Monday, November 20, 2017

Old School / New School: Transforming Australia's Education System

As well as being a teacher and educational researcher, I have also been involved in the business community (in my spare time!) for over 20 years. In the first instance, this was to try to connect university researchers with business and industry. However, I am now the President of one of Australia's leading business organisations, the New South Wales Business Chamber (NSWBC). My background in education has recently aligned strongly with a key initiative of the Chamber to bring together varied interest groups to consider reform in school education.

As President of this organisation, I was involved in the launch today of a bold initiative that seeks to help unite teachers, parents, educational authorities, researchers and government to reform school education. We feel strongly about this, because we live in a world that is changing rapidly, and know that education is critical as we face these changes. New forms of employment are emerging, and once common occupations are disappearing. As well, technology is disrupting every area of life creating challenges to our previous understanding of the nature of work. Some jobs will disappear completely as artificial intelligence enables computers and robots to take over occupations and change others. Our changing world requires innovation in the education of our children. Our report draws on varied parties and was launched today in Sydney. It is titled 'Old School / New School' and can be downloaded HERE.

The report is the beginning or our efforts to engage many in conversation as we face a transforming world. We believe that we need to:
  • Take the very best of our 'Old School' system that has served us well for many decades and combine it with new world thinking to help the next wave of young people take their place in the world.
  • The way young people learn is changing, and new ways of teaching are emerging.
  • We want to take the very best of our Old School system and combine it with new world thinking to help the next wave of young people flourish.
  • For key policy makers, this requires them to find better ways to support teachers, principals and industry to create the right spaces, choices and career opportunities for the next generation of young people.
  • For the business community, this is about creating workplaces that foster innovation and life-long learning.
  • For our dedicated teachers, this is about helping educators grow their professional skills, share their knowledge and demonstrate what is possible for our schools.
  • For young people, this is about having their voices heard and sharing what they need to move into work, further study and adult life.
Other speakers at the launch today included our CEO Stephen Cartwright, Eddie Woo a well-known maths teacher and YouTube star (WooTube), Julie Sonnemann (Grattan Institute) and the Minister of Education Rob Stokes.

The report argues that this is a shared responsibility at three levels:

Architects - establish education policy, curriculum frameworks and assessment frameworks. They include education authorities, education councils and authorities, employers and business associations.

Builders - deliver learning experiences and develop learners. They include teachers, parents, principals, parent and community groups, professional associations, universities.

Clients - are the end users of the education system. These include students, families, employers, and universities.

The report sets out 6 ideas to start building a new school system as discussions starters:
  • Pilot proven teaching and learning approaches across multiple schools at once.
  • Publish data tracking student progress and outcomes post school.
  • Revamp the HSC to set all students on the right pathway to work.
  • Recognise teachers and support their development through professional learning hubs.
  • Ensure every child in every school has support services they need to learn and thrive, including careers advice and mentoring for high risk students.
  • Integrate and measure enterprise skills from Year 9 on.


The NSW Business Chamber is also seeking your ideas. We want your varied perspectives, key ideas, insights and feedback so that, together, we can build the New School system of the future. I want to encourage you to go online, visit our site and become part of this initiative. The purpose is NOT for business to try to tell schools and educators what needs to be done. Rather, we want to open up dialogue between all key stakeholders for the benefit of our students, teachers and the educational future of our nation.

Please visit our Old School / New School and become part of this collaboration. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

20 Great New Picture Books For Young Readers

Apologies to my readers for my infrequent posts in recent months, there has been too much competition for my time. This is a catch-up post in which I will offer quick reviews of 22 picture books that I've been sent for review. As you would know, picture books can be in varied genres and have different purposes. I've grouped these into three groups, books that: a) 'Teach and tell', b) 'Teach and 'tell' about the human condition, and those that c) 'tell' great stories.

I hope you like the books I have selected.

A. Picture books that Teach & Tell

Books in this first category are factual in nature but use a variety of genres, including many that are narrative in form.

1. 'A is for Australian Animals', by Frané Lessac

If you haven't come across Frané Lessac before, you must correct this significant gap in your experience of children's literature. She is a U.S born author, illustrator and painter who currently lives and works in Western Australia. She has published over 40 books for children and won numerous awards for her illustrations. Don't assume that this is a simple alphabet book. While it adopts this form, this is a book that will deepen children's knowledge of some of Australia's most amazing animals. Each letter has one to three unique animals. Each has multiple illustrations with an introduction to each animal in larger font and then short paragraphs associated with separate illustrations. Every page has a depth of information in the varied texts and gorgeous illustrations that use the rich colours of the Australian landscape.

'The Blue-tongue is a lizard which, if threatened, puffs up its body, opens its mouth wide and sticks out its dark blue tongue'

'The Bilby is a desert-living marsupial with rabbit-like ears'
'Bilbies don't hop like a rabbit or jump like a kangaroo - they gallop like a pony'

A stunning book with carefully crafted text and stunning illustrations with a riot of colour and detail.

