What is whakapapa?

Ko te Pu

For the Wananga course I am doing at the moment we have been asked to consider what whakapapa is. I found this resource useful;  https://teara.govt.nz/en/whakapapa-genealogy/page-2

Whakapapa is what binds all things – animate and inanimate, known and unknown, terrestrial and spiritual. It is the line of descent from our beginning. 

It is how we make our connections, recognise our identity, ground ourselves to a place and to people. 

It is the core of our knowledge and that knowledge builds layer on layer through generations. 

There are different ways of presenting your whakapapa.  Here are just a couple.

Whakamoe

This includes all the family tree – the marriages and connections across and between tribes as well as the direct line of descent.

Tararere

One single line of descent with no reference to marriages and connections – this is the most commonly recited one. 

The Wharenui is also a way of telling the whakapapa of an iwi or hapū – the oldest ancestor is on the tetoko – the carved figure at the top of the whare, and then spreading outwards and downwards where the most recent lines are traced. They show how people are linked together. 

Creation Genealogies are like the stories that many cultures develop to try to understand where we all come from.  Many are told in song or waiata;

Ko te Pu  is a sung karakia or lament to acknowledge the creation of life.

Te Pu (root, origin).

Te More (tap root).

Te Weu (rootlets).

Te Aka (creeper, vine).

Te Rea (growth).

Te Wao-nui (great wood).

Te Kune (conception, form).

Te Whe (sound).

Te Kore (chaos, void).

Te Po (darkness, &c.).

Ki nga tangata maori na Rangi raua ko Papa

From this came the people through Rangi and Papa

Ko tēnei te timatanga o te Ao

From them came the birth of the world

Ko tēnei te timatanga o te Ao

From them came the birth of the world

It’s a creation story telling of the origins of life, the whakapapa of the world, our beginnings, so it is for all of us. It talks about coming from the darkness, the void in to the light as Rangi and Papa are pushed apart by Tane. About the growth of the world from the roots, to the shoots as they grow into trees and climb towards the sun, of the wind and the elements affecting nature and then coming back full circle as we descend back into the darkness where our souls leave us. In this way it also represents the circle of life. It talks of how we are kaitiakitanga of the world and everything that came before it, that it will still be there after we have gone and the need for us to look after it. 

I was talking about this to a colleague and we pondered that it is a similar story to many cultures and religions. How the world came to be is a big mystery even now that we have scientific research to help explain it but way back when, we sought to answer the question by creating stories to explain the mystery of life.  It isn’t surprising that many cultures came up with similar stories.  But how does this story sit with us if we don’t believe in religion, in the myths and legends?  How does the scientific ‘Big Bang Theory’ align? 

We wondered if we could look at it this way?

The darkness or nothingness was the time before the big bang.  Then from the explosion the molecules, cells, organisms found tenure in the earth and started to grow, they put down roots (physically for plant life, metaphorically for animal life), they grew and reproduced, took form and shape.  Inevitably, they have a limited life span and so as they die they break down and go back to the earth, back into dark matter to nourish the ground so more life springs. 

I have more questions about how we whakapapa back depending on our culture, nationality.  I few years ago, I started working on my family tree. My Uncle had done some work on one from the maternal side of my family but there was nothing from my Dad’s side.  It is complicated trying to unpack the lines through intermarriages, changes of names and movement between cities and countries. I had some information from Mum and Dad about immediate ancestors – grandparents and great-grandparents but nothing that went back any further.  I dug through census records, Births, Deaths and Marriages, and connected with my cousin who had also started looking into our family tree.  

