LisaHillSchoolStuff's Weblog

'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Archive for May, 2014

GTAV Primary Conference: How do I teach the new Australian Curriculum?

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 30, 2014

Last Monday I attended the GTAV Primary Conference: How do I teach the new Australian Curriculum? at the Melbourne Museum.   I was very impressed by the level of support that the GTAV (Geography Teachers Association of Victoria) is offering to primary teachers.   The GTAV has always been more of a professional association for secondary teachers, but they are reaching out to primary teachers by offering free membership for 2014 and are obviously keen to help us to implement the new curriculum.

There was an excellent display of materials for browsing, and I was most impressed by the Pearson Discovering History series.  This series of 10 books comes in three levels – lower, middle and upper primary – and it’s written specifically for the Australian Curriculum, including teacher resource books, laminated cards, online content and a ‘Hot Topic’ book.  The supplementary topic books for independent student research look excellent.  I wish Pearson would send me (and my cash-strapped school) a set to review!

The GTAV showbag included heaps of other useful stuff including a glossy promo for getting involved in Commonwealth Class, which of course is linked to the Commonwealth Games.  There was also a CD with links to the Global Education Project (GEP) which I intend to explore further, and a stack of GEP units for me to put into the library, as well as a CD offering primary and secondary units of work, short films & photos and interactive multimedia resources.


As it happens, I’d had rather a rude awakening to the new Australian Curriculum requirements on the Friday before the conference.  I’m teaching my new Explorers unit to Years 3 & 4, and it soon dawned on me that the children were none too familiar with the oceans that Magellan et al were circumnavigating.  I downloaded a label-the-oceans activity from Enchanted Learning and was somewhat dispirited to discover that while the children knew north, south, east and west, some of them had no idea how to use them in a clue like this:

Atlantic Ocean – an ocean bordering western Europe, western Africa, Antarctica, and eastern North and South America.

Anyway, after school I cranked up my Excel assessment file to record the results and so went hunting at ACARA Geography, expecting to find the relevant  content description somewhere around Years 4-6. only to find *gasp* it was an expectation for Year 2:

The location of the major geographical divisions of the world in relation to Australia
  1. using geographical tools, for example, a globe and world map, or digital applications such as Google Earth, to locate and name the continents, oceans, equator, North and South Poles, tropics and hemispheres
  2. describing the location of continents relative to Australia using terms such as north, south, opposite, near, far

I should add that AusVELS for Year 2 expects no such thing, presumably because they haven’t signed off on geography yet, and so all we have is the old Humanities statement, and no standards either till level 4:

Students develop their awareness of spatial concepts and use terms that demonstrate an understanding of absolute and relative locations. With guidance, they recognise and point to their street, town or city and state on an appropriate map. They recognise the globe as a model representation of Earth and can locate Australia and other places with which they have links. Students learn to identify and name physical features and distinguish them on the basis of variables, including size (scale/height/distribution) and colour. Through observation, they investigate and describe elements of the natural and built environments in their local area.

Well, whether or not little kids in Year 2 are expected to name continents and oceans, clearly we are going to need to jazz up our teaching of geography in primary schools, so the conference was indeed timely.

The keynote speech, Walking the Country, Exploring the History, was by author Nadia Wheatley.   I was a little bit disappointed by the exclusive focus on her own books, My Place, Going Bush, Playground and Australians All, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that they are the answer to a very crowded curriculum.   The message is, of course, that geography needs to be centred on place, be inclusive especially of indigenous prior ownership, and integrated with other subjects.  I really liked the emphasis on the integration of art, poetry and science with geography, especially drawing on-site because I know how much kids really enjoy this, and learn from it.  (Years ago on a camp at Licola, I took a session on sketching in situ.  The other teachers thought it was really daggy, but the kids loved having time for a quiet, reflective activity and their sketches were wonderful, ranging from intimate sketches of plants and insects to astonishing landscapes).  Nadia Wheatley said that drawing in-situ is ‘walking into the landscape’, and whereas a photo is a split-second observation, a drawing observes also the sounds, the weather and other things that are going on – a holistic memory that is in harmony with country.

But no matter how good they may be, (and I was a bit concerned that in a global world, there was no mention of global geography) adding more integrated units isn’t a solution.  IMO what we need to do is to use opportunities to integrate geography into existing units that we’ve already developed using the content in the Australian Curriculum.   (Explorers is an obvious example, and I’ve done heaps of geography using the Aboriginal map of Australia in my Y3&4 Aboriginal Legends unit and also in my Y5&6 Indigenous Service unit.  The Habitat unit that I’m doing with Y1&2 has lots of possibilities too, as does the Natural Disasters unit we’re updating for Years 5&6.)

