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

Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

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?

HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference: Workshop#2: Vincent Lingiari: Aboriginal Land Rights

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

This session was blogged live, so apologies for typos, omissions, errors of interpretation and US spelling imposed by my software. It was presented by Amanda Carmichael and Marcus Mulcahy from Carrum PS.

The session began with footage from a 1960s Peter Luck ABC TV doco explaining the Wave Hill Aboriginal Land Rights issue.  It was chastening to watch it, knowing how things have turned out.  All these years later, there is still so much wrong to redress…

Education about these issues is one way to change attitudes, and Amanda and Marcus are on a mission to encourage knowledge and understanding.   They showed us various film resources to use, but noted that teachers need to do a lot of work on visual literacy with their students.  These were excellent background resources for teachers who don’t know much about the topic.  However, and maybe I’m selling my students short, I have to say that some of these films would be unlikely to keep my students’ attention for long, especially the students who are EAL and not very fluent in English.  These kids find voiceovers difficult because there are no visual cues to help them separate words and process long sentences.  The ones with sub-titles were the best, I think, and yes, teachers would need to do a lot of work on visual literacy.

Apropos the keynote address from this morning, it would have been good if they had begun this presentation with some explanation of how the topic fits into the Australian curriculum.  I can see how it addresses the Aboriginal History and Culture Priority, and also skills such as developing empathy, recognising other perspectives and so on, but I had to quickly scour the ACARA website to know which level the content of this topic is for.

The Year 6 work samples published by ACARA give some idea how this topic fits into the curriculum.

(To be fair, the presenters had MAC/PC technological issues so they couldn’t share their PowerPoint, so maybe they had intended to address this).

There are more resources to explore at Marcus’s website:  His sister Brenda Croft is doing a PhD about this and he recommends keeping an eye out for her name for future resources.

It is important also to use, as a lead-in to the topic, the Ted Egan song, Poor Bugger Me and From Little Things Big Things Grow by Paul Kelly.

Macmillan have also published the story of Vincent Lingiari in their Stories from Australia’s History series.  See Fishpond.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Indigenous Teaching Resources, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: | Comments Off on HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference: Workshop#2: Vincent Lingiari: Aboriginal Land Rights

HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference workshop#1: Teaching History through Literature

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

Blogged live, so apologies for typos, omissions, errors of interpretation, and US spelling imposed by the software.

Presenters Jo Clyne and Ingrid Purcell from HTAV are authors of a new resource called Dear Oma, A Story of Federation which is about to hit the bookshops.   The book was written with an awareness that in primary schools:

  • Composite classes complicate teaching a sequential curriculum
  • Literacy and numeracy take priority so there’s not much time for history
  • teachers also have to cover Civics and Citizenship
  • there is new AC history content to cover, and
  • Primary teachers are experienced at teaching through fiction.

Dear Oma aims to give context, to tune students in and to engage them emotionally, and is linked (of course) to the AC.  The authors actually chose Federation as a topic because it was a bit dry and hard to teach in an interesting way.  (A brave choice!) Set on the day of the Federation Parade in 1901, the book tells the story of a recent German immigrant to Melbourne, and is based on real people, real events, real places and real objects (using one of the digitised newspapers, The Argus, via Trove as a resource). Karl is a boy and he sells Federation souvenirs outside parliament (i.e. the Exhibition Buildings), and he meets a whole lot of people – which gives the authors the opportunity to show how Federation affects different sorts of people. Using Karl in this way also enables a child’s perspective on Federation as it happens, and the authors have used all kinds of clever ways to bring the period to life.

Karl, for example, meets a Chinese boy who’s not going to the parade.  The boy, Peng, explains resentfully why not: it’s because of the White Australia Policy which is to come in after Federation.  The authors faced a dilemma with using authentic objects as primary sources, because, for example, the souvenirs were racist, and unless these resources are used carefully they can have an unfortunate effect. So Jo and Ingrid have tried to problematise the issues rather than making judgements about them.  Some issues (such as the right to vote for Aboriginal people) are more complex than they seem at first glance, so teachers need to take care.

Most resources for Federation as a topic have been secondary focussed, so there’s a real need for primary resources that are age-appropriate. Jo and Ingrid have also provided web resources,  such as online mapping to find the actual places where these events took place; and worksheets analysing the multiple perspectives to develop empathy: immigrants, indigenous people, the old and the young.  These web resources include links to images, virtual history exhibitions and activities, i.e. it’s a 21st century teacher’s manual to support the book.

It sounds like a good package!

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

2013 HTAV Primary Teachers Conference Keynote address #2

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

Once again I am blogging this live, so I apologise in advance for typos, errors of omission or misinterpretation, and for the American spelling imposed by the software I’m using. 

Genevieve Grieves, curator at the Melbourne Museum began with the story of a forthcoming Melbourne Museum exhibition called First Peoples, Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the name of her country).  The other presenters were Amanda Reynolds and Rosemary Wrench from Melbourne Museum.

The presentation focussed on how the exhibition was created i.e. the process.  Curators’ job was to listen to Aboriginal communities across Victoria.


  • Using Aboriginal voices and languages
  • Curriculum
  • A collaborative voice
  • Victoria

The exhibition includes the ‘harder stories’ i.e. frontier violence.