2. 'Koala' by Claire Saxby & illustrated by Julie Vivas

When a young male koala outgrows his mother's pouch, it's time to find a new home for himself — braving perils and adventures along the way.

In a high tree fork, a gray ball unfurls. Koala seeks his mother's milk, but for the first time, she won't let him into her pouch. It's time for Koala to make his own way in the world. Rival koalas, fierce storms, and frightening snakes force Koala to keep moving — until he finds a safe place to call his own. 

This is a wonderful book from a great Australian author and a legendary illustrator. Children can read the story of a young koala growing up in the world. At the same time, they can learn a lot about this rare marsupial. A wonderful book for readers (or 'listeners') aged 4-7 years.

3. 'Hooray for Birds!' by Lucy Cousins

Lucy Cousins should be well known as the creator of 'Maisy' and the same vibrant colours and amazingly simply images that 'jump' off the page at you, will be found in this book. But children can also learn about the birds displayed. The 'peck, peck, peck' of the woodpecker, the long neck of the swan, 'swooping' starlings, the display of the flycatcher, not to mention the long legs of the stork and much more. A stunning book for children aged 1-5 years.

4. 'Crazy About Cats' by Owen Davey

This is part of Owen Davey's bestselling series.

Did you know that the fishing cat has partially webbed paws for catching fish? Or that pumas can leap over 15 feet into trees? There are roughly 38 species of cats today, each one superbly adapted to their environment - whether that be in the rainforest or the desert!

I have previously reviewed 'Smart About Sharks'. But your children will enjoy 'Mad About Monkeys' and many more books by Owen Davey. I love the almost geometric nature of the images, the beautifully toned colours and the multi-layered nature of the texts. Stunning work. Wonderful for children aged 4-8 years.

5. 'Ivy and the Raincloud' by Katie Harnett

Everyone loves the warm sunshine—except the lonely raincloud. No one wants to be his friend! But one day, he stumbles across a grumpy little florist . . . could she be looking for a friend too?
In this charming tale, a solitary raincloud finds a way to make a sad little girl happy again, by using the very thing that most people dislike about him—rain!

This wonderfully simple picture book by this outstanding author and illustrator uses a grumpy girl and a lone cloud to reflect on loneliness and anger. At one level, it's a simple fun story, and yet at another, it offers an insight into our moods, despondency and how we can as quickly leave our moods behind us as we embraced them in the first place.

Katie Harnett received the Bologna Children’s Book Fair ARS IN FABULA Grant Award in 2015, and her work was selected to be exhibited twice at The Illustrators Exhibition at the Bologna Book Fair.

6. 'Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines' by Prue & Kerry Mason and illustrated by Tom Jellett

Imagine what it was like to travel to far-off places before there were aeroplanes. For early 20th-century Australian, it could take days, weeks, or months just to get where they were going. 'Amazing Australians in Their Flying Machines' tells the stories of ten brave Australians, including the youngest licensed woman pilot Nancy Bird, who took to the skies and changed the face of aviation forever.

This is a brilliant book. It is a wonderful chronicle of exploration in flight. It begins with the life story of Dr William Bland, who in 1814 arrived as a convict and by the 1850s was drawing designs for amazing flying machines. And of course, Kingsford Smith, Nancy Bird and many others are featured as are the machines and adventures along the way.  It is beautifully designed and illustrated by Tom Jellett. A great book for children aged 5-8 years.

7. 'Triangle' by Mac Barnett & illustrated by Jon Klassen

Meet Triangle. He is going to play a sneaky trick on his friend, Square. Or so Triangle thinks. . . . With this first tale in a new trilogy, partners in crime Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen will have readers wondering just who they can trust in a richly imagined world of shapes. Visually stunning and full of wry humor, here is a perfectly paced treat that could come only from the minds of two of today's most irreverent — and talented — picture book creators.

Multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling duo Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen work again on this hilarious story in image and just a 'few' words.  Some sneaky shapes try to outwit one another. I just love their work. Geometry has never been so entertaining!!

8. 'How Does My Home Work?' by Chris Butterworth & illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti

In this book, almost every question a child aged 3-8 could ask has been answered in words and illustrations. With delightful 'retro images' (circa 1950) the most fundamental of science, technology and engineering questions are asked.

How does flipping a switch on the wall make the lights come on? Where does the clean water that flows out of the faucet come from? What is used to keep a home warm? Travel beyond the walls and under the floors of a house to find out more about the electricity, water, and natural gas that make your home work — and find out how you can do your part to save energy and preserve these resources.

This beautiful book will delight children aged 4-8 years.

9. 'Rock Pool Secrets' by Narelle Oliver

At first glance there’s nothing much to see. But the rock pools are full of secrets. Nestling between rocks ... Hiding in the seaweed ... What creatures will you find? Discover their secrets in this flap book. Features beautiful linocut artwork by award-winning author/illustrator Narelle Oliver. Includes big, easy-to-use flaps and a glossary of rock pool creatures.

