K-12 Online Conference 2008

This looks interesting/unmissable:

“The K-12 Online Conference invites participation from educators around the world interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning.

“This FREE conference is run by volunteers and open to everyone. The 2008 conference theme is Amplifying Possibilities. This year’s conference begins with a pre-conference keynote the week of October 13, 2008. The following two weeks, October 20-24 and October 27-31, forty presentations will be posted online to the conference blog for participants to download and view. Live Events in the form of three Fireside Chats and a culminating When Night Falls event will be announced.

“Everyone is encouraged to participate in both live events during the conference as well as asynchronous conversations.

“More information about podcast channels and conference web feeds is available here.”

Using an index: from A to Zebra

It had to happen: another of my analogies has taken on a life of its own.

Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 students at my school have been studying Aboriginal Dreaming stories, interspersed with factual information about the animals/characters featured.

A few weeks ago, it was “Why the emu cannot fly”, followed by information reports about emus and other flightless birds. We also backed up the accumulation of facts with a few picture books, such as “Edwina the emu” by Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement, because fictitious Edwinda leaves poor ol’ partner Edward on the nest of large green eggs, just like in real life.

The students discussed possibilities of why emu eggs were green, and we considered the camouflaging patterns of baby emus, which enable them to hide in the shadows, away from predators. I compared their stripey patterns to that of zebras in Africa.

In our final week of the unit about dreaming stories, we’ve been using a book of Australian birds and I’ve been modelling the use of the index to look examples. The students were facinated that this particular index had no X, Y or Z, but someone in each class has usually been able to explain that, obviously, there are no major Australian birds starting with those letters. (I think I even said something stupid like, “If zebras were Australian birds, they’d be listed down here”, as I pointed to the end of the index – with my index finger.)

Of course, a whole week later, our oral revision of Australian bird facts had turned up the inadequacies of human memories. My question about camouflaging emu chicks was answered thusly:

“Baby emus have stripes so that goannas and snakes will mistake them for zebras.”

I’d been consoling myself by telling another teacher who came into the library the next day – we had a good laugh about it – but then, as if planned that way, one of her students came out the same factoid.

Oh dear. Chinese whispers are alive and well. And so, too, are Australia’s feral zebras, it seems.
Zebra with spots
The infamous spotted zebra of western Sydney: we believe he can camouflage in a litter of dalmations.

Communicating: home & school

Now that the Beijing Olympics & Book Week 2008 rap has come to a conclusion, I decided to select a variety of extracts from my groups’ rap responses (sports articles, a few photos, a wrap rap up message) and combined them as a mini-newspaper (double-sided A4, folding down to make a simple four-paged booklet of The Shaggy Penrith Times), which will slip inside our school newsletter tomorrow. Price = three carrots.

The back cover of the booklet explains the educational parameters of this rap, shows a frame grab from the blog, and gives URLs for both the NSW DET rap blog site, and our own Library wiki pages, encouraging our parents and caregivers to look at the students’ work online.

It didn’t take me very long – but a wombat probably could have done it faster (see The Shaggy Gully Times by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley). An efficient way of communicating with the parents, and giving them access to further information!

A brochure that came out to promote National Reading Day – 3 September 2008 suggested doing something similar online, or in hardcopy, and that was always in the back of my mind as we added things to the school wiki pages, but it’s only now the rap is over I found time to dig back through the archives. Of course, schools needed to have registered between 3rd and 7th September, when the rapping schools were all deep into the rap! Maybe next year?

“I am Jack”: a triumph!

Tim McGarry as Jack

I have such a fondness for Jack. For once I don’t mean Jack, my Jack Russell terrier. I mean Jack, the charming, hilarious, resilient boy at the heart of Susanne Gervay‘s very important children’s novel, “I Am Jack”.

I was fortunate enough to be given this book to review for the teacher-librarian’s journal, Scan, in 2000. It was in a stack of about fifteen assorted new books, but it just stood out. First of all, the intriguing cover (as below) was at once bright yet ominous, and, within a few pages of reading, I was rallying to the cause of its appealing protagonist – who goes from lovable, normal, happy-go-lucky kid, to unexpected victim, to proud and empathetic victor, throughout the course of the book. The story really touched the heartstrings. It was probably no surprise, bumping into the author at a literary function some months later, that I learned how much autobiographical truth there was in “I Am Jack”. Susanne and her son, whom I also met at another function, bravely shared their true story of playground bullying so that other children might be empowered.