The entrance includes welcoming message sticks: if you touch them you hear indigenous people from different parts of Victoria saying welcome in different languages. 

Victorian iconography – less familiar to most than iconography from desert areas e.g. dot point paintings – includes

  • cloaks – including rare examples
  • baskets and shields – people can touch them and learn how they were made.
  • an immersive experience using Bunjil the eagle

Aboriginal history and culture involves 2000 generations of stories, which are tracks back through time to when Aboriginal people lived with mega-fauna, and which explores knowledge coming from science and from storytelling by Aboriginal elders.  Elders used observation and ingenuity the way that scientists do, and visitors are encouraged to look at images of tracks, signs, rock art etc. to interpret it.  Some artifacts were made especially for the exhibition using traditional methods, and the modules are set up to be immersive.  Community narrators explain the complex concepts involved in reading country and knowing the interconnected nature of knowledge.   Visitors can also explore how knowledge is passed on, because Aboriginal lore isn’t passed on by specialists, everyone is a teacher.

Much of this presentation involved images, video and sound from the exhibition so I’m not doing a very good job of sharing how interesting it was.  I’ll try to give a sense of the different modules:

  • The exhibition covers old ways, and early encounters with ‘Strangers from the Ccean’ (and the sadness that befell people at that time) which includes artifacts of explorers such as George Bass.  There is a memorial to people who lost their lives too, and there are stories from oral history about what happened, e.g. kidnapping by sealers. Some of this will be confronting but it is felt that people are ready for this now. 
  • Then there is Our Shared History with modules called e.g. Treaty and Tanderum, i.e. two laws side by side,comparing Batman’s infamous treaty with laws as represented by message sticks. 
  • There is Call to Fight which includes massacres and battles but also indigenous service.  The key concept here is that Australia has many battlefields. 
  • Burdens to Bear covers oral history stories sharing personal stories about how their lives were affected by various pieces of legislation controlling Aboriginal lives. 
  • Standing Strong is another model about protest movements, land rights struggles and so on. 
  • Working Hard explores Aboriginal contributions to the modern economy as well as the traditional work ethic. 
  • Coming Together explores NAIDOC Week and other modern ways of celebrating culture, continuing stories, celebrations and knowledge.

The Many Nations component of the exhibition includes showcases of objects from the 19th century and contemporary objects from all over Victoria.  This covers

  • Keeping places – beautiful handmade pieces
  • Animal creations – creation stories, animals that bring good luck, items never displayed before
  • Marking identity – timbers, shields etc
  • Working Country – tools and so on
  • Celebrating Culture – body ornamentation, musical instruments, clothing including fibres, feathers and bones etc.

These showcases also include objects that show ways in which children are included:

  • mother and daughter digging sticks
  • child-sized shields

and there’s an activity table for 4-9 year-olds, with games and puzzles etc. for children to engage with.  There’s also a showcase called Toy Stories, with toys to look at.  (Do check out my review of Bush Toys, Aboriginal Children at Play, by Claudia Haagen, I hope there’s an exhibition catalogue for First Peoples too?)

Perhaps there will be a virtual exhibition as well, I hope so, because not all children can visit the museum, for one reason or another.

The final part of this presentation was about the Generations part of the exhibition, with stories from indigenous people from all over Victoria, of all age groups.  Every time you walk into the Deep Listening Space you get a different multimedia experience, where you are invited to ‘listen with your head and your heart’.

This is the kind of exhibition that teachers really need to attend because it will give us lots of ideas about how to introduce Aboriginal perspectives across all kinds of history topics.  Learning about Aboriginal culture and history is a core responsibility for all teachers of history and although it’s a long journey with no endpoint, we have an obligation to keep learning.  I’ll be visiting this exhibition during school holidays as part of my own professional development.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on 2013 HTAV Primary Teachers Conference Keynote address #2

2013 HTAV Primary History Teachers Conference: Keynote address#1

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

NB I’m blogging this live, so I apologise in advance for typos, omissions, the American spelling imposed by the software (Windows Live) and any errors of interpretation about the speaker’s address.

The first Keynote address was presented by Geraldine Ditchburn from the History Teachers Association of Victoria.  Her topic was Creating pedagogical airholes in the Australian Curriculum: History.

The AC requires us to teach history in a formal and disciplined way [and this is a challenge for primary teachers not trained in the method, and fond of teaching ‘integrated curriculum’, so-called].

Assumptions about curriculum impinge on understandings about pedagogy.  There isn’t always a shared understanding about this:

Geraldine hears lots of anxieties about implementing the AC – many feel daunted and overwhelmed, especially if there’s no academic background in history.  What we do have as primary teachers is experience in offering and engaging curriculum – and that’s a big advantage.  Geraldine shared her own story as a teacher of ‘social education’ – an integrated subject and there was no syllabus other than what they designed themselves.  ‘Not quite ‘curriculum on the run’ but they adjusted content when current events intervened.  This was a time with no national assessments, no directives about what to teach or how to teach it.  ‘Frameworks’ was the first framework that she used, and it was a watershed because it added ‘values’ and ‘actions’ to content and skills in the curriculum. This took curriculum beyond the classroom walls.