I've been a fan of Narelle Oliver's work for some time, and this book doesn't disappoint. Stunningly illustrated images of the wonders of rock pools, with an innovative book design that allows fold out pages to allow children to scan the detailed images while reading the well-written text that draws readers into an examination of the images. Great book for children aged 3-8 years.

B. Books that 'Tell' stories about the human condition

In this category, the stories all illuminate some aspect of the deeper human condition, including dementia, problems with reading, and anxiety.

10. 'Grandma Forgets' by Paul Russel & illustrated by Nicky Johnson

When your grandmother can't remember your name, it should be sad, but maybe it is just an opportunity to tell her more often how much you love her. Grandma Forgets is the heart-warming story of a family bound by love as they cope with their grandma's dementia. Over the years, the little girl has built up a treasure trove of memories of time spent with Grandma: sausages for Sunday lunch, driving in her sky-blue car to the beach, climbing her apple trees while she baked a delicious apple pie, and her comforting hugs during wild storms. But now, Grandma can't remember those memories.

This is a wonderfully warm and engaging story that deals with the depth of love within families and how a shared history of memories and relationship can help families to deal with the challenges of Dementia. This is a topic overlooked by children's literature but memory loss will be a part of the lives of many children and grandchildren as they grow up, and also when they grow old themselves. Well suited as a read aloud for children aged 5-8 years.

11. 'Madelaine Finn and Library Dog' by Lisa Papp

I wrote a post about as Pets as Therapy for struggling readers some time ago, and this wonderful book picks up on this wonderful idea in this delightful book.

Madeline Finn doesn't like to read. But she covets a gold star from her teacher, but she knows that these are for good readers. How can she ever earn one?

Fortunately, Madeline Finn meets Bonnie, a library dog. Reading out loud to Bonnie isn't so bad; when Madeline Finn gets stuck, Bonnie doesn't mind. As it turns out, it's fun to read when you're not afraid of making mistakes. Bonnie teaches Madeline Finn that it's okay to go slow. And to keep trying.

This is a beautifully illustrated book with a simple but compelling text. Lisa Papp has written an inspiring book for every struggling reader who ever wanted that gold star but couldn't see how to earn it. Perfect book for children aged 4-7 years. Also, a great read aloud.

12. 'Niko Draws a Feeling' by Bob Raczka & illustrated by Simone Shin

This book almost made me cry. It is the sweetest tale written with such sensitivity. It is without a doubt one of the stand out picture books of the year for me.  Niko constantly draws his world in 'scribbles' and colour, shapes and lines. Bright coloured crayons are his tool of choice, and his work is constant. As he sees things that inspire him, he draws: a mother bird in her nest, the 'ring-a-ling' of an ice cream truck, ideas that 'flit through the open window like a butterfly' ... But to most his drawing seems to be scribble, until but one day things change.

No-one seems to understand him or his drawings. He tapes many of them to his walls. One day, as he looks in the mirror he draws another one of himself, and tapes it on the back of his door where no-one can see it. But one day, a girl called Iris moves in next door, and she sees his pad and crayons. She asks him do you draw? When he says yes, she says "Can I see them?" Niko says "You might not like them." "But I might" Iris answers. He shows her and she stumbles across his drawing behind the door. "Wow" she says, " ... you must have been sad when you made this picture." And "Suddenly, Niko felt a window opening in his brain."

This is a beautiful and powerful story about loneliness, isolation, and our need for love and understanding, as well as the place that drawing can play in self-expression. This is a wonderful book from author Bob Raczka, who has written many books on art and poetry. The illustrator Simone Shin has been drawing like Niko since she was a small child. A great read aloud book for children aged 3-7.

C. Books that 'Tell' Stories

This category includes books that primarily set out to present engaging narratives for young readers.

13. 'His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story' by Sally Lloyd-Jones & illustrated by David Roberts

Once upon a time there was a happy family: A mum, a dad, a gerbil, and the most beautifulest, cleverest, ever so kindest Princess Marianna. Until one horrible no good day when a new ruler was born...

This wonderful writer and illustrator team has created a special fairy tale about a little girl with a new baby brother. There are many books that give traditional story lines a twist for effect. So many, that it's hard to make one stand out. This delightful tale, is so outrageously over the top in its caricature of the bratty baby prince who pushes his princess sister Marianna into the background, that it makes its own special contribution to the many fractured fairytales. The clever writing, magical illustrations and clever use of absurd words like 'beautifulest', 'ever-so-kindest', 'His Royal Clean-and-sparklyness', and 'His One-and-Only-Spoiltness' make this one stand out. It does help that we have a New York Times best-selling author and Kate Greenaway shortlisted illustrator.

This is a 'must-have' in any library and perfect for readers aged 4-8 years.  

14. 'I Want to Be in a Scary Story' by Sean Taylor & illustrated by Jean Jullien

Monster may think he wants to be in a scary story, but then again . . . A hilarious return by the team that brought us Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise.

Jean Jullien's bright and dramatic cartoon-like illustrations are ideal for a 'scary' story for young readers. A scary little monster starts his day by declaring that he wants to be in a story! But what sort? And where will it be set? Perhaps in a dark and scary forest. But is this story just a little too scary for our brave central character? Is this what he had in mind? Perhaps HE should be doing the scaring?!

