Week two with the Hobart crew

We started on Monday with the large Claremont Group split in two with Jason and Heidi taking one group and myself and Rebecca taking the other. As I had not met these young people before I had a suspicion that the day might not go well. Sadly this was confirmed. Rebecca and I hadn’t worked together before so our teamwork was slippery. The young people didn’t know me and so were understandably testing me. At one point the young boy Nic began touching me, as he does to people when he’s nervous, but he wouldn’t desist and eventually became threatening. I had to ask him to leave. In the interim of course the young women had all become flighty and stated that they wanted to go to school. I told them that there was no option for them to be at school but that just made them more determined. Eventually they ceased negotiating and just left. So much for me demonstrating my high level skills!

On Tuesday  I ran the reflection which I think went well. Graham did PD on herding cats and the need for routine and rhythm. This I thought very useful particularly the idea of shifts which need to be noted and demarcated for participants. This struck a resonant chord with the dramatist in me.

On Wednesday we went painting with the young people in both the morning and afternoon sessions. They really worked quite well considering it was cold and painting is pretty miserable work. on a funny note they are quite obsessed with drawing dick and balls and they ended up painting one of the steps that we didn’t see but that is quite true in its perspective as it moves up the stairs. da Vinci would be proud.

On Thursday we went Ten Pin Bowling with the young people. A great game because even beginners can have success and it’s a good space to play around with being in public spaces and not taking competition too seriously. Dave Harrison and Jess were down from Ipswich doing a wellbeing survey which sounds like a junket to me. They had dinner with Bethany. We were invited but we couldn’t do dinner with Dave and Jess, we were just too tired.

On Friday I saw Hunt for the Wilder People with Active Group. It sounds churlish to complain about such a thing but I had just started to gel with the Claremont Group after having been taken from the active group and now I was having to introduce myself again. The 45 min rule was proved again as the young people became restless almost exactly at the 45min mark. The young people had a bit of a laugh at me as I talked with a couple of ladies as we waited for the cinema to open. I do this at every opportunity to spread the good work of the flexi but these young people reckon I’m just cracking onto old ladies. Dave and Jess did their survey  while i had coffee with Bethany. This was the first occasion the possibility of Heidi and I moving to Hobart to take up permanent positions was discussed. It had been flagged multiple times and this was my opportunity to say that in thinking about it I would have to consider the realities of such a thing. I also gave a time frame saying that we would consider it fully when we had returned from Hobart and left the emotional context of both Hobart and Brisbane behind in the school break.

All in all another very busy and thought provoking week which may well have far reaching ramifications for our lives.

Bruny Island Sunday

Sunday

We had booked an adventure cruise with Pennicott Wilderness journeys for Sunday at 11am. This was a three hour trip starting at Adventure Bay and traveling down the coast of the island to the southern tip. We needed to get there first.

We started the drive to Bruny Island early as we definitely wanted to be on the first ferry. Miss that and we miss the cruise and as that was $135 each we did not want to miss it. As we were heading into Kettering we had had our own little incident. They were doing a breath test on the road in. The police office who had me blow into the bag told us that lots of people were heading to Bruny and that he had been busy. As we had no idea how big the ferry was this gave us a little concern. Our concern was however short lived. As we rounded the head and looked over the charming harbour at Kettering, where clearly plenty of wealthy yacht owners store their toys, we saw that the ferry was double story and about the size of the Stradbroke ferry. We would get over all right.

The day was absolutely sensational. Cold yes but with a clear sky and no wind. The water was so calm that we were off and moving before we were aware of it and about twenty minutes after we parked the car I complained that we really should be going by now only to realize that in fact we were almost there.

We headed off straight away, looking forward to seeing a couple of things before we got onto the cruise. There is a very thin passage way on Bruny called the neck. It is a penguin rookery and there is also a lookout named after Truganni, an aboriginal woman whose appalling treatment was shocking for even those who are aware of the treatment of Aborigines during the invasion. The lookout is many many steps up but does give a marvelous view across the waters that are crystal clear and vary in colour from azure to turquoise. Set off with white sand, bush down to the water and creeks through the sand into the ocean. We walked along one side on a strip of sand no more than a metre wide and looking at the numerous shells Heidi noted that it was like looking at natures jewellery box.

