My (Brilliant) Place!

In 1989 I was in Year 3, and I can distinctly remember my class teacher, the delightful Mrs O’Dea, reading this to us. Chances are if you’ve been in an Australian primary classroom post-1988 (whether as a student, a teacher or both) then you’re familiar with it too. The word ‘iconic’ probably doesn’t do it justice:

MP book cover








Nadia Wheatley’s My Place was a staple of so many classrooms because it facilitated learning across multiple curriculum areas so easily. Indeed, a search for ‘My Place activities’ this afternoon yielded these notes, which perfectly illustrates the point. But fast forward to 2013 and our current world of IWBs, BYOD and 1:1 ICT and the burning question is: Is My Place still relevant enough for today’s kids to enjoy?

Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes. And we have the ABC to thank for it…

Now, under normal circumstances I’m pretty good at finding Web 2.0 bits and interactives that relate to the curriculum I’m teaching – I can mostly thank Twitter for that. However, in this situation I’ll happily admit that this one has, until recently, slipped through to the keeper. In fact, it was a colleague at KDHS who was using it with her Year 2 class that got me on to it. Lucky for me I happened to pop in for matters unrelated. Thanks, Hollee!

My Place over at ABC3 is, quite frankly, brilliant. Just as the original book did, it traces one living space and it’s inhabitants in inner-city Sydney from before European settlement up to  the present day. They’ve packed a heap of features in so, just like in Wheatley’s classic, you can check out different facets of what life would’ve been like through ten year intervals:

MP before 1788 MP1788 bed

MP 1968 living

MP2008 bed






























There’s plenty of things to click on, tangents to explore and facts to discover. The texts are pitched to a primary-aged audience in a simple, easy-to-read voice. Games and quizzes help to keep the material interesting for students, and the amount of content is so vast that I could barely see any student navigating they’re way through the entire site. For those who are familiar with the 2009-11 ABC TV production of the same name, you’ll see the clear links between the two media.











But what about links to an Australian Curriculum which has only been active since My Place was first launched? As well as multiple English content descriptors that could be hit by teachers who are able to use the site’s content to meet the needs of the year group the teach, the most obvious links are to the History curriculum. Here’s but a snapshot of some of the Historical Knowledge and Understanding content descriptors, by year level, that the site would be an ideal resource to assist with (taken straight from the AC, I’ve only included a max of two per year level for brevity’s sake, but I’m sure you get the idea):

Year 1:

Differences and similarities between students’ daily lives and life during their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods, including family traditions, leisure time and communications.

Differences in family structures and roles today, and how these have changed or remained the same over time.

Year 2:

The impact of changing technology on people’s lives (at home and in the ways they worked, travelled, communicated, and played in the past).

Year 3:

The importance of Country and Place to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples who belong to a local area.

The role that people of diverse backgrounds have played in the development and character of the local community.

Year 4:

The diversity and longevity of Australia’s first peoples and the ways Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples are connected to Country and Place (land, sea, waterways and skies) and the implications for their daily lives.

The nature of contact between Aboriginal people and/or Torres Strait Islanders and others, for example, the Macassans and the Europeans, and the effects of these interactions on, for example families and the environment.

Year 5:

The nature of convict or colonial presence, including the factors that influenced patterns of development, aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants (including Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples) and how the environment changed.

The role that a significant individual or group played in shaping a colony; for example, explorers, farmers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, humanitarians, religious and political leaders, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Year 6 (this is actually the Year 6 level description):

The Year 6 curriculum moves from colonial Australia to the development of Australia as a nation, particularly after 1900.

In addition, there’s a multitude of Historical Skills content descriptors that My Place would be perfect for across the grades. Here’s just a few:

Sequence historical people and events.

Locate information related to inquiry questions in a range of sources.

Identify points of view in the past and present.

Identify questions to inform historical inquiry.


Oh yeah, and then there’s the little matter of ensuring you weave the first cross-curriculum priority – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures – through your teaching. Tick, done.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that my History programme from last year would’ve been far superior had I known about My Place at the start of 2012. If you’re an Australian primary teacher who’s reading this and it’s the first you’ve heard of the online My Place, make sure you don’t make the same mistake.