A few years later, in my role of editor of Scan, I worked with a school team of educators who’d used Susanne’s book with students, and wanted to share their journey and results in the journal. The Scan article went through quite a long consultative process. Crossing over several Key Learning Areas as it did, and being about such a sensitive issue as bullying, it was so important that the article – not to mention the teaching notes, and my interview with Susanne) would cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s (or is that cross all the eyes?). The article(s) eventually appeared in Scan 21(3) August 2002.

A few weeks ago, I heard that “I Am Jack” had been turned into a play for schools. By coincidence, Susanne and I had just found each other again – this time on Facebook, and she gave me some days and venues. It had already been playing relatively close by: at Parramatta, but I’d missed that. In a panic, I realised that all of these other times were for weekdays. Drat. Except today… 2pm. If I felt like getting myself to Campbelltown.

Or I could wait until its return season… Next year. D’oh!

The radio was warning about a blazing hot day but I decided that, if there was no railway track maintenance when I checked the online timetables this morning, and if I could leave it till after 10.00am before I left the house (having confirmed with the box office that there were some tickets left), then I’d venture off to the unknown wilderness that is Campbelltown to see the play.

Timing worked out perfectly. After two longish train legs, and a leisurely walk from Campbelltown Station, past lots of intriguing shops I was sure I’d never get back to, to the beautiful Arts Centre, I was there in plenty of time to have lunch!

At about 1.50 pm, I wandered over to the theatre area and there was Susanne signing copies of “I Am Jack”. It was great to see her again. Her fellow authors, Di Bates and Bill Condon, both of who I knew well from my early days as a teacher-librarian, ended up sitting next to me – another happy reunion – and I also got to meet the real “Rob”, template for fictional Jack’s gregarious and supportive future step-Dad in “I Am Jack”.

How to describe the set? It’s a one-actor tour de force, with Tim McGarry (pictured above, photo by Terry Moore) portraying Jack and ten supporting characters, surrounded by oversized, scribbled-on furniture that at once recaptures Cathy Wilcox’s unique illustrations in the book, and makes Tim McGarry the size of an eleven-year-old schoolboy!

I am Jack

Tim had an array of wonderful shorthand mimes to cue the audience as to which supporting character would be appearing next. Feeble Nanna playing “Uno” against Jack was a hoot, as was Rob driving the car, one hand on the wheel. Also amazing was Jack playing handball against unseen opponents, without a tennis ball being thrown.

The anti-bullying message is crystal clear, both in the book and the play: it can happen to anyone, at any time; bullies isolate someone, in order to improve their own sense of power, and they can peck away at whatever self-esteem the victim has/had until he or she is further and further isolated from the very people who could have helped; it takes the whole group to stand firm against bullying, so it’s a change of culture that will affect a change in behaviour.

The play concluded with a question-and-answer session with Tim and Susanne. Apart from some perceptive questions about bullying and writing by the young audience, a real hit, prop-wise, was Jack’s amazing science experiment: the ponto in its glass jar: an onion grafted onto a potato, which has seemingly successfully sprouted and may, one day, make Jack a fortune as an impossible hybrid plant! Amazingly, the play’s ponto was made from plastic vegetables bought from a two-dollar shop by the Monkey Baa propmaster. (You know what? I want one!)

After that, Susanne invited a group of us back to the Arts Centre’s cafe for coffee. Even though they were “closing in ten minutes”, I’m sure we got in a good twenty extra minutes of gossiping.

I had such a great day. It was well worth the long commute.

So, if you notice that “I Am Jack” is coming to a theatre near you, or if you know anyone who has ever bullied, or been bullied, this play is one to see! And, in the meantime, read the book. Or its excellent sequel, “Super Jack”.

Ian @ Illawarra School Libraries Association Day

I’ve been invited to speak at the October meeting of the Illawarra School Libraries Association, which is being held Shellharbour Public School, Mary St, Shellharbour on Thursday 30th. I understand I’ll be doing two presentations, for primary and secondary teacher-librarians.