We traveled further on and stopped at an idyllic beach at Cemetry Bluff. We were entertained by superb fairy wrens and enormous clumps of kelp washed onto the beach. It is as thick as leather and the stalk that I held it up by was easily as thick as my wrist.

Time was becoming short and we wanted to see a monument to Captain Cook’s landing place and a tree named after him. In what was a farcical example of tourist entrapment there is no indicator of Cook’s landing place other than on the tourist maps and the famed tree had a sign on the road which indicated that the marker  across the road emblazoned with “Captain Cook’s Tree” was in fact 200 metres further on. In a fitting conclusion there was no tree. We scratched our heads, laughed and headed to our cruise.

I am hopeful dear reader that it is assumed that all I have told you happened in the cold. If not let me assure you that the singlet, merino undershirt, flannel shirt, jumper, gore tex puffy jacket, gloves, scarf and beanie were only just managing to keep me this side of freezing. Even so the cruise operators assured us to take everything we could muster because it would get cold. GET COLD!!! Anyway when we got on the boat we were given large waterproof and windproof red overcoats, for which we were grateful. They also handed out ginger tablets to help prevent sea sickness. This made all my subsequent burps taste like ginger beer which was not unpleasant.  All of this paraphernalia was given out in the calm waters of the bay and certainly added to the trepidation of what was ahead.

The boat was very powerful and fast. We headed out past Penguin Island and around to Cape Connella. Here we saw amazing formations of Dolorite rock which is integral to the geological formation of Bruny Island. It has remained after the sandstone was eroded away. The dolorite has formed in hexagonal columns reminiscent of Fingal. There are many caves, overhangs and narrow passageways. Our skillful skipper steered us unerringly through this environment providing awe and exhilaration in equal measure. There were also very quiet moments when the sheer power of the rock was allowed to capture us. At one point we drifted into a cave they call the carpark where we were close enough to touch the rock that surrounded us. At another point the boat was brought close to a blow hole where the power of the swell pushed great spumes of water into the air. We were assured that as this was a calm day the sight could be much more impressive than we saw. Was still pretty cool!

The whole area is national park and so from the ocean there is no sign of human activity. The ocean crashes against the rock in an ancient dance and we and the wildlife are the only witnesses. We saw many huge ghostly skeletons of great grandfathers of trees standing above the canopy. In 1967 the south east of Tasmania was set alight by numerous lightning strikes and the fire leapt the channel to Bruny Island where the national park was burned to the ground. Everything we saw had grown in the last 50 years. It was verdant but looking at the size of those now dead trees it must have been even more majestic.

I took particular note of the kelp growing around the edges of the many small islets on which cormorants took rest. The kelp was everywhere and was nothing like large seaweed which is how my northern mind had imagined it. I also learnt that the cormorant pose of wings outstretched to dry is because there is little oil in their wings to help them dive but consequently they become quite drenched after a dive.

As we headed south towards the fur seals we were blessed to see an Albatross. I was fascinated by these birds as a child and seeing one in flying low over the water with a two metre wing span was as impressive as I had dreamt.

We were thrilled by the fast journey out to the islands at the southern end of Bruny Island where Australian Fur seals luxuriate. Situated where the Tasman Sea meets the Southern ocean the rocky outcrops advertise their residents with a pungent smell that may well be natural but had nothing fresh or pleasant about it. Regardless the huge seals lounging on seemingly impossibly uncomfortable rocks made the smell seem distant. They were on the one hand magnificent, with some of them being enormous and weighing 400kgs, and yet on the other being as adorable as puppies with whiskers and cheeky faces. We saw a tiny pup dive into the water as it began its journey into becoming one of the magnificent adult sea creatures. It was scary to hear of how close these seals were brought to extinction by human greed. They were brought down to only several hundred individuals but have now returned to a full breeding population.

On our return I spent a long time looking at the cliffs and the vegetation that clung tenaciously to the sides and top of them. Surrounded by water and with kelp swaying as the waves surged into the rock it was easy to imagine the place before humans, within the geological sweep of time. My reverie was interrupted when the eye I was keeping out for dolphins was captured by a curved back breaking the surface. I pointed and called out and the skipper slowed the boat. Suddenly we were surrounded by dolphins leaping and playing in the bow wave of the boat, racing the boat, and seemingly enjoying our company. These are not the dolphins that I have seen in captivity. These were sleek, muscular creatures with attitude and freedom that exuded from them. Apparently we were lucky as it not at all common for the dolphins to put on such an act or even appear at all and indeed there was a feeling of something very special occurring.