It’s interesting that in our pākeha, white European world we don’t seem to develop a need to know about where we come from until we are older. That may be too late – the knowledge disappears.  My parents were older when they had me, my grandparents all died when I was very young, my Mum died when I was 20 and my Dad didn’t know very much about his extended family as he had been a ‘late’ baby in his family and most of his older relatives had died when he was young.  My sons are not that interested in where they come from – their grandparents all died before they were in their teens so they didn’t really have a deep connection with them.  Many of our connections have been lost. I remember some stories from my Grandma but I am sure they have become confused in my mind. Now that I have come to Aotearoa where whakapapa is so important in te Ao Māori,  I can see that knowing where you have come from has a profound effect on well-being and identity.  

a collage made up of text and images. It is a house to represent genealogy, the words talk about the connection between places and people
Pepeha

And it’s not just about the people we connect to but the places as well.  In a world where we have travelled, where families have moved to other places to get employment, to seek out new places and cultures, where do we call our ancestral home?  As I have developed my pepeha and given thought about which places I connect to it has made me consider this.  Do I connect to a maunga or an awa that has special meaning to me personally, to my birthplace,  or do I go right back to the furthest back ancestors that I have in a direct line from my Mum and my Dad and use those even though I don’t have any direct connection with them or have any stories connected to them?  

A question was asked in our wananga class – how long does someone’s family need to be in a country before they can claim they are tangata whenua? If a 4th generation kiwi has only ever known Aotearoa, New Zealand, if their great great great grandparents came to New Zealand in the late 1700s  and settled in Whaingaroa, can they claim that Karioi is their maunga and the Wainui is their awa?  Do Māori pepeha back to Hawaiki or to the place they settled when they arrived in Aotearoa?  If my pepeha is a story – and I don’t know if it is or not – of where I come from and the journey I have been on to get where I am now, then how do I tell that story to include all the places my family have called home? I can go back as far as the 1500s on my Mum’s side and the late 1700s on my Dad’s but clearly my genealogy goes back further than that. So, going back to where we pepeha to, if I were a 4th generation pakeha kiwi and I only know my genealogy as far back as my great-great grandparent who settled in NZ in the 1800s, then can I use Karioi and Wainui as my places?

There were no real answers but it was a good question.  I would love to hear people’s thoughts on it. 

Story Telling, Our Place in the World, and Digital Technology.

a dirigeable with a boat hanging beneath it seems to float in a garden.                           Storystarter by Anne Robertson via Flickr CC-BY

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” (Wittgenstein) 

We have always told stories. People from all cultures, all around the world, tell and listen to stories. They are passed down from one generation to another through legends, sometimes spoken, sometimes sung, sometimes acted out through plays or dance. We have a natural compulsion to tell stories; our own, our family’s, our friends’.  I remember the stories told over the years around campfires at camps, at sleepovers, in the pub, at dinner parties. We share our experiences and we are avidly curious about those of others. We have learned from the stories we listened to. They spark our imagination, they bridge cultures, help us to understand concepts we may not have direct access to, they support us in making sense of the past to inform our actions in the future. They help us work out who we are, form our opinions, make connections and build relationships.

For a while stories were always transmitted orally, but then came the printing press, and the written word started to be more accessible to more people. We learnt to read and write, and stories started to be written down. We could access stories even when there was nobody there physically to tell us. Our world grew. We weren’t limited to the stories that our immediate family and friends or travellers could tell us. We weren’t limited to single stories but had access to stories about things from multiple perspectives.

I remember Saturday mornings as a child. My sisters and I would all creep into Mum and Dad’s bedroom and snuggle into bed with them for Dad’s stories. They were stories of fairies and goblins, of wooden horses, of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, good overcoming evil, of derring-do. I later read Greek and Roman myths and realised where Dad got his stories from and for a while the magic was spoilt. But then I realised he was just doing what so many more had done before. He told the stories, embellished and adapted for three wee girls who just wanted to hear about magical things.

story dice red on a black background. Each dice has a different image on

Dice Story by Anne Robertson via Flickr CC-BY

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” Hopi American Indian proverb

The books and stories we have access to influence the way that we think, the perceptions we have of the world, how we can limit our own understanding and what we, in turn, include in our own stories. Listen to Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie talk about The Danger of a Single Story.  As well as having multiple stories, she also talks of the importance of having stories in which we recognise ourselves and our culture, of us being able to be characters in our own stories.

Being able to tell our own stories gives us the power and to raise our aspirations and open our minds to possibilities. But, “stories are defined by the principle of nkali (an Igbo noun that loosely translates as ‘to be greater than another’) How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.”

