Contextualising life

Watching an episode of Modern Family had me thinking about the importance of being able to have a context for understanding of so many things we are confronted with on a daily basis. Cameron, the big gay guy, was wandering the streets looking for Stella, the lost dog Jay adores. As he shouts out ‘Stella’, he realises he is wearing a tshirt very like the one worn by Marlon Brando who played Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee William’s, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire‘. His cries for Stella become more impassioned as a result. For me, the joke was obvious, but my two children, having no context, had to ask why was I laughing.

Today, I was reading an answer on Quora, and it made mention of Alexander the Great and Bucephalus. I was immediately taken back to my obsession with all things Ancient Greek in my first year at Teacher’s College. But once again, it had me wondering. How many times a day do we not entirely grasp the full intentions of information we read or view, because we don’t have enough context to understand it in it’s entirety? How much does our formal education play a part in our general knowledge base, and is that determined by the teachers you had or your ability to ferret for information yourself?

In Victoria’s VCE English curriculum, Area of Study 2 requires students to study a central theme or idea, and be inspired to write from a variety of texts, be they print or visual. I’m teaching Year 10 English this year, and we are beginning our course with a thematic study in a similar vein to what the student’s will encounter in Area of Study 2 in VCE. In past years, students have created a hard copy folio of stimulas material, but this year, we are going to have our students use Storify for the same purpose. Storify is a fantastic curation tool, and is currently being used by individuals, corporations and news organisations around the world to report on current events.

I can’t help but think that the students with a broad general knowledge base have the advantage over others when it comes to formulating a response to Area of Study 2. Hopefully, the use of a tool like Storify will help our students comprehend the importance of reading widely and accessing a variety of sources to help formulate understanding.

I know that when I introduce this topic, I’ll be talking about the importance of being well read and able to contextualise life. School’s purpose is not just to get students through the final exams of year 12 with a decent enough ATAR score to get them into University courses. We’re helping to prepare these young people for the rest of their lives, and we want them to know how important it is to have context for understanding. I think I might just get Cam and Marlon to help me make my point.



Welcome 2011, Luca style.

Like many others, my family and I discovered the delights of the television program, Modern Family, last year. We looked forward to our weekly dose of hilarity, and my daughter watched episodes on her computer and told us all the funny bits before we’d even seen them.  If you know nothing about the series, then I encourage you to visit the US abc site and read about it, or if you live in the United States, watch the latest episode online there.

What I like about it is that you can relate to the idiosyncrasies that make up what being part of a family is. There are days when I feel like I’m part of the series, as my family traverses the ups and downs of modern life. I experienced a couple of moments today, and for something a little different, I thought I’d share with you why I love being a part of the Luca household.

My husband is a guy who really can’t relax. Seriously. When he does, he’s always on at me about what we’re going to do next. He’s on holidays at the moment, and was already scratching around for something to do by the end of Boxing Day. Our laundry was the one room of the house that still had the floor tiles that had been laid in the early 1970’s. Conjure up an image of hideous maroon coloured tiles with brown grout and you get the picture. He’s been wanting to have a go at it for years, and I finally said “Go for it”, when I realised he’d have me on a schedule of ‘let’s do something’ if he didn’t have a project on the go. Five minutes after the go ahead, he was ripping up that floor like a man possessed.

Suffice to say, less than three days later, we have very nicely laid laminate wooden flooring and have probably seen our house value increase as a result. Here’s a picture of my very happy husband after he’d laid the last board.

Here’s a clearer shot of what the floor looked like.

Pretty impressive stuff. Now, what’s next on his holiday to do job list I wonder!

My daughter has spent the last few days cocooned in her room reading. This is a girl who eighteen months ago wouldn’t open a book willingly to read one. I was always lamenting the fact that here I was, a librarian, who could inspire other kids to immerse themselves in literature, but I couldn’t get my own kid reading. Well, I have Stephanie Meyer to thank for my daughter’s penchant for the printed word now. Yes, she was yet another, lured into the compelling grip of the Twilight series. Right now, she’s devoured all of John Marsden‘s, ‘Tomorrow’ series, and she’s moved onto ‘The Ellie Chronicles‘. I better have something ready in the wings, because the last book will be blown away by midday tomorrow I’m guessing!

