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Bookish Things, Thoughts

Science Fiction becomes science

Science Fiction is one of my favourite genres, in fact, I’m finding that I’m reading and watching more Sci-Fi than anything else at the moment. I think one of the reasons I love it is because Science Fiction is quite often a precursor to the leaps and bounds of Science.

An example of this is cyborgs. There are so many Sci-Fi stories that have cyborgs in them; a particular favourite of mine is Cinder by Marissa Meyer. In this story, Cinder is half human/half robot and the integration between her two halves is seamless, in fact her robotic parts enable her to do more than is humanly possible.

I have always loved the idea of humans becoming cyborgs. I have had 3 minor surgeries on various joints in my body and am often heard joking about wanting a “new body.” It was with great surprise and joy that I watched the following two TED Talks by Hugh Herr on the advancements he and his team at MIT are making in the world of prosthetics, cyborgs, and human potential.

 

 

 

I’m so excited for what our future holds. If half of what I read in Sci-Fi comes true, then I know that we are in for one hell of a ride!

Bookish Things

Fuzzy Mud – Sachar

When I first started at Mount Alvernia College in 2016, I was asked to take over the Readers Cup team. One of the books that year was Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. Since reading it, I have recommended it to countless students and it is rarely on our shelves. I thought it was about time I wrote a review of it.

Synopsis:

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Tamaya and Marshall are family friends. They’ve grown up together because of the close friendship between their mothers. They walk to and from school together every day; in fact, Tamaya is not allowed to walk to school if Marshall is not with her. One day, Marshall tells Tamaya that they are going to walk through the woods out the back of their school – which is out of bounds. Tamaya tags along because she has no other choice, but during the trek through the woods they get separated, and Tamaya is tracked down by the school bully. To escape the bully, she throws a handful of mud into his face and runs away. After a few days, the bully is still missing, and Tamaya has noticed a weird rash that is spreading up her arm. She becomes really worried for the bully takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of where the bully has gotten to, and what’s up with the “fuzzy mud.”

Thoughts:

I loved this book for how easy it is to read, but also for the mystery that is woven throughout it. The story is told from a couple of different perspectives. There’s Tamaya’s, which is the main narrative voice, but occasionally we get flash backs and alternate storylines that tell the story of the fuzzy mud. The scientists that create it and then unknowingly set it free upon the world try to defend their actions, which have essentially released a self-replicating virus upon the world. I also love the exploration into friendship, bullying, and doing the right thing even when it’s not easy.

A super quick read, I’d recommend this to middle years readers after a good mystery with a little bit of science thrown in.

 

Gym Life

The strength community will not tolerate this…

Women lifting weights – it’s something that I am very passionate about and something that the general population seem to struggle with accepting. Just yesterday my husband had the pleasure of refereeing The Static Monsters World Championships on the Gold Coast and he witnessed some amazing feats of strength by both men and women. Unfortunately the newspaper that was invited to attend and report on the championships failed to celebrate these feats and chose to focus on a female athlete that experienced Stress Induced Incontinence (SIU) when lifting 4x her body weight. That’s right… a professional journalist and widely published newspaper chose to shame a woman instead of celebrating her success.

I refuse to acknowledge the athlete by name as that doesn’t matter and she’s been through enough by now but I will say that this woman flew halfway around the world to compete in a World Championship and won the 62.5kg weight class – which was one of the most competitive classes on the day – and yet this was overlooked by the reporter.

At first I had hoped that the reporter simply didn’t understand what they had done, but when we contacted them this morning to request that the article be retracted they refused and have since moved it into prime position on their website. I will not name and shame as that is not the purpose of this blog post. I want to discuss why the strength community will not tolerate this…

Women that lift weights have already decided that they don’t care about what society thinks of them. We’ve already made the decision to ignore all the garbage out there and do it anyway. The men of the strength community are also very supportive and celebrate the achievements of the women just as much as their own. We are a tight-knit community because we have to be, and we are only growing. The outcry from the community over this issue has been incredible and it’s only just occurred this morning – we will move mountains to be heard about this issue, after all, we have the strength (both physical and mental) to do this.