So what?

There is a great emphasis put on literacy in schools. It is the measurement by which all children and teachers and schools are judged. Over the last hundred years or so, we have been taught that if we can’t read and write, we can’t get on in the world.  Those who are illiterate, have no future. No power.

But let’s consider how we learn again. We learn our language from the day we are born by listening to those around us. We develop vocabulary, we learn how to pronounce words by listening and speaking. Through repetition, through getting it wrong, being corrected and trying again. We learn language through a context that is meaningful to us. I always remember my son, aged 6, coming home and telling me that that he had to collect the toucans from the crisp packets to get sports gear for school. He searched the crisp packets in the supermarket for toucans and was disappointed when there were none. Of course, the teacher meant tokens, but his wee brain knew what a toucan was because it appeared in one of his story books and so in making the connection between the sound he heard and a thing he knew about, he came up with toucans. I won’t even start with his story about cheeses curing diseases in the cinema….

The point is that we make sense of what we hear by relating it to a context that is familiar to us. If we don’t have exposure to a wide range of contexts, we are limited to narrow interpretations that don’t make sense to us. So, we need to ensure that all our children have access to lots of stories.  I think what has happened over the last hundred years or so, and this is just a hunch, no research here (please let me know if there is some), the oral storytelling tradition has diminished. We have focussed on reading and writing, not listening or speaking, and that has deprived a significant number of people from the opportunity to hear stories and tell their stories in a meaningful way. Storybooks in schools tell ‘single stories’ that kids can’t relate to. Those kids that aren’t ready to read alone or write, at the age specified by the powers that be, are targeted and more time is spent focussing on reading and writing than developing oral language. They don’t necessarily have access to spoken stories at home either. This is a situation that may be (I hesitate to generalise) compounded if they come from lower socio-economic backgrounds where family members either don’t have the time to read to their children, or in families that are isolated from a community that support them, or they themselves don’t have the ability.

If we don’t have a wide vocabulary, we won’t be able to make sense of new words or express ourselves effectively. As a teenager learning French, my teacher once told me that what was holding me back from progressing in French, wasn’t my ability in language learning, but by my lack of a broad vocabulary in English. Now, I had a pretty good vocabulary, I read avidly, but the problem wasn’t my general vocabulary, it was my specialist vocabulary. I didn’t read or listen to the news or documentaries. I read novels and watched Coronation Street and Z-Cars and Dixon of Dock Green (sorry, showing my age now!) I needed to widen my range of input to improve my output.

However, in the rush to give kids access to wide range of contexts, are we in danger of not recognising that to start off with they have to develop language in a context that is culturally and socially familiar? And do we also need to give them a voice so they can tell their own stories? And do they need to tell those stories in their own way?

I hark back to the last hundred years in schools. What opportunities did you have to tell stories? What medium did you have to tell those stories? When I was at school and for most of the years I was teaching, despite there being other ways to tell stories, writing has been king. That wasn’t too much of a problem for me. I was a good writer – well physically at least. My handwriting was neat and tidy, I liked writing in exercise books and I was quite fast too.  I wasn’t particularly creative, I don’t think, but I never had too much trouble churning out what was required to get by. Fast forward to my sons. Both full of ideas, they had broad vocabularies and their stories were creative. But they both struggled with writing. As soon as those stories had to be put on paper, they were condensed into as few words as possible and they didn’t achieve success as measured by the system.

I wonder if they had had the opportunity to tell their stories in other ways, if that would have helped?

a double exposure image of an airport lounge. Advetisinghoardings and people sitting at tables luggage at their feet.

Tell me Your Story by Anne Robertson via Flickr CC-BY

 “…new technologies give creative people new ideas. Art is affected by the technology of art, because artists love to experiment, and every new development is a new tool.”

Naomi Alderman, 2017

I am a firm believer that the technology we have available to us today provides opportunities for all our children to have a voice, to tell their stories. Learners can record their own voice, create a video or an animation, they can write by hand, they can type. They can speak to the computer and it will type for them, they can tell their story through song or dance. They can use a variety of media to enrich their stories.  If we let them.