I’m really looking forward to it – a scenic train journey, the stimulating company of teacher-librarian colleagues and two other exciting guests:

Paul Macdonald of the Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft, who specialises in reading for gifted students, boys’ literacy and books for adolescents, and

Julie Vivas, one of Australia’s foremost illustrators of children’s picture books, such as Possum magic, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (both of which have featured in recent NSW DET book raps), The Nativity, Let the celebrations begin, Let’s eat and Hello baby.

For more information about the day, and to download the registration form, please click here and scroll to the end of the post.

Mr McGee and censorship… stripped bare

I’ve encountered some funny “nude moment” incidents in primary school libraries.

During the furore of Pamela Allen’s Mr McGee (he of the “biting flea” picture book fame) getting shortlisted by the CBCA for getting his pants off a few years ago, someone on this list announced that she’d made him a lovely pair of yellow tissue-paper underpants. We never did find out if she was
joking. I wonder if the wretched nude castaway of Armin Greder’s “The Island” also sports fashions from the House of McGee at that school? 😉

At my previous school, there was an extremely popular donated yearbook of Australian photojournalism in the library, and it was always being found hidden under a chair, or with the “Where’s Wally” and “Goosebumps” books behind the heaters. Eventually I realised it must have had something controversial inside, so I held the spine in my hand and let the book fall open at its most-used pages – and my trick revealed a rather lovely distance shot of Bondi Beach’s topless bathing end. Cleverly framing the shot was a closeup of a blurred naked female breast..

Eventually, someone destroyed the photo with a Texta and I tried removing the page in an attempt to give the rest of the book a bit more life. Several months later, I realised that the so-called “offending photo” was actually also shown, in a much smaller size, on the book’s cover – and nobody had ever noticed, even though the breast wasn’t as blurry in that smaller size.

Rap reports

The Stage 2 students and I had a great time this week writing up their sports reports for the Beijing Olympics & Book Week 2008. They came to the library with their class teacher (who is brand new to rapping) – usually we’ve had two rotating groups instead, but with the industrial action of yesterday morning, there were lots of students still absent in the afternoon.

We went through the key elements of a newspaper sports report/article, using the supplied Rap Sheet, then read and analysed the “Kiwis vs Wallabies” report from The Shaggy Gully Times by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley. When it came time to break into writing groups, the students were highly motivated, and they were so empowered whenever they made up a clever pun. Of course, it really helped that one of the students was fresh off the plane from her recent visit to Beijing – and that the extremely fast gold-medal winning Jamaican athlete she told us about had the highly punny surname of Bolt!

By the way, it only occurred to us later why that Shaggy Gully football match was being played at night!

Yes, it’s been a a busy term, but traditionally Term Three always is in school libraries: Book Week, National Literacy & Numeracy Week, and all that.

Rap Point 2 stretched across two weeks this time, on purpose, and it was also okay to post a bit late, since each school in the rap tends to work at a different pace. There had been a few new schools only just starting to look around the pages and/or noticing the newer messages on earlier rap points.

I decided to concentrate on prediction that week. I like to get the students to anticipate what might be coming next, so we predicted how we would:
* find the rap blog, with which search terms (eg. on Google)
* recognise our post from last week (ie. look out for school crest avatar).

Also, we predicted the contents of the page of The Shaggy Gully Times we’d be reading in the rap session. I asked one group of students to make predictions as to what they’d see inside the local newspaper when I unrolled it (fresh from my front lawn). Local newspapers are a great free resource, and many times they only get noticed by the students when they are asked to clean out the budgies’ cage, or collect newspapers for covering school desks during art, or when making papier mache.

The students were very engaged in skimming the layout, quickly identifying and confirming almost all their predictions about the newspaper. The standard of talking and listening was very pleasing – they were perceptive, and supportive of each other’s earlier ideas.

I hope this is an activity they will be able to repeat with their parents. (And that the newspaper they choose doesn’t have too many full page ads for local attractions such as “Wild Boys Afloat”, etc.) Several students reported recently that they’d personally gone online and shown their parents the current rap blog on their home Internet computers. One girl said, “I even printed out the page that had my name and comment on it.”