Monthly Archives: July 2009

Conversation with the author

THis is partially cross-posted from my English class blog, http://englishwfc.wordpress.com/     with the addition of what happened since the post was written.

I’m teaching collaboratively in a year 7 English class. Since we’re studying Allan Baillie’s Little Brother, I thought I’d muster up enough courage to email the author himself, in the hope that he’d join our ning and interact with the students. What better way to create an authentic learning situation?

Well, guess what!? Allan Baillie has joined! He is part of our ning! I tell you, a day that moves like any other day, when frustration mounts, as it has a habit of doing – receiving an email reply from the renowned Australian author himself really turned things around for Maria and me. We were so thrilled!

Not so thrilled were we when we couldn’t find a trace of any such excitement on the boys’ faces. What? Are you kidding? Here we are organising the author himself for your information and enjoyment, and you can’t even stretch your face into a half-smile? What’s going on? Besides typical adolescent disengagement with anything that isn’t a game or related to free time or sport or TV.

Still, today was productive. A few days ago, Maria prepared the boys for questions by developing what would have been for any other class (I’m sure) a rich discussion leading to rich questions. Only it was like squeezing water from a stone. Seriously. And yet, these boys are never as predictable as we think they are, and today they happily entered their questions into the ning, demonstrating thoughtful and responsible online behaviour. We were proud, and we told them so.

I think for us, as teachers, it’s a lesson about the fact that the boys will never be as excited or appreciative as we are. How can we expect them to be? And I think, as we look into the ning activity, we can see that so much has happened – not even looking at the invisible activity which goes on in the background in the form of brainstorming, discussion, etc. – and in the end the ning is a transparent receptacle of this development and these breakthroughs.

Well, last night, I received an email notification to say that Allan Baillie had answered one of the students’ questions. Then another, and another, and soon most of the boys had received a reply to their question. I was so pleased! I think the boys should be too.

It’s very special that our boys are receiving individual answers to their questions. Here is an example:

Dear Mr Baillie,
I have read the book, Little Brother and I really liked the book. When I read it I felt like I was in Cambodia! I have one question, how did you feel when you were in Cambodia at the time of the Khmer Rouge?

Allan’s response:

I was Cambodia in 1969 and I visited some Frenchmen running a rubber plantation.
They slapped a revolver in my hand and took me on a night hunt in the plantation. They warned me about careless shooting because we were going into an area controlled by a few bandits. Harmless, they said, and charming. The bandits were just sick and tired of the corruption of the government. Called themselves Khmer Rouge. We stopped and I shot four coconuts.

I hope that this little exercise will be a lightbulb learning moment for the boys. We’ve been discussion the thinking behind the writing and creation of characters, and now that they’ve had a conversation with the author himself, I hope they’ll understand the power of the story, and the man behind the story.

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Filed under 21st century learning, author, learning, network literacy, networking, teaching, Web 2.0

Dangerous new (cyber)world

I firmly believe that we should educate students for their world.

There’s no doubt that they will function in an online and networked world, even more than they are doing now.

Yesterday our staff listened to Susan McLean’s talk about the dangers of the cyberworld. I became increasingly uncomfortable as the horror stories unfolded at the expense of a more balanced view, or even in terms of focusing on how we could manage cybersafety education.

I want to share my letter to the principal in the hope of opening up a conversation which will fill in the gaps to create a balanced picture of what we should be doing to educate our students as citizens of their future world.

To balance out last night’s presentation on cyberbullying, I would like to suggest that you look at ACMA which provides excellent links to resources and free PD.

 For example, here is the page for teens with practical help

 Here is the school page

There is free professional development

You can browse the site – it is set out clearly, and very helpful.

 I hope that our staff have been discerning in understanding that Susan McLean has presented a very extreme picture, describing the worst case scenarios (many of them), which should be acknowledged for what they are – worst case scenarios. It was difficult not to be affected by her stories; I know I was starting to panic and my instinct to run and save myself kicked in.

 What was unmistakable – Susan only mentioned that online involvement could be positive at the beginning and end of the presentation – she didn’t give examples. Her language was emotionally charged, and her numerous horror stories were dramatic.

It would be a shame if staff who were already resistant to technology and strangers to online possibilities in education, were to run even further away from technology – especially as we are a laptop school. We have to remember that we are educating students for their technology-rich world, not our world or the world of our own schooling.

 Just yesterday I was moderating comments in my fiction blog – no comments will be published until I approve them. I’m encouraging comments to inspire discussion around books and reading, and I noticed a student had commented on a student review of the new Harry Potter movie. The comment was fine, but the last sentence inappropriately put down a boy who had received a scholarship. I found the boy, had a little chat with him about what was inappropriate in the comment (he understood), and asked him to resubmit the comment without the negative part. This is part of students’ ongoing education – who else will teach them how to behave online if we don’t?