Now, I wonder if dear old Mrs O’Dea, who must be in her 60’s these days, has stumbled across it just yet…

Grammar Goofs??

Good grammar is important, particularly if you’re off to a Grammar Rodeo:

Grammar rodeo







(I love how there’s a Simpsons reference that can be inserted into most conversational topics…)

But on a serious note, there’s a discernible relationship between the proliferation of social media and the declining standard of grammar across cyberspace and indeed the real world. Each incorrectly used homophone and poorly placed apostrophe results in one’s message losing both credibility and effectiveness, and given that the purpose for writing is to convey messages, surely it follows that bad grammar is counter productive to the whole point of writing in the first place!

Thankfully, the lovely chaps at (via have produced this nifty infographic for us all. Behold the 15 grammar goofs that are to be avoided at all costs when writing. I think you’ll agree that its a great tool that their showing off hear – its certainly had an affect on my grammar and it might help you’re grammar to!

(Bonus points if you can correctly identify the number of grammar goofs in the italicised phrase above…)


Musings on a new beginning in the bush

So, many of you reading this will be aware that at the start of this year I took up my first non-metro job in education, a deputy gig in Kununurra, Western Australia. Well, two months has passed and Easter has given me time to reflect on the things I’ve done/seen/experienced.

The first thing I’ve found is that schools are schools. Whether you teach at a leafy green Independent in the city, or in a remote indigenous community beyond the beaten track, good educators will utilise the same tools to influence student achievement. Things like quality feedback, instructional quality and effective classroom management are going to lead to enhanced student outcomes regardless of the bells and whistles at a school’s disposal. The thing that is altered, depending on the context, is how these tools are employed by the educator. To this end, the teacher who can channel their inner chameleon and adapt to the nuances that accompany a change in context are going to be successful no matter where they work. For example, the way I need to build rapport and make connections with my students in Kununurra, a town of 7000-ish with a high indigenous population, goes beyond the time we spend between the first and last bell of each school day. Among other things, it includes early morning footy training, having a yarn at the local shops or park, and going for a swim on the weekend:

Hidden Valley









Secondly, what’s the next most important thing one can do? Listen! I like it when people think I’m knowledgeable about something to do with my profession – Australian Curriculum, working with difficult students, whatever. But when you’re the new kid on the block, local know-how can trump all of that quick smart. Play your cards wrong by trying to force a facade that you can’t back up and you’re toast. Some of the best bits of information I’ve learned about my new school and community have come from asking questions and listening to the front office ladies, the local librarian, AIEOs, our Art teacher, even a local cattle station owner! Treating all with a high degree of respect and listening to their take on the key issues that affect the school before diving in with a know-it-all attitude, to my way of thinking, can only be a good thing.

Thirdly, you’d be crazy not to get involved with as much as you can in the community. Trivia nights at the local, cricket and footy training, playgroup and Music classes for the kids, and netball for wife have all helped us integrate into this community that we’ve chosen to be a part of. We now find ourselves stopping and chatting to the parents and students whenever we pass them in the street or see them down at the river. We go to all the BBQ’s and kids’ play dates that we can. We pack up the 4WD and go exploring with different crew most weekends (and find fab places like the one below). Making the most of your time in your new place rather than putting your head in the sand and focusing on work alone will lead to a far richer experience, trust me!

Feb 13 093

Lastly, when it comes to fishing for barramundi, listen to the word around town as to who are the local fishing guns. Then, if on the off chance an aforementioned-local-gun invites you out with them one night, do exactly as they say. If you do all of this, you may fluke a metre-plus fish on your first fishing adventure (Just in time for Good Friday, too!)





Improve your Scrabble, with Maths??