A delightful and funny story by a great team. Great readalong book for 4-6 year olds.

15. 'On the Night of the Shooting Star' by Amy Hest & illustrated by Jenni Desmond

For solitary neighbors Bunny and Dog, reticence overcomes curiosity — until something extraordinary happens to nudge them into friendship.

Bunny and Dog are the most delightful central characters, Jeni Desmonds illustrations give them unmistakable personalities that make them so easy to love. While Amy Hest's text is lyrical and warm, that gives depth to each character and the flowering of a relationship before our eyes.

A special book that readers will enjoy as a class read aloud, or at bedtime when curled up for the night under the covers, just like Bunny and Dog each night. Perfect for readers aged 3-7 years.

16. 'Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros' by Meg McKinlay & illustrated by Leila Rudge

“Don’t you wish,” said the small rhinoceros, “that you could see the world?” And so begins this delightful picture book by award-winning creators Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge.

Once, there was a small rhinoceros who wanted to see the big world. So, she built a boat. And sailed away ... 
And so, begins a delightful tale of a young rhinoceros who isn't simply content to wallow in the mud. This small rhino dreams of what lies beyond, and one day she decides to build a boat and sail away. This is a book for young dreamers, who aren't content simply to stay close to the ordinary and the normal. This is a story for young adventurers just like this small rhinoceros.

A wonderful picture book from the sensational Australian award-winning picture that gave us 'No Bears'.

17. 'Leaf' by Sandra Dieckmann

When a polar bear arrives unexpectedly in the woods, the animals fear and avoid him, suspecting him to be dangerous - and his habit of collecting leaves only adds to their distrust. Then one day, they watch as he attempts to fly over the water with wings made of colorful leaves...just trying to go home.

Maybe he needs some help?

Sandra Dieckmann's illustrations are masterful. Every plate is a delight to gaze upon and ponder the detail and magic in each one. The angular and geometric forms and rich colours will have children pawing over these illustrations. The animals almost jump from the pages. Her text has that great economy of language that marks great children's books:

"Crow saw it first. The strange white creature, carried upon the dark waves toward the shore. It was unlike anything the animals of the wild wood had seen before. It made its home in the old, overgrown cave on the hill. 

No one had lived there for as long as they could remember, and no one dared approach now."

Wonderful! Every library should have this book. Ideal as a shared book for young readers (4-7 years), or as individual reading for 6-8 year olds.

18. 'BaabWaa & Wooliam' by David Elliott & illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Baabwaa is a sheep who loves to knit. Wooliam is a sheep who loves to read. It sounds a bit boring, but they like it. Then, quite unexpectedly, a third sheep shows up. A funny-looking sheep who wears a tattered wool coat and has long, dreadfully decaying teeth. Wooliam, being well-read, recognizes their new acquaintance: the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing! The wolf is so flattered to discover his literary reputation precedes him that he stops trying to eat Baabwaa and Wooliam. And a discovery by the sheep turns the encounter into an unexpected friendship.

This is a very funny book that young readers will find entertaining. Melissa Sweet's slightly caricatured illustrations in line and watercolour, will captivate young readers. Each image will draw readers in, and will make it hard to turn each page, until they have pondered every detail. With strong themes that focus on friendship and even dental hygiene for Baabwaa the sneaky fox, this book will be a great shared book experience for children aged 4-7, or for personal reading for 6-8 year olds.

19. 'The Secret of Black Rock' by Joe Todd-Stanton

Erin loves to lie on the jetty, looking for the weirdest fish in the sea—the weirder, the better! And she knows the best ones must be further out, where her mum won't let her go . . .
Out there in the deepest sea lies the Black Rock: a huge, dark and spiky mass that is said to destroy any boats that come near it! Can Erin uncover the truth behind this mysterious legend?

This is a wonderful mystery tale for young readers, with simple and economical text and rich full colour watercolour plates that have a slight retro feel. The illustrations are very special offering echoes of some picture books from the 1940s and 1950s like 'The Little Island' by Golden MacDonald & illustrated by Leonard Weisgard (Caldecott Award winner in 1946). And the text has mystery and a just ending that is heart-warming. A delightful book for readers aged 5-8 years.

20. 'Finn and Puss' by Robert Vescio & illustrated by Melissa Mackie

Finn, a young boy, is lonely. Puss, a cat, is lost. Then Finn and Puss meet. Suddenly Finn isn’t lonely anymore, and Puss seems quite happy to be with Finn, too.

This wonderful story has just 76 words, soft watercolour images, and a simplicity that leaves a lot of space for the imaginations of young readers as it explores hope, loneliness, honesty, friendship and how to make right choices. 
A beautiful book that would make a great shared book for 5-6 year old class groups or wonderful shared reading for children aged 3-7 years.

