Archive for February, 2013

Was there an unlikely skill or area at school that ended up serving you so well later on in life?

There was some media exploration of the declining numbers of girls studying mathematics as senior students this week (in Australia). I’ve provided a link to one of the articles, in the Sydney Morning Herald here. This post isn’t looking to explore this topic per se, but the topic did get me thinking more broadly about the subjects you study at school, and their relevance to your future. We have all wondered about that subject just making up the numbers so that we are eligible for the final qualification. Tales in the days of old of a bonfire of notes post exam for that much maligned subject that you somehow ended up taking, have been around for years. But what about things that aren’t even subjects, that end up helping you beyond expectation?

Students often ask me if I always wanted to become a teacher and are surprised when I say “no”. I was always good at English but it was rarely my strongest subject in terms of results. My mother was a teacher, as was, for some time, my paternal grandfather. When asked what I was going to study at uni and I responded “Arts”, it usually elicited an “Oh… so you want to me a teacher!”, which I seemed to rail against. But, I got to the end of my Arts degree, then an Honours year and hit a wall. What now?


Lectern (Photo credit: Timmargh)

Mum suggested I look at a Dip Ed. At the time I was hoping to become the next big Australian playwright and having the chance to do a bit of part time teaching seemed like a good way to support the ‘craft’. The same year I was doing the NIDA Playwrights’ Course. With three months of the Dip Ed to go, I’d decided it might be good to get the C.V. in order, apply for a few jobs for experience and without quite knowing how, wound up with a one-year position for someone on maternity leave. That one-year ended up lasting me for nine, before I switched schools.

So back to the question at the top – and my answer to the students – the unlikely skill set that best helped me with where I am now? It would come down to two things. The first was Debating. I took it up in Year 9 and can recall the first topic “That there is too much violence on the news”. I was first speaker and can still recall the sheer terror of talking ‘unscripted’, with my mouth drying up to make this uncomfortable smacking sound as I tried to pronounce words and make them into something approaching a coherent sentence for an eternity of minutes. But over the next three years, unwittingly, it taught me how to breathe, how to think, how to pace myself and, perhaps most important of all, how to speak in front of large numbers of people without gabbling-like-I-used-to-do-when-slightly-nervous-and-excited-in-equal-measure!

The second stemmed out of English, out of my love of writing. It was joining the Drama Society at University and along with watching and being involved with plays, discovering that I wasn’t bad at writing them. Out of that came my ability to enter a Diploma of Education in English and Drama, without my having formally studied Drama. Out of that came the chance to study for a year at NIDA. Out of that came the chance for me to get an interview for my first job as a teacher… one that I got. And, perhaps most happily, out of that came the chance, with my first play touring to a University Theatre Festival interstate, to meet the girl who would end up becoming my wife 9 years later.

So this post probably has more in common with Ken Robinson on Creativity than a call for more students (of either gender) to study mathematics. But it’s nice to think that I can tell my children that, thanks to the Arts, I was able to meet your mother and ultimately, to be able to have you.

I’d love to hear about those unlikely or serendipitous moments from your education that perhaps had a greater sway on your life than you could possibly envisage.


On Monday I will start my first degree since the early 90s. I’m undertaking a Masters in Education, specialising in eLearning. The differences in the two approaches couldn’t be more pronounced. On the one hand, my first English lecture had 800 odd sitting listening to a lecture from a professor with decades of tenure, discuss (I think) the novel, Joseph Andrews. At the time (1989), I was in awe of the University itself – the oldest in Australia – with the size of its place, all of the buildings and the 1000s of students. So this wonderment transferred quite happily to sitting and (trying) to take notes in an A4 Lecture pad while the one-way delivery of performance was given. There were  “tutes” of about ten people, where we would break down the lecture in a more informal and social fashion. Then there was the social side – of clubs and societies, the cafes and bars and growing friendships. There were no mobile phones, the internet didn’t exist and, as I recall from a Psychology I lecture, “my presentations are copyright, so you are not permitted to make audio recordings of these lectures”.

Sydney University Quadrangle 2

Sydney University Quadrangle 2 (Photo credit: iansand)

How much things have changed. Now my University is 700km away and I am studying “by distance”. Ironically, “distance” can actually be measured in metres; the distance to my nearest computing device. Thus I was checking my (required) university email account as I lay in bed last night via my iPad. I can access all the online readings, the library database, the course notes… even the course participants who I will be discussing ideas and working with, without requiring any form of travel outside of my home. There are Facebook pages specific to the course and a Twitter hashtag to follow. I’ve already started using Notability to turn my required readings from PDFs into annotatable documents that automatically sync to Dropbox. I’ve started to use “e-highlighters” in a range of colours without unzipping a pencil case!