 We need, more than ever, to understand the power of these technologies, and educate our students to use them responsibly. The only way we will understand these from the inside is if we play with them ourselves. I would be more than happy to show you my Facebook and Twitter involvement – they are an important part of my professional development and educational support.

 What is also imperative, is that we don’t mix up the problematic online activities of our students in their leisure time with the technology that can be used to support teaching and learning, eg. Blogs, nings, etc.

 When you have time, please have a look at the 7M ning – we are thrilled to have Allan Baillie, author of our literature study, ‘Little Brother’, as part of our ning, ready to join the students in discussion. What better way to learn about the book than have the author answer questions – this is authentic learning. The boys and Maria and I are excited that Allan has agreed to join us, and we spent yesterday’s lesson reading his life story on his website in preparation for our interaction with him.

 I hope you accept my email in the spirit it has been written. I believe that we need to educate our students for their world. We should not bury our heads in the sand, but accept the challenge, moving past our own discomfort with technology, and taking up our responsibility to educate responsible citizens.

Thanks to Lisa Dumicich for the link to ACMA on Twitter.

I would be extremely  interested in hearing what you think about this issue of cybersafety and the use of Web 2.0 technologies in education. Please enter into the conversation.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, internet, network literacy, networking, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Science and fiction – The Human Genre Project

The Human Genre Project

is a collection of new writing in very short forms — short stories, flash fictions, reflections, poems — inspired by genes and genomics.

Starting with just a few pieces at its launch in July 2009, the collection will grow and develop over time.

The Human Genre Project is an initiative of the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, part of the ESRC Genomics Network, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and based at The University of Edinburgh.

Wow. Creative writing inspired by science. I love the overlap in disciplines; it would be good to enable more of this at school, where subjects seem to live in separate worlds, as if life were cut up into mutually exclusive areas.

genome

The main page shows 24 different chromosomes: 22 autosomes, which are numbered, and two sex chromosomes, labelled as X and Y.

Here’s the unusual part – when you click on a chromosome, you get the title which takes you to the creative writing piece. This example links from chromosome #8:

The WRN gene on chromosome 8 is responsible for Werner syndrome, which causes premature ageing.

My hair goes grey and falls out, my teeth yellow and decay, brown spots bloom on my skin. I’m thirty-six years old. My world is a room, and a view of the sea beyond it.

I’ve been told that there’s something wrong with me. But I know my physics. I know that in this universe there has to be decay and disorder. I’m normal. I’m entropy.

I try to sip tea but my clawed fingers let the cup fall to the floor. Liquid spills out from its shattered remains and soaks into the carpet.

What I don’t understand is why the rest of them never change. My twin brother could be my son. His teeth are white and even, his hair is as glossy as ever. His skin always has a rosy blush. He comes here regularly to tell me about life outside my room. Life with other people, other women. There seem to be many women. Or perhaps it’s just tales.

But as I sit listening to him and his stories, I realise how they do it. While I stay here, they’re all travelling around. Einstein had a theory about twins; one sits in his small room, watching the sea, and the other zooms to the stars. As he accelerates to the speed of light, time slows down for him, so when he gets back he’s younger than his stay-at-home brother.

I ask my brother, “Where did you park your rocket ship?” I look outside, “I can’t see it.”

The rocket ship looked like a bicycle, but apparently it worked very well, and my brother frequently made trips to the centre of our galaxy.

“I got rid of it,” he replies, “I replaced it with a quantum teleporter. They’re all the rage now.”

All I can see out of the window is a little red car. “That’s it,” he says. “The women like it.” And sure enough a woman gets out of the car and waves at us.

This was written by Pippa Goldschmidt inspired by chromosome 8.

The WRN gene on chromosome 8 is responsible for Werner syndrome, which causes premature ageing.

My hair goes grey and falls out, my teeth yellow and decay, brown spots bloom on my skin. I’m thirty-six years old. My world is a room, and a view of the sea beyond it.

I’ve been told that there’s something wrong with me. But I know my physics. I know that in this universe there has to be decay and disorder. I’m normal. I’m entropy.

I try to sip tea but my clawed fingers let the cup fall to the floor. Liquid spills out from its shattered remains and soaks into the carpet.

What I don’t understand is why the rest of them never change. My twin brother could be my son. His teeth are white and even, his hair is as glossy as ever. His skin always has a rosy blush. He comes here regularly to tell me about life outside my room. Life with other people, other women. There seem to be many women. Or perhaps it’s just tales.