Monday, October 23, 2017

5 Ways to Make Homework Exciting

Far too often homework is assigned by teachers to satisfy parents who somehow believe that if their child doesn't do extra work at home that they will fall behind. As well, homework set by schools can often be the same as work set at school. There is little point in either of these practices. I've written previously about what's wrong with the way many schools do homework (HERE).

Instead, of making homework such a ritual and repetitive waste of time why not assign homework as a way for children to learn new things, develop unique knowledge and experience and to grow in confidence as learners.

Here are 5 Words that can shape exciting homework: 

Above: Sam goes fishing!






Each of the above key words can offer gateways to learning. These simple words open up possibilities to expand learning, while words like copy, memorize, drill, and practice tend to reflect practices that often limit options. Of course, the latter are still ways that we can learn, memorization, some drill etc., have a place in school learning. But at the end of a full day at school, they should not be the key focus of homework. Instead, as a parent I'd suggest that you offer options for your children that will open their world to discovery, new things and different ways to reflect on their learning. In my view, learning at home should expand upon what happens at school, not simply mimic or copy it.

Some simple ideas to illustrate

1. Imagine

Above: A cubby made from a box
Ideas to encourage imagination will vary depending on age and your child's interests. Here's a simple idea for a 6-year-old. Ask your children (alone or with other siblings) to make a cave using blankets (call it a cubby or a cabin if you like), a dining room table and some cushions. Allow them to 'furnish' the cave with some special things. Perhaps some books, a torch, paper, a game and so on. Ask them to imagine that they are in this cave deep in a forest overnight and cannot get home till the next day. Ask them to sit in their cave and write down:
  • Where it is located and how they might have got there?
  • How they will get food for night?
  • How could they find a water source?
  • What will they eat?
  • Will they need any protection?
  • How might they get back home?
Get them to draw the site where their cave is located to illustrate their answers to the above questions. There are of course numerous variations on this idea.

2. Explore

Ask your child or children to choose a piece of ground that is roughly 6 square metres in area (3 x 2 metres) in their back yard or a nearby park.

Have them observe this area. Ask them to:
  • Draw the space.
  • Identify and label living and inanimate objects that are located on the ground. If possible give them some small hand tools to dig a few test holes (give them some simple specifications, e.g. no hole bigger than a breakfast bowl).
  • With permission allow them to select 3 plant samples. Draw them. Smell them. Touch them and describe them using single words.
  • Ask them to record any living things.
  • Draw what they find and label them.
3. Describe

In keeping with the above backyard theme, why not ask your child or children to take part in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count (if you are from another country you may be able to do something like this in your own country). This is occurring from 23-29 October in Australia, and is part of National Bird week. In essence it asks people to observe for 20 minutes per day in their own back yard, or somewhere in the wider community. There is an app that you can download that makes it very simple. The hope is to we will learn about the bird life using this community based sampling method. It will also raise awareness of our wildlife and encourage a love of birds.

This is designed to be a 20-minute task each day for 7 days, that you would perhaps need to help them with to start. This would work well for children aged 4-6 with some assistance and perhaps independently for children aged 7+. Of course, you could do your own version of this.

4. Draw

Drawing is a wonderful way for children to express their imaginations, or to simply try to represent the world in a different way. While in much of our life we use words to describe what we see, to reflect on our experiences, share some aspect of learning, record the events of our life and so on, drawing can easily substitute for words or be used in association with words. The drawing below is one of my favourite drawings from one of my grandchildren. I was visiting the Aquarium in Sydney with him aged 4 years. When we got home he drew this picture. When I asked him to describe what he had drawn he pointed out how this was a drawing that showed how the fish might have seen us as they looked out through the glass. To draw this, he needed to imagine what it would look like from the vantage point of the fish! The drawing shows how the fish saw me as we wandered around the aquarium. What I love about this drawing is that it offers an insight into how his young mind was working. It also shows something of how he was reflecting on his experience, that he was thinking 3 dimensionally, and may well have been empathizing with the fish in the aquarium.

Above: A Drawing by a 4 year old who is taking the perspective of an aquarium fish
5. Make

Above: Using modelling clay to make real & imaginary animals
The possibilities for letting children make things are endless. I'd suggest allowing them to use craft, paper cutting, 3 dimensional objects like lego etc, to express a response to a story, a topic of interest etc. Whatever this might be, the child has the chance to represent something in 2 or 3 dimensions. This offer a different way for children to reflect on their learning, whether it is a creative  response to literature, or a way to represent some aspect of a topic they are studying at school. As with drawing, making things, like drawing, allows child to explore varied aspects of the topic and perhaps to see it in different ways when words are not the only option (whether spoken or written).

Above: Using a different way to show the sea creatures observed
Above: A game that Sam made that follows a story sequence

Other related posts

Other posts that address creativity, imagination and play (HERE)

A post on 29 children's books that feature birds (HERE)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Early Childhood Literacy Learning: FREE Resources to Download

I'm proud to share the details of a brand new resource for parents and carers, for which I am one of the authors. 'Little People's Literacy Learning: A Guide for Engaging Parents & Carers' (Anita Ayre & Trevor Cairney) is now available FREE to download. My co-author Anita Ayre conceived the need for a book for new parents, while trying to help her son and daughter-in-law with their first child. They were keen to tap Anita's knowledge of early childhood learning. Part way through the development of the resource, representatives of the Australian Literacy Educators' Association approached me and asked whether I might team up with Anita on this project. After meeting with Anita, and realizing that we shared a common passion for early childhood learning, I agreed to be part of the project.

