Team Waitangi: Teaching against the grain in West London

Team Waitangi, a group of West London teachers, dress up as the cast of Cinderella

Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete, West London

Team Waitangi got its name five years ago, just before Christmas. I was teaching what the Brits call infants – 4 to 7 years old, specifically Year 1 or 1st Grade – in a deprived suburban corner of West London. Our staff were pretty diverse, with teachers from New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. The school served a diverse community, too: most kids were from families that didn’t speak English at home, new migrants who had come to us from Somalia, Iraq, Sri Lanka. Celebrations like Ramadan and Diwali were more important to our kids than, say, Easter. Even more than usual, this meant I did as much listening as talking, as much learning as teaching.

Read more

Reader-in-Residence article in SCAN Magazine

Parkes High School’s teacher librarian Tracy Dawson has an article in the latest SCAN magazine about the Reader-in-Residence role which I held in Parkes across late 2013 and early 2014.

The role was designed to link the school and wider community in a celebration of storytelling, literacy, and culture in all its forms. Events included teen publishing workshops, our biggest ever zombie roleplay, urban myth writing, and the inaugural Central West Comics Fest, which will be returning in 2015. I also mentored high school students, led sessions for the Parkes writers’ group, and worked with the school’s special needs unit.

Tracy gives a teacher’s perspective on how trying new things, pushing boundaries, and reaching out to a wider community also yielded great benefits to students at the high school. You can also read her guest posts on this site about Auckland’s XXUnmasked project and the work of a teacher librarian.

SCAN magazine is a refereed journal published by the New South Wales Department of Education, focussed “on the interaction between information in a digital age and effective student learning.” You have to subscribe for recent issues, but the archive is publicly available – I’ll let readers know when the current issue moves into the free archive.

Award-winners Parkes Shire Library share the secrets of their library programming

Last night, Parkes Shire Library won the Australian library association ALIA’s Bess Thomas award for innovative work with children and young people.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s great for Parkes’ librarians, serving a community of just 15000 out in Central West New South Wales, to have their daring work celebrated by peers at a national level.

If you want to steal some of the Parkes magic, you can find “how-to” articles and resources for some of our most exciting programmes online:

Keep your eyes peeled for more surprises as Parkes kicks off the 2014 season of activities this month…

Guest post: XXUnmasked at Auckland Libraries

I’m pleased to announce that Auckland Libraries’ XXUnmasked media literacy project for teenage girls has just won an award for community outreach. This week on the blog, Tracy Dawson of Parkes High School Library in Australia reports on the project led by Ali Coomber of Auckland Libraries and Dr Pani Farvid of Auckland University of Technology.

XXUnmasked – double the power, not the standards!

Something that always amazes me is when young girls say “I’m not a feminist.” When any woman says it, actually. I remember several years ago, in my previous guise as an English teacher, talking to a group of top senior English students studying what was then called 3 Unit English in New South Wales. We were discussing the brilliant Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and despite that horrific and unsettling story of the loss of female identity, voice, independence, none could see the value of feminism.

Now when feminism is often seen as a dirty word at the same time that all-pervading media images of women are more blatantly misogynistic than ever, how do we help our young women avoid being active participants, let alone passive observers, in their own diminution? Read more

Book publishing workshops for your library

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last year, Parkes Shire ran a series of one-day publishing workshops for local teens. Our local libraries, high school, and TAFE joined forces to offer teens a game-based look at the business of selling books. This write-up lets you see what we did and run your own version.

Why publishing workshops?

Publishing is changing fast in the 21st century and people aren’t always clued in on how writers get their words out to readers. We wanted local teens to think about the business side of publication. What are the challenges of acquiring books for sale? How do publishers market their choices to the public in an age of social media? We wanted our event to be locally devised but relevant to the global publishing industry.

What did we do?

Read more

Creation/Curation: Making Urban Myths in the Library

This week, screenwriter and critic Martyn Pedler joined us in Parkes for activities based on his 2011 movie EXIT.

