NASA STEM PD

I recently completed three PD sessions run by NASA. They were quite engaging and while often focused on NASA’s resources, there is an overall consideration given to building dispositions in learners and using the Internet / online resources whenever possible.

I’d do more, but they of course run to a US schedule, meaning they often clash with other obligations…

Injury recovery and exercise in April

Last year, I sustained a few pretty serious injuries while working. Most involved my arms (mainly my left arm), but one impacted my back and torso generally (and left me with internal bleeding for an extended period).

Over the next week I’m seeing a variety of doctors and specialists for follow-up on each of these injuries, but aside from the injuries themselves needing to be addressed, one ongoing issue has been an inability to exercise, compounded by COVID-19 restrictions. (I ended up gaining nearly 40kg between September 2020 and January 2021, of which I’ve now lost about 25kg.)

I always like to take a data-based approach to these things, so I’ve crunched some numbers ahead of seeing all the doctors this week.

I’ve split the rest of this post into multiple pages, covering different aspects.

Learning dispositions

This post is split into multiple pages.

Video 01
Video Aftermath
Context
I recently started re-reading the French Asterix albums. Even though I can read French, I have been reading the English translations by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. Yes, I can understand the text as written in French, but the real comprehension is lost in translation – the bard being named Panoramix in French means almost nothing to me, but Cacophonix makes sense.

There’s understanding of the language, and understanding of the context and culture in which the text was produced. I can tell you what the characters are saying, but I can’t tell you why they’re saying it – in English, I can, because I’m situated in the same context.

Sort of.

In the Bell / Hockridge translations, intended for British audiences, a lot of foreign-language references are retained. These likely would have made sense to educated readers at the time the texts were first translated – it was fine to leave Latin jokes and puns in, as students in Britain likely would have had to study Latin and would get the gist. They’d also get the historical and geographical references from school.

Oddly, when I first read the books (when I was 10 or 11 years old) I had no trouble getting the jokes, puns and references either. Yes, I did have to study Latin at school – but that only started when I was 16 years old, so that didn’t help. I have some theories about how I knew that Lutetia was Paris, or Lugdunum was Lyon, or that acta est fabula means ‘the story is over’, but however I knew them, I knew them. If questioned, I could explain what the references meant, their function in the text, etc.

This was before the Internet was as ubiquitous as it is today. I was one of the first among my peers to have the Internet at home, and at that stage I did not yet have it. We didn’t even have access at school! I wasn’t googling these things, and I sure wasn’t looking things up in other books.

(OK, fine, I did read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire when I was 10. I also read a lot about Vercingetorix in really, really old books. He doesn’t get a lot of coverage in new texts.)

The thing is, re-reading them now, I have no idea what half the references are. I still get the names – the centurion Surplus Dairprodus’ name is not a complicated joke! – but I forgot what acta est fabula meant. I forgot that Lugdunum was Lyon. Strangely, I still got the joke ‘Why the past tense?’ when a character says ‘visi’ (the prefix in visigoth) instead of the anticipated ‘vici’. How I got that, I don’t know, but it’s a funny joke.

What I have had to do is google things. And that’s the important bit – I am googling them. I’m not ignoring the bits I don’t understand.

This is something incredibly frustrating when teaching Reading. I cannot comprehend how students can just keep reading after not understanding part of a text. Fine, you don’t need to fully understand every last detail, but if you are reading a text about a skier named Tara and you don’t know what skiing is… you need to stop and find out. Being able to decode the words is not enough.

I regularly drill into my students the importance of stopping and finding out. Sometimes, a very valid point is thrown back at me – ‘I don’t care.’ (If you don’t care, it isn’t the right text for you.) It’s a long, drawn-out process, but my students always learn to stop and ask – and they’ve all sat through lessons where I’ve confused myself, abandoned the lesson and found things out for myself.

I apply the same to Science. I have… much greater than usual science knowledge and science understanding. But it is just… facts and processes. I don’t really know why things work the way they do, or why I or anyone else should care. I just know how things work the way they do.