Initially it was to be a resource book, but ALEA suggested that it might have wider coverage as a downloadable free resource for parents presented in bite sized chunks. In all, 18 of the 26 modules are already available free to download HERE.

Module 1: Learning the names of body parts
Module 2: Exploring Fine Motor Development
Module 3: Similarities and Differences
Module 4: Orientation
Module 5: Relationships between Objects
Module 6: Speaking
Module 7: Reading and Learning
Module 8: Writing
Module 9: Spelling
Module 10: Organisation
Module 11: Gross Motor Development
Module 12: Listening
Module 13: Reading
Module 14: Learning about Books
Module 15: Visual Discrimination
Module 16: Developing Memory
Module 17: Word Recognition
Module 18: Rhythm 
The resource is designed to be dipped into as parents see the need to explore specific topics. Please note: More modules have been written and will be released progressively as the designers complete them.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Childrens' Book Council Award Winners 2017

The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) winners and honour books for 2017 have just been announced and are reviewed below. As usual, the announcement has coincided with Children's Book Week. The CBCA also publishes a number of lists (by age) of 'Notable' books each year which can be found HERE.

1. Picture book


'Home in the Rain' by Bob Graham (Walker Books)

Bob Graham has been one of my favourite Australian author/illustrators for over 30 years. His work has been widely acknowledged and awarded, including the award of the Kate Greenaway Medal for his picture book 'Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child' (Walker Books).

He has the ability to create novel, engaging and inspiring picture books that move children of all ages. 'Home in the Rain' is the story of a family awaiting the birth of a child, with a storm pouring down outside.

As Francie and her Mum drive along a highway at night, they are buffeted by a violent storm. They park by the highway to wait it out. The wait inspires a name for an unborn baby sister in a tender, exquisitely observed tale.

A sister is coming soon, and as they wait in their car in a picnic area for the rain to ease, Francie wonders, what will they call her? When the windows fog up, Francie spells out Dad, Mum, and her own name with her finger.

What else might she write on it?  Perhaps the name of Francie’s soon-to-arrive baby sister. The rain stops and they head back to the highway again. Francie and her mum ponder the name, as they head along the road and stop for fuel. What will it be?

Bob Graham has a habit of taking the things of daily life, and telling stories that are laced with deeper meanings. And yet, he tells his tales with utter simplicity, adorned by his wonderful images. This book will be loved by children aged 6+ as well as their parents. It is a worthy winner of the CBCA award for picture book of the year.

Honour books                 

Mechanica, by Lance Balchin (Five Mile Press)

Welcome to future Earth. Despite repeated warnings, the environment has become polluted to such an extent that many areas of the globe have become uninhabitable, and wildlife is now extinct. From the ashes, a new style of ‘wildlife’ is created. Wildlife that will not remain harnessed by humankind.
Welcome to the world of Mechanica.

This is a stunning book, that has been created by Lance Balchin. It is an encyclopedia of Mechanica creatures with a fictional narrative.
The Patchwork Bike, by Maxine Beneba Clarke and illustrated by Van T Rudd (Lothian)

When you live in a village at the edge of the No-Go Desert, you need to make your own fun. That's when you and your brothers get inventive and build a bike from scratch, using everyday items like an old milk pot (maybe mum is still using it, maybe not) and a used flour sack. You can even make a numberplate from bark, if you want. The end result is a spectacular bike, perfect for going bumpity-bump over sandhills, past your fed-up mum and right through your mud-for-walls home.

This is a wonderful story by award-winning author Maxine Beneba Clarke, that is beautifully illustrated in a unique style for a picture book by street artist Van T Rudd.

 2. Early childhood Winner

Go Home, Cheeky Animals! by Johanna Bell, and illustrated by Dion Beasley (Allen & Unwin)  

The winner this year of the Early Childhood category is 'Go Home, Cheeky Animals!' It has been written by Johanna Bell and illustrated by Dion Beasley, an artist with multiple disabilities. 

It is a sequel to their highly acclaimed 'Too Many Cheeky Dogs', which was published in 2013, and given to Princess Charlotte as a present. It is a wonderful book that children will find engaging and fun.

At Canteen Creek where we live, there are cheeky dogs everywhere. But when the cheeky goats, donkeys, buffaloes and camels make mischief in the camp, the dogs just lie there - until those pesky animals really go too far. Then the cheeky camp dogs roar into action!

This is a very funny story that will make anyone laugh. It speaks of home, family and our connection to place. The author Johanna Bell lives in Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia (NT), and is a storyteller who contributes to many projects as a creative producer and writer. Dion Beasley is well known for his Cheeky Dogs brand. He lives in remote Tennant Creek (NT).