Now, the issue of the incontinence – I do want to quickly address this… Although SIU is considered common, it should not be normal; however, that does not mean that it’s ok for anyone to make a joke about it. There are many women that experience SIU while lifting heavy weights! When you consider the sheer pressure placed upon the muscles in the pelvic region when lifting any amount of weights, it is no surprise that there are problems. We recently held a workshop on the Pelvic Floor and Powerlifting with Marnie from Sports and Spinal Physiotherapy Centres and I learned so much. I had no idea about the muscles, the pressure created by lifting, and why there can be problems. In fact I think this needs to be something that all women that take up ANY SPORT should learn about to ensure they are well prepared. It is nothing to be ashamed of and it should be something that we can openly talk about.

I will finish up here as there is not much more I feel I need to say about this issue. As I said on my Facebook post regarding the article:

Ladies, DO NOT allow people like this reporter to cause you to feel shame over your achievements. DO NOT back down. KEEP LIFTING and continue to SMASH STEREOTYPES.

We are strong because we DO NOT let the opinions of others define who we are and what we do.

If you would like to talk to a health professional that takes strength training for women seriously, please contact VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane so we can point you in the right direction!

Education

Feeling pretty chuffed!

I recently inherited the job of setting up and maintaining the website for VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane and right now, I’m feeling quite proud of myself!

We inherited the site earlier in the year. It was essentially a straight copy of the website for our sister gym on the north side of Brisbane: VALHALLA Strength – Brisbane. I had to change all the details, links, images, and much more to reflect the information required for our gym. Let’s just say, I had a lot of hidden links to uncover, image settings, and many other general settings to find and change. In fact, I’m feeling so proud of myself that I want to share a little list of all that I have achieved in the last week (yes, I’m even celebrating the tiny wins because they’re still wins!):

  • Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 6.24.36 pmSite icon! It’s such a small thing and hardly noticeable, and I may change it again, BUT I STILL DID IT!
  • Site logo! Again, such a simple thing but it was hidden somewhere in the back end of the theme design and it took me days to find it…
  • Different menu options
  • Resizing of featured images for the blog post – this was a massive win!

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  • Integrating a social stream plugin! So proud of this one as it took LOTS of trial and error (and lots of frustration and head scratching and even consultation with colleagues that are very clued in about this stuff)

Of course, there were numerous other things I had to do and it’s certainly not perfect at the moment but it’s done, and I’m very proud of myself. During all my fumbling around I learned quite a few things about myself and thought I would share some of my learnings…

Here’s what I discovered:

  1. You can figure it out if you don’t give up
  2. Google is your best friend when problem solving the unknown
  3. You don’t have to be an expert but you have to be willing to learn
  4. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s very rare that you’ll do something so horrible that it can’t be undone!
  5. Always ask for help
  6. If you’re starting to get frustrated, WALK AWAY! It’s amazing what a little bit of distance can do for your frustration levels…
  7. And most importantly… PUBLISH FIRST, PERFECT LATER!

While fiddling with the website I couldn’t help thinking about how my students would tackle the problems I encountered. In my classroom, when a student comes up against an issue their first instinct is to ask me, their teacher, for help… They tend to be unwilling to trial things, make mistakes, search for the answer and then give it a go. It’s like they want to be shown exactly how to do it and to know that they won’t fail! Well, this is not what happens in the real world, as I have just proved, and somehow we need to teach them that they are more than capable of discovering the answer to their problem themselves.

I’ve been tossing up with the idea of writing down my thoughts about digital natives and the like, which after this experience I think I’m going to have to, if only to get it straight in my own head! So… stay tuned for that.