But as I sit listening to him and his stories, I realise how they do it. While I stay here, they’re all travelling around. Einstein had a theory about twins; one sits in his small room, watching the sea, and the other zooms to the stars. As he accelerates to the speed of light, time slows down for him, so when he gets back he’s younger than his stay-at-home brother.

I ask my brother, “Where did you park your rocket ship?” I look outside, “I can’t see it.”

The rocket ship looked like a bicycle, but apparently it worked very well, and my brother frequently made trips to the centre of our galaxy.

“I got rid of it,” he replies, “I replaced it with a quantum teleporter. They’re all the rage now.”

All I can see out of the window is a little red car. “That’s it,” he says. “The women like it.” And sure enough a woman gets out of the car and waves at us.

Pippa Goldschmidt is Writer in Residence at the Genomics Forum. I’ve mentioned Pippa in an earlier post; her writing is often inspired by science.

Chromosome 11 leads to a piece called Photophobia,

an eye disorder in which the iris is partially or completely missing. A person with aniridia frequently has photophobia (sensitivity to light). The mutation is in the PAX6 gene on chromosome 11.

The telomeric tale of the mouse’s tail (chromosome X) is a shape poem.

chromosome

You can find the original painting/collage here and it looks like this:

mousetale

Still in progress, this is a fascinating project, demonstrating the possibilities in the union between science and art.

If you like this, have a look at what inspired it: Michael Swanwick’s Periodic Table of Science Fiction.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, Interesting, poetry

Alice in Wonderland trailer

This is cross-posted from my other blog, Fiction is like a box of chocolates.

Directed by Tim Burton (famous for Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare before Christmas, and Charlie and the chocolate factory) and starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland, due out early 2010 (March 5), has already sparked interest from film-goers who have enjoyed a recent spate of fantasy films, such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Narnia series, to mention a few.

Out of all these, Alice in Wonderland is arguably the strangest story, playing around with logic, celebrating nonsense and absurb characters, many of them animals. But how many people know that the original story, Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, was written in 1865 by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the author better known as Lewis Carroll.

 Arthur Rackham’s illustration250px-Rackham_Alice

What child (or adult) can resist a story which allows the reader to escape the boredom of daily life by escaping down a rabbit hole, and enter into a world of crazy characters. Did you know that early Alice fans included Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde?

Proof of the popularity of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland  is the fact that it has never been out of print, with over a hundred editions, as well as different theatre and film versions.

The film versions of Alice often mix the original story of The adventures of Alice in Wonderland with the sequel Alice through the looking glass. Characters like Twiddledee and Twiddledum, Humpty Dumpty and Jabberwock are actually from the sequel, but are often included in the original story in films.

The setting, Wonderland, has inspired the imagination of many. One of the novels written after the TV series, Dr Who, was called Wonderland. There are many songs called Wonderland, including the one by Simply Red. There are numerous amusement parks called Wonderland, including the one in Sydney which my family used to enjoy, and which is now, unfortunately, closed (sob).

Did you know that Alice has also been used in the field of medicine? There is a neurological condition called Alice in Wonderland syndrome, also known as Todd’s syndrome, in which things seem larger or smaller than they really are.

Comics have also been influenced by Alice. The supervillain of the Batman comics, The Mad Hatter, for example. And on TV, the seventh season of The Simpsons included references to the Alice story.

There are many phrases from Alice that have been used in popular culture. How many times has the phrase ‘Off with her head!’ been repeated? And what about ‘we’re all mad here’ spoken by the Cheshire Cat? Another often repeated phrase is the one uttered by Alice when she started growing after trying the cake labelled ‘Eat me’ – ‘curiouser and curiouser’.

Not everybody liked the book. Fantasy writer, Terry Pratchett, didn’t like it at all. And in 1931, it was banned in Hunan, China, because it put animals and humans on the same level, and especially because animals used human language, which was apparently unacceptable!

And who hasn’t read and enjoyed the nonsense poem, Jabberwocky, found in Alice through the looking glass, considered by some to be the greatest nonsense poem in the English language?

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

If you’d like to read Alice’s adventures in Wonderland online, click here.

Have a look at the Disney website for Alice in Wonderland.

Or why don’t you just read the book?

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Power of photography: Prix Pictet

I stumbled across this website and have been moved and absorbed by these images, as well as the artists’ thinking behind their works. The information in this post has been selectively copied from the Prix Pictet website.

