About biancah80

Head Teacher of Teaching and Learning at a public high school on Sydney's Northern Beaches. Happily married & mum of 2 boys. My blog: www.biancahewes.wordpress.com


Last week I was looking through my Canva account, trying to find a project outline that someone on the Australian PBL Network asked me about. Whilst I was looking, I realised that I had quite a lot of project outlines that I have created just sitting around currently not being used. So… I shared them all via the Australian PBL Network!!  The response was great, so I have decided to share them here on my blog as well, because maybe you’re not a FB type, or maybe you might stumble across these through some other means.

If you haven’t tried out Canva, you totally should! It’s this great online tool that allows you to make your documents look really pretty, even if you’re not that good at design. I use it to make all of my project outlines now – it’s so easy!

These project outlines are all based on my PBL model, which is explained in my two books Are Humans Wild At Heart? and Why Do We Tell Stories? Both of these are published through Hawker Brownlow Education and are full of projects for English teachers to run with their students.

Please, please if you use these projects OR if you use my model of PBL (discover, create, share), it would mean SOOO much to me if you credited my work. Many of the Praxis projects below were co-created with my very creative colleagues James Blanch and Kate Munro. Please respect our hard work by being thoughtful in your acknowledgement of your sources. 🙂




Can we build a strong and attractive 1m bridge from basic materials_


How can video games nurture empathy, and transform society for the better_NEWS SIM (2)Revolutions - PraxisWhy should Northern Beaches' teens care about equality_11234


Yr 8 ShakespeareYEAR 11 OTHELLO CRITICALThe UniverseDiscover...Cheertryouts



How can we make MSC a sun safe school_


Looking to the future with optimism, thanks #futurefrontiers

It’s been over 6 months since my last blog post. I can’t pinpoint one exact reason for this, but I do know that not writing here has led to me tweeting snippets of things I’ve done and things I feel, and sometimes those snippets get lost or misconstrued. So, I’m back!

On Tuesday of this week I was invited to attend the launch of the latest discussion paper commissioned by the DoE for their Education for a Changing World project. You can find the paper here. The launch featured a panel discussion titled Future Frontiers: Educating for 2040. You can watch a video of the panel here (if you watch closely you will see me and Lee in the second row from the front, tweeting like mad, and also being silly). The discussion once again brought up the issues raised in my last blog post (also related to the Education for a Changing World project – no, I’ve not been asked to write posts about these things by anyone in the DoE, I am genuinely promoted to after each event) regarding the current state of education in Australia, and what needs to be maintained, changed or removed from this system in order to ensure the kindy kids of today are fully ready for life after school in 2040. The panellists were all really well chosen for this purpose: Prof John Buchanan (Head of the Discipline of Business Analytics, Sydney University), Stacey Quince (Principal, Campbelltown Performing Arts High School), Emma Hogan (NSW Public Service Commissioner and former executive at Foxtel and Qantas),  Dr Sandra Peter (Director, Sydney Business Insights, Sydney University) and Prof Rafael Calvo (ARC Future Fellow and Director of the Software Engineering Group, Sydney University).

I am a big fan of Stacey Quince and the great work she is doing at her school, and once again she spoke confidently and with experience about how schools are, and can be, preparing young people to be active and engaged citizens in a world that is changing. Her school’s current focus on high quality cross-KLA PBL in Stage 4,  frequent public exhibitions of students’ learning, and meaningful connections between the school and the local community, is the end result of over a decade of thoughtful redesign of curriculum. I also was impressed with the honesty of Emma Hogan with regards to her concerns for her own children, reminding us that the students in our care now are at risk of becoming increasingly anxious due to the dual/duelling school narratives they are exposed to – STEM and innovation vs. NAPLAN and HSC – both of which are telling them that without success in each they will not be able to have fulfilling careers, and thus prosper in life. We really, really need to think about these kids because the truly are caught between the traditional education system and the purported education revolution, which is causing great distress and confusion, rather than the claimed excitement and sense of opportunity. How can we address this meaningfully NOW? Hearing John Buchanan speak for the first time ever was awesome – he strikes me a true thinker, and really a bit of a punk in his advocating for teacher agency and the need to shake up the business sector and make them stand up and DO something to support the coming shifts in education, not just (as he said) stand on the sidelines and throw grenades. I think the media does this too, and I’m eager to be part of the movement that (as Emma Albericie said to me) ensures that the ‘good stories of education are being told). Finally, I liked what Sandra Peter and Rafael Calvo had to say about technology (especially AI) – firstly, the usual, we don’t need to be scared of being taken over by killer robots, we need to be more optimistic about the potential of AI, and have our young people thing of its potential to create a utopia and not a dystopia. Calvo said some great stuff about our need to be mindful about the nature of this AI revolution – it is not a physical revolution like the Industrial Revolution, but rather a cognitive revolution. This means a narrow focus on workplace skills (often claimed to be 21st century skills) is not enough. We need to be designing learning experiences that develop empathy, ethics, resilience, flexibility, agency, and an eagerness to continue learning. Nothing new here, but it’s is important so it’s worth repeating. Interestingly, Calvo warned about the increasing power of tech companies, and the fact that even now they are using algorithms to control human decisions and actions – we need to ensure our young people are equipped to understand this process, and to challenge it where necessary