At Canteen Creek where we live, there are cheeky dogs everywhere. But when the cheeky goats, donkeys, buffaloes and camels make mischief in the camp, the dogs just lie there - until those pesky animals really go too far. Then the cheeky camp dogs roar into action!

Honour books 

Nannie Loves, by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press)

Nannie lives on a farm with rolling hills, a muddy creek, and lots of animals. But what Nannie loves most is when her family comes to stay.

This is a delightful story with minimal text, that is related closely to the images. It tells us about Nannie, and the things she likes - Sunday lunch, Grandpa, Sunday lunch with her family. Then of course her dog, chooks, and even the sheep when they get into her vegetable patch. Kylie Dunstan's delightful 'soft' images offer a rich representation of the characters and life. Children will enjoy this simply story that will engage them at many levels.

Gary, Leila Rudge (Walker Books)

Gary the pigeon can't fly. When his racing pigeon friends head off in their travel basket, Gary stays at home. He organises his scrapbook of travel mementos and dreams about the adventures the other pigeons are having. But when Gary accidentally ends up a very long way from home, he discovers that flying is not the only way to have adventures.

Like most great picture books this simple tale (at one level) manages to deal with varied issues while telling a page-turning story.  Gary the racing pigeon needs to overcome some fears. Instead of heading off in races like other pigeons, Gary doesn't. He 'can't' fly! Instead, he stays at home to record other pigeon's journeys in his scrapbook. But one day Gary falls into a travel basket, and suddenly ends up a long way from home. By good fortune he has his scrapbook (it fell in too), and this helps him to plot his way back. It's his brain rather than his flying skill that gets him home.

The story and Rudge's delicately drawn illustrations work together brilliantly to create a memorable picture book that children will want to revisit. This is a book that has it all - it's funny, it has a challenging story, and it speaks into the hidden desires and fears of many children.

3. Younger readers 


'Rockhopping' (Trace Balla, A&U)

This is the story of an eventful hike in Gariwerd (the Grampians), from the creator of the multi-award-winning 'Rivertime'.  Trace Balla uses traditional Indigenous names and common names for places as well as referring to aspects of Aboriginal culture throughout the book.

This book is a celebration of Australia's Indigenous heritage, their land, its animals and their life. Clancy and Uncle Egg take us on quite a journey. I just love the simple line and watercolour images in this book that children will look at again and again.


'Dragonfly Song' (Wendy Orr, A&U)

Abandoned by the priestess of the island at birth, Aissa is an outcast, surviving by her wits - until she joins the acrobatic bull dancers who are sent away to compete on the island of the Bull King. A gripping and powerful adventure by acclaimed author Wendy Orr.

Wendy Orr, the author of Nim's Island, introduces a resourceful and resilient heroine for slightly older readers. Inspired by an archeological trip to the island of Crete, where frescoes show figures leaping over the backs of bulls, Orr weaves an intriguing mythological portrayal of the Bronze Age Minoan civilization. Lyrically written and refreshingly unpredictable, Dragonfly Song suggests a fascinating origin for the legend of the Minotaur and his dark tribute. (Publisher)

This book feels a little old for junior readers, suitable for readers aged 11-13 years.

'Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade' (Kate Temple, Jol Temple & John Foye, A&U)

Jimmy Cook is finding History Week a bit boring until Ms Fennel starts banging on about Captain Cook. Then - bingo! Turns out he and Captain Cook have a lot in common. Here are three of the big ones: they are both named James Cook; they are both great explorers; and they both look great in a tricorn hat. Funny fiction for those who love Tom Gates and Timmy Failure.

Suitable for readers 7-11 years

4. Older readers 


'One Would Think the Deep' (Claire Zorn, UQP)

This title comes from award-winning author Claire Zorn of  who gave us 'The Protected' and 'The Sky So Heavy'. It is a ground-breaking young adult story about lost young men. It is available in paperback or as an e-book.

Sam stared at the picture of the boy about to be tipped off the edge of the world: the crushing weight of water about to pummel him. Sam knew that moment exactly, the disbelief that what was about to happen could even be possible. The intake of breath before the flood.

This is a book that deals with issues of grief and belonging. It is set in 1997, and the main character Sam is mourning the loss of his mother. With not much more than his skateboard and a garbage bag of belongings, Sam heads off to live with people who his Mum had severed her ties with 7 years before, his Aunty Lorraine and his two cousins Shane & Minty. He joins them in their surfing passion, and some ghosts from his past reappear. How will he cope with this? What is the path that he will take?

This is a Young Adult book suitable for readers aged 16+ years.

Honour books

'Words in Deep Blue' (Cath Crowley, Macmillan)

This is a beautiful, vivid and deeply moving story about a refugee boy who has spent his entire life living in a detention centre. This novel reminds us all of the importance of freedom, hope, and the power of a story to speak for anyone who’s ever struggled to find a safe home.