Ahh, how I love you, school holidays. You give me time to digest stuff like this, which was written by a chap named Sam Eifling for recently. Wanna know which letters in Scrabble give you a mathematical advantage, according to their frequency in the English language compared to their numerical value in the game? Have a read of the link and the comments that go along with it, and you’ll be unbeatable! Well, maybe…

FWIW, Words With Friends goes someway to making the playing field more even among the letters of the alphabet, which is to be expected given it was created just four years ago and not 75 like Scrabble. Specifically, making both H and Y worth 3 instead of 4 gets them closer to Eifling’s Ideal Points Value. The same can be said for L and U – both originally 1 in Scrabble but given a more ‘Ideal’ value of 2 in WWF. (If none of this paragraph makes sense to you so far, then read the link first.) But then given the proliferation of ‘help’ (aka cheat) sites that can be easily accessed via an additional window on your deivce, I reckon the old school tiles, wooden stands and good ol’ tangible game board are a more reliable test of one’s true vocabulary skill.


Moving On!

One week after the event, it’s just dawned on me that I’m yet to follow up on this previous tweet:

Kunna Tweet




So… I’ve accepted a new position for the 2013 school year! No longer will I be a Year 6 teacher at   leafy All Saints’ College in Perth, WA; as of January I’ll be a Deputy Principal in the primary section of Kununurra District High School. Exciting times indeed!

For the uninitiated, Kununurra is in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. By road, it’s the same distance away from Perth as Melbourne (approx 3200 km). Equivalent trips around the world could be made between Los Angeles and Chicago or Manchester and Istanbul. (Basically, it’s a frickin’ long way from home!) Here’s a map:

Kununurra Map









The town is home to some 8000 residents, roughly 50% indigenous and 50% non. Lake Argyle, Australia’s largest body of fresh water, is just down the highway; indeed, the town was built in the 1960’s to support Stage 1 of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. Most importantly, the town is the gateway into some of the most stunning natural scenery in the world, including the Gibb River Road, El Questro Wilderness Park and the World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park, home of these guys:


So the place is naturally stunning, and the weekend family camping opportunities have increased markedly, but what’s the attraction from a professional point-of-view? Why leave a permanent position at a highly regarded, well-resourced, technology-rich, independent school in the city for a gig in the outback?

My personal belief is that in order for one to become an expert in their chosen career, one must expose themselves to a wide variety of contextual settings. Allowing oneself a greater breadth of professional experiences will allow far greater professional growth. To that end, I’m not daunted by the notion of moving on from a well-heeled school that uses an investigative/inquiry approach built around a one-to-one laptop program, when I’ll be learning how best to tackle low rates of literacy and numeracy amongst indigenous children in a program geared around explicit instruction. I’ll be helping young children who’ve never seen a city, including those who need to borrow a pair of shoes for the school day when they arrive first thing in the morning because they don’t own any. And as well as applying what I think I know about education in a totally different context, I’ll also be fortunate to experience an initial foray into admin and school leadership.

So the 4WD’s been purchased, all of our winter clothes have been put into storage (the average temperature in July in Perth is a mild 18°C, in Kununurra it’s 30°C!) and we’re ready to embark on the next chapter of our lives. If you’re ever passing through the top end, make sure you get in touch if you’re up for catching a fish or three over a few coldies!

Hanging with Dollar Bill…

So part of our Year 6 curriculum in Australia delves into financial mathematics, mostly calculating ‘percentage off’ deals and giving the kids strategies to work these out mentally.

(For example: if a new tablet computer has a retail price of $840, how much will it cost if it’s discounted by 15%? Well, we know that 10% of 840 is 84, and half of this value must be 5%, so that’s 42. Then we can work out that 15% is 84 + 42 which is 126, and 840 minus 126 = our new price of $714. Much easier for kids to do when they can’t rely on a written method or a calculator to work out 0.85 x 840.)

The fun bit comes towards the end of the school year, once we’ve covered all the AC content strands and we can do some extension projects. Because the financial maths stuff always passes the litmus test for students’ interest and enthusiasm (ie: ‘When are we ever gonna use this’), it’s a great starting point for meaningful problem solving and reasoning activities. At the moment, my kids are working on a project that involves them planning the ultimate trip around the world, where within a few basic parameters they track their expenses from a fictitious trip, converting back and forth between Australian dollars and the local currencies of their destinations. The kids love it, and I love that they love it!

Which brings me to this clip I found on the web, which was made by Australia’s Decimal Currency Board in 1965. It’s pure gold. It obviously worked too, as us Aussies can now add amounts of money comfortably, and even calculate percentage off deals without the need to know how many shillings are in a pound!