Monthly Archives: July 2009

School’s out Friday

Here’s a new improveverywhere mission. This time they throw a surprise wedding for a couple who have just married at a New York registry office. You can see this couple had a memorable day – probably far more memorable than they had first anticipated!

Enjoy the weekend and whatever it brings your way.  : )

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Barry Heard’s gift – his story.

I feel like I’ve been away from this blog for a long time. There has been so much to write about but other things – life – have got in the way.

Last Friday I was privileged to be a member of the audience when Barry Heard addressed our Year 9 students and spoke of his experiences during and after the Vietnam War. We are studying Michael Gerard Bauer’s ‘The Running Man’, a story that recounts the experience of a reclusive figure, Tom Leyton, who experienced time in Vietnam. It was an hour and a half that saw our students transfixed by story.  Barry left nothing out and didn’t sanitise the experience. I’ve read works by Tim O’Brien that tell Vietnam like it was; Barry’s recount was on par with ‘The Things they Carried‘.

Barry spent twelve months in a psychiatric institution. It was during this time that he wrote, ‘Well Done, Those Men’. He didn’t give it to a publisher  until he had gone some way towards recovering from the post traumatic stress disorder he was suffering from. Its publication has led to thousands of emails and speaking engagements where Barry has been able to inform and enlighten many of us who need to hear this story.

This is Barry’s gift to us. I doubt that he would associate the word gift with his experience. But a gift it is. Some gifts come with sharp edges and teach us something about ourselves. I know that what Barry has imparted has been a gift to my students who have learnt much from the experience. Just reading some of the comments they have shared in our Ning has confirmed for me that sharp edged messages, although hard to hear, are important.

Four main things affected me most:
When he was first sent to war and dumped his bag on the bed, not knowing that it was a shrine to the mate of his tent-mates. I would feel really shameful and stupid, just flinging it there, so disrespectful to their mate, even though he had no idea what the significance of the bed was.
The story of the horses in world war 1 – how he’d always wondered why the veteran he knew collected all the broken-down, retired old farm horses etc, and saved them, and then finally found out that it was because of all the horses who died in WW1.
When he returned to Australia and went to university and was abused horrifically for something he’d had no choice in whatsoever. He hadn’t had any idea what he was doing, where he was going, what or where Vietnam was, or anything – he’d never wanted to go kill people, and then when he finally got out and came back he was beaten and shouted at and had …muck… thrown at him. Everyone was just so ignorant.
His mother’s last words: “My Barry never came home.” He’d changed so much… He didn’t mean to, but he did.

This was a truly moving and eye-opening experience, listening to Barry’s description, so flat and matter-of-fact and shattering. I cried all the way home in the car because I just had to share it with my mum. I’m really glad that I listened to this talk, even though it made me cry like a tap (and I don’t think that bench thing in the lecture theatre will ever be the same… :( )

        I think that Barry Heard’s talk, or presentation (I’m not sure exactly what is was), was a little disturbing, to say the least. I’m glad he didn’t treat us like children and leave out some bits that other authors and such would have, but both my friends and I are having trouble wondering whether we “enjoyed” the talk or not. What he has been through was mind blowing, and awful, and the fact that he had been administered in a mental home just a few years ago made it seem surreal. When he told us that 3 of his friends from the war had committed suicide, and about his friend who had half his face blown off, and his animated “BOOMS” that seemed to make everyone in the room jump, well I think that it made it just seem a whole lot more awful then Tom Leyton’s break down. While Tom Leyton had been to the war, and had had awful experiences like Barry, I think it was just a small shadow of the reality of what people went through.