After listening to this panel, and speaking with my DPs about the conference they attended last week (where they heard from the inspiring and impressive Asssociate Professor Alison Beavis, Deputy Dean UTS, leading the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation), I had a really productive future-focused meeting with my senior executive, where we put on the table what our students need, and ways to achieve that. I’m not currently at a place to write all that up just now, but let’s just say that I’m excited. And me being excited is a big deal, given my battle with purpose and direction over the last 6 months. Basically it’s all coming together, and I know it sounds like I’m sucking up to my boss, and that’s not very punk of me at all, but I have to thank the Future Frontiers team for that. The culture of the DoE (at least from up the very top) has shifted direction, and it’s filtering down… obviously there are INCREDIBLE blockers to schools being able to genuinely reshape how this education thing is done, but at least we have the research and the conversation happening. Next comes the funding to actualise the change, am I right? 😉

Education for a Changing World – debrief of Day Two #futurefrontiers

It’s now been a whole week since the Education for a Changing World Symposium… and boy how quickly do we come back down to earth when we step foot into school! Schools are such bizarre places, having the potential to elevate you to moments of pure joy, and then swiftly crush you with moments of cruel reality. That sounds dramatic, but it captures my rollercoaster week!

So, what happened on the second day of the symposium that continued the feeling of optimism about the future of education that was generated on day one? Well, lots of things – big and small – that are probably just specific to me and my experience of the day. I won’t claim that everyone there had the same unwaveringly positive experience that I had of the day (in fact, I know that some definitely did not), but as Che Guevara says ‘these lips can only describe what these eyes actually see’ and thus inevitably this is a subjective account of the symposium so ‘you can either believe me, or not; it matters little to me’ (I’m currently teaching Che’s The Motorcycle Diaries – can you tell? Haha).

Day Two – 9am-4pm, Hilton, Sydney

Opening address – Minister for Education, The Hon. Rob Stokes MP


I’m sure no one is surprised by the fact that I am not a Liberal voter. Well, you would be surprised by that if you knew I come from the Northern Beaches, live within Tony Abbott’s electorate and just a couple of suburbs down from Stokes’ office – because the Liberal party have run this peninsular for as long as there has been electorates to run… but I’m hoping you know me a little better than to assume I would support a conservative party. Seeing that Stokes was opening the second day made me a bit nervous – I understand why it makes sense to have him there, but given Genevieve Bell’s comments the day before about the social structures and systems we need and want for our future, I didn’t feel incredibly confident that Stokes’ values would align with those of most of the educators in the room. I’ll admit right here that I don’t have the depth of knowledge of politics that some of my Twitter colleagues have (like Darcy Moore and Mark O’Sullivan) but I do know that my focus is entirely on the good of the collective, and not the individual, which runs counter to the values of the Liberal Party most of the time, hence my reservations about what Stokes would contribute to the dialogue about the future of education.