Bookish Things

Murder Most Unladylike – Stevens

I read Murder Most Unladylike because we’ve had an increasing number of students in years 7 and 8 asking for “murder mysteries.” I have no real idea as to why these types of stories are becoming popular again, but as an avid reader of Agatha Christie in my early teens, I cannot complain! And so, it was with great pleasure that I realised there is a new range of Middle Reader friendly murder mysteries available, one of which is the A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery series by Robin Stevens.28953339

Synopsis:

When Hazel Wong moves from Hong Kong to Deepdean School for Girls in England, she finds it difficult to make friends at first. After a rocky start she soon becomes fast friends with Daisy Wells, a typical English young lady. Due to Daisy’s murder mystery obsession, the two friends start their own Detective Agency. After solving a couple of small crimes, such as lost ties or collecting gossip, Hazel eventually stumbles on their first real crime: their Science Mistress has been murdered and Hazel discovers the body.

The body goes missing shortly after Hazel discovers it and so Hazel and Daisy must race against the clock to collect clues to find out who the murderer is. They know it’s someone on staff, but who?

Thoughts:

I did like this story, but I didn’t love it and I think it’s because I’m not it’s targeted audience. The murder mystery was well thought out though. I didn’t see the “who done it” coming and the way that certain off-hand events tied in was very clever – in this sense it is very Agatha Christie.

Hazel and Daisy of the Detective Society are likeable enough. The mentions of Hazel’s “oriental” background and the way the girls in her form refer to her are very apt for the time the story is set in. However at the same time, Stevens has shown sensitivity towards migrants by using Hazel’s voice as a voice of displeasure over the apparently “harmless” comments made by her peers. Daisy is initially portrayed as the perfect English rose, but her depth of character is explored further when Hazel slowly discovers that Daisy is the smartest girl in school but hides it, she loves to play rough when it comes to sport, and has a fascination with murder.

The setting of an all girls school back in the day (I don’t think the year is ever specified), and the description of the teaching staff set the scene for trouble quite nicely. The explanation of the Masters and Mistresses is slightly one dimensional; we never really get to know the staff that well, but I believe this is largely due to the fact that Hazel, the voice of the story, doesn’t know them well enough to make their personalities clearer. We see them as she sees them: untouchable and infallible.

The narrative of the story is a combination of present and past events. We see the murder unfold as the present, but Hazel adds in tidbits of information about the school and characters are reflective chapters. It’s really very clever. The other notable thing about the way in which this book is written is how Stevens has divided the story into parts. I am a huge fan of this as it gives me tangible goals for reading and I think this will only increase it’s popularity among Middle Readers.

Overall, I think this is a very clever murder mystery that is perfect for Middle Years readers looking for an Agatha Christie style novel. It’s easy to read, the main characters are likeable, and the plot twists are certainly shocking.

Education, Gym Life, Thoughts

The truth about our “why”

Have you ever told yourself that your goal was simply to “have fun?” Well, over the weekend we hosted a Smashing Stereotypes event at the gym and the presenter said something that really struck me. The presenter was Raeanne Pemberton, and she is a Strongwoman Competitor in the USA. She has a lot to say about the mindset of women for strength training, and in general, and I always find her inspiring. This time around, the thing she said that struck me was: “If you’re telling yourself that you’re there to have fun, you’re lying to yourself.” That hit hard.

Some context:

We were talking about competing in strength sports and how a lot of women seem to tell themselves before a competition that they “don’t really care how well I do, I just want to have fun.” I myself have said this. Raeanne says that this is a lie, and I now agree. We absolutely, 100% do care how well we do! You may not realise it, but every time you sign up to compete you have certain numbers in the back of your mind that you want to hit, and you’ll either be disappointed when you miss them, or elated when you smash them. I realised that we don’t publicly acknowledge these numbers as our official competition goals because we likely don’t want to risk failing. We don’t want to put ourselves out there, and then not achieve. We want to protect ourselves from feeling failure by setting our goals low. It’s easy to turn around and say, “I may not have gotten any PRs today, but I had fun and that was my goal.”