As we made our way back to the harbour the boat was abuzz with the noise of excitement and enjoyment, not least from the small girl of about 9 who was the daughter of Indian immigrants and who already spoke with an Australian accent experiencing this beautiful Australian moment, who had vibrantly voiced her thrill and enjoyment throughout the cruise.

Heidi and I walked away from pier knowing that we had experienced something special. We went home via the hotel for a late lunch and caught the ferry back to Kettering and drove back to Hobart well sated in mind, body and spirit.

 

 

 

Big Saturday in Hobart

On Friday night after quite an extended planning meeting we came home and decided that we could manage little more than wandering down Elizabeth Street in North Hobart for a bit of window shopping and a meal.

We found a great bookstore attached to the State Cinema which is the equal of Avid Reader in West End. I found a Tasmanian detective called Pufferfish and bought a signed copy of the latest in the series. I have since discovered that David Owen, for that is the authors name, has written 13 in the series but has a chequered publishing history and many of them have gone out of print but there is a chance that they will be republished and if I enjoy the book I may be able to read the rest of the series.

We went again to the Turkish restaurant that we went to on our first night and once again the food was great. The poor lady who ran the place had two staff away and had to call on her mother, an ancient lady we saw walking slowly up and down the stairs, to help cut up vegetables. It was a long wait but the food was great, there was a fire going and a flamenco guitarist playing.

Saturday morning and we were all set for a seriously touristy day. We headed straight into Sweet Envy and bought potato sourdough bread, focaccia, cup cakes, fruit loaf and macaroons. Then off for a drive through Battery Point looking at both the architecture and the view. It was one of the few times that we didn’t mind that SIRI took us on a wild goose chase. It a lovely turn of events we have now spent so much time in the old part of Battery Point that eventually we found ourselves and parked and walked down towards Kelly Steps.

I love these steps. As we walked down them Heidi wondered aloud how many people had walked down these steps and worn them as they have. These steps beg that question and I propose another, how many people have wandered down these steps wondering how many people have walked down these steps. Or perhaps that way lies madness.

We entered into the maelstrom of the Salamanca market although we were well prepared as last time we were here was two weeks before Christmas and this was positively pedestrian in comparison. As always I wanted to buy anything handmade and woolen but was restrained and bought only a pair of Huon Pine cufflinks which I needed since one of my very limited number down here has French Cuffs and there is no rolling up the sleeves during winter in Hobart except for the metaphorical of course. I had a great conversation with a lady who was working with an older woman who had a collection of knitting machines that she was now using to make beautiful things. I really wanted to buy a scarf just because I had an idea of buying a knitting machine but of course it is not very useful for just yourself.

When we had finished at the market we return to Battery point and had a lovely Brunch at Jackson and McCross. While we waited for our coffee and food I found an article in the  Hobart Mercury (a terrible Murdoch rag that isn’t worth it even with the tourist rose tinted glasses) about David Owen the author I had just bought. I felt very of the moment and read it and baited myself with looking forward to reading the book when I got home.

After a lovely breakfast with a particularly vivacious waitress we headed back down the Kelly steps to TMAG  (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery for you on the big island) to view more comprehensively The Tempest, the excellent exhibition. Of particular interest were the videos which were individually wondrous and which also brought a thoughtful context to the whole. We were also impressed by the cultural exhibition for the Tasmanian Aborigines who are the Muwinina, although this is a collective term since the tribes here were savagely attacked by the invading English and forced onto Barren and Flinders islands. I am pleased to say that the myth of their complete destruction, as in the ‘Death of the last Tasmanian Aborigine’ has been comprehensively debunked not least by the efforts of Michael Mansell. His daughter Nala is one of the workers at the Hobart Flexi and she brings a wealth of indigenous knowledge and perspective to the work.

On the way through Salamanca we saw a most impressively big navy ship the HMAS Adelaide, I subsequently discovered through the  L01 emblazoned on it impossible tall, sheer side. This is the new amphibious landing ship and helicopter carrier. it completely dwarfed the French antarctic ice breaker that was also in port.

As we walked back to, you guessed it Kelly’s steps we noticed the starfish in the harbour. There were an impressive number of them and they were clearly of different types and sizes. The water was so clear that we could observe them as they clambered over things, arched up of their arms, and were generally interesting.