My reply to this comment was this;

You know, there are times in life when I think we need to be exposed to the uncomfortable realities of what some people are exposed to and have to endure. We lead pretty sanitised lives for the most part. If we don’t have opportunities to ‘walk in another’s shoes’ how do we develop empathy for our fellow human beings who travel a road far more rocky than the one we take? Yes Barry’s talk was disturbing, but it could also be described as enlightening. I awoke to some realities of the war experience and the difficulties faced by veterans on their return home to a country that didn’t have a lot of empathy for what they had endured.I think this talk has made us look at ‘The Running Man’ and the character of Tom Leyton with much more empathy. We have had an opportunity to walk, for a brief moment, in someone else’s shoes.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am that we have the Ning environment where we can share an experience like this. We have two threads running in the Ning at the moment related to Barry’s speech and we have had 35 replies. All of them express sincere feelings from our students and let us know how much they valued Barry’s words. Last year our student’s heard Barry’s words but no forum like this existed where they could share their thoughts about the experience.   

Barry began his talk by showing us a pen and telling us it was his best friend. He told my students it could be their best friend too. I think some of them are starting to realise this. I know that the last year and  half have taught me that writing is cathartic and leads to growth. Barry knows this; let’s hope that others who are carrying heavy loads can learn the same thing……

*My students created a wiki about Australian involvement in Vietnam. I am very proud of their efforts. They created the pages over three lessons.

*Be on the lookout for Tag, Barry’s latest work. My students are clamouring to read it after Barry’s description. Geoffrey Blainey emailed Barry to tell him it was the best account of the trench warfare in Gallipoli that he had ever read.

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PLP – the experience

We’ve just spent the last week or so summing up our PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) experience as a culminating video for presentation for an international audience, who may want to visit the PLP site and see for themselves what is possible when a team of people commit themselves to making change within their school.

I can’t speak for everyone on the team, but for me the experience has been a positive one. I make a comment in our video where I say that I felt like an evangelist in our school prior to PLP, trying to convince others of the need for adoption of new ideas. That was a pretty difficult space to habitat. People have a tendancy to steer clear of evangelists; they represent a maniacal fervour that others find off putting. PLP gave a team of teachers a reason to be involved and a reason to change.

From a team perspective, we had members who made huge gains and members who made smaller gains. The sheer fact that our school community has been exposed to and understands to some extent what Wikis and Nings are is monumental in my opinion. We’ve even had Ning discussed at a school assembly and our school publications have included articles that reference the new technologies that have been adopted in our school curriculum. We still have work to do but we are further than we were last year and there are more of us willing to explore what is possible.

Pretty darn good outcome in my opinion.

From a personal perspective I have made huge gains. I am linked to a community of educators who have supported me, taught me, learnt from me and who have laughed with me. They come from Australia and the United States and I am sure that the connections we have made will continue. I have had my opinions about the power of learning communities reinforced; we are stronger when there are many of us working together.

Judge for yourself. Here is Toorak College’s Adventures in Wonderland.

TeacherTube Videos – Toorak College’s Adventures in Wonderland

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School’s out Friday

I haven’t written a post in a week. Did anyone notice?

It’s not that there haven’t been things to write about. I’ve been busy getting our PLP video organised and was hit with a head cold that didn’t stop me going to work, but it did slow me down once I’d got home in the evenings. Just did not have any extra energy to get to this blog.

Tonight I’ve been out to dinner with Sheryl Nussbaum Beach  and her lovely daughter Grace, Will Richardson and a variety of other people including Tania Sheko, Mary Manning, Andrew Hiskins, Rhonda Powling, Marie Salinger and Leonie Dyason. It was a really nice evening where we were able to reflect on our PLP experiences and enjoy good conversation. Andrew Hiskins referred to the above Rowan Atkinson video during a discussion we were having about Libraries. I’d never seen it so I did enjoy a laugh when I got home.

I need to get back to posting and I will be uploading Toorak College’s PLP video over the weekend. For now, time for sleep!

Enjoy your weekend and whatever it brings.  

 

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School’s out Friday

I love Hamish and Andy. You’ve probably figured this out if you’ve been following School’s out Friday posts for awhile. This one is worthy of a look. It’s Hamish and Andy freeating for a week. They decided that a solution to the Global Financial Crisis would be to avoid paying for food and see what you could get for free. They weren’t allowed to try the same tactic more than once.

I certainly laughed. I hope you do too if you watch it. Have a great weekend.

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Confronting the arch enemy.

Return to work week. Return to meetings, classes, projects, correction and everything else that comes with the teaching profession.

