Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Class of 2010

Today was the last school day for our Year 12 students. Tonight they party, tomorrow they start Swatvac, next week they start exams and soon they will step off into the big, wide world of university, training or employment. So this reflection is a tribute to the graduating (said with supreme confidence in their ability to pass the upcoming exams!), class of 2010.

There's a lovely sense of privilege and pride, especially in a P-12 school, that comes from watching tiny, timid five yr olds transform into confident young adults. This is the third group of kids that I've been lucky enough to be associated with from Prep to yr 12 and with this group in particular, I've always felt a very strong affinity. They were the babies of our first middle years group, guinea pigs in a bold and very successful experiment to break the barrier of transition from primary to secondary school.They were also the first of our 'super' school productions, with everyone from years 5-7 involved in the chorus.They were founding members of our Kapahaka group and part of our school's performance tour of Knox during the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. Many of them joined our first ever school tour of NZ in 2005 and some even returned for a second trip two years later.

Outside of school I coached quite a few of them in netball or junior tennis and when I think about it, I can't  remember any really negative behaviour from any of them. Most classes go through a bit of a 'too cool for school' phase when they get to yr 9 and 10 but not this lot. They're just a very special, lovely group of kids and it will seem rather strange not to have them at school anymore.

One of the outstanding features of this group is the amount of altrusists among them. Josh , Josh and Emily have been Moyne Shire Youth Councillors for the past four years and have given great service to the youth of the Western District. As one final initiative, Josh and Emily, along with Shelby and Lucy will be part of an 'Alternatives to Schoolies' trip to the Phillipines after their exams. Instead of partying at one of the country's  beach haunts, they'll spend three weeks in the Phillipines, living with a local family and helping in the school there. Before they go they are working flat out to raise money to buy vegetables to plant in the village farms and school supplies to distribute to the children. If you'd like to donate to this fine cause, please contact us at school.

When they were in the 5-7 unit, these kids helped to establish 'Rainbow Reward' days, where everyone dressed up and took a day off class to celebrate the preceeding weeks of hard work. They approached these days with great fervour and their dressup skills were impressive. The legacy of this is that dress up days are now cool right across the school and everyone enjoys the chance to play for a day.

In a similarly flamboyant fashion they are almost all performers and nearly everyone of them has been involved in the Performing Arts during their time at school. They have created a aura of excellence around our school productions and 'mainstreamed' performing for boys. Of course this year also marks Geoff and my first foray into VCE drama and we are grateful to Sonia, Andrew and Paul for once again becoming guinea pigs and positive role models for a De Manser initiative.

To the 14 who completed the whole journey with us, we wish you well and hope that your life is full of wonderful events. To those who left to work or complete their schooling elsewhere, especially Johan and Grace and Aisha, we miss you and wish you all the best of luck with your exams too.
Can't wait to catch up with you guys when you're all rich and famous :-)

The Class of 2010 on PhotoPeach

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oh, the Drama!

Today, our first ever (as in first for Geoff & me), intrepid pioneers of the world of VCE drama, completed their solo exam performances. This is our first year of teaching unit 3/4 Drama. Like most things in life we do it as a team, and while that in itself is not without tension sometimes ;-), it's nice to be able to share the highs and lows of working with these amazing young people in a subject that is, surprisingly, as academically rigourous as it is creative. It's scary though, to do something for the first time and we can only hope we are learning fast enough to keep in front of the kids and give them the best shot at being successful.

35% of the total marks for the year for Drama are externally assessed via a 7 minute performance. The students have to write the script themselves from one of 10 prescribed structures and stimulus. Within that 7 minutes they have to show a particular dramatic style, a number of dramatic elements and transform themselves into a range of characters who, in turn, transform through time and place with just a single prop. It's pretty demanding stuff. We've been working on these solos for 7 weeks now. There's been a fair amount of scolding, cajoling, encouraging, pleading and advising going on. As you would expect, some worked harder than others but in the end I think everyone gave it their best effort and today was the day.

What a tension packed experience! On a scale of don't care at all to having a baby, it was right up there. I actually found it very similar to coaching netball teams in grand finals. No matter how good the preparation, there was that feeling that you should be cramming a bit more feedback, a little more advice, just doing something, to get them over the line. That dreadful separation anxiety of not even being able to be in the room while they performed was like dropping your first born off at daycare! What if they forgot their words and you weren't there to prompt? What if they were going too fast and you couldn't give them the slow down signal?