We left the harbour and  went to MONA via officeworks where I picked up a whiteboard for the Claremont hall where we will be working. I mention it only because we might  as well have walked into the officeworks at Milton, they were practically identical. This shouldn’t surprise me but it did.

MONA was great! I had seen it swiftly as I was following the young people from the flexi but it was good to have another look with time on my side and to discuss what interested us with Heidi. I particularly liked the sarcophagus that was scan with an MRI and a virtual image of the inside revealed layer by layer. Heidi was able to see the Cloaca fed and heard the attendant describe the process. I was amazed at the work of the texan who was looking at how Vemeer and the other photo real artist may have achieved their results. It was as much science and technology as it was art but i was fascinated. sadly Tim the tattooed guy wasn’t there. Tim has had his body tattooed by the artist and his skin purchased by an art collector and know is a living exhibit who sits as people look at him. Art is strange. There was a cascade of water that spelt a variety of words that plummeted through the gallery and disappeared into a drain. Fascinating!   I want to be cynical about MONA but I’m just not. It has kookiness and seriousness and art wank and beautiful art. The fact that it is a beautiful spot doesn’t hurt either.

As they closed up MONA we headed home, tired but immensely satisfied for a great big day. We served up a big homestyle dinner knowing that tomorrow was going to also be big.

 

 

First week at the Flexi

We have been enjoying the rhythms and routines of the Hobart Flexi. The challenges they face are significant and the puzzles of how best to manage resources, time and staff to achieve the best possible results for the young people.

We have been making the most of our time in Hobart and have been walking each afternoon through the streets of our local area and down into North Hobart where we have enjoyed the local restaurants, cafes and pubs and indeed just walking around the unfamiliar streets.

We walk past ‘The Friends’ school which is apparently the most privileged school in Tasmania. It is indeed grand but interestingly flies the United Nations flag and does not display any religious symbols.

Sydney has been very wicked and the wicker chair that he has been using to sharpen his claws now sits on the top of the fridge whilst the scratch pole we bought him sits disregarded on the floor. Saffie is still being lively but we are noticing the lack of our Dyson animal vacuum cleaner as the hair slowly builds up over everything

We are making plans for the weekend but nothing has been finalized yet. We are primarily focused on the work at the flexi. There is a dilemma in becoming overly engaged with the young people as we won’t be there in the long term. That being said we cannot simply coast along but must try to find ways to bring structure and purpose to the work of the young people at Flexi. We wrestle with how best to proceed but neither Heidi nor I can simply coast along and let it be the next persons problem. The young people deserve better.

The stories we have heard from the young people are enough to make me once again rail against the injustice that poverty and ignorance enforce upon swathes of our society and how cruelly they impact upon young people. The stories are not uniquely Tasmanian. Any flexi worker would recognize the major themes. They are common to our young people. How we best provide a sense of realistic hope, how we best provide skills for the young person to mitigate against the worst impacts of poverty is a question worthy of constant reflection. There is no one answer. Each community and each individual will demand a different answer and this is where the work of the flexi worker is complex and emotionally draining.

Drained is probably a fitting descriptor of how I currently feel. The provision of structure to young people who are justifiable and understandably mistrustful of structure imposed by adults is hard work and without the benefit of community to draw upon I must find those reserves within myself and do so knowing that the reward for this work will not be mine and that there is no guarantee that consistency will be maintained after I leave ot that structures I work hard to build with the young people will even be recognized much less valued by the workers who follow me.

As always I find the young people engaging and if these ones are anarchic and a little too Lord of the Flies for my liking then the challenge falls to my practice. Bring it on!

First days at Hobart Flexi

We’ve spent our first days at Hobart Flexi meeting the staff and preparing for the return of the young people on Wednesday. It is common for workers in a flexi to be highly skilled, diverse and committed. Hobart is no different.

The flexi is situated on an old primary school which is largely boarded up. This does not give a great first impression and having to walk around the back of the school to a demountable building doesn’t help. The space itself is quite functional and has great potential. It will be interesting to see how the space develops over time and whether the young people really take ownership of it.

It has been fun to be once again at the planning stage of learning units. It was a component of teaching that I enjoyed. I have also enjoyed talking with workers about what they are doing and their reflections on how to move forward.