Sponsored by the Geneva private bank Pictet & Cie, the Prix Pictet is the world’s first prize dedicated to photography and sustainability

Prix Pictet’s vision

Food riots. Loss of forest cover. Desertification. The ecosystems we depend on appear to face resource demands already beyond their capacity. As governments try urgently to stimulate growth, a central question remains. Can the earth’s complex living systems sustain the future consumption patterns of another three billion people in the world’s population by 2050?

Or are we making the transition, as the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen has suggested, to a point where the face of the earth – its soil, its waters, its groves, its hollows – is no longer natural, but bears the terminal scars of man’s intervention.

I was looking through the shortlisted artists, I thought I’d share some of my favourite ones.

Yao Lu : Dwelling in the Mount Fuchun

YaoLu

Photography can be understood in traditional ways: It can ‘record’ many histories long before our own time, and it can take people back to times and situations many years ago. But photography is also very contemporary. It can re-assemble and re-edit the things that we actually see in order to produce illusions that people see when they are in front of such photographic works. In these works, you see images that are both real and fictional.

Darren Almond: Shan Shui fullmoon

DarrenAlmond

 Since 1998, Almond has been making a series of landscape photographs called the Fullmoons. Taken during a full moon with an exposure time of 15 minutes or more, these images of remote geographical locations appear ghostly, bathed in an unexpectedly brilliant light where night seems to have turned into day.

Nadav Kander : Frozen River, Qinghai

frozenYangtze

China is a nation that appears to be severing its roots by destroying its past in the wake of the sheer force of its moving “forward” at such an astounding and unnatural pace. A people scarring their country and a country scarring its people.

Edgar Martins: Untitled from the series ‘The diminishing present’.

EdgarMartins

For all their historical evocation and appeal to the sublime, these images reflect on both the physical death of the landscape and the death of the landscape as a pictorial ‘theme’.

Chris Steele-Perkins: Early morning shadow of Mt Fuji from summit

MtFuji

Nowadays, Mount Fuji is a national park but it is covered in, or surrounded by, theme parks, golf courses, resorts, cities and scrap yards as well as being used as a military testing ground by both the Japanese and American armed forces. At the same time there are still magical areas of great tranquillity, but they are increasingly being eroded.

The Prix Pictet is born of a flicker of hope — that photographs … have the power, as Gro Harlem Brundtland put it in her remarks at the launch of the inaugural Prix Pictet in 2008 , “to move us and shake us”. To take the sustainability statistic, validated, econometrically correct, but devoid of emotional force, and make it something that moves us to action.

Sponsored by the Geneva private bank Pictet & Cie, the Prix Pictet is the world’s first prize dedicated to photography and sustainability. It has a unique mandate – to use the power of photography to communicate crucial messages to a global audience; and it has a unique goal – art of the highest order, applied to the immense social and environmental threats of the new millennium.

So much talent…

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Powerful Learning Practice presentation is finished!

Well, when I say finished, I mean that the first layer of our presentation is complete. Whitefriars College Powerful Learning Practice cohort has documented their PLP journey on a blog which is the platform for all the projects, experimentation and reflection during the course of this year.

Marie Salinger and I have spent long hours pulling the presentation together, and at the end of it we feel deeply satisfied. As I was saying to Marie earlier today, the experience reminds me of the ‘Stone soup’ story:

a tale in which strangers trick a starving town into giving them some food. It is usually told as a lesson in cooperation, especially amid scarcity. In varying traditions, the stone has been replaced with other common inedible objects, and therefore the fable is also known as button soup, wood soup, nail soup, and axe soup (from Wikipedia).

It really was exactly like that – at first we thought we didn’t have enough for the presentation but gradually we gathered things from here and there, pooling our resources and forcing reflection and evaluation, until we surprised ourselves with the result.

So we have the first layer. And as Marie Salinger has said,

It has been a very positive and affirming experience to take the time to do this. Evaluating, reflecting on , summing up and consolidating the work we have been doing for the past nine months has been a very worthwhile endeavour.

Now that we have the blog as a space for sharing, we can continue to add to it as we go. I’m going to link to a new blog which follows the progress of 7M Ning, and I hope other team members will do the same. What would be even more encouraging – if the blogs inspired other members of the school community to have a go. It would be fantastic to see blogs for each faculty, documenting progress, reflecting, evaluating and celebrating.

Here is a short audiovisual reflection and summary of our journey.

Here is a link to the blog.

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Filed under 21st century learning, networking, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Update. Twitter gets results.

Just a short update on the Recurring External Blog Saga – so far the recent student review has scored 63 hits today! (5 last night when I posted it late)

Joshreview

 

Thanks, Josh, for boosting the fiction blog stats to 127 so far. I don’t usually get that number on my personal blog!  Thanks personal learning network and Twitter.

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