In the end, as we knew they would, everyone came through with flying colours. There were no lost lines and no disasters. All performances filled their allotted time. They didn't need me to be there and that's a sign that we've done our job well. And so have they.We don't get the marks for a couple of months yet but really, in the scheme of things, the marks are sort of irrelevant. As I said to one of the kids today, drama solos are a life experience worth banking. Once you've bared  your soul with seven minutes of non naturalistic theatre, on an empty stage in front of three complete strangers, who hold the key to part of your immediate future in their hands, and survived...why you can do anything :-)

So to "The Family Car", "Mrs Lovett", Meip Gies", "Jeeves" and the other "Family Car', congratulations and well done. We couldn't be prouder of you.

Now get back to work and study for the written exam!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lucas and the Ultranet

On the last day of last term we finished reading 'Tuck Everlasting' in class. I love this story. It's full of metaphor and personification and it asks questions that make kids think.

Right at the start of the book Natalie Babbit writes of three events that happened on a single day, events that seemed unconnected but were. It caused me to reflect on three things that had happened in my day.

At our staff meeting, one of the Preps showed us how to manage the express space on our Ultranet pages. He explained it very carefully, the way you hear people speaking to newly arrived immigrants or very old people in nursing homes. And then he flicked the cursor around the page at light speed, showing off the work his teacher has put up for he and his classmates and the awesome programs he's able to activate from within the collaborative space.

That afternoon, I posted my latest uni assignment, a reflection on the progress of my action research project. The project is about digital citizenship and using web 2.0 and social media to communicate, collaborate and facilitate learning and I'm still in the root cause analysis stage.

And that evening, my friend Alison drew my attention to an article in the Herald Sun newspaper about the dangers of facebook.

Because of my research project and because I'm a fairly active online citizen, I've done a lot of reading about participation in social media lately and at least in part, this blog is a way for me to sort out some of the ideas in those readings in my own mind.So for those who choose to read my ramblings, prepare to hear a lot more about digital citizenship in the near future.

The little preppy who showed us how to use the Ultranet is part of a generation of kids who will grow up with social media. I have a 7yr old at home who knows how to text, can independently log on to Club Penguin and often Skypes his Nanny in NZ so she can back up any arguments he has with his parents! He has his own facebook page ( and yes I know facebook sets an age limit but it's like a bank account in his name but under my guardianship so he doesn't actually log into on his own). I was tired of him wrecking my Farmville crops and besides, via facebook chat he can type away to his cousin in Dunedin and his sister in Melbourne at university. While he does those things we talk about the way he should respond and react to people online. He develops a relationship with his sister and his cousin that given their distance and difference in age, would be highly unlikely otherwise. His father and I teach him the etiquette and social rules of online citizenship just the same way as we teach him how to behave in society in general.

The article in the paper horrified me. It was another negative, participate at your peril piece, full of dire warnings for teachers who dare to inhabit the same cyber space as their students. The sub heading was 'Tell us your facebook horror stories." Why doesn't someone in the written media write an article asking for positive feedback? Maybe it's because I can get my news faster and more accurately on Twitter or Facebook on my iPhone than I can waiting for tomorrow's newspaper and the print media are feeling threatened by that.

Then there was the principal whose kids had been writing negative comments on facebook. She said it shouldn't be a primary school problem. Ummm, maybe it shouldn't be, but clearly it is. Maybe if there were a few more adults involved in their kids online activities it wouldn't be. I've also heard people say sex ed shouldn't be taught before year 10 because the kids shouldn't need to know about it until they're legally old enough to engage in it! Oh dear! To me, it's the same scenario.Start teaching them before they need to know, concentrate on building healthy relationships and provide accurate information so they don't have to make up the rules for themselves.

The third event that day was my Uni reflection. So, how is my action research going? Slowly. I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew (how unusual) and when I read news articles like the one mentioned here then I'm not sure one old lady like me has the energy to fight against the negative propoganda and ignorance that surrounds this new means of communication.

But then I remember Lucas and the Ultranet, and Taine telling his big sister about his day on chat and I know that the opportunities for teaching with social media are just too important to ignore. It is at the childrens' peril that adults keep putting their metaphorical heads in the sand.