'The Bone Sparrow' by Fraillon Zana

Subhi's imagination is as big as the ocean and wide as the sky, but his world is much smaller: he's spent his whole life in an immigration detention centre. 'The Bone Sparrow' is a powerful, heartbreaking, sometimes funny and ultimately uplifting hymn to freedom and love.

5. Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

'Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks' (Gina M Newton, NLA Publishing)

With its enticing and colourful design and its fascinating information, this is a book that children will want to pore over-either at home, in the classroom or on a road trip. This book brings together 55 national parks, selected across all Australian states and territories, and over 120 animals.

Honour books 

'Endangered Animals', Jennifer Cossins (Red Parka Press)

This beautifully illustrated full-colour picture book is packed with interesting facts and is perfect for young conservationists and students alike with a keen interest in the world around us.

'The Gigantic Book of Genes', Lorna Hendry (Wild Dog Books)

Genes are the blueprint for life. They are found inside the cells of all living organisms, and are responsible for how a plant or animal looks and grows. Welcome to the gigantic book of genes!

6. Crichton Award for Debut Illustrator  

Above: Self portrait of Van-T-Rudd

The winner of this prestigious award is Van T Rudd for 'The Patchwork Bike' (Maxine Beneba Clarke, Lothian). This book is reviewed above. It was an Honour book in the Picture Book category.

Friday, August 18, 2017

5 Ways to Make STEM Exciting

Above: Year 7-10 Students Listen to Guest Scientists

I had the chance to inspect the work of Year 7-10 students at a Girl's Secondary School in Sydney on Monday evening. It was an amazing feast of STEM project work. So much excitement, and so much wonderful teaching and student learning. This was education at its best, as students enjoyed and celebrated each other's work and the challenge of a possible scientific future.

It seemed to me that the teachers and the school were doing five fundamental things well:

1. Making STEM interesting above all else
2. Creating exciting opportunities for learning
3. Giving emphasis to experimentation, problem solving and curiosity
4. Considering real life applications
5. Enabling lots of first-hand experience

Students at the school were displaying and explaining their STEM projects to parents and teachers, and the scientific experiments and inventions were being assessed as they hosted and explained their projects. The night started with four outstanding scientists from universities and research organizations, challenging the girls to consider the varied options for a science career - research, invention, social good, teaching etc. We then had the chance to look at the exciting project work that the students had just completed. This was varied and of high quality, and students were near their work ready to explain their research findings or their invention.

a) Designing and completing scientific experiments

Three separate floors were devoted to almost 200 original projects as well as activity areas. Each topic was chosen by the student within some basic parameters of scientific method, project design etc. Here are some samples.

What is the ideal number of worms to decompose waste in a home worm farm? This clever student discovered that 500 worms were better than 1000 in producing a great volume of liquid fertilizer. I asked her to tell offer me her interpretation for this outcome and she was able to speculate why this was so.  The method was described well, the hypothesis and variables clear and sound. More future research to come!

The best music for Musical Therapy? Another student investigated whether there is an ideal type of music that is better for therapy? Is there a relationship between specific musical waves and effectiveness?

Does the volume of water affect the optimum setting time for jelly? Another considered whether there is an optimum volume of water to reduce time and yet preserve quality?

b) Inventions

A number of girls chose to come up with a novel invention. One girl in year 9 decided to design an adjustable child's chair that could be adjusted in height, distance from the floor and so on. Her aim was to allow a chair to be changed in multiple ways as a child grew, so that the back, seat and foot rest were properly located to allowing excellent ergonomic qualities.

Another girl in year 8 tried to invent a picnic rug that would repel ants. She designed a clever edging that was soaked in natural oils and was shown to be very effective. 

Above: The novel edged blanket and the report
c) Good Urban Design

Year 7 girls were all asked to design a sustainable house that not only used appropriate sustainable materials, but was energy efficient when constructed. Their 3D models were supported by their theoretical essays that were of high quality. This design had what you would expect: outstanding materials with great thermal qualities; correct orientation to the sun in the designated city they were allocated; energy conserving strategies and so on. The model below had all of these qualities as well as a green rooftop garden that reduced water runoff, and also had outstanding thermal and insulating qualities. It also required reuse of all natural water, self-sustaining solar power, and much more.

d) Experimentation with robotics

Above: A mass of materials
The evening also had a number of locations that allowed scientific experimentation in chemistry, aeronautics and robotics. The robotics station was one of the most popular places to be.

Throughout the night, teachers were interacting with their students and offering advice and encouragement to manipulate the position of motors, materials, writing tools and so on.  The girls gained great satisfaction from seeing their Bots moving and eventually making them work.

One of the most popular activities was the creation of tiny Bots that use the simple vibration of motors and balance to create movement. The exercise was to get your Bot to move, and at the same time scribe a circle pattern. Lots of fun, and a good introduction to many fundamental elements of robotics.

Above: Some of the Bots in action
e) Celebrating STEM

One other thing that impressed me about this school was the way STEM was being celebrated and shared amongst students. It was cool to be doing STEM at this school, and fun!

Above: STEM news, ideas and celebration