My son has spent most of the last few days watching episode after episode of Modern Family. Yes, we got the series for Christmas, and he is practically reciting the scripts now. He’s also been scouring YouTube for interviews with cast members and has discovered a vast array of background information about the actors that he’s been sharing with us all on a regular basis. I think his immersion is having an impact, because he created his own Modern Family incident today that the screenwriters should use in my opinion.

Picture this. My husband and I were at Bunnings, a large hardware store that you find scattered throughout all Australian suburbs. It’s like a giant shed with rows and rows of hardware, housing and garden needs. We’d left the kids in the car; they’re not little, and it wasn’t a particularly hot day. We were wandering down the silicon aisle, debating whether we buy clear or coloured silicone, when we heard a loud voice calling, ‘Paul and Jenny Luca. Where are you?’ Not just once, it was over and over, and for us, it was recognisably our son’s voice. We called out, but he obviously couldn’t hear us, so we ran up aisles trying to locate him. Finally I saw him running in the opposite direction to us, so using my loudest teacher voice, I called his name. He heard, as did every other person in Bunnings, many who were looking at us strangely by this stage. He was flustered, but managed to let us know that the car alarm had gone off and he needed the keys to stop it. And here I was, thinking something had happened to my daughter or someone had run into our car in the carpark! At this stage, both of us were relieved, but we couldn’t refrain from laughing at the whole situation. Our son is a kid who doesn’t shy away from things, and here was yet another example of him doing what needed to be done, and doing it the most effective way he knew how, regardless of the embarrassment of running full pelt into a store and shouting out like your own personal loudhailer for someone’s attention.

I love my family. I love them for their individual qualities, and the way they all make my life special every day. I especially love them for the way they support me in all I do. Anyone who writes a blog and engages in online networks will know that it does pull you away. You can be in the same room as your family, but you’re not really there. You’re reading a twitter feed, jumping to the next link, thinking of what you might write about, how what you’re reading might impact on your teaching. You’re present in one sense, but not necessarily present where it matters most. My idiosyncrasies that have emerged over the last three years have had an enormous impact on the life of my family, and I love them for putting up with me and tolerating the long hours hunched over a keyboard and staring at a screen.

So, will 2011 see me pull back and give more of myself to them? I hope so, but fear I can’t deliver on that. I have a huge year ahead of me with work, and if all goes well, I think we will do some truly exciting things for our students this year. But to do what needs to be done is going to require huge investments of my time, and to top it off,  I’m responsible for the opening of a new library on my return to school. There are challenges ahead, and I will need to find that work/life balance that ensures I don’t lose sight of the people who matter most.
I’m betting I’m not the only one contemplating this at the start of the new year. How do we do what we do well, without damaging the relationships that keep us anchored? If you know the answer, fill me in on that one, won’t you? I’d appreciate it. : )

School’s out Friday

Late in my time zone, but still current in others!

I love the Christmas season. I’m a sucker for smarmy Christmas movies, decorated trees, houses lit to the nines, and a traditional Christmas Carol or two that can bring a tear to my eye. Handel‘s Hallelujah chorus can have that effect on me, and it’s performed to very good effect here in a very non-traditional food court. As with most flash mob efforts, what really captures my attention are the rapt expressions of the onlookers who delight in what is unfolding before them.

Another Flash Mob viewing this week was thanks to Modern Family. I am loving this series and it’s take on relationships within families. Take a look at their treatment of the phenomenom.

Hope it brought a smile your way and got your weekend off to a good start. Make the most of whatever delights the weekend brings. : )

* Thanks to Ann Oro for tweeting out a link to the Hallelujah Chorus flash mob.