The point is that we all work within bigger frameworks, who or what constructs these can change, and the frameworks can change what is considered valid.  We need to be clear about what effective pedagogy looks and feels like.  We need to use our professional judgement and be ‘intellectual artisans’.  We deliver the curriculum, not ACARA – we have licence to do what works best.

Curriculum is –

  • a dumping ground for everything (including stuff that families used to do)
  • a depository for passing on culture – how do we choose what we value?
  • not always consistent with the agenda that’s supposed to be taken up – because it always embodies values, ideas about the future etc. It’s more about a nation’s soul than a technical task.

Is curriculum a noun, or a verb?  It depends on your assumptions. The choice affects a teacher’s engagement.

Curriculum as a noun implies a product, and therefore associated with content.  So teachers become implementers, and it may lead to ‘getting through it’ i.e. a ‘pedagogy of speed’.  Teachers may feel pressured by assessment and accountability …

If you see curriculum as a verb, it’s a process, it’s fluid and it needs input from those who use it.  It’s nothing without human input.  It requires us to be ‘artisans’ using it, developing curriculum that engages the students.  (Geraldine quoted assorted academics to support these ideas, but I didn’t catch their names. )

We need to adapt for our students and focus on a bigger pictures, make history come alive, select and integrate with other areas, expect professional and student input and expect change.  Yes, it’s messy.  What works with one lot of students doesn’t necessarily work with another, and teaching is hard enough without having to cope with bored students.

There aren’t that many supports for putting the people (teachers and students) into the curriculum.  What’s in the AC doesn’t help much with decision-making. Often we start with the content, but if it grows out from the focus Qs, or the CCPs. (I’ve forgotten what these are).  There are no principles in the document to guide us.  G thinks that the underlying principle is that curriculum is a noun.  [Whereas I think, it’s been designed to allow us to travel any way we like, and accommodate differences across States].

If we look at the AC:History from ‘above’ some elements stand out from the ‘forest’ of the document.  Geraldine says, start with the rationale and the bigger elements: skills, focus Qs and historical concepts.

Big ideas:

  • a discipline process of inquiry
  • curiosity and imagination
  • understanding ourselves and others
  • change and continuities
  • evidence, interpretations, debate, and respecting different perspectives
  • critical analysis
  • context,  substantiating interpretations and communicating them.

Key concepts – the pillars of the curriculum

  • cause and effect
  • empathy
  • evidence
  • perspectives
  • significance
  • continuity and change
  • contestability.

We need to make these big words meaningful for students.

Significance is a problematic concept.  It’s important to:

  • link the personal with the bigger narrative
  • use the vocabulary – both students and teachers need to use them
  • exist in the students world and can best be understood in their own world

Note that the achievement standards do not include content, they’re about skills and concepts.

Geraldine talked about integrating the curriculum in the usual ways – the important thing is to have the critical conversations with peers, and share what works and what doesn’t.  Any new initiative is going to have faults, supporting this critical evaluation with colleagues is the way to go.  Take ownership, celebrate, and share – especially online!

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Workshops: Pliny, Lake Mungo and Angkor, History Teachers Conference 2011

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2011

I went to three very interesting, and very different workshops on the second day of the conference.  Again, these notes were taken ‘on the run’ and if I have misrepresented anything or made any errors, please contact me and I will amend what follows as necessary.


The first one was presented by Denis Mootz who teaches senior secondary history.  His topic was whether we could trust Pliny the Younger’s account of events in 79AD i.e. the eruption of Vesuvius,

Being historically conscious means being aware that the sources are problematic, and if you’re studying ancient history, it’s (of course) especially problematic.  In the case of Pliny the Younger, whose account of the eruption of Vesuvius at Pompeii was used by Tacitus in his Histories, it’s important to look at the purpose and timing of the documents. 

Pliny wrote his letters 20 years after the event, primarily to provide Tacitus with information about his uncle, Pliny the Elder.  The description of the eruption was a just sideline for Pliny who was basically writing a eulogy about his uncle (who died in the eruption), so that Tacitus would write favourably about Pliny the Elder in his political treatise about how to live an honourable life under a tyrant.  In fact Pliny says himself that what he’s written is not history, and that it would only become history when Tacitus the historian wrote about it.

I liked Mootz’s comment says that ‘Big H’ history is when a  historian writes it, (i.e. there’s analysis involved) and ‘little h’ history is just something about the past.

Mootz gave lots of examples of inconsistencies, omissions and so on that show that the first letter, relied on by Tacitus writing his history, just doesn’t make sense. (His second letter is an eye witness account of an event and contemporary vulcanologists studying recent eruptions say it is more reliable). Not even the date is certain.

Much of what Pliny says has been debunked by vulcanologists, and by analysis of what he says about what he could see in the context of the local geography.  He would not have been able to see some things he said he did, and he should have been able to see other things that he didn’t mention.  For example, he doesn’t mention the noise, he writes that from where they were his mother drew his attention to a column of smoke – but the noise would have been equivalent to a 10+ mega-tonne H-bomb, enough to deafen a person.  One of the largest noises ever heard on earth, but Pliny doesn’t say anything about it.  He also tells us that the green fields could no longer be seen after Vesuvius, but he wouldn’t have been able to see them beforehand anyway.  He says he couldn’t tell which mountain the cloud of smoke was ascending.   This is a bit mysterious, because it’s pretty obvious from the local geography –  and this raises questions about Pliny’s knowledge of the Bay of Naples  and its geography.