Maybe I’m being a little too doom-and-gloom about it all, but let me try explaining it like this. We are predisposed towards being hard on ourselves, we are conditioned to have low expectations of our abilities, and we are raised to fear failing. To protect ourselves from all of this, we set the bar low in terms of our achievements. There is a difference between “I just want to have fun today” and “I want to hit certain numbers or reps today, but I also want to have fun.” Every time we sign up to compete, we have certain expectations and hopes for what we will achieve. After hearing Raeanne speak, I have made a conscious decision to really acknowledge what I want to achieve from the competition, and to not settle for “I just want to have fun.” Remember, it’s ok to have fun while competing, but you will achieve and progress so much more if you truly acknowledge why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’ll probably have more fun along the way as well.

Educating Young Women:

Earlier in the week, I had an opportunity to discuss this phenomenon of “just having fun” with the students in my home room. We were asked to watch the following video and then discuss:

We talked about goal setting and some examples:

  • Running – why do you run? Do you always want to run faster or further?
  • Music – why do you play? Do you want to share your music, play harder pieces, or sound better each time?
  • Writing – why do you write? Do you want to get better, share your work, or learn new styles?

As you can see, we talked a lot about our “calling” or our “why,” and I raised the question of whether a goal of “just having fun” is enough? It was interesting to hear these young women echo the same concerns about setting low goals that Raeanne raised. It gave me hope. Does this mean that this generation of young women are being empowered to think they can do more, be more, and therefore set themselves more challenging goals? I really hope so.

Originally posted on VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane

Education, Thoughts

Templates on Instagram – Innocent or something more?

I came across a great teachable moment last night on Instagram, but this moment I woke up and felt that I needed to share it a little more widely…  Templates on Instagram – are the innocent, or something more?

Firstly, here’s the post:

krystalgagen Can we talk about these templates for a minute? I’ve been noticing an increase in templates that you screen shot, fill in, and then post on your Instagram story. While most of them are harmless, there are some that ask for a LOT of personal information. For example, this one is asking for your age, your birth day and month – put those together and you’ve got your full birth date. Add in your height, birthplace, and descriptive features, like eye and hair colour, and all of a sudden that’s everything that you’d put on a driver’s licence/form of ID!

I’m not saying that everyone that creates one of these templates is out to collect your information, but in today’s world of selling information and identify theft, we need to be super careful! There are some of these templates that are harmless fun, and while the creator of this one probably didn’t mean any harm, the minute you put this amount of information into the world, you put yourself at risk.

Don’t let this stop you from engaging in the Instagram or general online community! Just be careful about what and how much you share. Be smart, stay safe 💪

#adventuresoftheliftinglibrarian

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 8.44.24 am

When I first saw this template I thought, “aww, that’s a bit cute.” And then I read it through properly and my heart stopped. I’m not exaggerating. I actually felt that thrill of fear, and experienced a spike of adrenaline as I saw what this template was asking me for. As I said in my Instagram post, the creator of this template might have created this with innocent intentions – you know, maybe they hadn’t fully thought through the types of questions that they were asking? But the cynical side of me, the part of my brain that assesses risks, couldn’t help but think: “this is the type of information you’d put on a drivers licence, a form of ID, a missing person’s report!” Put together the birth date and birth place, and if your profile has your first (or even in my case, first and last) name in it, then BAM! They know enough about you to start stealing your identity. Call me paranoid, but in this day and age, with companies selling and buying your information daily, we need to be super careful.

You might be thinking: “but Facebook asks me where I lived and for my birth date, how is that any different?” Well, yeah, sometimes we do give out that information willingly, I myself have done this. The difference being, Facebook is a company that I know the terms and conditions of. I’ve read their fine print (I know, nerd!) and I’ve made an informed decision. I am prepared to take that risk. The difference between that and these templates floating around on Instagram, and probably other platforms that I don’t use, is that there are no safe guards in place for my information. I don’t know who is on the receiving end of it and what they plan to do with it. That scares me.