InteractionStephen Latham, Education Officer at the GTAV, gave an excellent presentation.   So good, that I wish the conference had been a full day rather than a half day and we’d had time to explore the resources that he told us about.  They have a portal at Facebook, a Twitter account @GeographyVic and a stack of member only resources at their website.   They produce a journal called Interaction, and amazingly, they had extracted pages and pages of content relevant to primary schools and bound this into a booklet for the ‘showbag’ that we received at registration.

From the slideshow notes that we were given, I can share the basic ideas of geography, and the things that a primary teacher needs to keep in mind:

Geography is about

  • The physical environment of the earth’s surface (landforms, weather and climate, ecosystems (plants, animals and soils) and environmental hazards)
  • The human patterns on the earth’s surface (population patterns, cities and settlements, agriculture and industries, and resources & their uses)
  • The interactions between physical and human processes
  • The results of these, such as distinctive regions, resource uses, food production, inequalities, hazards, conservation etc.

There is a geography inquiry process (which should be represented as a cycle, but I haven’t got the graphic):

  • observing and questioning
  • planning, collecting and evaluating
  • processing, analysing, interpreting and concluding
  • communicating
  • reflecting and responding

Sustainability is a major focus, one of seven major concepts which Stephen represented in a concept wheel:

  • place,
  • space,
  • change,
  • scale,
  • environment,
  • sustainability, and
  • interconnection

So much to think about, I really think that Stephen could have done an entire day all by himself.

I was not so thrilled by the next presentation.  Making and Using Maps seemed to be the major emphasis – and maybe this just proves that I am not a geography teacher’s shoelace –  but for the life of me, I cannot understand why in the technology-rich 21st century anyone expects students to spend time neatly colouring in maps using BOLTSS (borders, orientation, legend, title, scale and source).  19th century schoolroom stuff like that is guaranteed to put students off geography if you ask me.  Once again there was the ho-hum ‘plan your next holiday’ activity – and I wondered how many times students will do this during the course of their schooling, and how much geography do they actually learn as they do it?  Feeling rebellious, I also wondered: what is the point of planning the same trip that explorers took and explaining how it is different??  My kids are loving the Explorers unit that they’re doing at the moment, but they’re not asked to colour in any maps.  No, their assessment task is to use an iPad app called Explain Everything to trace the route of their explorer on a world map, including the place of origin and the stopovers they called in at on their way, and provide an oral explanation as they do it, naming the continents, countries and oceans, telling me the name of the ship/s, and explaining the perils they encountered.

I didn’t stay for the last session.  I feel bad about this because it’s really not fair to the presenter.  I have never skipped a conference session before but (thanks to my dodgy ankle) I had had a nasty fall en route to the museum from Melbourne Central, and although I’d had good first aid from the museum staff, I was starting to feel very sorry for myself and rang my husband to drive in and rescue me.  The doc next day gave me the rest of the week off to recover, so now I feel quite heroic for having pressed on to the conference in spite of it!




Posted in Conferences Attended, Professional Development | Tagged: | Comments Off on GTAV Primary Conference: How do I teach the new Australian Curriculum?

The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly, retold by Bronwyn Davies

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 29, 2014

I’m not very enthusiastic about the fairy phenomenon that seems to have engaged so many little girls, but I did like this book.  It’s a retelling of a fairy story by Pixie O’Harris that would make most modern readers gnash their teeth in dismay because it promoted conformity and obedience to gender roles that are now obsolete. Bronwyn Davies has updated this story so that it fits more comfortably with contemporary life, and the edition is complemented by illustrations from Pixie O’Harris and other images from the collection of the National Library of Australia.

Here’s how it goes: the Queen of the Fairies banishes the fairy who wouldn’t fly because she needs to learn to be like everyone else.  Other fairies lift up the heads of flowers after rain, they help lame beetles and they save silly baby birds.  In other words, their role is to nurture and care for others (and presumably not to aspire to the role of the powerful Queen).  There is no room in Fairyland for lazy fairies…

But the Fairy-who-wouldn’t-fly was not the same as other fairies.  Instead of working, she wanted to read, to sleep, and to dream.  And when she woke, she would wonder about things.  She wondered where the wind came from, and wondered how seeds knew what kind of flower to grow into.   (p.3)

Too bad, is the Queen’s verdict, so the FWWF is whisked away to the Woodn’t, a place full of idiosyncratic rebels like the Kookaburra-who-wouldn’t-laugh and the Bee-who-wouldn’t-live-in-a-hive.  The FWWF is both pleased and irritated by the assorted manifestations of wilfulness, and she misses Fairyland – but she still doesn’t want to be like everyone else.

