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First post in over a year

Posted: December 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
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I’m currently sitting with my Year 9 class, doing a mini-unit in blogging. As a result, I am typing this on my laptop, which the boys can then see on the screen behind me.

So far they’ve experimented with tags, widgets (today some of them are trying to install a flag counter), fixing up their About page and have made a first post.

Now I’ll publish this so that they can see it in the Reader…

It’s bound to happen one time or another in your life. You leave work for the holidays, not realising or forgetting that your stuff needed to be packed up, ready for the office to be renovated. It happened to a colleague of mine who was on long service leave, returning to discover that the proposed move date had been brought forward and 20 years worth of files, kept in a storage room, inadvertently being turfed out. Files gone forever.

English: Wooden File Cabinet with drawer open....

Filed away… forever? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the flip side, I recall a teacher who, having taught for over 30 years, had discovered the liberating power of throwing everything away… every three years. His rationale? Quite simply, to ensure that you keep reinvigorating yourself and, in the process, avoid becoming stale. Of course, the internet has probably gone some substantial way to overcoming ‘resource loss’. So much is available online that you can quickly locate resources that would previously have taken you ten times as long to source.
But, it was this observation, from the first colleague who had lost her files, that stimulated the question – What would you save if the internet were shrinking?

At my school, we have just opened up a wonderful new library – ironically, perhaps, with about two-thirds of the books from the former library. The rest (many never even borrowed) were sent to our charity schools or culled. Many of these books will never come back… on the basis that, if you want to read them, they are accessible online.

So, my brain stimulator to you:

Imagine that the internet were shrinking. Before the inevitable happens, you have the chance to save, from the cloud, those sites, pages or resources which would be the most critical, precious, personal or beautiful to you. To sharpen the task, what if there were only 5, or perhaps 10 ‘items’ that you could preserve.

For the purposes of this, I’m not looking for you to have to get all 10 – even being able to say the one or two that first leap to mind are of interest… Feel free to put your suggestions in the comments below.

Ironically, as the internet gets ever bigger, how successfully are we cataloguing all these experiences? All those sites that we once viewed and thought: Hmm, that looks pretty interesting. I’ll pop by some day and have another look… only to never do so? Maybe those filing cabinets, notebooks, photo albums and journals still have a place in our lives…

Further tales of the sub-villains who cause merry mayhem in our household…

Mr Slops

Slops works on creating culinary chaos. If you are born after 1990, I suspect you won’t even be aware of his existence. He loves operating on the periphery. So, if you are sitting at the table, having a meal, you may only be aware of him when you aren’t looking at your son or daughter. That’s when he strikes. But while your sight may let you down, your hearing won’t. You’ll recognise the tell tale signs, the sibilant smacking of lips, of saliva and food that can best be described as ‘cud’ that emanates from your child’s mouth.

English: When this shorthorn heifer in the Uni...

I know what you’re thinking… there are no cows at my table, but Mr Slops has powers far and wide… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Should you turn to engage Mr Slops, one-to-one, he will immediately take over your child’s mind. You can tell this has occurred when they look at you and, through a combination of steak, mashed potato and mushy peas state, quite blankly, “Whaaaat?”

As if this weren’t enough, he has compelling powers of camouflage. Should you ask:

“Could you please chew with your mouth closed?” of your offspring, Mr Slops will once again take control of mental and vocal faculties. This can be confirmed with any response resembling:

“But I am” or thereabouts. At which point, Slops will play the final card in his deck, the capitulation card.

What does this look like? Again, no one is sure, but telltale signs include a slumping of shoulders from any parents within earshot, or perhaps an extended and quite exasperated sigh…

The last (I promise!) domestic sub-villains installment to come shortly…

It’s a great time to be alive. My son is 9 now, and if you’d ask me if I thought I’d be sharing a passion for Dr Who with my own child, say 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s great that the show that gave me so much pleasure in my childhood, is now providing a connection for us in the present.

At present, he has a vivid imagination that has created a range of super heroes. At the same time, I’ve had to balance the books. But I’m not looking to tell you about his creations here.

Instead, I’ve watched the domestic disarray that two children represent. And there are a whole stack of household, less-than-super, heroes living with us. I can’t draw, so for the time being, descriptions will have to suffice. Do you have children? Perhaps that “slack” flat mate? If yes, all this may sound familiar. Here are the ones that I’ve identified to date:

The Amazing Distracto –

Distracto is a master of mischief.

A pile of Lego blocks, of assorted colours and...

Has Distracto been at your house? Lego is a tell-tale sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He appears at the oddest times, like when you send your son/daughter/flatmate to go clean their room. Come back X minutes later to discover the chaos that Distracto has wreaked! In my son’s case, he is “cleaning” his room, but when Distracto strikes (and you subsequently enter), you’ll find him playing with Lego or reading a graphic novel of Indiana Jones. I’ve never seen Distracto, but understand that he wears a large dark coat and his eyes, which seem to emanate out of the dark recesses of the top hat he wears (that shroud most of his features), are two spirals that swirl in opposite directions. My son says that he wants to clean his room, but when Distracto appears, he stands before him with something shiny in one of his hands. I’ve heard that in the other hand, is a picture of what he should be doing – in this case, cleaning his room. But (and here is the cunning part), Distracto  gets you to look at this… only briefly… before he hypnotises you with the other, shiny object. Once you’ve had a glimpse of that… you’re gone.