Unsurprisingly Stokes spoke from the beginning about ‘progress’ being the goal ‘as we stand on the cusp of a new generation of jobs’ rather prioritising ‘change’ – which makes sense when economic rationalism is your MO. I don’t know Stokes’ background (yeah I could google it and pretend I’m knowledgable) but my guess is that he’s a fan of history, but probably not a fan of a postcolonialism (I’m guessing he hasn’t read Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion) and clearly he’s not a fan of Marx – he mentioned twice that we shouldn’t see history as a Marxist progression (I did google that one on the day, thanks Wikipedia) and what I think he was trying to say is that we shouldn’t focus on history as being linear (very postmodern). However, his repeated mention of Marx made me uncomfortable simply because (as wikipedia helped me understand) Marx’s theory of history focuses on how human society is determined by its material conditions (and these are determined by innovation), which is exactly the point that Bell was making the day before. The way that the economy responds to AI and automation is necessarily going to impact social conditions – we MUST focus on this aspect, and to ignore the impact that technology will have on who and what we become is naive. But of course, I’m sure I’ve interpreted him incorrectly – maybe he was saying we should not see history as a linear progression in which we will move from our current capitalist society into a utopian one where ‘the state will whither away and become obsolete’ (Marx)? Probs. On this topic of capitalism, I found it really intriguing that Stokes reiterated his claim that education is not a product, and that we are ‘progressing from a focus on products to a focus on one another’. These statements certainly seem to run counter to the values of his political party, and it was refreshing to hear from him. Overall I found his speech a bit hard to follow, and whilst he had the appropriate themes (the future isn’t scary, we need to value human relationships etc), for me it wasn’t coherent enough.

Educating for an AI future – Marc Tucker


I really enjoyed Marc Tucker’s second paper Educating for a Digital Future – Notes on the Curriculum where he puts forward his vision for how and why we need to change the way we educate our children in order to avoid a dystopian future. It’s both an inspiring read and a practical read – I guess for me I like it because it was an affirmation of what I have been trying to do in the way I teach, and in the way I (attempt) to lead pedagogy at my school. Tucker’s talk centred on rethinking the learning opportunities that we provide for our students. He used a phrase which will be remembered by all delegates – he said we need to move away from an education system that is focused on ‘stuffing the duck’ to one that centres on designing rich and engaging learning experiences in and outside of school. This isn’t really anything new – even my year 7 students understand the difference between a transmission style of teaching and one which facilitates engaging learning experiences that support students’ construction of knowledge and skills. However, what Tucker stresses about the community as an education ecosystem is powerful, and something that isn’t being done as well as it can be. One of the things that I tweeted on the day, which I firmly believe is true, is that ‘We need to see that school is life and life is school. There is no divide between the school world and the real world.’ The big take-away from this talk was that education and humanity are inextricably intertwined, and that as a result education can be seen as playing a significant role in the stratification of society, in the ability for a child (and thus humanity) to flourish… or not. I thought it was interesting that Tucker mentioned that the non-academic opportunities provided to students at the most elite schools in the world are often the things that  can impact the most on future success and wellbeing – such as engagement with the arts, civics and citizenship, and the business world (in terms of internships). I really admire the work that John Goh, principal of Merrylands East PS, does in this regard – he has sought out and sustained relationships with philanthropic organisations, cultural institutions, and businesses, in order to increase the opportunities and skills of his students. We need more public school principals devoting time to nurturing these types of connections, and in order to do this we should have a Department that supports these connections, helps identify them, and does nothing the stand in the way of them.

In conversation with: Marc Tucker, Catherine Livingstone, Attila Brungs
Moderator: Leslie Loble

There’s no doubt that UTS is doing some cool stuff in the space of innovation, technology and education. Having both the Chancellor (Livingston) and the Vice-Chancellor (Brungs) on the panel with Tucker, led by Leslie Loble, was a boon for us attendees. Brungs spoke about his passion for breaking down the divide between schools and uni, and uni and workplace. He also advocated for greater connections between schools and the world of work, where he wishes to see internships/apprenticeships/cadetships/work-experience for students from as young as year 7. Now, that might seem young, but I know that John Goh has his students doing work experience in year 5! I was, and am, intrigued by the work at UTS around entrepreneurship, and will be seeking out connections with their team for our year 10 ILP students who choose to work on entrepreneurial projects.