This came to a head during my final teaching placement and even moreso in my first year of teaching. I took a group of three students out to make and launch rockets as a reward. We used bicarb soda and vinegar as our fuel. I was easily able to explain the chemical reaction occurring between the two substances, to reassure the students it was safe to touch. (One of the students pointed out, after my explanation, that I hadn’t accounted for some Hs and Os… I forgot to mention the water byproduct.) 

The knowledge I had was utterly useless for what we were doing. Our learning was to explore and engage – the fact I already knew what would happen and how provided no benefit, and it meant I missed out on the fun.

Later in my first year, one of our leading teachers planned a science activity for us – making and playing with oobleck. In theory, I know how oobleck should work (it creates a suspension, with the starch particles suspended evenly in the water, making the fluid behave in ways young learners may not expect) but I ignored that knowledge to just explore with the kids. Instead of ensuring the kids knew how it worked, I focused on the experience of playing with it, asking questions and testing it out (the best being ‘What would happen if we threw it at our P.E. teacher?’ – the answer was not what I expected, but it was fun finding out!).

The finding out is the key part, just like with Reading. I would never expect my students to just know or just accept what I tell them about a text; they need to engage with it themselves and find out for themselves when they are stuck. The same applies to Science…

… and I’m in a perfect position to model it. At Levels 3-6, students are tasked with exploring why things happen, or predicting the effects of things. I can apply a logical, theoretical approach to this which more often than not will tell me the right answer, but that’s a different skill and different approach to what is expected for and from my learners. They specifically need to explore, not just tell the right answer.

I realised that I already do this quite a bit. Recently, we had a curriculum day in which chicken was served for lunch. I don’t eat chicken for moral reasons. It then had me wondering why I eat eggs, but won’t eat chicken – the same moral reasons should apply. This led me to investigate (explore) the differences between a chicken and its eggs. I ended up with very little new knowledge, but the act of exploring led me to new opinions and attitudes.

The goal is to help students see what it is like to explore things they don’t understand, not just to google the right answer (or ask the teacher). For me, this is most easily developed through exploring science, as that area engages me, but in theory the same approach could work in any curriculum area.

A secondary goal is to elaborate on this to support students’ literacy development through exploration and experiential learning, but that is for another time.

Acta est fabula

I’ve recently started re-reading Asterix from the beginning. It’s been a very long time since I last read them – more than twenty years!

One thing I have found very odd is that when I was a kid, I didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding the puns or language references in the text, but now I have no idea! I even had to google acta est fabula…

I feel there’s content in there somewhere.

Glossing in Auslan

This post is split into multiple pages.

Context
Auslan is typically not written down; it is expressed ‘through the air’ (VCASFU138). However, there are times where transcription is appropriate. The transcription of Auslan signs is called glossing.

Defining glossing
In linguistics generally, a gloss is an explanatory note between the lines or in the margins of a text, often to explain or provide an equivalent to a foreign or difficult word in the text. I employ glossing frequently when subtitling texts which feature words or phrases with no direct English equivalent. There are other examples which are frequently encountered, such as Japanese furigana (small writing above kanji which is likely to be difficult for the target audience, depicting the word in kana).

There are conventions for glossing in Auslan. Glossing forms a significant part of my planning, however I have found that I occasionally deviate from Auslan glossing conventions and default to more generic glossing conventions used for other languages. I also frequently make an error with ‘POSS-’ glosses, using them to note possibilities rather than possessive noun concepts.

The goal is to be more consistent when using glossing in my planning, so that anyone else teaching from my planning would not need to decipher idiosyncrasies in my writing.

New-look website

A few weeks ago, my desktop PC stopped working. Since then, I’ve been working off various other devices which lacked the unique setup of my desktop. I realised, in that process, just how inefficiently I had been doing things – I could not (easily) access the files and software I needed to keep things going. It’s been a massive pain. I’ve replaced my desktop now and am slowly setting everything up again.

I’m now going to be streamlining things a bit, starting with my website. While I still prefer working in HTML because I can basically do whatever I want, using WordPress as a CMS has its advantages, mainly that I can make changes from almost any device which can connect to the Internet.

I’ll be transferring stuff over as I have time. In the meantime, old versions of the site are still accessible.