When it comes to what he said about his uncle, it’s important to remember that the slaves who told Pliny about finding his uncle’s body had a vested interest in lying about what happened. They were expected to stay with Pliny’s uncle no matter what, but they obviously didn’t because otherwise they would have died too. (Pliny heroicises himself too: he  tells us that in the face of this massive eruption he hung around and did his homework, looked after his mother and so on – and had to be told to get away to safety).  The letter talks up the uncle and his decision making: he doesn’t panic like everyone else, because he’s a great man. Pliny says his uncle was found looking as if he’s just asleep, but the extant bodies from then and other recent volcanic events show that bodies aren’t ever found looking relaxed  and asleep: they’re mostly in the ‘pugilist pose’, (sinews tightened up and the person’s arms and legs contract towards the body)which shows what a gruesome death it was, caused by being exposed to heat over 200 degrees.  (Many people, exposed to temperatures were over 800 degrees, were vaporised, while others were covered in pumice which people breathed in and suffocated). 

LAKE MUNGO and the National Curriculum

This session was presented by Jacquie Taylor and Jenny Bowler, daughter of the geologist who was working on climate change in the Lake Mungo region and in 1969 reported archaeological evidence radio-carbon- dated to over 50,000 years ago that proved an Aboriginal presence there. This work now shows how people have lived in Australia at last 50,000 years ago.

Initially there was hostility and distrust about scientists interfering with the human remains at Mungo and it’s only fairly recently that mutual respect between elders and scientists has emerged. With the arrival of the Australian Curriculum, the time is now right for the story of Lake Mungo to be more widely known and taught.

Jenny worked with Jacquie as a writer of curriculum, to use Bowler’s materials for teaching purposes. The CD which is available has heaps of resources which students can manipulate.

Lake Mungo is a world heritage site. The evidence of ritual burial there is the oldest such evidence in the world. It is important that the images of the remains be prefaced with statements of respect and acknowledgement that permission to use them has been given by tribal elders. Mungo Woman was returned to the burial site and handed back to the local elders, while the remains of Mungo Man is still at the ANU until it is agreed what to do with them.

Jackie said that it’s important to recognise that not all teachers know much about the diversity of Aboriginal culture or about the geology which underpins understanding about Lake Mungo. The unit of work she’s developed is for Year 4 Australian History in the new AC curriculum. It includes lesson plans, resources, cultural information and protocols, and is intended to give teachers confidence about using it. (A secondary unit is in the pipeline).

It also includes the 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning as a resource (which if used as a planning matrix, would cover all learning styles). Story, singing, dance and art are integral to Aboriginal learning, using the following components:

  • Deconstruct/reconstruct – knowing the big picture before you unpack the detail, means you always know where you are.
  • Learning maps
  • Community Links
  • Symbols and images
  • Non-verbal
  • Land-links
  • Story-sharing
  • Non-linear

Ref The Incredible Human Journey (BBC production).

I’m looking forward to being able to eventually access this unit of work for Year 4: I think it will be a marvellous resource.


This session was presented by James St Julian , Trinity Grammar school. He introduced the study of Angkor (802-1327) as a topic for study in secondary schools.  The Spouse and I visited Angkor Wat on our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2007, so I am very pleased to see that the study of this astonishing kingdom is gaining greater prominence in the secondary school curriculum. 

Julian very generously shared a unit of work that he has developed using a cut off point of 802-1327 because1327 was when the last known king assumed the throne.  (He says that some people may feel nervous about the pronunciation of names but they are no more difficult than names from the rest of the ancient world once you tackle them).

The Angkor Wat complex is an extraordinary set of buildings, the central wat (temple) is higher than Notre Dame in Paris.

The key issue to discuss (as it is with most ancient empires) is the reasons for its decline. The conventional story is that the Thais invaded, captured the royal family and Angkor was ‘abandoned’. In fact archaeological evidence shows that there was continuous settlement, so this story that it was abandoned is open for discussion.

Other seasons for abandonment?

  • Mismanagement of the ecology
  • Deforestation
  • Over development

Key figures who could be studied in detail:

  • Jayavarman II founded the Khmer empire
  • Suryavarman I expanded the empire over central and southwest Thailand
  • Jayavarman was a prolific builder who is sometimes said to have started the decline of the Cambodian empire because of his extravagance.

There are interesting links between the history of India or China that can be made.

