Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Out of the Doghouse - what next?

Re-printed from The Great Raven

So, what do you do when your writing commitment is over?

I'm going to read and read and read tonight. I've just started a new iMovie project, putting together my students' book trailers. I really can't put them all up, even if I had their permission, because there is too much need to check out how much material is copyright, although it was all credited. Too much hassle! But I will be burning it all on to DVD for the staff's professional interest, so they can see what Year 8 English students can do when they try, and catalogue it for my library, and I will be showing it to my class before we all go off for holidays.

If any of the authors want to see what 8B has done, I'll be happy to pop a copy in the mail for them. They're not perfect, but they did what I needed - showed they understood the book and that they had got something out of it. Also, they hopefully persuaded the viewer it might be a good book to read.

Here are the books: Pool, by Justin D'Ath,  Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson, Burn Bright by Marianne De Pierres and Once by Morris Gleitzman. A Ghost In My Suitcase was saved as a plain Powerpoint because I couldn't open the original file (pity - they could have changed it to .wmv - if  only I'd known! )However, two other students prepared interview questions for Gabrielle Wang, who has kindly agreed to answer them and offered to publish it on her own web site as well as this one.  Anyway, if any of you guys who wrote these books are reading and are interested in a copy, let me know.

I'm also about to prepare some interview questions for Miffy Farquarson, who has agreed to answer questions about being a CBCA judge.

So, while I won't be blogging every day now, I will be keeping busy.

Today I got such a nice email from Bill Condon, who had been a WIR on Insideadog too, and said how much he had enjoyed my posts. It does feel a little lonely when you blog away and nobody - or, in my case, almost nobody - commented. But it's nice to know.

Late dinner time - I'm off to eat and read.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Welcome Emma! And Free Rice!

Hi Emma! Welcome to my page. To tell you the truth, this was my first effort at a blog, not knowing what I was supposed to do. I do most of my posting over at The Great Raven, but because I suddenly found myself with followers here I have been posting more often, just the general stuff, a lot of it about school.

I know more people are reading this than have joined, because I check the statistics, though I don't yet keep the counter up on the page, so I'm going to introduce Emma McGregor to anyone who is reading. She is a young writer who was kind enough to choose my session at the Bendigo Catholic College Lit Fest the other day and she keeps a number of blogs. One of them is Be The Change, which I have joined because it is so very impressive and useful. It is about social justice and has some extremely useful links to Fair Trade web sites and charities and even Free Rice, which I've been using with my students for some time already.

I discovered it, of all things, in an ESL newspper. The idea is that you do vocab - it gives you a word and a multiple choice and you pick the meaning. If you're right, it donates ten grams of rice to the World Food Bank. If you're wrong, it drops you a level and you keep going till you get the word again and this time you know it. I'd like to say my students love it - and sometimes they do, when they realise that this is real and doing this helps real people. I usually give them one full period on it at the beginning, with chocolate prizes for highest score and highest level reached, then keep it for a few minutes at the end of a period in the computer room. No more than that or they get bored. I, personally, find it addictive, I just HAVE  to keep going and trying for the next level and the next and towards the top there are words even I don't know. If you aren't interested in vocab or don't teach English, there are other subjects, though the English bit is the best.

But do hop along to Emma's site and join. It's well worth it. I'm going to add it to my blog roll, both here and at The Great Raven, when I've finished a bit of housework (Sunday is the only day I can get it done at all.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Latest Reflective Journal - the kids score for Greenpeace!

Yesterday was an exhausting day for my colleague Jasna and me, not to mention our students. The delayed lunchtime disco happened, as did the baking of brownies by another group of students. Their classmates were planning frantically for their own events.

Both disco and brownies were a huge success, but they kept us flat out. After recess, Jasna and I had arranged to have the brownie-bakers go to the Foods room, where we would supervise them. We had to make absolutely sure that they cleaned up afterwards and put everything back where it belonged, or risk the wrath of the Foods teacher, who doesn't teach on Tuesdays. Not only that, but we had to help them find equipment they needed, including baking paper and microwave-safe bowls to melt butter. One of the students nearly placed a metal bowl in the microwave! "Stop!" I shrieked and went to see if our Lighthouse integration room had some (they did).

I went back in Period 4 to supervise all the other students of 8A and B while Jasna continued in the Foods room. The disco organisers had to set up the library and then I had to stay to help out and supervise. Fortunately, colleagues came in to give a hand, and Jasna, who had to do yard duty, was spelled by another colleague, Tina, who asked for the brownies recipe. After lunch my students got the library back to normal - there was surprisingly little rubbish, very easy to clean up. They had made $124! True, $70 of that was money they had overspent for decorations, but that still left a substantial profit. The other group ended up making the same profit on the brownies, though they ended up with a lot more ingredients than they could possibly use at home. I mean, the cocoa, sugar and eggs, yes, the flour, yes - but what were they going to do with all those packs of butter? Still - it was a lesson learned. We had told them to calculate their needs beforehand, as last year's students did. And they did make a good profit and the work itself went pretty smoothly, in between trying to find enough pans, baking paper, etc.

They hadn't thought to buy bags, so the brownies were neatly wrapped in paper towelling. They had to go back to class after Period 5, but Jasna brought her graphics class into the theory room and I helped a year 10 student, Rebecca, who had volunteered her time since her Hospitality class wasn't happening. We distributed most of the remaining brownies then and after school.