But equally, we can use digital technologies to provide access to the stories in the first place. When we provide a stimulus for kids to tell their stories we can offer videos, podcasts, picture books, cartoon strips, songs, sound files of different contexts, artwork – the options are varied and limited only by our imagination.

There are blogposts that list the ‘top ten digital storytelling tools’ and there are any number of them out there. This one, this one, this one, this one, and this one (which is probably the most up to date one) to post just the top links on a google search.

There are a few that I have tried and found that students enjoyed using them too, not just because they were fun but because they gave them more options for expression.

  • Storybird – choose a theme, or an artist and be inspired by the artwork or read a story and respond, or co-create a story with a friend or even a complete stranger!  Example here
  • Book Creator – tell your story using text, sound, images and video Example here
  • Thinglink – interactive images, plot your own story linking sound, video, images and text. Example here
  • Puppetpals – chrome and iPad app, animate stories, choose your characters, upload sound or use the inbuilt voices
  • WeVideo – create videos from video clips, images and annotate with text and sound
  • Animoto – create animations, upload your own sound, add text
  • Piktochart – visual infographic type format. Upload images, text, sound and video to tell your story.
  • Google Cardboard – VR and AR – explore different worlds, connect stories, unleash the imagination
  • My Maps – create maps that tell a story, link images, history, video, sound files and text. Examples of how My Maps can be used can be found here. 
  • Adobe Spark Video – easy to create videos
  • Scratch – code a story – see a very simple one here

Each of these needs researching before you try them out with a class and they all meet different needs. Allow time for exploration, but the starting point is always going to be your learning intention. How can they express their ideas in a way that works for them and also achieves the learning outcomes you have set or co-constructed with them?

And…. telling stories through a multimedia approach provides opportunities for learners to solve problems, be creative, innovative, and develop soft and hard skills that are sought after in the workplace.  This post suggests that there is a huge shift in the way that traditional text based businesses like advertising are now developing stories.

Nethui 2017

Collage 2017-11-14 14_13_23
I had the privilege of participating in Nethui 2017 in Auckland last week. I haven’t been to a ‘full’ Nethui before although I went to the regional roadshow in Rotorua last year. I believe that this is the best value for money, most enriching conference I have been to for a long time. I think it is because, although I love teaching, teachers and the education world, we can sometimes become wrapped up in it and forget that there is a real world out there too. According to the conference website;
“NetHui brings everybody and anybody that wants to talk about the Internet together. We’re not a conference and speakers won’t talk at you all day. NetHui is a community event – made for the community, by the community.

Participation and collaboration are at the heart of NetHui. The programme isn’t decided by InternetNZ – it’s designed by the community. NetHui is about issues that actually matter to your community.”

Given the political climate at the moment the theme of “Trust and Freedom on the Internet” was entirely apposite.

Here is a Wakelet of the tweets interspersed with a few of my own comments.

Te Marama Pūoru Waiata Māori – learning for all

On my way back from EducampBOP yesterday afternoon I listened to the Mixtape on RNZ.  I hadn’t realised that following on from Te Wiki o te Reo Māori there was a Māori Music Month.  I can be forgiven for not knowing about it as this is its inaugural year and there hasn’t been a lot of mainstream media coverage about it.  The guest on the Mixtape was Rob Ruha  who “is from the East Coast, and is recognised as a leader of traditional Māori music. He has a unique style of which has been described as an eclectic mix of soul-roots-reggae with a touch of RnB, rock-blues and jazz” (see Stuff.co.nz article).

This afternoon I listened to the Mixtape of Moana Maniapoto and one of the things she said struck me – she introduced herself as a musician, a songwriter, always learning and she went on to say that her life has been about storytelling whether through music, documentary making or writing in general.