I’m excited with what’s about to follow. Most of my work will occur via a Moodlewhere I’ll be able to take part in discussion bulletin boards, use the class Forum and receive and submit my work. I am conscious of the self paced learning which recommends 12-15 hours per subject per week. It is self paced to a degree as I still need to complete those readings and submit those pieces of work. So while I might not need to sit down for a lecture at 9am on a Monday any more, I am conscious that I need to sit down some time and do that work. My education has, until now, been predicated on a timetable and while it still exists, the goalposts are being excavated ready for the subsequent shift. The irony is that I still play field hockey for my alma mater and fondly recollect that learning that I did in those days.

University of New England (Australia)

University of New England (Australia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, if you ever pop by in the future, feel free to give me an e-kick… up the back side, to keep me on course and get me back to my studies!

Lowell poemI met myself this morning. It was a past me, one from many years ago and it was, in the main, an accident.

I was checking a book on the shelf in the spare bedroom, ostensibly to see if Seven Centuries of Poetry in English was from my past, or harked back to my wife’s. It was hers, as I discovered with the penciled notes on a Gwen Harwood poem; The Sea Anemones. However, thanks to the turned down page corner, I came across the next poet in the anthology – Robert Lowell. Three poems in from this point was Memories of West Street and Lepke, one of the poems I studied for my Extension English course in my final year of high school.

I lay on the bed and read through the poem once – it was enough. That one reading took me many minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed studying Lowell, about half a dozen poems in all from Life Studies. Ironically, the unit was coupled with Harwood’s poetry – also having a resonance with me.

However, this moment was with Lowell. One stanza was enough. Enough to be astonished by how much I knew I didn’t know at the time. Or rather, how I recognised the way in which words and ideas were conjuring up fresh connections for me, easily and readily, in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do all those years ago. Phrases like “and is a ‘young Republican'” ripple out with aggregated experience and understanding from the intervening years. I live in Australia and have grown to appreciate the nuances that even a word like “Republican” can bring. From watching the news, from reading about history or even from seeing shows such as The West Wing, my understanding has been shaped and enhanced. The irony that I am now teaching (something I would have ardently denied when I was in my final year at high school) is not lost on me either, highlighted in the opening line Only teaching on Tuesdays. I am 41…

But, I wonder about that younger me. If time is capable of playing so many tricks on us, on affecting our perceptions and memories, what have I lost in those intervening years? I was a very bright, if not lazy student, and I’m sure that that older (younger?) me would have things to say, arguments to hold and fresh ideas of his own. While I’m sure experience has made me a wiser and more knowledgable individual, I wonder about those lost moments too.

So, a post I would never have envisioned writing… all came about from a chance moment this morning. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to muse…


Posted: February 9, 2013 in Uncategorized
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student_ipad_school - 024

It has been an interesting fortnight. School’s very much back and, along with a new, fantastic library, all of our students have their own devices this year. Year 7s have iPads and the rest laptops. We are by no means pioneers in all this, in terms of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) in a school, but that does not mean that there aren’t striking observations to be made.
Here’s one for you all – you don’t have to be a student or a teacher to appreciate this – anyone who has had a first day at school will recognise this moment. Remember that first day at school, the nerves, the sense of loneliness, perhaps coupled with some excitement, as you looked upon a sea of unknown faces? Whether you hastily looked for someone to strike up a friendship with, or waited until someone sought you out, you’ll all have a familiarity for this scenario.
However, it’s different this time. We have over 200 students in Year 7 and one staff member observed that, while boys would have boisterously chatted outside the classrooms during breaks, played handball and chatted at the tables in the lunch area last year, the place this time was eerily silent at recess and lunch breaks. Boys had their heads down – playing games for the most part, with fingers swiping madly this way and that.
So has the iPad stepped in to act as the salve to social embarrassment? And what does it mean for a generation who does not have to be thrust (for good or bad) into this social limelight where one looks to strike up friendships that may go on to last a lifetime?
I’m excited to be teaching at this time – I’m about to undertake a Masters in eLearning in a couple of weeks – but I’m interested and intrigued by some of these social considerations of our starting our voyage with BYOD. I’d anticipated that I would have to be working with a range of teaching considerations within the classroom, but less so on the ones that might be outside the class. As I said to a colleague, I wonder if this is that moment where you realise that there has been a seismic shift in how the world operates – you know, the “I remember where I was when X happened kind of thing…”
More to follow in due course.