It so happens that a small human stumbles into the dell with her, and it takes a combined effort and some unaccustomed cooperation from the rebels to restore him to his mother.   This makes for a return to Fairyland where the Queen welcomes back the FWWF who is then able to show her that Fairyland can make a place for individuals who have ideas of their own.  Pleasingly, not everyone capitulates: the Bee still fancies freedom:

I want to explore new places, and I want to find out what’s killing the honey bees.  I need to live on my own for  a while and have time to think. (p. 40)

This retelling allows the FWWF to be true to herself, and the Queen gets a bit of a makeover too.

The Fairy Queen smiled at the Fairy.  She was so brave and honest.  “It’s very hard to tell a Queen that she’s been wrong, and I thank you for it.  The Bee will be most welcome in Fairyland when she completes her investigation.”  (p. 46)

So, if we must have little girls tripping about in sparkles and tulle, The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly is an alternative that suggests that girls can have agency in their own lives.

Author: Bronwyn Davies
Illustrator: Pixie O’Harris
Title: The Fairy that Wouldn’t Fly
Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2014
ISBN: 9780642278517
Source: Review copy courtesy of the NLA

Direct from the NLA Bookshop
Or Fishpond: The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly, retold by Bronwyn Davies

Book review: Midnight Burial, by Pauline Deeves

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 28, 2014

21897737Midnight Burial, by Pauline Deeves,  is a most interesting short historical novel for readers aged eight to twelve.

It’s a mystery story, set on a remote sheep station in the 19th century.  It’s cleverly crafted in the form of letters and diary entries from various protagonists in the novel, so that events are gradually revealed from multiple points of view.

The central character, the one that the kids will identify with, is Miss Florence Williamson, who, in 1868 is aged ten.  She’s a smart kid, rather rebellious, and very determined.  The novel begins with her declaration that she will never write in her diary again because she doesn’t ever want to remember this day, the day that her sister Lizzie, suddenly died.  Her father is outside hastily burying the body –  no doctor, no clergyman and no witnesses – and the rest of the family is in shock.  Clearly there is something odd about this death, and Florence’s curious questions at a dinner in town bring others to the same conclusion.

Deeves uses the historical period to explore gender issues and social conditions.  Florence’s father James is an irascible man, sacking servants at whim, and laying down the law about the role that women should play.  He has strong objections to his neighbour’s efforts to extend education to the labouring class; and he is horrified by his sister Hetty turning up in a riding habit.  Nothing his family can say will reconcile him to Henry Parkes’ plans to bring some of Florence Nightingale’s nurses to the colony, and he is adamant that none of  his daughters will be tainted by marrying a former convict.

Events conspire to make him reassess his ideas.  The tension rises when James goes missing just as it’s shearing time, and he has sacked his overseer so his ‘bossy’ daughter Jane has to deal with recalcitrant shearers and a heavy workload.

The novel is only 72 pages long, supplemented by the author’s ‘historical notes’ at the back, so it’s very suitable for reading aloud or reciprocal reading.  Its structure lends itself to plotting the course of the story and of course predicting what might happen next, and perhaps writing alternative endings in the same diary/letters format.

Recommended, especially as a supplementary text for units of work on Australian settlement.

Author: Pauline Deeves
Title: Midnight Burial
Publisher: National Library of Australian, 2014
ISBN: 08441336
Source: Review copy courtesy of the NLA.


Fishpond: Midnight Burial
Or direct from the NLA Bookshop.

Posted in Australian History, Book Reviews | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Book review: Midnight Burial, by Pauline Deeves

Book review: Meet … Douglas Mawson, by Mike Dumbleton, illustrated by Snip Green

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 24, 2014

Meet Douglas MawsonI was delighted to receive an advance copy of Meet … Douglas Mawson this week, because Mawson has been a hero of mine since I first read about him in primary school.  His story was featured in the old Victorian Readers and I still remember it vividly.  I have since read Mawson’s story in his own words and found it even more compelling  – see my review of The Home of the Blizzard republished by Wakefield Press; it’s essential reading for teachers of history, IMO, especially since the Australian Curriculum includes the topic of Explorers for year 4.