Heidi and I have been busy after work walking around the streets of our local area. Lenah Valley use to be where the well to do of Hobart lived so there are some lovely houses to see. We are only a 25min walk from North Hobart with its plethora of shops, cafes and bars. Sweet Envy is on the main street but it closes at 5 so we will be pushed to get there after work. We went for a pint in ‘The Winston’, a pub that screams traditional English pub but that inexplicably is filled with American memorabilia.

Heidi got cornered by the Greek owner of the corner store on the way home. I had changed and was making dinner and finally went out to look for her. She tells me she has a very very clear picture of how his life is going.

Our host asked after us yesterday evening as we arrived home from work. It is indeed going well and we are very happy here. So it would seem is Saffie who sleeps all day but plays like a kitten on our return. We suspect she might feel more stable on the carpet. Sydney I’m afraid is struggling to get very active other than chasing a blowfly and crying to either get out or come back in, the two of which can happen in rapid succession.

 

Sunday in Hobart August 2016

A big day today! We’ve arrived, the cats are settled, we’ve loaded up the house with food and today we’re out and about.

It was very cold this morning! We can see Mt Wellington from our window and there was snow covering the top of it. The cats remained unhappy at the cold and would cry to return into the warmth of inside. We relented but did make fun of them.

Salamanca markets are closed on Sunday but there is a market at the showgrounds. We went there, arriving before it was really open. We had a cup of coffee and wandered around the stalls. it is a trash and treasure, with I suspect more trash than treasure, although we did find some lovely crockery that we could not buy.

We found Suzy who made jams from local fruit and bought a lot of berry jam. We don’t have a lot of room but we’ll definitely bring some of these back. The raspberry jam is delicious.

We went to the pet store after the market but it still had not opened so we determined to continue to Mt Wellington to see the snow. Naturally enough they had closed the top road because, well it had snow on it and was dangerous. We parked and walked up the pinnacle track until we found some snow. There was not much left now but for us Brisbanites it was still a treat to put our hands in it.

We headed back through the old part of Hobart, marveling at the  age of the buildings until we got to battery point. We stopped here and went to Jackman and McRoss bakery for some morning tea, which all sounded so delicious we ended up having an early lunch.

We walked from here, down Kelly Steps to Salamanca Place. here Heidi went to a small artists collective shop and bought some handmade peg dolls that Heidi had discovered on our last trip. She bought Capt Cook and I bought a Mawson for her collection.

After walking around some of the shops we headed into town and went into the Art Gallery and Museum. There was an exhibition called Tempest on which was very good and if we get the chance we will return to explore further. We were on a bit of a schedule because we wanted to take the tour of the penitentiary chapel tour at 1pm.

The penitentiary has been largely demolished but the chapel was retained to be used as a court until the 1970’s. The gallows are also there and some of the solitary confinement cells. It is sobering to consider how the cruelty was metered out on these prisoners. As part of the tour we walked through the tunnel that prisoners would take as they headed to court and again as they were led away after sentencing. you can see the graffiti that prisoners wrote as they awaited their fate. Another example of how poverty is a curse for everyone who must endure it.

After leaving the gaol, we headed back through Salamanca along the harbour where the Aurora Australis was docked along with the french ice breaker L’Astrolabe. They are mightily impressive ships. We had a beer at one of the many bars and cafes in Salamanca place and enjoyed the last of the sunshine. We got back to the car and then headed into town to get some cat food for the cats. Then home where, although tired we found a Turkish restaurant close by that we would have dinner with Bethany who will be taking on the role of Teacher in Charge at Hobart for a while. It was great to discover that we are close to the North Hobart strip of shops which is a very cool part of Hobart. No doubt we will be coming here more often.

Today has been a very long day when too much sightseeing is barely enough. to work tomorrow where we will meet our new colleagues and see the flexi for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving for Hobart

Saturday 13th August

So we are finally on our way.

Our sleep has been very disturbed over the past week. I managed to get some idea of what we will be doing whilst we are down there. It was a little difficult to decide what to pack for three weeks and trying to balance work wear and those clothes we might need on the weekends. Not a unique problem but one that I have recently faced. More significantly was trying to decide what books from my library to take. What information is going to be most useful in a place that I have never been. How can I leverage my knowledge and experience for maximum benefit? Again not a unique problem but one that I have also wrestled with of late.