EXIT follows a group of people who have come to believe that reality is a maze, thousands of years old. Human beings have lived in the maze for so long that some have settled down, had families, forgotten the impulse to escape. But the fabled exit door is still out there, for those who remember.

The Parkes team have already made youth activities featuring zombies, time travel, and kaiju. We wanted to build on this and offer something a little more cerebral. The premise of Martyn’s movie offers the perfect springboard for a range of games and creative play.

Audience for Martyn Pedler's talk

Martyn spent Tuesday in the library at Parkes High School, where he spoke about his career to over 200 students across two 90-minute sessions. They heard him explain how EXIT began with his 2008 exhibition Melbourne and Other Myths.

Martyn had become bored with the city he’d lived in for many years and was trying to reignite his love for Melbourne by creating new urban legends. For example, Houdini had visited in 1910. He dived into one of the city’s rivers. What, Martyn asked, if some of his unique magic had spilled into the water and infected Melbourne for generations to come?

The Old City Treasury Museum transformed these fantasies into a three-month exhibition. Melbourne and Other Myths presented Martyn’s words alongside found objects. In the exhibition, the stories became secret histories. And one of these myths, about a cult who believe the city is a maze they must escape, inspired EXIT.

In our first EXIT activity, Parkes teens created their own myths for an exhibition of weird and wonderful objects. You can find the instructions for ‘Curating Modern Myths’ below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Curating Modern Myths

You’ll need:

  • A selection of intriguing objects (at least 1 for every 4 participants)
  • 1 file card for every 4 participants
  • Rough paper and pencils
  • 1 coloured token for each participant
  • A prize for the winning group

Instructions:

1. Form a group of 3-4.

2. Choose an object from the collection.

3. Have each person in your group tell a story about the object. It can be as weird or as magical or as gruesome as you wish…

4. Choose one story from your group or combine your stories to create a single myth.

5. Write the main ideas from your myth on paper.

6. Collect a file card. You’ll use this to label your object in the exhibition.

7. Write a description of your object and your urban myth on the card.

8. Nominate a curator of your object, who will stay with it and explain its story to others.

9. Other members of group collect a token and walk around the exhibition, talking to the other groups’ curators.

10. Give the token to the curator of your favourite exhibit.

11. Each group’s curator will record all the tokens for their exhibit on the scoreboard (we used a whiteboard).

12. The urban myth with the most votes will win a PRIZE!

Over the coming school year, Parkes students will continue to create activites based on EXIT. Staff and students will make and play games based on the themes of mapping, puzzles, escape, and a world beyond the everyday – and you’ll find those games outside of the classroom too, on the school campus and even on the streets of the town.

My personal favourite from Tuesday’s activity was the “Cold War atomic briefcase” whose dual locks had to be simultaneously released to prevent a detonation.

Atomic briefcase myths

I think the students who came up with that need to watch Kiss Me Deadly before too long…

Finding Library Futures, 3: Time Travel at the Speed of Pop Culture

This article looks at Time Travel Detectives, my recent youth activity for Parkes Library in New South Wales. For more on the concept of storylining a public library system’s youth offerings, see TimeQuest – A Scientific Romance for Libraries.

Poster from Parkes Library's Time Travel Detectives event with Matt Finch

Let’s start with science. Australia’s new government might have decided there’s no need for a dedicated science minister, but scientific research is not going to simply stop in Australia. We need to encourage children and young people to develop that sense of wonder which impels scientific research around the world.

I’m currently based in Parkes, New South Wales. It’s a quiet rural town, but one which played a vital part in putting a man on the moon. Its radio telescope, celebrated in the movie The Dish, helped Neil Armstrong to make that giant leap back in 1969.

Invited to make school holiday activities for the September vacations in Parkes, I wanted to find something which respected the town’s history and scientific traditions, but also offered an adventure that looked forward as well as back.

My work is based on storytelling and immersive play. In creating a science-themed activity, I don’t seek to duplicate the work of science educators, but rather inspire and intrigue audiences with an adventure that would get them thinking about the scientific method and the practice of disciplined observation.