I have talked before about the power of storytelling for learning. Recently I was involved in a Facebook conversation about the relative merits of teaching handwriting in primary school. As usual, there were many opinions and I have written about this before too, so I am not going to revisit it. But one of the comments that was made was that learning how to read and write brought Europe out of the Dark Ages and another said that people will not be able to contribute to society fully if they don’t know how to read and write. It was also said that not knowing how to read and write would seriously hinder a person’s ability to learn.

So this is the nub of this post.  Why do these people think this is the case?  And how does the emphasis reading and writing meet the needs of all our learners?  It is true that up until relatively recently, while reading and writing have been the main ways that we have accessed ‘knowledge’ in educational systems in western societies, there have been people who have struggled to learn and progress.

My contribution to the conversation was that for generations we learned through storytelling and song which developed active listening skills, the ability to communicate orally, articulate ideas and responses to stories and retell them.  They were adapted and embellished on the way, maybe to fit the context of the situation or maybe because some details had been misinterpreted or misunderstood and people filled the gaps to make the story work.  People learned how to craft language and think on the spot and they were creative, they used verse, songs, jokes and prose.  The places we listened, often alongside a  ‘master’ as he/she went about their trade, or around a fire or in the kitchen or in the fields meant that we spent time with our community elders and built connections and relationships, learned respect and shared ideas.  And listening to stories helps our learning because it activates not just the processing language parts of our brains but the sensory and motor aspects too.  And telling stories is just as powerful for learning as we have to articulate what we mean, we have to process our thoughts and organise them.  I know we do that when we write too – I have edited and re-organised the paragraphs and my ideas in this blog post as I have written, but when we speak we have to do that on the go, dynamically as people listen to us and they can question and interrupt and ask for clarification.

Now I am not saying that reading and writing hasn’t enriched learning, it is an essential tool in the education box and we should make the most of what it offers us.  However, the emphasis over the last century or two has been on the written word and the process of writing as a means of learning.  And I think that it has been a barrier to learning in terms of how we measure learning for many people. Their learning in school, the ability to pass exams has been almost entirely predicated on reading and writing. So if we have a child in a class that finds it difficult to read or write,  we make them do more of it so they can catch up. If they don’t reach a certain level of literacy they will not be able to access ‘learning’ across other subjects, even maths because they are all based on reading information and then writing about it.  My boys are creative kids with heaps of ideas, they both struggled with the physical aspect of forming letters and making their writing legible. They were slow at writing so they stopped thinking up big ideas, or at least writing them down because it took too long.  So they never really explored their ideas, articulated them, ordered them and crafted them fully to the satisfaction of their teachers in an essay format.  Fortunately, my boys are ‘good’ readers so they developed a wide vocabulary,  they identified how to form sentences and worked out how language works through the range of genres that they read.  If they had greater access to typing and being able to use a computer for their writing the barrier for them may have been removed. If they had been able to record their voice and speak their ideas out loud rather than writing them, how might that have affected their learning?

20150930_223616Remember that the very first way of communicating was through gesture and voice, through songs and images. The rhymic nature of poetry and songs stimulates the brain but also the body so that we move and sway in time, the words somehow stick in your brain, just think how much easier it is to learn a poem with rhyme and rhythm than one without and how the words of catchy tunes rattle around your head without you even wanting them to!   So my boys also loved listening to stories; we read often to them and they had tapes and CDs which they listened to in the car or at bedtime.  The power of listening and how it impacts on the ability to memorise (I won’t say learn because they are very different)  was reinforced once when I came upon my eldest at the age of 3 ‘reading’ Winnie the Pooh. He had memorised the words from the tapes he listened to regularly and from us reading to him and was ‘reading’ to himself, turning the pages as he went!