We were given some lesson sequences which could be used, outlining studies of

  • religious beliefs and practices (Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism, and Mahayana Buddhism). Worship of the spirit is still prolific in Cambodia today, major religions are superimposed on top of them, probably brought in by Indian merchants. Not clear whether there was slow absorption or a deliberate decision to adopt Hinduism and Buddhism (from about 100BC) to enhance trade is not known. Studying the religion is a good launching place to start studying about kingship. Adoption of the Reamker (Ramayana) which is a love story a little like Helen of Troy, and it becomes a major artistic influence in classical Khmer ballet and visual representations of it in temples etc., e.g. Vishnu and the Churning of the Sea of Milk, tug of war over an eternal elixir in the belly of a naga (mythical snake),they are fighting over immortality. Neither wins, and out of the belly comes creation. There are representations of Hindu mythology everywhere e.g. on the 5 causeways leading up to the complex. Unfortunately only religious buildings were made of stone, everything else was timber and has perished in the tropical climate, so it’s only from the art works on the temples that we can ascertain what other buildings might be like.
  • political system = the study of kingship is fascinating and students will be familiar with this through studies of Egypt.
  • social organisation – was there a caste system? It appears to have been temporary, successive generations were not assigned to a caste because their ancestors were.
  • daily life – information comes from the visit of a Chinese ambassador: he gives details about the role of women, daily bathing etc. and can be compared to present day actions in Cambodia and pictures on temples. (See notes on handout). Evidence of importing Chinese materials = evidence of connections with Chinese court, why was this?
  • economics, trade and agriculture
  • temples and infrastructure
  • Suryavarman II (Virtual site study: ANgkor)
  • Jayavarman Vii
  • Decline and legacy.

Also important to study are the adjacent Cham people who were often hostile to the Khmer. (We saw some of their sculpture at the Cham Museum at Da Nang).

Sanskrit was introduced from the Indians, Cambodians still use it. It’s complex to translate because vowels don’t match up to where the sounds are (like Hebrew). There are inscriptions everywhere, and translations are available,so  it’s just like studying ancient Egypt, (and no harder).

The Cambodian economy depends on the Mekong just as the Egyptian economy depends on the Nile. Lake Ton Le Sap floods over a huge area because the river floods back into it during the wet season. Water management is crucial.

Internet resources include

  • The Greater Angkor Project

The study of Angkor is also relevant if studying modern history and the Vietnam war.

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What Brings History Alive? Anna Clark (HTAA Conference 2011)

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2011

Can history be engaging, fun even, and  have integrity? [i.e. history should be interesting, but not dumbed down].

1. What makes it fun? 

The community is very interested in history but that doesn’t seem to translate into the classroom. There is interest in heritage trusts, visits to historical buildings,family history, books (historical fiction, biography), passing on items of historical interest to the next generation – there’s huge popular interest in the past.

Ashton and Hamilton research – noted interest in popular history, but found  disinterest in a formal historical narrative such as taught in school.  In America, research likewise showed that history was thought to be boring.   Clark’s research confirms these findings, a current oral history research project builds on her previous research within schools and extends it into the community.  People of all ages and backgrounds are not engaged with the formal national narrative.  Young Australians have been exposed to the national story but don’t connect with it.  Older people seem to be interested in social history, personal stories, not kings and queens or past eras.  The intimate  past is alive, but is it history?? How to translate this into historical understandings so that people are aware of – and can engage in – the complex debates about major historical issues?

[The quotations Clark seemed to me to show the respondents to be stuck back in the primary history agenda for Prep – year 2,  of connecting at a very simplistic level with a personal past, and not having moved on intellectually].

Media criticism about students not knowing history isn’t fair, because it simply reflects attitudes held in the community anyway.  Teachers know that it’s important to make it real, to provide a personal connection and an immediacy so that students will want to engage in history. Clark noted that it’s easier to get that engagement on the topic of war, with its personal stories, than it is with Federation.

Why the disconnect?

2. Historical integrity. 

It’s not enough to get them interested, students need to develop historical understanding at a broader level.  There’s plenty of evidence that too few children know about Barton, what Australia Day means etc.  The public response falls into two opposing camps: teach ‘em the facts v teach them stuff that interests students.  This is why there is so much heated discussion about history teaching in the media.

Clark thinks that the aim should be to teach students to be historians, and doing history requires knowledge and expertise.  They can’t have informed opinions and debates without knowing what happened at some level.  Skills are needed and so is knowledge.  It’s not enough to have fun, and the skills are not intuitive, they have to be learned.

Essential skills

1. History is soooooo much more than simply knowing what happened.   Factoids and mere fragments of knowledge are not history.  It’s not a disaster if a date or name is forgotten, the point is that students should actually understand the history behind events, but….

2. Having said that it’s also really important to know what happened.   You can’t know or understand the historical story if you don’t.  It’s getting the balance right that’s hard. There needs to be a narrative, a chronology and at the same time to have enough of the detail.

3. Historiography: Students need to know that there is no one right story, e.g. alternative ways of interpreting the Aboriginal story, or the bicentennial.  Teachers needs to challenge students to go beyond right v wrong, B&W, and look at the grey areas. That’s what thinking historically is all about.

4. Moral judgement in history:  Students need to learn how to pass judgement on the past?  To explore issues such as aHiroshima or colonialism  – who was right and wrong, how to step back into the minds of the time about wanting to end the war or bring ‘civilisation’ to other parts of the world – and at the same time deploy 21st century perspective on it.  This is thinking historically.

None of these essential skills will be learned, however, without some personal connection.  This is as true of the national curriculum as every other curriculum.  Tony Taylor at the HTAA conference in Sydney said that history has to be ‘teachable’, around the country.

It’s a challenge!