The cats are in the carriers and although they are relatively calm they have definitely been aware that something is going on and I think that it is fair to say that they weren’t overly impressed. There is a screaming child behind us and I hope that the cats are not feeling as restless as that child. 

We are travelling with a large youth band who have been in competition in Brisbane and are now travelling back to Hobart. It is difficult to imagine a more different group of young people than those I will soon be working with. Polite, confident well behaved and worldly. I wonder how their advantages might affect the lives of those young people now in flexible learning around Australia. 

We have decided to use this afternoon to settle into the house, find some shops and supplies. Tomorrow we will have dinner with the Teacher in Charge and no doubt discuss how we might engage effectively with the Hobart Flexi. Time will tell.

Our little half house is lovely. We have views of Mt Wellington through the bay window in the lounge room. There  is a little strip of shops just up the road with a few Cafes that sadly we missed but no doubt will try later. We bought up big at the local food store and are now ser. Our host is from Freisland in the nederlands and the house is full of lovely Dutch tapestries and pottery.

The cats travelled well and although they were a little cautious of the new house have settled in quite well. They have been very curious about the house. We have taken them outside a couple of times but they are complete wooses about the cold and demand to come back inside almost immediately.

We had a bite to eat at Moonah and watch some poor bloke get pulled over and searched by the police. He obviously had something and we watched him  move from chatty and confident to broken and hunched over on the pavement as the police discovered something and finally arrested him and took him away. It was all done professionally but was sad never the less. 

A good day that started early and finished the same way.

Reflection – 6 posts in

Reflection
I have found this my first foray into blogging very difficult. As someone who enjoys writing I am surprised by this. When I saw the assessment items of this subject involved blogging I assumed that I would find this an enjoyable activity. It has not proved thus. However as I reflect on my experiences I find that I hold a very positive view of the role of blogging and of social media in general. In this reflection I hope to resolve this contradiction by looking at some of the elements that have made up both my experiences of and developing attitude towards blogging.
Time
I have not previously been a user of social media. I still think email is pretty natty. I don’t facebook, twitter, snapchat or Instagram. My first impression of engaging in blogging and hence social media is the time demands that it makes. It takes time to find and read the thoughts of others, it takes time to respond to them and it takes time again to put my own thoughts into the online discussion. This for me remains the biggest single hurdle to a full engagement with the form.
However as I have become more heavily engaged I have realised that this time commitment is not wasted but can instead be usefully directed. The further I have engaged the greater focus I have applied to what I read and discuss. Of particular interest to me is how the window of time searching for discussion points becomes less as my level of skill in searching grows and even more particularly how the information I select to be sent through to me becomes more refined. There is still a great barrier of time to be overcome but the balance between time spent and information rewards received is redressed in favour of information.
Technical
The use of blogging requires a certain level of technical proficiency. In my own experience I have found this technical proficiency difficult to attain. However as with all new skills this proficiency grows with practice and experience. It is useful, indeed imperative, to attain a level of proficiency if skills in blogging and social media in general is to become a central platform of teaching.
Of great use I believe is the ability to use hyperlinks in order to link a great deal of information to a single thought. This allows the reader to swiftly understand the main thrust of a blog and to move through the information that interests them. This uses the power of the internet and the reading patterns that it is engendering, to focus the reader on a beginning topic of the writers choosing. Interestingly the very power of the internet to allow the reader to move through numerous links, to in essence choose their own adventure, means that the focus will never remain singular nor homogenous.
Purpose
There are three major purposes that I see blogging achieving.
Firstly blogging is useful way of ordering one’s thoughts about issues. That each issue can be considered individually induces clarity. However over time the individual considerations produce connections and thus a much larger understanding grows as each blog post is published. Further the ongoing blog becomes both a record of thinking over time and a resource that can be referred and added to. The use of the blog as a content management system is extremely interesting. Although my expertise has not allowed me thus far to explore this area to any great extent the opportunities are already obvious. By using the blog to record not just thoughts but links, webpages, research, other blogs creates a rich matrix of knowledge that can be accessed over time and with renewed understanding.
The second purpose is an engagement with the ideas of others. Blogging encourages the writer to become part of a larger community of interest which in turn encourages the consideration of other ideas and thus the expansion of one’s own ideas. Through following comments both the writer of the blog and the followers of the blog can expand upon, agree with or indeed disagree with the thoughts expressed in the blog. The participatory nature of this activity I have found challenging but ultimately liberating. I began my blogs thinking of it primarily as a journal. I found it challenging to post what I would normally think of as a private activity. However over time and through the reading of others blogs I have discovered that although hitting the publish button seems final it is in fact merely the beginning of the process. Likewise I found commenting on others blogs intimidating as I felt I was in the role of a critical reviewer. It became clear to me though that in fact I was a participant in a discussion with many others and this allowed for me to pose questions, seek clarification, add my own knowledge or experience or use the idea expressed as a springboard for my own thinking. Although this takes place over time and is written the similarities to a face to face discussion are clear. In a cyclic way this also lowered my anxiety about posting my own thoughts.
Thirdly the engagement in blogging allows the writer (teacher) to bring new ideas, other blogs, innovative thinking to the attention of others. In this way blogging encourages the writer to become a participant and contributor to a larger discussion of ideas. This activity brings the study of blogging and social media in general away from the periphery and into the centre of educative activities.
Personal
As I have journeyed into the world of blogging I have realized that possibilities for engaging young people in text through popular culture platforms has increased. I have focussed specifically on the use of social media throughout my journey. It has become evident to me that although social media has been enthusiastically taken up by young people as an alternative to mainstream culture, as a hidden means of communication away from the prying eyes of adults, it is being equally enthusiastically taken up by mainstream culture.
The value of social media in mainstream culture is many fold but I am of the belief that the pre-dominate reason is that it is a truly useful means of not only sharing ideas but of generating a participatory culture of ideas. Information is being broadcast, reviewed, updated, and challenged constantly. That young people already inhabit this space provides great opportunities to engage them with a broader landscape of ideas. As an educator this excites me as it is what I see as the primary goal of education. In order to fully exploit these opportunities requires that I and other educators become skilled in the use of these social media tools. Even more importantly I am required to effectively direction to young people so that their use of platforms not yet developed can be usefully deployed in their ongoing development as learners, citizens and human beings.