As a language teacher, I have frequently bemoaned the paucity of listening skills amongst the young people coming through to me in my classroom as well as the unwillingness of students to articulate their ideas orally unless they have had time to craft ideas in written form first.  As we have assigned more emphasis to reading and writing, to decoding words on a page we have neglected to understand the power that the spoken words has on children’s ability to learn.  When children come into a school they have spent 4-5 years listening and developing oral language. They have amazing memories, they can retell stories, they are good active listeners and mimickers. They have learned as they have watched their parents, elder siblings, caregivers, and asked countless Socratic questions about the world, life, and the meaning thereof.  So,what do we do? We put a pencil in their hands, we sit them down, we tell them to be quiet and we teach them to read and write.  I am being harsh.  I know that primary schools do so much more than that and I am well aware of the constraints that schools are under to ‘deliver’ the curriculum and ‘meet the standards’ and I am not going to go into any of that now.  But I think you get my meaning. They get out of the habit of ‘listening’ and speaking and they become over-reliant on reading and writing.

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© Copyright Ewen Rennie and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 

From symbols painted on cave walls, on skins, carved into wooden posts and stone pillars to the artistic calligraphy on vellum of the monks, to the printing press and then to typing and word processing, language and, more importantly, communication have informed the way humans have lived, adapted, survived and flourished in an unpredictable world.  But language developed orally, it was honed and refined by people talking to each other. As we have travelled more widely, explored new places, tasted new foods, seen spectacular and interesting new sights and immersed ourselves in different cultures, our vocabulary has grown to reflect those new experiences.  Language absorbs and assimilates new words to represent new inventions forming them from old words, trying to capture the spirit of the object and how we interact with it and the affordance it has with our lives.

When we listen we hear nuances; tone of voice, feeling, volume, accent, we can sense mood and emotion, we can also see the facial changes and the gestures that people use when they speak and we make connections.  When we talk we have to think on our feet, search for words sometimes or explain our way around a word that we can’t quite remember or that we don’t know.  We adapt our own tone for the context, for our audience, and we make eye contact and build connections.  We also have to listen actively so we can recall what has been said, interpret it and respond.  ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ and listening conjures up a million images and feelings and emotions.  So why would we limit ourselves to writing and reading?  Why would we limit our learners to a narrow range of ways of learning?

What is exciting today is that our means of communicating are becoming richer at an exponential rate.  The technological advances that brought us Gutenberg’s printing press in the 1400s and disrupted the world of learning and acquisition of knowledge have continued apace, and now we have a range of different media that we can use to communicate and be creative.

It is important that we start to ascribe a more equal importance to all means of communicating so that all our children can learn in whatever way works for them. We have a responsibility to provide them with all the tools at our disposal, let them make their own choices and not hinder their learning because we are fearful of change.  Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean that it is the best way. Equally, it is important not to adopt new ways of doing just because they are new.  We should question and reflect, consider what they add to the mix, use them with caution but embrace the opportunities they offer for learning.  It is not the tool alone that helps us learn, it is choosing the right tool at the right time for the right purpose.  But the toolbox needs to be full and it needs to be open and accessible.

Postscript

So, to go back to the start and Te Marama Pūoru Waiata Māori – just as with many cultures the habit of storytelling through song, waiata, chants, stories and poetry has been an important way of passing knowledge and cultural ways of being and doing down through the generations.  Language is a key component of the sense of identity because language can never be truly translated word for word into another language.  Māori, like many languages existed for generations only in its oral form, passed on and enriched through song and stories. My strong belief is that it is important that we do not lose our oral languages, or we lose sight of who we are and where we came from.  So embrace storytelling in all its forms –  written, visual and oral and why not listen to a few waiata and find out more about Te Marama Pūoru Waiata Māori.

This waiata called Rariri from Rob Ruha is very powerful and retells historical accounts of the East Coast forces that supported the Kingitanga, the Pai-mārire faith and the people of Tauranga-Moana in the battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) and Te Ranga from the perspective of the families, hapū and iwi that stood against the crown and its Māori allied forces.

 

 

Time to think

20160505_212235-1.jpgI’ve been doing quite a lot of walking/running recently and it provides me not only with a well-needed brain break from the computer, leg-stretch from a chair and eye break from a screen but also time for my brain to slow down and stop thinking. Well, maybe not stop thinking but it helps me to filter my thoughts, get them in some sort of order through disordering them, breaking them up and somehow putting them back together again. I don’t necessarily gain any answers but they get “un-piled”!