Spirit Box
Spirit Box

Read more

From monsters to Manila: a few upcoming events

Awestruck Time Travel Detectives!
Awestruck Time Travel Detectives at Parkes Shire Library, New South Wales

Once again, it’s busy times over at Finch Towers. I owe this blog a report on Time Travel Detectives and Big Box Battle, two immersive roleplay activities that I’ve just run at Parkes Library. That’s coming, but in the meantime you can see a few photographs from the two events below. There’s no qualitative assessment quite as cool as the awestruck expression on a child’s face…or the air-punching victory of a seven-year-old girl who just took down a chainsaw wielding Elvis robot.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next week sees schools from around Central West New South Wales converge on Tullamore for the sequel to 2012’s zombie showdown, and after that I’ll be speaking in Manila and Sydney.

Zombie at the window
ALWAYS with the zombies…

In Manila, I’ll be running a youth activity for the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, (MCAD) as well as speaking to Filipino librarians on strategy and innovation. MCAD made a rather beautiful poster for the event:

Poster for Matt's talk on librarianship to Manila museum of contemporary art and design

After that, I’ll be speaking at a New South Wales Writers’ Centre event on Thursday 24th October, Monsters Under The Bed, alongside novelist Kate Forsyth and researcher Nyssa Harkness. We’ll be looking at the place of monsters in children’s and Young Adult fiction – and with Nyssa’s gaming background, I’m hoping we get to explore whether our relationship to monsters changes in an age when interactive storytelling and gaming often allow us to struggle with them directly… You can order tickets for the event at the Writers’ Centre Eventbrite page.

And when all that is done, I have a few words for you on immersive roleplay, performance and literacy, and embedding stories in a community. Stay tuned…

Busy week, lucky country

It’s been another busy week out here in Central West New South Wales.

On Monday, I interviewed the Australian comics creator Pat Grant for the New South Wales Writers’ Centre. You can read Pat’s comics Blue and Toormina Video online. Pat and I will both be teaching courses at the Centre later this year – Pat’s on Graphic Storytelling and mine on Storytelling for a 21st Century Audience.

Time Travel Detectives poster

Talking to Pat was timely, because I’d just arranged for Sydney’s superlative comic store Kings Comics to send our local library a vast selection of comics on sale-or-return, which we then allowed the public to choose from in a series of all-ages workshops which I ran to determine our new collection. (Kings mistook me for Doctor Who, too, which only endeared them to me more).

Tuesday saw the kick-off of Time Travel Detectives, an immersive role-play programme for 5-12 year olds which invited local children to enter the Parkes Library Time Travel Lab and venture back to 1873 to prevent a time-lost Justin Bieber and his strange minion creatures from changing history and taking over the town.

The event included two new artworks by the Melbournian artist Peter Miller, Spirit Box and the Life Projector, which became Victorian scientists’ devices for detecting the time-travelling intruders – with Peter and his wife Wendy taking on the roles of rival 19th-century inventors battling to outdo one another. Read more

Guest post: Steve Saville of Alfriston College, Auckland, on comics in the classroom

Today, we’re joined by Steve Saville, deputy principal at Alfriston College in South Auckland. For four years, Steve has championed the use of comics in the classroom through a series of innovative workshops which have allowed students to develop and publish their own high quality comic books. In the first of a two-part guest post, Steve tells the story of Alfriston’s unique comic book education project.

See more on comics in the classroom via the “comicsedu” tag on this site.

Like most teachers, I can think of numerous times that I have attempted to encourage or develop creativity with students, both in and out of the classroom. Like most teachers, my in-class efforts have fallen firmly in the realm of teacher-directed, and therefore dictated, creativity.

Comic book learning in action at Alfriston College
Comic book learning in action at Auckland’s Alfriston College

More recently, I’ve spent a few years encouraging learners to genuinely take control of the creative process, exploring creativity through the medium of comics. The aim has been to produce original comics that are of a publishable and professional standard. I have done this within a single school environment, Alfriston College. A potted history of our programme follows.

Read more