We do need to prepare a form for the students to take to teachers any time they need - note, NEED, not want - time off other classes. It will have to be signed by one of us and then by the teacher concerned and if the answer is no, it's no. We can't afford to get on our colleagues' wrong side; this is too important. That's what I have learned from this.

I went home, cooked dinner, had a shower and slumped into bed.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Greenpeace truffles!

This year, as for the last two, my students are doing a community activity for their homeroom subject, Pathways. It started two years ago when Amanda, the other Year 8 homeroom teacher, and I returned from term 3 break with the same idea: let's do some fundraising and packing and donation gathering for the victims of the Samoan tsunami. So we joined forces. It was so very successful that last year we did it again. Amanda was gone, but I'm now working with Jasna.The students had been given the task, first, of researching a charity and presenting it to the rest of Year 8, arguing why we should support that particular charity. Last year they voted to support UNICEF. This year's choice was Greenpeace.

The activity has been so very successful that one of our other campuses is taking it up - much more practical than working from books. The kids love doing it and learn an amazing amount, from civics to running a mini-business! And they can do it whether they're academic kids needing a challenge or non-academic kids who like the warm feeling of having done something that will help someone else. They can shine in this task as in very little else at school.

 Its success has also led to Year 9 teachers giving their students - our former students! - the task they performed so well last year. Which means that suddenly Year 8 is having to compete with Year 9 for whatever dollars the other students have available. Well, we're working around it, timetabling it as best we can, and making the students choose activities that will work, no matter how many others are selling cupcakes or running a dogdeball game or a lolly jar count.

Yesterday a group of girls from my 8B made chocolate truffles. I had the original idea and it turned out that one of them had made truffles before, from the same basic recipe as I found on-line. No point in making expensive ganache-based sweets when you want to buy cheap ingredients and sell to other students. I made some as a test run last weekend, it worked nicely and I gave the young truffle-making expert the leftovers. But they had to make more than one batch, so they went to the supermaket and bought, between them, $33.00 worth of ingredients! And they'd advertised them at $1.00 a bag of five.
Urk. "Girls," I said,"you're going to have to sell 33 bags of truffles even to get your money back. The profit will be very small." But they sold the lot in five minutes, as I'd known they would, with demand for more, and their profit was a little more than I had expected because they had sold some individual sweets. And they do have some leftover ingredients, which would make it cheaper next time.

I told them they didn't have to do it again and Pepa, the truffle expert, said, "You mean we can't do this again?" :-)

I assured her they could if they wished. So they're going to do some more a week from now and good on them!

I am actually learning as much as my students, and hopefully we can do it again next year and I will have one sure-fire money-spinner, but I'll find a way they don't have to spend $$ of their own money to do the task.

Next week's food delight is brownies, made by a boy who does them regularly at home and assures me they're quick and easy and won't take all morning as last year's cookies did. He and his group will be baking them in the foods room first thing in the morning.

Stand by for more news!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Writing A Book On Crime

Here it is - my sixth post as Writer In Residence on Insideadog! Go on, visit the web site - you know you want to... And comment! 
The best cover I ever had!

When I was commissioned to write Crime Time: Australians behaving badly for Ford Street Publishing my brief was to do a volume of “Fifty Infamous Australians” to go with Meredith Costain’s Fifty Famous Australians. (“Infamous” means evil, not very famous.)

It was not, repeat, not, going to be a book for homework It was for entertainment. Mind you, when our Legal Studies students were looking for specific crimes, my book came in handy!

.As well as the fifty main stories, there had to be around the same number, or more, of “Did You Know?” boxes.  Plenty to choose from; we’ve had crime here for  centuries, since the ship Batavia was wrecked off the coast of WA in 1629, long before the First Fleet arrived from England in 1788. While the captain went for help in a boat, several of the crew mutinied and killed passengers. There were huge battles going on between mutineers and loyal crew when the captain returned. For the record, there’s plenty of fiction about it, from Gary Crew’s horror novel Strange Objects to Kirsty Eagar’s fabulous Saltwater Vampires, in which the mutineers did it to become vampires and are still around.

 I went for some silly crimes to break up the horrible serial killer ones – like the Russian librarian who rescued her boyfriend from Silverwater prison by helicopter and was identified because of an overdue library video.Then there was the couple who robbed a restaurant in the Dandenongs and escaped with a bag of stale bread rolls – on April Fools’ Day!

While researching Caroline Grills, a dear old granny who poisoned people with her cakes and pikelets and was sentenced to life in prison, I travelled to Northern Territory, where I met an elderly couple in a pub. I mentioned what I was working on and the wife said, “Oh, I met her when I was working in Long Bay jail as a nurse. Such a sweet woman!”

You couldn’t buy that kind of research help!

Looking for an angle to write about career criminal Tony Mokbel, who escaped the country while on bail and was caught in Greece, I went out for coffee one day and opened the newspaper to see a double page spread about that escape, along with all the silliness it involved. There was my angle. I called the chapter “The Adventures of Tony Mokbel” and it finished the book.

 I keep coming across terrific newspaper crime stories and thinking, “Oh, I wish I’d had that for Crime Time!” Still – there are plenty more stories out there for me to tell.