Data has been top of mind in my work in the last few weeks. What is data? Despite myself, but also because I am a competitive soul, I can’t go for a walk or a run anywhere without trying to do it faster than the time before. I find myself calculating how many minutes it takes me to walk a kilometre, how many kilometres I can walk in an hour, was it faster than last time, slower, was the terrain similar, how much should I take off for stopping to take a photo, should I take anything off? If I hadn’t had to wait 45 minutes in the gully while everyone went through the hole in the rock, and then another 20 minutes for people to cross the river and climb the 3m rope climb how long would I really have taken to walk/run 23km and how would that equate to a half marathon…? But it is clear that those calculations are not just based on pure numbers, on data, they are based on human action, on nature, on the terrain, on feelings, on emotions, on abilities and competencies and relationships. Relationships between people and the environment, on rational and irrational fears, on prior experience and knowledge and understanding.

Take this weekend, for example. As part of the event I participated in we had to squeeze through a hole in a rock wall to get out of a gully. ‘Squeeze’ is an interesting concept – it was clearly not that small a hole as plenty of large-ish men got through with relative ease. My prior knowledge and experience of caves and caving meant that I was unafraid, eager, in fact to face the “challenge”. People around me who didn’t have that knowledge were fearful, anxious, uncomfortable. Feelings that were made more acute by the wait and the conversations and the “chinese whispers” passed back – the “fishermen’s tales” – “the hole is tiny!!” with hand gestures that indicated the smallest of gaps. But with support from those of us who did know, with encouragement, explanations and modelling of how to do it, with patience and with care everyone got through.

If this had been a test for which we were being assessed, I would have got top marks. My prior knowledge meant that the test was easy, my experience and my preparation meant that I had no problems slipping through. I may have also gained extra credit for being a “leader”. For others it was not the case, they may have been ‘judged’ not to have got top marks because they hesitated, or didn’t slide so gracefully through, or took too much time.

Personally, I think their achievement was all the greater. The obstacles they overcame to get through; emotional, physical, rational, irrational made their achievement more meaningful. Give me a situation where I have no prior knowledge, no confidence, no experience, irrational fear and I wonder how I would have fared.

So, how do you measure that sort of data when you assess people in academic tests? How do you compute immeasurable data such as emotions, human nature, social background, with knowledge and experience to make meaning, build connections and create pathways for learning?

This evening, I was talking with some friends. Both teachers and ex-colleagues. One of them is a drama teacher and some of her students do extremely well. Students who don’t do so well in other subjects. Students whose motivation for coming to school sometimes is simply because they have drama that day. Part of her inquiry this year is looking at why those students are motivated and engage in drama but not in other subjects. She said that one of the things she does is talk to her students about who they are, about their families, what they like doing, what their parents do, how many siblings they have, where they are in the family, what they do when they aren’t at school, where the family comes from, who they live with, who they spend the most time with; she finds out what makes them tick. She builds a relationship with them, trust, respect, interest, she cares. That’s what makes those kids come to school. That’s what makes those kids do well in drama.

So, in schools we need to look at our students, not just as they are in front of us, but who they are in their family, their community, their social groups, what they do in the classroom, of course, but what they do on the sports field, in the arts, in the community. Build on their experience and use all of that information, that data to gain insights, and generate meaningful action to personalise learning for them, give them and their whanau a voice, a stake in their decision-making and the pathways they choose.  That is the rich data. It’s not all about test scores. It’s about who we are, it’s about building relationships, making connections, trust, respect, humanity.

#edblognz Challenge: Learning with Media

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Arc du Carousel, Paris 1975

At the GAFE Summit in Auckland this week there was a lot of interest, in fact more than interest – fascination, excitement, an insatiable curiosity for VR in various forms.  Jim Sill‘s sessions on the Google Cultural Institute and the VR experience through Google Cardboard were well over-subscribed and there were at least three other sessions on 360° photos and Streetview.