All I ask is that you think before you post! That you open discussions with people you might think are at risk of answering these types of questions without fully thinking through the consequences. (By the way, I don’t just mean teenagers… I know plenty of adults, of any age, that don’t think things through before posting!) The more we talk about this type of thing in our families, or communities, the less likely we will be at risk of something horrible happening online. As I signed off last night: Be smart, stay safe.

Education

Self-reflection is a powerful tool

All throughout university I found myself having to do reflective writing as part of my assessment. When doing my Bachelor of Music Studies at the Queensland Conservatorium I was expected to reflect on my voice lessons and progress. When doing my Post Graduate Diploma in Education at Griffith University, I had to reflect on group work. It was during my Master of Education at Queensland University of Technology though, that I finally understand the true power of reflection, and how much it can help us grow. I’m not saying that my previous two degrees did something wrong when it came to teaching reflective writing – I’m suggesting that I was incapable of fully understanding its power at that time of my life and that’s what stopped me from doing it properly. Since finishing my Masters in 2015 I have found myself turning to self-reflection almost daily. I don’t always record my thoughts, but even the act of looking back and asking myself “how can I do better next time” has become something of a habit at the end of every day.

In education:

One of the best examples I can think of at the moment is my experience as a year 9 geography teacher. I have now taught the year 9 geography units for four semesters in a row. It’s the first time that I have consistently taught a subject in my career. Some might see having to teach the same thing each year as boring, but for me, I see it as a challenge – I want, no, I NEED to get better at it each time. I have changed one of the two assessment items each time I’ve taught a new group of year 9s. I use the feedback from the previous class to make the delivery and the assessment more authentic, provide extension opportunities, and incorporate technology to teach students skills in GIS and special purpose mapping. I’ve even tweaked the way in which I deliver the content, such as creating a Google Site that has:

  • Information from ACARA and QCAA (no sense in not using some of the terminology now)
  • The resources we’ll be using in class
  • Tips and tricks for some of the technology we’ll be using, as well as some information on effective researching
  • A section devoted to “Lesson Plans” that has my planning for each class – this allows them to see what we’re covering which is particularly useful if they are away
  • And so much more!

I have, so far, found that this Site I created has been a useful tool in providing the students with the above, as well as keeping track of where each class is up to, after all, I’m currently teaching 3 year 9 geography classes!

Anyway, the way I currently approach year 9 geography has evolved from reflecting on my previous experiences, finding what’s worked, and ditching what hasn’t. It means that every time I teach it it’s new and exciting. I’m getting better and better at it and, because of my reflective nature, I don’t think I’ll ever be fully satisfied and will always want to change something.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 10.24.42 am
A screenshot of the Home page for the Google Site I created for Year 9 Geography at Mt Alvernia

So, if I claim to use self-reflection as a tool to improve my teaching, when I get to the end of a term or semester, what do I do?

  1. I collect feedback from my students via:
    • Emails
    • Google Forms
    • Discussions
  2. I look back at what worked and what didn’t
  3. I compare the skills my students learned to previous groups of year 9 students and see whether there is improvement or an increase in competency
  4. I work out if the assessment truly fit what is required of ACARA (thankfully, it has so far!)
  5. I then reflect on the sequencing of learning activities and reflect on whether it worked or not
  6. I make adjustments for the next time!

It seems simple, but it works. It helps that at the end of lessons I’ll make a quick note somewhere as to whether I felt the lesson was successful or not. That way, when I look back I can remember more easily!

General thoughts:

I use self-reflection in a lot of different things in my life. I use it when making big decisions, improving the way I interact with people at the gym, improving my relationship with my family and friends, and of course, in my teaching life. It can be scary at first; no one likes looking at themselves honestly. When reflecting on your actions, there’s one piece of advice that I can offer: be kind to yourself! No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, but if we can look back at those mistakes with kind eyes then we can learn and move forward. I hope that the way I self-reflect is something that I model for my students. I hope that they can figure it out much earlier than I did, as I really believe that the ability to self-reflect, share our findings, and move forward is a powerful tool.