Related to the focus on school to work, the panel began discussing the skills young people need to flourish in the future and I was pleased to hear that teaching coding is not more important thank teaching children to think. This goes back to the comments made the day before about coding being a poor proxy for thinking. If you haven’t already read it, you should read Peter Ellerton’s excellent paper On Critical Thinking and Collaborative Inquiry which gets to this very point beautifully. The discussion then turned to wellbeing and the impact that technology can have on wellbeing, especially that of young people. I think this is an area that definitely needs greater attention in this discussion – once again the pertinent point is the relationship the individual has with technology,. If the relationship is passive, where the individual views technology as a product inextricably tied up with personal identity then this becomes a problem. We need to look closely at the spaces where we find really positive relationships between young people and technology – in spaces where creativity and connection are central. As always I remind the adults that the kids are doing some cool stuff, often hidden from us, and that what we need to do is acknowledge, celebrate, facilitate, these spaces and activities rather than simply condemn them. We must accept the fact that both school (with its associated pressures and expectations around assessments and results) and a society that champions materialism and consumerism have a big part to play in the wellbeing of young people.

Two big things I took away from this panel – we need to confidently and consciously build a strong ecosystem of education (school, home, community, business, cultural institutions, the natural environment, Indigenous histories and cultures) for our young people to thrive, and we must remember that when it comes to young people we must connect with their hearts before their minds (Tucker). I quite enjoyed this panel, but really would have liked it to have gone longer as I think we missed an opportunity to really hear about what UTS is doing and how we as educators can ensure our students are ready for the world of university as well as how we can emulate/adopt some of their successful innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Whilst initially I was disappointed that Marc Tucker was not physically present at the event (he missed a flight or something and was presented via video and then later via Skype) because I really wanted to meet him and talk about his paper. However, egged on by a dare from Briony Scott and a desire to beat Lee, when it came time for Q&A I shot up my hand and asked Tucker if he would be keen to have a beer with me and Lee when he was next in Australia so together we could design the dream public school. To my surprise he did the double fist pump and said yes! Haha. It seems silly, but moments like this – human moments – made day two of the symposium very important for me. I hope the beer and chat happens because (thanks to Darcy Moore) I have come to learn a bit more about Tucker and his involvement in the current state of the American education system, so I know I would enjoy chatting about his motivations for past decisions, and his commitment to the vision outlined in the occasional paper.

Responding to the challenges of an AI world: Design Thinking Part 1
Facilitator: Gauri Bhalla


I’m not going to spend too long describing these stages of the day, because they were very hands-on and collaborative (we were given a series of design thinking style challenges to work through as a table team) and therefore sort of hard to articulate. I really liked Bhalla’s energy and delivery style for this session – she is obviously an excellent teacher and made sure we weren’t spending the entire day sitting and listening. I found her overview of design thinking was appropriate to the event – it was pretty rapid-fire, but I know that the people on my table could see the benefits of using that approach to problem-solving in school. Let’s face it, we are all at the end of our first three year school plan and starting to think about what the next plan will entail, and that can be a pretty overwhelming activity. Bhalla made the prospect of solving complex problems as a team seem achievable. This first session was all about identifying shared understandings in response to this question: What will young people need to thrive in an AI enabled world? From our ideas we then had to visualise how an ecosystem to support these needs might look. You can see my table’s vision in the photo below.


Lightning Talk: Transformation in complex organisations – Commodore Chris Smallhorn

I definitely thought it was weird that we were going to be spoken to by a guy from the Navy at a symposium about AI (like, was he going to talk about killer robots?) but I was pleasantly surprised by Smallhorn’s impressive knowledge of change management, and leadership. Interestingly one of the main tenets of his discussion was the need for regulation – well, a balance between regulation and innovation. I liked his point that we need individuals who know and value the rules, and then know how to step outside of them. This is very much how I have always engaged with the ‘rules’ of education – such as our syllabuses, NAPLAN and the HSC. Curriculum is our regulation, and pedagogy is our innovation – and as was mentioned the day before, pedagogy is always seen as more fun because it is flexible and dynamic, however, the best pedagogy is grounded in a deep knowledge of the curriculum, and education research. Smallhorn was an excellent storyteller, and I think that’s why I enjoyed his talk so much – he has been instrumental in running a course on innovation and creative thinking that has assessment in the form of a ‘shark tank’ pitch session. Smallhorn is clearly an exceptional leader who values the warmth of human relationships and supporting his team to achieve their very best – we need educational leaders like him.