But, if you’re really unlucky, his brother…

The Amazing Destructo

will appear. I’ve not seen him. According to my son, no one really has. All he can say is that he goes in, with the firm intention of cleaning the mess in his room… then when you come along to check, it is clear that Destructo has been present. Whatever detritus may have existed before has been sent to the four winds in a Twister like Display of Destruction. Destructo is fast, furious and unpredictable. No one (including children) know when or where he will strike…

Anyway, that’s the first two for now…

Part Two (Orange Tooth, Mr Slops and Whingo) to follow!

Lighthouse beam at sunset

Lighthouse beam at sunset (Photo credit: McBadger)

I’ve been a little slack of late – despite school holidays, I’ve only written one post and that was at the start of the break. However, I’ve noticed that my blog has managed to keep going on, despite my absence. Not massive numbers (it is still less than a year old) but enough to make me wonder, given enough steam, how long the thing could go on, on its own terms.I’ve written about a Post’s use by date before, as well as which Post generates the most traffic. For me, it is my 2nd Post, exploring two texts (Frankenstein and Blade Runner) we study as part of our senior school syllabus in Australia.
In some ways this is ironic – I originally wrote this as a marker’s feedback document for the final year students. Currently it stands at nearly double the next best Post’s effort (a lesson plan for a drama activity called ROBOT) at 154 to 84 views. Sure it is one of the oldest posts, but it still pops up as the one sought out the most often. Of course, this does not take into account the views to the blog itself (the home page) or the About page, both of which are way higher.

So in terms of my theme, I’m thinking of the automated lighthouse, shining out into the night long after the need for humans to reside there has ended. The light still shines out, warning ships of the danger… or perhaps it is an inverse idea – the light shines out, showing the ship at sea where the site resides.

unmanned scientific probes Voyager

We’ve had the idea of space junk for just over half a century… items floating about in space that have served their purpose long ago, or like the Voyager Spacecraft, have wildly surpassed their original design parameters. The internet has already seen sites where their owners have already passed away, yet the site goes on, like Voyager, into the inky future. The internet detritus can only increase dramatically in the years to come. It is kind of inspiring in one sense; that your work will go on existing, long after you’ve stopped writing… or existing. Is this our 21st Century version of immortality, where a site could go on for hundreds of years, so long as the server and hosts continue to exist. But at the same time, I am reminded of one of my favourite writers from my childhood – Ray Bradbury – and his story from the Martian Chronicles There Will Come Soft RainsA house that continues on long after its occupants have gone. And that immortality is kind of sad in a way.

A story about a tie. Note – it is critical to look at the accompanying photo! Dinosaur tie

The weirdest tie I have ever owned came about because a student many years ago took exception with my wardrobe sense. As a result of being a mercy case, I got given two ties. One is unremarkable. The other is anything but…

In case you can’t see the pic (or to add to your amusement or horror) I’ll briefly describe what’s going on:

There are two dinosaurs. At the bottom of the tie is a dinosaur, wearing clothes (including a green check shirt, a v-neck pullover and a matching brown (some might call it gold) jacket and tie). This self-respecting dinosaur (he has the belt to prove it) is dreaming of a silver dinosaur who is, by all appearances, naked. I’m guessing it is a ‘he’ by the thrust of his chin – the silver dinosaur might well be female… who knows?

I don’t wear this tie very often, but always wear it, at least once a year, when I have a new Year 7 class. Having explained how weird the tie is, I go on to get the boys to take it a step further. I ask them to imagine the scenario where there is a young tie designer, who goes in to his or her boss and says:

Hey, I know it might sound a bit weird, but stay with me here. I’m thinking of a tie… a new tie. Not just any tie! On this one, we could have, like, a dinosaur, wearing clothes… no no… stay with me here… dreaming of a silver dinosaur! Naked? Why not. Yeah, I know… it just HAS to be done!!

As you might imagine, it sparks a lot of conversation. Years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. With failing memory, I might be mistaken, but I recall a moment where there was discussion that if we were to have another world war, we would never be able to recover, primarily because having destroyed all of our metals via the weapon blasts, those remaining would be so deep in the earth that they would be beyond our ability to source them.

So I wondered about this tie and I think that it has solved the riddle of the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs, far from being the slow moving and ponderous beasts of the 19th Century, or the fast, cunning creatures of the late 20th, were actually creatures of society. They developed cities and culture, to the point where they were wearing clothes at the height of their civilisation.

Unfortunately these advances came at a price – a terrible price. The dinosaurs could not escape their reptilian roots and developed devastating weapons of war. It was inevitable that the day would come, and it did. The destructive blast wiped out the last 5 million years of their culture, razing it from the historical record. Thus humanity would believe that they were only predatory beasts and plant eaters…

Fortunately, we have this tie, to help us put these pieces back today…

Thanks A.G. wherever you are. I don’t wear it often, but I still have that tie today!

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.