This edition is shorter than the version in the Victorian Readers and somewhat sanitised of the grisly bits.  There’s nothing about eating the Huskies out of desperation, nor of the manner of Mertz’s brave exit.  Nothing about the gruesome state of Mawson’s feet, and his plunge into a crevasse is pruned so that readers don’t realise that he fell into it twice but overcame despair.  Are todays’ readers such sensitive souls that they must be spared these truths?   It seems a pity to me to short-change children in this way.  So many of them think that playing sport at elite level is heroic, and don’t know what heroism really is.

The story, however, is  salvaged by Dumbleton’s crisp prose, focussing on the courage of the adventurers and the expedition’s achievements:

It was a world of extreme cold, but also extreme beauty.

The men discovered breathtaking glaciers, drew maps and collected rock samples.   They were uncovering secrets that would help people understand how this mysterious land was formed.

Snip Green’s illustrations make this book the highlight of this series.  They are so perfectly realised that I am sorely tempted to breach copyright and share some of the images.  (But no, visit the Random House website instead where you can see some of them if you click on the Free Sample icon).  Green has captured the bleak climate of Antarctica in pale geometric shards of green and white with the human intruders in dark grey and black, often dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape.  Most poignant of all is the double page spread depicting Mawson trudging on alone, watched over by Mawson’s burial cross: it symbolises so vividly the integrity of a man in extremis, who pushed himself to the limit to erect a memorial to his companion, in a place where no one else could see it.  The clean edginess of Green’s images must surely make this book a candidate for an award; they are stunning.  You can find out more about Snip Green at Random House.

This series from Random House is turning out to be excellent.  Here’s my wishlist for future titles:

  • Faith Bandler
  • Nancy Wake
  • Edith Cowan
  • Eddie Mabo
  • Germaine Greer
  • John Curtin
  • Nancy Bird Walton
  • Sister Vivian Bullwinkle
  • Emily Kngwarreye
  • Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)
  • Patrick White
  • Percy Grainger
  • Peggy Granville-Hicks
  • Eileen Joyce

Author: Mike Dumbleton
Title: Meet… Douglas Mawson
Illustrator: Snip Green
Publisher: Random House, 2014
ISBN: 9780857981950
Source: Review copy courtesy of Random House


Fishpond: Meet Douglas Mawson (due for release on June 2, 2014)

Posted in Australian History, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Migration Year 5 & 6 unit of work

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 21, 2014

I am working on a new unit of work for years 5 & 6: it’s intended to teach content from the Australian Curriculum on the topic of migration:

Stories of groups of people who migrated to Australia (including from ONE Asian country) and the reasons they migrated, such as World War II and Australian migration programs since the war. (ACHHK115)

In addition to exploring waves of migration at different times in Australian history, I am also interested in guiding students towards an empathetic understanding of the migrant experience, which will include the experience of being a refugee.

So far, I have gathered together these picture books to support the unit

  • Rebel! written by Allan Baillie and illustrated by Di Wu
  • The Peasant Prince, the true story of Mao’s Last Dancer, by Li Cunxin and Anne Spudvilas
  • The Little Refugee, the inspiring story of Australia’s happiest refugee, by Anh Do and Suzanne Do, illustrated by Brice Whatley
  • Boat Boy by Hazel Edwards, illustrated by Eric David
  • The Island, by John Heffernan and Peter Sheehan
  • Ali the Bold Heart, based on the true story of an Iranian refugee, who performed as a magician in his own country, written by Jane Jolly and illustrated by Elise Hurst
  • Glass Tears, by Jane Jolly and Di Wu
  • Ziba Came on a Boat, by Liz Lofthouse, illustrated by Robert Ingpen
  • A True Person, written by Gabiann Marin and illustrated by Jacqui Grantford
  • Home and Away, by John Marsden and Matt Ottley
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  • The Boat, by Helen Ward and Ian Andrew

Novels to use include

  • Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman
  • The White Ship by Jackie French
  • When Hitler Took Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Non-fiction resources

  •  Story of Migration to Australia, Heinemann
    • From the Middle East and Africa, by Nicolas Brasch
  •  Migrations series (Wayland)
    • Chinese Migrations, by Judith Kendra
  • We Came to Australia, Looking for … series, by Christine Mulvany & Lucy Carroll, MacMillan
    • Family;
    • Jobs and Education;
    • Different Environments;
    • Freedom;
    • Different Lifestyle.
  • Australian Immigration Stories by Louise Courtney and Linda Massola, Heinemann,
    • 1900-1940
    • 1940-1960
    • 1960-1980
    • 1980 –

Does anyone else have any suggestions for resources for this topic?

Posted in Asia & Australia's Engagement with Asia, Australian Curriculum, Australian History, School Library stuff, School Library Units of Work | Tagged: | Comments Off on Migration Year 5 & 6 unit of work