Its a game!

Summer is getting closer and as a cricket fan I am getting excited! Cricket and indeed all sports have been a useful topic to engage young people in education. There are numerous chapters of text books that detail how the coverage of sport in media can be an ‘in’ for young people to study an activity they like and learn skills in media analysis and writing as they do so. This phenomenon is much less pronounced in the world of computer games and yet they also take up large amounts of time in young peoples’ lives. Why this is so and how some educators have usefully engaged young people and their interest in computer games is the focus of this post.

At a recent in-service I was privy to the work of an educator who had set up a LAN for his class to play Minecraft. This was done so that the enthusiasm that the students had for the game would not flow over into nighttime activities that may include the destruction of what a young person had built during the day. Clearly there was an enthusiasm for the content area! What I found most interesting was how he used the enthusiasm for this game to develop activities that had a direct relevance to the teaching of literacy and numeracy.

As I stumbled around the sandbox or open world of the game I was struck by how intriguing the game was but could not see how it might be useful in the teaching of literacy or numeracy. Once I had mastered (and I use the term loosely), the basic constructs of the game I was asked to build a house. As I was constructing my rudimentary dwelling we paused and the teacher showed us the house that one of his students had built. It was beautifully constructed with various materials, decorations and ornaments. He then explained that as part of this activity his students developed a fly through of the house they had built. This fly through was for the purpose of selling the house and included a commentary from a real estate agent advertising the house to potential buyers. The literacy ramifications were clear.

As we watched this another teacher explained how her class had also constructed a house but that she had imposed a budget on them and priced each component used in the house’s construction. Each student had to not only construct the house but had to do so within a budget leading to decisions about materials, size and opulence based on price. Each young person had the same budget and each of their constructions was valid. There was an inherent fairness to this additional constraint on this aspect of the game. In this activity the numeracy ramifications were clear.

What had seemed a simple game, one that had independently captured the imagination of the students involved, was being used in a creative way to further their grasp of literacy and numeracy. Clever teaching clearly but also teaching that used the inherent appeal of a game to achieve educational outcomes. Williamson (2009, p. 17) claims that the development of creativity and innovation are more important than curricular competence. This may be true and both educators expressed how the young people engaged in the set activity within a broader context of playing the game. It seemed to me that in providing a tight educational construct within the broader enjoyment of the game these educators had developed, in conjunction with the creators of the game, an activity in which the young people involved were developing both innovation and creativity whilst simultaneously developing literacy and numeracy skills that could be recorded.

