Dreaming of quolls

Our Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 students are about to start studying a Dreaming story, “Mirragan and Guranggatch”. In the Aboriginal story, set in the area around Jenolan Caves, Mirragan is described as “a giant cat”, but the animal that European settlers called a “native cat” is now more commonly called a quoll.

Google image search.

Youtube has several chuditches, quoll-like marsupials, including this clear footage:

Stop Press: 2nd August – Don’t you just love serendipity? I found this today during a visit to Sydney Wildlife World, at Darling Harbour. They had a real spotted quoll, too, in their nocturnal section:


Storyteller extraordinaire

Aboriginal storyteller, Boori “Monty” Pryor,
visits my school in the lead-up to NAIDOC Week.

Note that no students are recognisable in this shot.

Today, my school was visited by Aboriginal storyteller and author, Boori “Monty” Pryor. He was a huge hit with the students and teachers. They listened, asked questions, danced, mimed and generally had a great time.

Boori expertly guided the action: when the students were paired up to perform a dance about the crocodile and the fisherman, he kept both groups, the “crocodiles” and “fisherman”, as active as possible, but with minimum instruction. Everyone knew they’d get their moment in the limelight as the carnivorous crocodiles because it was explained that they’d eventually be switching positions with the fishermen.

The students’ reactions are featured here!

Double identity

Last year the School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit of NSW DET conducted a rap, Identity: Sharing Our Stories for Stages 3 and 4. Due to the success of this rap, via the Edublogs blogging facility, it is being run again this term!

The rap addresses outcomes in English, HSIE, PDHPE, Music and Aboriginal Studies. It draws on a range of contemporary texts, including personal stories, to explore Aboriginal perspectives on what builds strong identity. The rap is helpful for cultural understanding for all students. It also supports the Stage 4 secondary COG unit, “Cultural identity”.

Many teachers complain that they find it difficult to make sure they address Aboriginal perspectives in their programs correctly, and to find relevant resources to support their units of work in this area. Even if your school is not planning to participate, I would again urge teacher-librarians to visit the pages as the rap unfolds. Rapping is a great learning experience – for students, teachers, teacher librarians, AEOs (Aboriginal Education Officers) and community members. A range of excellent online resources is available, including: programming and planning, proformas, music, and online factual texts. This rap offers an excellent way to develop an educator’s familiarity with blogging as an educational tool, embedded in your program of work.

This year, our Year 5 students will be working in groups on the rap activities, and utilising our brand new interactive whiteboard (IWB), which is located in our library. Now that’s exciting! The new version of the Identity rap starts the week of 18 May 2009, and runs for about six weeks. Schools can use as much or as little, as suits their unique situations.

Worn out, but holidays are here now!

Mmmm. For some reason, I can never work out how to change the posting dates on this particular blog. must be in my preferences somewhere. On other Edublogs I administer, the date changing facilitator thingie is just sitting there…

I was feeling quite ragged last week. It was a long and eventful term at school/work – but on the other hand the weeks were just flying by. Every (usually) spare spot on my timetable has been used to let as many Stage 3 (Years 5 & 6) students as possible participate in the Identity: Sharing our stories rap, not to mention any other spare second, and many late nights, helping to moderate the incoming messages, and solving a few tech problems.

The rap has used print and online interviews with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, and the ten groups of students, who’ve worked on the rap for the last seven weeks – brainstorming group responses to set questions, which are then shared with other school groups via a blog – have gotten so much out of the experience, it’s all been well worthwhile.

Last Tuesday, I was supposed to be presenting our work to any interested parents, while their children attended the school disco. Unfortunately, I had no takers and I was left sitting upstairs with a whole bank of computers set to the rap, and no audience. (Last term we had a good roll up for a similar presentation on the Wilfrid book rap.)

No matter. On the Friday it was our annual NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Celebration) Assembly at school, and I did a presentation there of some of the highlights of the students’ work. Most of the Aboriginal students (all of whom have been doing the rap), were working on the NAIDOC Assembly, but I was able to target one Year 5 boy, who’d been reluctant to be involved with the main rehearsals, to be my special helper, even if was holding some flashcards for me. (In the end he even said, “Are you going to introduce me? Are you going to say my name?)

Incidentally, it’s been a while since I’ve been to inner-city Glebe – but I wanted to gather up some reasonably priced Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children’s books for presentations at the assembly, and past experience had told me that Gleebooks is usually the best port of call for these items. In went in a few saturdays ago and the staff were so helpful – at one point I had three staff members scurrying around at my whim – and any chance to wander through their children’s and second hand collections is a pleasure. Thanks Gleebooks!

I must admit to feeling a little put out the morning after the no-show of parents when suddenly one of my student helpers in the library slipped me an impromptu note, artfully decorated in glitter glue of many hues: “Thank you Mr McLean for all your herd (sic) work.” She stressed that the note was created by her, but was from all ten of my library monitors. It left me grinning all day, despite my weariness.

We all need those little moments, eh?

Identity: Sharing Our Stories rap

The NSW DET rap, Identity: Sharing Our Stories for Stages 3 and 4 is underway, the second such rap to be presented in a blog format (hosted by the School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit via Edublogs) rather than the traditional email and listserv arrangement.

It’s not too late to sign up a class group. Even if your school is not planning to participate, I would like to urge teacher librarians to drop by the rap and have a look at what I believe is going to be a great learning experience – for students, teachers, teacher librarians, AEOs (Aboriginal Education Officers) and community members. A range of excellent resources is available, including: programming and planning, proformas, music, and online factual texts with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People sharing their personal stories about what has formed their identities and has made them strong. Several of the participating schools have already posted their introductory, jointly-constructed, blog entries (see the section called “Intro”).