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Keynote address History Teachers Conference: Prof Stuart McIntyre

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

(Prof McIntyre along with Tony Taylor, has been a Lead Writer involved in the writing of the Australian History Curriculum)

It’s three years since work on the National Curriculum began: it’s now at an advanced stage and ministers for education have agreed to staged implementation.  It’s hardly been rushed…and while it’s been making slow progress….

…the consensus about implementing it has since  weakened due to the federal election and successive state elections, and there have been discouraging statements from the opposition. 

Prof McIntyre has some reservations about some changes:  Some recent revisions have altered the underlying design of the curriculum, and some have taken no account of the consultative process.

It was initially determined that the curriculum had to start from first principles, not be an amalgam of existing curricula, have a futures perspective and so on. The issue of there being distinct disciplines is one that McIntyre agrees with, and he was pleased that History is conceptualised as it is in AC. It’s important that history be a World History, it needs to go beyond what’s familiar and dear to us. The writers also recognised that most Australian children found history classes boring and they wanted to redress this.

The AC document partially realises its aims. The primary curriculum is less than he had hoped, because it’s constrained by lack of time available, and because it’s mostly taught within an integrated curriculum.  most primary teachers are not trained historians. Remains to be seen how much time it gets given the focus on literacy and numeracy.  It’s not much about a world history; it’s about home, community, and the nation (in later primary years).  It’s very Australian – some minor comparisons e.g. NAIDOC day can be compared with Bastille Day, but it’s overwhelmingly local – given that Australia has an immigrant background, it’s remarkable that there’s no greater attempt to invoke their histories. There’s still a lot about military history, and it’s a bit Eurocentric. In later years Asian history is episodic, and there’s not enough about other countries.   No history can be fully comprehensive, but it could be better, he thinks.

Digitisation has brought history out of its previously specialised academic limitations – the problem now is not opportunity. School history needs to excite so that students have the skills to evaluate what’s online.  But many teachers want to hang on to topics they’re comfortable with, and the history curriculum has had to cede some of its topics to social science, that is, many of the big picture issues that history might excite students with, e.g. globalisation, were criticised because that was ‘current affairs’. 

So – what happens next rests with the teachers who have to implement it!

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Gender, Literature and the Australian History Curriculum by Dr David Rhodes 2011 HTAA National Conference

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

How does ‘difference’ manifest itself in the history curriculum?

This session, (which I thought was going to be about the omission of women from history), was actually about people who are same-sex attracted.  It turned out to be very interesting, even though there wasn’t much about literature.

Rhodes began by showing a continuum clarifying the difference between

  • sex (biological)
  • gender identity (how I feel on the inside)
  • gender expression (what I show to the world) and
  • sexual orientation.

Presumption of heterosexuality is automatic in schools, schools are highly gendered places and transmitters of social values. 

Should it be like this?  The Melbourne Declaration (2008) asserts equity in education in all systems that is free from discrimination of any kind including gender and sexual orientation.  An inclusive classroom wouldn’t make school so problematic for adolescents who are same-sex attracted.

The AC is guided by this Melbourne Declaration. A national curriculum that is inclusive ought to enable the 10% of students who are same-sex-attracted to know about people like themselves who have thrived and achieved great things in the past.

From its earliest times the colonial government was keen to stamp out homosexuality: only murder and sodomy was punishable by death. (The sentences was to be handed over to the New Zealand natives to be eaten!)

The ‘love that dare not speak its name’ (a term coined by Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Douglas) was talked about, mainly in terms of stamping it out.  Rhodes showed extensive research that shows the extent of discrimination, e.g.

  • in 2000 26% of those  surveyed had suffered discrimination during their education, e.g. non directed homophobic comments, to
  • serious physical assaults over a number of years. Disturbingly this often happened with the knowledge of teachers.

GLSEN 2009 (US) National School Climate Survey showed that

  • 75% of LGBT teens hear slurs such as faggot or dyke frequently or often at school
  • 9 of 10 report hearing anti-LGBT language frequently or often
  • Homophobic remarks such as ‘that’s so gay’ are most commonly heard.

In Australia WTi3 research shows that

  • 61% reported verbal abuse because of homophobia
  • 18% reported physical abuse
  • 80% said school was the most likely place for it to occur
  • 69% reported other forms of homophobia including exclusion and rumours.
  • 10% reported that there was no sexuality education
  • 40% said there were no social or structural support features fro sexual difference
  • Only 19% reported a school supportive of their sexuality
  • Over 1/3 reported the school as homophobic
  • The internet was the most important source of information about homophobia and discrimination, gay and lesbian relationships and gay and lesbian safe sex.

Schools have an obligation to teach about homophobia, but within the secondary curriculum homosexuals do not exist.

‘They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations’. (Unks, 1995, p5)

The message is that they have done nothing of consequence, and the new curriculum offers an opportunity to redress this. Using a positive psychology framework, Rhodes’ school has a Y7-12 program called Love Bites which aims to build positive relationships, adapted from NSW for the NT. 

Research shows that a whole-school approach is essential. One teacher challenging ‘that’s so gay’ achieves nothing; a whole school approach can have an effect. Anti-homophobia is part of their no bullying approach. 