The opportunities that being able to see the world in 3D offers for education are undeniably huge. We can send our students on virtual field trips – indeed LEARNZ already

“assists New Zealand teachers to provide online experiences for their students that are

  • interesting
  • relevant
  • real
  • flexible
  • safe
  • 21st century”

Geography teachers can enable students to immerse themselves in the volcanic landscapes they are studying and see the impact on landforms without leaving the safety of the four walls of their classrooms, history teachers can visit archaeological ruins, battlefields, museums, and sites of significant historical importance, English students can put themselves in the shoes of the characters of the books they are studying and walk down the streets of the novel’s setting, and art students can visit galleries, see artworks so close that they can explore the brushstrokes and details of the colour they couldn’t possibly see even in real life.

But where am I going to here? The Edblognz challenge for April is;

THE LOVE-HATE RESOURCE: Re-evaluate an old resource in your subject area.

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Champs de Mars from the Eiffel Tower 1975

As a language learner and teacher being able to immerse myself and my students in the culture is a key element to successful language acquisition.  Capturing the curiosity and fascination of a country, its people and its culture is what engages us to want to learn more about the language.  My first memories of learning French in the early 1970s were at the age of 9 when our teacher showed us grainy black and white images of Paris via a manual filmstrip projector (can’t for the life of me find an image of one!) but I was hooked. I wanted to go and actually see what those blurry buildings really looked like in colour. My desire to travel was sealed then and there. Likewise in geography, our teacher showed us slideshows of his travels – snapshots where the scenery looked so far away but a glimpse was tantalising enough to whet my appetite.

In the mid 1980s as a new teacher, I remember winding similar film reels on to the bobbins of the projector and showing photos of France – by now in colour – to my students. Over the years slides gave way to videos, videos gave way to DVDs, DVDs to Youtube films and now we have 3D and Virtual Reality.

The power of images and especially moving images to capture the imagination and excitement of learners is not in dispute. However, my wonderings last week as we explored what the Google Cultural Institute offered, and the “surround sound” experience of Google Cardboard went like this;

  • Are we taking the “comfort zone” out of field trip experiences? Much of the learning happens when we are outside our comfort zone, when we have to “mind the gap” and adapt to new surroundings, new experiences – are we sanitising exploration too much?
  • Can we really learn about culture, language, history without being able to touch, smell, hear, connect, communicate and build relationships with the people and the place?
  • Are we taking so much of the mystery out of the world around us that our young children will not seek to travel and experience the “real thing”?

A while back I wrote this in a blogpost called the Blimage Challenge:

“We can learn about the world from books, from the internet, we can “see” the world through the millions of photos , videos and TV documentaries and we can learn about cultures and people. But travel offers the chance to touch and feel and smell and taste and hear.  How do you transfer those tangible aspects of knowledge to a machine? These are the things that give understanding and compassion to knowledge.  …….  A sense of belonging to the world, of having your place in the world, interacting with people , the culture and the environment.”

Grainy black and white photos inspired me to learn languages and to travel but for some of my classmates it was enough just to see the pictures.  I loved being able to show my students photos of France and Spain and other places I had visited – images and videos, used appropriately, are a powerful way of engendering interest and engagement which leads to deep learning.

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Google Cardboard 2016

Google Cardboard and the Google Cultural Institute are the natural next step on the continuum of media use that has underpinned my language teaching. My latest “thing” is taking 360° photos, uploading them to Streetview, exploring photos that are already there and looking at them through my Google Cardboard. I love the sense of “being there” that they provide. I know that for many VR experiences maybe the only way they can “be” in these places and I certainly wouldn’t deny anyone the chance to have them as there is so much we can learn from them. But, like any resource, beware the way you use it in the classroom. It is a bright, shiny, exciting, tool so keep learning and the learner at the heart of how you use it and it will send students into another dimension of learning.  Hopefully, they will still have the opportunity to connect with people and touch, feel, see, smell and taste the world around them and let those experiences inform who they are and make a difference to their lives.

 

PS – just because I can ….. check out my 360° photo of Mount Thomas in Okuku, Rangiora and this one of Mount Eden , Auckland.

All images used in this blog taken by Anne Robertson- CC BY-NC-SA