Return to a confrontation with my arch enemy.

 Time.

Time to learn new things. Time to implement new ideas into my practice. Time to transform our library functionality into something more reflective of the things I am used to working with now. Time to meet my commitments. Time to write this blog. Time to raise my children. Time to be a wife. Time to be a daughter. Time to be me.

How do we do it all? Truth is, we can’t. We have to compromise. I have to make do with posting two times a week sometimes because my kids need me more than my readers do. I have to work at my full time job because I have students relying on me and it has to be my primary focus.

There’s no avoiding the push and pull of time that drives our lives. We just have to accept it and do the best we can. Just as I was beginning to write this post, emails came through indicating action on our class Ning. The conversation that is taking place there right now is focused on our study of Michael Gerard Bauer’s, ‘The Running Man’. Our discussion prompt is, ‘The Running Man – your early impressions.’  The emails I received tonight came through at 8.00pm and 9.00pm. Here is what was posted. My comment intersects the two.

“I liked that Joseph didn’t complain like some other shy characters do, this made him far more likeable. I found The Running Man more of an ‘intelligent’ book than ‘Bye, Beautiful’ if that makes sense, this was another reason why I enjoyed it so”

“I think you’re right. It is an intelligent book. It makes you appreciate how language can be woven to create images that make you pause and consider. I think ‘Bye Beautiful’ had similar qualities to some extent. Personally, I appreciated the way that novel was written as well. Could it be, as you suggest, that the likeability of Joseph was a marked contrast to the character of Sandy who many found to be whiny and insipid?”

“Yes I also think that Joseph is a really pleasant character. Most characters that are labelled as shy and introvert are usually quite annoying and whiny like what you have all said. I think Joseph has sort of a peaceful and pleasant feel to him, although he is quite nervous sometimes around people; he’s not the annoying nervous like for example Sandy (as you said). When you’re reading the book you don’t feel impatient with him like -“Oh hurry up already and just spit it out.” -

I haven’t finished the book yet but so far i’m really liking it… for some reason it doesn’t feel like a book that we have to read for school, it’s more like a hobby book. :) ”              

So yes, I am confronting my arch enemy every day. I am battling with my arch enemy, time. But the time I have invested is reaping rewards. And I bet it is for many others out there too.

We just have to realise we can only do what is possible in the hours we have at our diposal.

Deal with it. Accept it. Do the best you can with the time you have.

I’m trying.

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Just think about it…

Just think about it……….

1o years ago, if I wanted to find out about Biston Betularia and Industrial Melanism I would have had to venture to my local library, search the  catalogue and hope that a book they had contained some information about what it is. My best bet may have been the hard copy of World Book or Encyclopedia Brittanica.  

Last night, after seeing a tweet from factlets about the Peppered Moth in England, I had cause to consider the speed at which you can acquire information these days. Jo Hart, from Perth, replied to my tweet with this;

Biston betularia and industrial melanism – thnq Jenny you just took me back to my younger self at uni   

Now I’d never heard of Biston Betularia and Industrial Melanism, but a quick Google search led me to a page of results  (with 3,100 results) for me to peruse.  Quite quickly I’d ascertained it’s origins and how the Peppered Moth was the best-studied example of this. If I had have visited Mahalo, I would have discovered a page listing images, video and results from Twitter. Right now if you visit this page you’ll see Jo’s reply to me listed in the Twitter results. Now that is cool!

I recounted this story to a work colleague today and we both marvelled at the rapidity of information retrieval today. Even though this is commonplace now, it still holds me in awe of the power of internet based search.  It makes me look at our non-fiction collection and question why we invest considerable dollars purchasing slim tomes for $40.00 a pop that may languish there untouched for years. It’s particularly relevant to question this when you work in a 1:1 environment (that means all of your students have laptops). I’ve said it before, the students at my school look to the internet first for information before they would think of venturing to the shelves. When I think of my practice now, I’m the same. It has certainly evolved from when I first started teaching  at Toorak College nearly 4 yrs ago.

Now, to think about what search might be like 10 years from now?……..

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