Such a program needs to

  • Be age appropriate
  • Offer consistent messages
  • Be incorporated into an inclusive multicultural curriculum
  • Identify GLBT historical figures/issues
  • Offer literature as a resource for students.

For example, no study of Nazi Germany could be complete without reference to the number of homosexual people who were murdered by the Nazis, (Estimated to be 100,000, equal to the population of Darwin).  It should be mentioned.

Literature: there is a great Gay canon available which can be used as a resource. Often a heterosexual background is mentioned (i.e. wife, family of author) but there is a silence about the home life of homosexuals. 

Rhodes showed some interesting resources from the US but they would need to be adapted for Australian schools. is a photography campaign that has been set up to fight homophobia.  There are gay role models featured on the site.

It’s important not to focus on the negative, which is mostly society’s negative responses: there has been homophobia in history, e.g. the Holocaust, but there should also be a focus on their achievements, the books written, the armies led etc.

It’s important to be alert to this issue: there have been recent examples of a return to previous attitudes around the world, not just for same sex attracted people but also for women and other aspects of social justice.


This session made me think that it’s interesting that other areas of discrimination are specifically addressed in our latest curriculum, e.g. against women, Aboriginals, awareness of Asia, but not this one. I wonder if that’s the influence of the religious right??

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HTAA Conference opening address: Closing the Achievement Gap

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

Closing the Achievement Gap: will the national education agenda be a help or a hindrance?

Prof Alan Reid, University of South Australia

NB These are notes taken at the History Teachers Association conference, and they are done ‘on the run’ so they may not fully represent what was said. If I had made any errors please contact me ASAP and I will correct them.

Equity: increasing national influence over education which has been the province of the states. Reid supports the principle, but has some concerns re equity.
Equity = dominant theme in national agenda, revival of its importance, talk of closing the achievement gap and used to make judgements about education programs.
Reid thinks most programs are counter productive because processes are superficial and lacking in education research – won’t achieve the rhetoric.

History of education and equity in Australia –

1870- 1960s
concept of equity weak – schools established for working class children, basic, elementary schooling for the purposes of social control.  Secondary education was for middle and upper class children who’d be leaders – over the century access broadened via an emerging ideology that had a liberal, meritocratic agenda – people could succeed if they had the ability, interest and capacity for hard work. But it didn’t take account of child’s background so it tended to replicate existing patterns.  Most children still left at 14 or went to tech.  Exceptions ‘proved’ that this system ‘worked’. 
1960s – early 1990s
Post-war demand for better opportunity – age of compulsion rose to 15,  economy needed more skilled workers, need for more mass education, finishing secondary education

became the norm, and 70s and 80s states funded eg disadvantaged schools program to redress unequal outcomes.  Realisation that equity was not just an individual concern, also collective and social – wanting all children to contribute.  Recognise of barriers e.g. from particular barriers which needed to be removed, curriculum and resource barriers.  Research showed that tackling inequity was more complex than first thought.  Strategies – funding policies, curriculum reforms, teaching strategies to broaden away from favouring certain cultural groups. Not a golden age, some inroads made and recognise that sustainable long  term change would be difficult.

1990s – 2007
Education as a key factor in economic reform.  Economic purposes of education strengthened with ideological twist: market ; talk of equity waned: a positional good for individuals not a social good, choice and competition.

2007 -present (Rudd/ Gillard)
– equity returns to centre stage – goal lifting retention rates to 90% , lifting participation for disadvantaged groups, improving outcomes for Aboriginal children etc.  Equity has a visible presence in rhetoric, but there’s no clear meaning of what equity means, so equity is shaped by 3 dominant ideologies:
1. preparation for workforce
2. schools operate best when they compete against each other in an  education market
3. Best way to achieve quality is via transparent accountability to enable consumer choice and strategies to motivate teachers.

PISA and NAPLAN are used to assess progress. These enable assertions about gaps, but not in effective strategies to change anything.  Only simplistic policy solutions, which don’t and won’t work.

Reid’s analysis:
1. Policy simplification
2. Policy borrowing
3. Policy catch-up

1.  Policy simplification
Tanner shows how policy is being dumbed down in Australia – in education this is true too. e.g.
* Causes of problems rarely explored with frequent leaps from problem to solution. e.g. research about quality teaching has leapt into focus as the sole factor instead of looking at other matters such as child background and it sets up false expectations and is doomed to failure.  Any criticism is met with response that you don’t care about quality teaching.
* language of certainty: ‘it’s the right thing to do’.  NAPLAN raised as ‘real and true’ sole arbiter of truth, more nuanced data excluded as soft.
* strident over-claiming about its benefits – first draft of national curriculum said it was a world class curriculum, claiming world status. Politicians chest thumping about standardised testing showing improvement = result of policies they’ve put in place.
* Professional educations not trusted, often blamed and rarely consulted.
* Increasing trust of people with no expertise in education, non-experts in education gaining a hold in policy circles.  e.g. business people, lawyers, journalists, etc. Bill Gates is involved in policy in the US. Here in Australia, Murdoch in 2008despite spending more and more money presented Boyer lectures Golden Age of Freedom, one dedicated to education, an American businessman talking about education during the GFC, in Australia, UK and US, ‘our public education systems are a disgrace’ ‘children learning less and less’ – no evidence given for this, apportioned blame to the public school educators.  His reasons for wanting equity are economic not social justice, 3 strategies needed: set higher standards; holding schools to account, corporations should get involved in schools especially at the lower leaders b/c they know better than anyone else what’s needed to make sure children ‘at least a basic education’.  (Don’t quote this online without checking properly).  Quoted some very amusing and reductive ideas from Murdoch which would be funny if he had no influence. The speech was widely reported and very favourably.  Since then he has outlined plans for the Murdoch corporation to become a major provider of educational materials, and has recently spent big on this agenda. 