Ps. I chose the image of the beach as the feature image because when I was getting into the habit of self-reflection and things got a little confronting, I actually found walking on the beach to be quite calming.

Wellbeing

Hearts on the line everyday

Disclaimer: the following is a brief discussion about mental health for teachers.

Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.

When Jane is in your office telling you that her parents are divorcing and they don’t have time for her and she’s failed her math exam but can’t tell her parents because they’ll take away the only things in life giving her joy…

When Sam is looking to you for advice because his friends and peers are making fun of the fact that when he speaks to them as their Student Representative he uses hand gestures, and rather than focusing on his words, they focus on his hands…

When Anna is 100% engaged in class and contributes insightful and thoughtful comments in discussions but when it comes to assessment she simply doesn’t try and accepts her punishment because “she’s used to it…”

When Tim has spoken to you every day for 6 months about his mum having cancer and you can see that he desperately needs help but doesn’t know whom to speak to so he unloads on you and you don’t know how to help and you try and you try but it takes all your energy away and you can’t give anything more…

Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.

These stories are fictional, but they are based on events that teachers all over the world deal with daily. These types of events are the reason that I tell people going into teaching that it is the best job in the world and also the hardest. What I have learned is that we teachers, with our hearts on the line every day, cannot shoulder every burden that our students have. We also need to reach out for help and seek guidance in dealing with these burdens. Obviously we keep in mind student protection procedures and confidences, but by speaking with colleagues we can sort out our feelings, work out what we can do to help our students, and continue to support them, all the while protecting our hearts.

Sometimes it means stepping back and letting someone higher up in leadership or counselors take over with managing a student’s needs. Sometimes it’s talking to parents, or mediating conversations between peers. Either way we can always do something but we don’t have to be everything. We all have different roles to play and sometimes it’s easy to forget that we are humans with emotional needs too. We cannot take care of our students if we don’t take care of ourselves.

So, when you have given everything that you can to your students, and you’re barely holding it together because you’ve taken hit after hit to your heart and you can’t imagine feeling anything more than despair, and desperation to continue trying to help them? It might be time to reach out to your colleagues and seek help. Talk to someone, get strategies, and protect your heart so that you can continue to put it on the line every day.

Education, Gym Life, Thoughts

Role Models: Part Two

In Role Models: Part One I wrote about the importance of Fictional Role Models. In Role Models: Part Two, I will discuss the importance of Real-Life Role Models and how everyone is a role model to someone in some way.

You may not realise it, but someone in your life might be looking to you for inspiration, advice, and direction. You might think that you are simply going through the motions to achieve your goals, but others might be marvelling at your ability to get the job done. I have recently become aware of how much power my actions have when it comes to interacting with people, and I wanted to share my experiences.

Education example:

As a teacher, I have always known that what I do directly impacts how my students see me, how they interact with me, and how they might expect other adults in their lives to treat them, both now and into the future. Therefore, I try to always be a positive role model, and it’s not always easy, but I also know that by sharing some of my frustrations and difficulties (within reason of course) can also be a powerful learning tool for them. By seeing how I cope with stress, hearing me talk about my struggles, and celebrating the wins that I have, my students can constantly adjust their perception of what being an adult and or a well rounded person is like. I don’t get it right all the time, after all, I am human, but we all know that students learn certain skills from watching and observing the adults in their lives.

Gym example:

I was having a conversation with one of the women I know through the gym the other day, and I realised how much power a Personal Trainer or “coach” has over a client. I often wonder if these professionals realise just how much trust their clients put in them, and how much their actions and words impact their clients. I have learned from my own brief experience as a gym owner, that the women I interact with look to me and observe how I interact with our members, how I go about my training, and how I compose myself both in person and online. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it scared me at first, until I realised that my position as a role model in the gym was simply an extension of my position as a role model in the classroom.

And so, if what I’ve claimed is true and everyone is a role model to someone, I wonder if everyone realises this? I hope that by the end of reading my thoughts on Role Models, that you’ve had some time to think about who you might be a role model to, and who your role models are. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!