conduct science experiments and written work along the way.

Mr Danta said the program was aimed improving the students' school work as well as their problem-solving and teamwork skills.

"It's open ended learning so rather than them looking to the teacher for answers they've got to try to solve these problems, which is more what real life is about," he said.

"Having a lot of humour in it to make learning fun and engaging rather than dry and boring is part of it too."

Enthusiastic about learning

Nicole Belmonte's 10-year-old son Leigh moved to Penrith Valley recently.

Ms Belmonte said the school's creative approach was already making a difference to her son's behaviour.

"He didn't feel comfortable, he didn't feel confident, he had severe anxiety, depression and just a general fear that he couldn't handle going to school and that seems to be slowly overcome," she said.

"To see his confidence building and his interaction with other students, to do a full day of school and still be asking 'can I stay, mum', even when it's home time, that's a massive change."

The role of the missing scientist was played by teacher Jake Matthews, who also spent weeks making props and hiding clues.

"I'm a bit of a celebrity, at lunch the kids come up to me and say 'hey, you're Dr Stein'," he said.

He hoped the program would have a positive impact on the students in the longer term.

"It's great to see the kids actually be kids, to seem them enthusiastic about learning," Mr Matthews said.

"And for them to know that whether you're on the Moon or whether you're in western Sydney, they can achieve great things."