I was reminded of my own experiences as a classroom teacher in using sport to stimulate discussion and analysis. What the use of computer games allowed was for the young people to engage in a game that they enjoyed, and without detracting from the activity, the introduction of literacy and numeracy challenges that were central to the game rather than an objective analysis of the game. It was as though the young people were on the cricket field and developing strategies, generating team reports, doing on field interviews and writing a newspaper article on the game.

It’s just not cricket!

Williamson, B. (2009). Computer Games, Schools and Young People. Futurelab.

Genres for the Future

As the world moves further into cyberland, as young digital natives become more disembodied, what are the genres and text that can carry and develop meaning for youth. In a world where the knowledge that young people need is increasingly going to be accessed via the internet the role of the teacher will increasingly be to facilitate the critical appraisal of available resources. It was this thought that drew my attention to the latest Wired magazine, a magazine that claims to bring the reader the cutting edge of the ideas that will shape the future. In the current issue (Sept 2015) there is a major article on “The Knowledge – The New Cultural Literacy”. The article begins by stating that there are lots of things they don’t teach you in school and then offers information sources in the areas of Design, Culture, Science, Business and Security that the culturally literate should be following.

There are naturally enough many interesting ideas in the pages that followed but what I found myself noticing was the media on which these cutting edge ideas were being hosted. By using a simple spreadsheet I counted each of the ideas and categorized them by area of content (Science, Culture, Security, Business and Design) and type of media used (Magazine, Blog, Tumblr etc). I then listed the media in rough order of time of inception, thus conference preceded website which preceded Instagram. Finally I created a division at the commencement of  Web 2.0 and labelled the area prior to Web 2.0 as centralised, since the information was under the direct control of the entity distributing it, or participatory where the information was shared within a discussion platform. There were in all 101 different sources of information across  five areas and my simple categorization revealed some interesting trends.

The New Culture Literacy (apologies for the size of the image, the link should give a better file)

The New Culture literacy

One of the most striking things to note was the heavy preference for participatory media. The primary thinkers in each of these areas, admittedly as defined by Wired magazine, were engaged in a discussion about their ideas rather than simply disseminating their ideas. The exception to this was business which had the reverse tendency. This can probably be explained by the need for business to more closely control the message and information they want in the public domain. That most of these cutting edge thinkers were utilising social media rather than more traditional formats has implications for the way in which ideas are shared and also for the manner in which they are developed and progressed.

So what does this all mean in relation to young people, popular culture and text. The near ubiquitous use of social media by young people (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010, p. 4) is no longer an unrelated activity to the rest of society. The world of ideas is moving into the social media space. Information is not simply being broadcast, it is being offered as a starting point for ongoing discussion. Young people will engage in this world through their use of social media. Consequently the ability to select, interpret, share and engage in this world will be of significance in their future lives as it will determine to a very real extent their engagement with a broader world and the development of their world view.

The use of social media by young people has opened up a range of opportunities for organisations to access young people. Some will want to engage young people for admirable purposes, others for commercial gain and others still for gross exploitation. That social media is no longer the sole domain of young people and in fact is being used as a primary means for ideas to be developed, distributed and discussed, changes the way that educators use social media in an education context. The work of the teacher, and of education systems in general to engage in participatory media, and to provide the skills of critical analysis to students will become core business. Further, as the information landscape becomes more participatory young people will need to engage in dialogue if they are to be fully enfranchised as citizens. The work of the teacher in this context becomes not only one of engaging young people in the world of ideas but of linking them within the digital body politic and providing them with the skills to engage in the ongoing discussion effectively.

There will be technical skills required here but also critical thinking, expressive skills in the written language as well as visual literacy and presentation skills. As school systems more fully engage in this process there will need to be a recognition that no one teacher can be expected to cover all of these areas effectively. Consequently, an across curriculum approach, similar to the current focus on literacy and numeracy will be required. Thankfully the participatory nature of Web 2.0 will allow students to learn many skills within the forums they choose to participate in.

Dadich, S. (2015). The New Cultural Literacy. Wired, 72-104.

Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zickuhr, K. (2010). Social Media & Mobile Internet use amongst Teens and Young Adults (pp. 37). Washington D.C.: Pew Internet and American Life Project.