Many teachers complain they find it difficult to make sure they properly address Aboriginal perspectives in their programs, and to find relevant resources. The rap is also a great way to develop a familiarity with blogging as an educational tool. How I wish I had my interactive whiteboard already; at my school we are making do with a regular computer, and the students are highly motivated to rap together, and to read the posts from other schools.

Last term’s completed Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge book rap, also in blog format, is still available for comparison purposes. The “Teacher” section contains many “Frequently Asked Questions” about blogging. Also worth a look!

School libraries leading learning: Day 2

The alarm clock was again set to go off at 6:00 am and, of course, I was awake – wide awake – at 4:20 am. Nothing to do except turn on my computer, dig through all my hand-scrawled notes from Circle Time evaluations of last year’s Kindergarten wiki fables project, and add them to the new wiki page I intended to use in my presentation today.

Yesterday, Dr Ross J Todd had challenged the conference presenters – and all the teacher-librarian attendees – to embrace evidence-based practice when presenting educational research results. Although I had the students’ opening comments (scribed quotes from oral statements) on a page of my school library wiki site – ready for my tutorial session today – I had not yet planned to divulge all of the the evaluation comments (scroll down the page of the same URL) from the culmination of the unit (lest I decided to use the information elsewhere).

Oh well. I’m glad I decided to appease Ross, and fill in my time until breakfast, compiling the students’ final responses onto the wiki page, and uploading it ready for today’s talk. I’d quite forgotten how informative the students’ final comments were. (“Why did we use a wiki to write and publish our core value fables?” One answer: “Pencils run out of lead”.) Comparing these closing comments against the syllabus outcomes, over the next few months, is going to be very interesting.

By 11:00 am, my session was over for the conference – I was a free man! – and had a great and more relaxed time – especially by attending: author Paul Stafford‘s fascinating talk about his Dead Bones Society (targeting reluctant young male readers) and how he has taught creative writing to hardened criminals; and an equally stimulating session, chaired by Kathy Rushton, on the Indij series of books, written by groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A highlight of Day 2 was the closing panel, hosted by bookseller/teacher Paul MacDonald, and featuring several popular Australian children’s authors, including Libby Gleeson, James Roy, Kate Forsythe and Deb Abela. They were all contributing to a discussion on “Multiliteracies in a digital world”, including postulating whether “the book” was as dead as the dead trees of which books are made. (While text books and hardcopy encyclopedias may well be on their way out, none of the guests seemed to feel that children’s picture books or other fiction in book form were in too much danger – yet. Well, except for the rising cost of paper.)

Interestingly, the Kindergarten students’ work I was showcasing today backed up the professional authors’ feelings about books. One student’s response to my question of “What should we do next (ie. now that our wiki project is over)?” was:

“More drawings! Make lots more fables. Make a book with page numbers.”

Preparing for “Sorry”

It certainly snuck up on us… Former Prime Minister, John Howard, stubbornly resisted any attempt – for many, many years – for the nation to say “Sorry” to Australia’s Aboriginal population for the Stolen Generations. Actor John Howard (currrently appearing in television’s All Saints), did once say “Sorry” in the very funny TV mockumentary, The Games, but that one doesn’t count! However… in just a few more hours, our new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will say “Sorry” – and a nation (and much of the world, thanks to the immediacy of the Internet) will down tools and listen. Then the next stages of Reconciliation might be able to proceed.

Australian schools have been encouraged to organise for students to witness the event live, which will no doubt cause a bit of a scramble in some schools. We do have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags on hand – and use them often – but my school doesn’t have a working TV antennae on the roof. Traditional broadcast options (at least, those in use since the first Moon Landing in 1969, I reckon) will be impossible for us. Taping the speech at a teacher’s home, then watching it all together the next day, just won’t cut it. (That might work for the average episode of BTN, but not this event.)

Therefore, the Principal, my library clerical and I did a tech dress rehearsal today, with: a laptop computer, recommended software, data projector, standard projector screen and the spare Internet hub (located in a sports storeroom within in the assembly hall). I’m glad we didn’t leave it until the morning of the apology; if the tech fails us, it will be a disaster perhaps equivalent to the communications breakdown that threatened Apollo 11‘s historic moonwalk in the Aussie motion picture, The Dish.

This significant day in Australia’s history will undoubtedly become one of those “Where you you when that happened?” events, and we’ve all crossed our fingers that the fickle finger of fate won’t bring down a tech disaster of epic proportions. (Although we’d been informed that schools could gain access to tomorrow’s live streaming, from Parliament House in Canberra, via the Internet, the Department’s intranet and TaLe, we couldn’t find a hyperlink which seemed to be awaiting The Big Day.)

I ended up doing a simple Google search (essentially, my total contribution to the rehearsal), to find the website for Parliament House (haven’t been there in ages!), and I was pleased to see a very obvious link, along the top of the frame, for Live Broadcasting. We bookmarked the site, and did our trial run on this afternoon’s Opening of Parliament 2008, and were able to identify exactly what needed to be done to maximise sound and picture quality. The “test pattern” gave us a moment of panic, but when the session finally started our trial run seemed to indicate that “doing our homework” would ensure success. The extended “test pattern” gave us a moment of panic but, when the session finally started, our trial run seemed to indicate that “doing our homework” would ensure success.

I hope the speech brings everyone the hope and acknowledgment that many have pinned to this long-awaited, historic gesture.