Policy borrowing
Risky to import from other countries with a different culture.  Education Revolution borrows from New York. In 2002 Joel Klein lawyer and businessman was appointed in charge of education system – they had to change the rules b/c he had no background in education.  he used to lifting the gap rhetoric, and designed an education program to improve it i.e. he set up

  • the use of standardised test results,
  • awarding schools public grades with consequences, i.e. the school got grants if A, principals removed or school closed down if graded E or F
  • Bonuses to principals and schools for rewards
  • Charter schools offering ‘choice’
  • Promoted the ‘Teach for America’ program – recruitment of top graduates from other areas, gave them 6 weeks teacher training and then put them into disadvantaged schools.

Two years later Klein claimed great improvement, though there were vociferous protests from communities when disadvantaged schools closed.  Julia Gillard was education minister at this time and invited him here, and she had no doubt about his effectiveness, claiming his ideas to be ‘morally compelling and intellectually convincing’.  So our ‘Education Revolution’ resembles Klein’s agenda:

  • My School 1 & 2
  • Performance bonuses for schools with improved NAPLAN
  • Performance bonuses for teachers and principals
  • Autonomous schools (like Charter schools)
  • Teach for Australia

What’s wrong with this?  Apart from the fact that we have different circumstances, and different contexts, there are these problems:

1. If we’re going to borrow, borrow from successful countries. Assuming international PISA tests have validity, US was ranked 29th and Australia 15th in Maths results, and Australia 9th and17th US in reading results.  We should have borrowed from Canada or Finland who are ranked higher than us not below us.
2. It ignores research from US and UK which shows the failures of these ‘accountability’ regimes. They narrow the curriculum, and they get phony results because schools exclude students, teach from the test, they cheat etc. There are NO improved outcomes overall.   Performance bonuses show they don’t work, and they diminish teacher collegiality as well. 
3. We should investigate in depth the claims made by people like Klein before transplanting the policy. In 2009 84% of schools were A rated – apparently huge advances, and Klein was riding high then.  The US mayor used these results to bolster his re-election, and Gillard became enamoured of this approach. But claims subsequently surfaced that the tests were getting easier, and teachers could prepare the students because the test didn’t change from year to year, and the benchmark was being lowered.  When a new test was introduced due to public pressure, (a national test) – results plummeted.  Over half the schools failed English, worse for black and Latino students.  This revealed the agenda as sham, and NY parents protested about exaggerated results because it denied help to children.  The equity gap as wide as ever it was…

These results were replicated in other US states which adopted the regime too. Klein quickly resigned and went elsewhere, i.e. to Murdoch’s education division.  

But this is the regime that Gillard wants to impose.  *sigh*

3. Policy catch-up (policy ‘Spakfiller’)
As problems emerge from implementing AC Phases 1 & 2, curriculum writers have to paper over the cracks,  handicapped by previous policy statements that were made. 

The National curriculum began with just 4 subjects and had no sense about the other subjects, no coherent ideas about them and then they were gradually added in phases 1 & 2. (ACARA says this was always intended because of the Melbourne Declaration).  But the subjects not in The Big 4 can only pick up the scraps so the lack of an overall curriculum design is problematic.

The Implementation timetables had to be altered anyway because the original timetable was unrealistic – so they could have actually redesigned the whole curriculum while they had time.  Conceptually opportunities have been lost.  Catch up work still needs to be done to patch the gaps, for example:. 
1. Assessment and reporting: the nature of achievement standards not thought out well, there’s no common approach within subjects or between them.  Some are just summaries of content.
2. General capabilities – were supposed to be so important e.g. creativity: but naming and defining them has not been done well so individual writers had to do the best they could.  Catch up now being done, but there’s still no conceptualisation about what they are.
3. Approaches to equity and curriculum – no statement about principles to be followed, ACARA is currently advertising for people to give advice about that.
4. Interdisciplinary work – should/could have provided triggers or signals for this to be done, again catch up being done.

The curriculum has a narrow, emaciated, individualised view of equity: it’s counterproductive to achieving equity- public test results and holding individual schools to account won’t change anything.  It’s a complex area, and it’s galling that instant non experts are destroying the hard won gains over the years. 

Our curriculum should 

  • Be based on a developed and articulated view of equality
  • Be thorough and systematic and recognise complexities
  • Be based on research
  • Not reinforce inequities
  • Trust the profession
  • Be wary of hyper inflated claims

Thanks to the History Teachers Association of South Australia for hosting a great conference!

PS I will tidy these notes up a bit when I get home and it’s not costing me  a mint to be online.

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