Lightning Talk: Implications of AI for teaching & learning – Rose Luckin


After lunch we were treated to a talk by Rose Luckin, Professor of Learner Centred Design at UCL Knowledge Lab and Director of EDUCATE: a London hub for EdTech StartUp. I had heard about Luckin from Jane Hunter, who was very eager for me to meet her (I didn’t manage to, sadly – for one I am a bit socially awkward/anxious at big events like this, and secondly she was always talking to others when I found her) because she knew we would have a lot in common. Also Jane championed her because she is a former teacher, and we teachers love it when the experts have actually been in the classroom! You can tell from Luckin’s title that she knows her stuff, and her talk was welcomed by the teachers in the room because to this point we hadn’t really had a specific focus on the role of teachers. Unfortunately it turned out that Luckin was only going to speak for a very short time – it seemed a much shorter talk than Smallhorn’s. She focused on the genuine need for us to change the way we teach now in the face of an AI future, and that we must design a curriculum which focuses primarily on developing students’ self-efficacy. This is a capability that comes up a bit in discussions about preparing young people for the future (because, duh, the future is uncertain) and Luckin unpacked it nicely, saying that self-efficacy is an all-encapsulating term for metacognitive knowledge and appropriate confidence and motivation. I like it! Luckin argued that students could be assisted in the development of their self-efficacy by AI, especially in regards to data collection and analysis. She said that teachers’ capacity to understand the ‘whole child’ and their specific needs would be enhanced by a sort of AI teaching assistant (what my team later joking called Siri Goes to School) that could make learning visible for the learner and for the teacher. This is something that Jane Hunter was telling me about in our chat about Learning Analytics a couple of weeks ago. It really is an exciting field of education work, and I am so keen for teachers, students and parents to be part of the designing of these types of applications. This was the focus for the last part of Luckin’s talk – the need to move away from relying on innovation solutions to come from the big tech corporations (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Intel etc) and to begin embracing and working with smaller start ups to problem solve and design solutions with us. At my school we already have our super smart and talented students designing the platforms and apps we need to support teaching and learning as part of their lessons, but also as passion projects – I’m looking forward to this continuing as the tech gets more integrated into our school.

Closing remarks  – Mark Scott

After another design thinking session (where we worked in our teams to design tech solutions to identified problems related to our AI future, which culminated in the winning pitches being presented in front of the room of delegates – PS: My team was a winner, lol) the day was closed by Mark Scott. Kudos to Scott for reading the room, and keeping his talk short and sweet – it was Friday afternoon, and as awesome as the symposium was we were all mentally exhausted. Scott spoke of the day as having been ‘serious play’ (which did capture my experience of the design thinking session – I had fun but also felt challenged by the big problems we were trying to solve) and acknowledging that many from within the room (and a lot from without) would be wondering ‘but what are you going to DO?’ as a result of the two days. My response was (and is) this: that you is YOU, so yes, what are you going to do?’ Thankfully Scott reminded us that innovation and creative problem-solving are contextual – we must not rush to one solution and try to impose it on all schools, teachers, students, communities. As I tweeted on the day (and which has had many responses): We must not fall for the myth that what works beautifully in one school will necessarily be as successful in another school. As Scott said: there is no one solution, we need a more agile approach, more rapid prototyping, and then (perhaps) scale from there. I added the ‘perhaps’ in there because I think ‘to scale’ has some possibly harmful connotations (I simply don’t like that phrase as to me it touches on capitalist ideas) and I would rather have a focus on showcasing, celebrating, sharing of knowledge through thoughtfully constructed networks between schools within the Department… heck, even not within the Department. Going back to John Goh as an example again, his ability to connect with and learn from education leaders and innovators within the private sector (including Catholic diocese) is something we can aspire to. Scott’s concluding metaphor was an appropriate closing of the symposium: The flight isn’t over until the debrief is done. The debriefing of the symposium will take place from now.

Well, that’s it for my debrief… which was actually more of an annotated summary, oops. Where to from here for me? Opening myself up to the visions of others, freeing myself from the tyranny of my desire to ‘do things now, now, now’, a commitment to never ‘turn down the volume’ even though others might try to make me (thanks, Briony), and an eagerness to head back into my classroom carrying with me all of the collective wisdom about how to best prepare my students for a future which is going to be awesome.

Education for a Changing World – a ‘debrief’ of Day One #futurefrontiers

Last week started with me sobbing to my (new) doctor about my increased feelings of despair, lack of energy and motivation, and general sense of mental and physical exhaustion. It ended with an unexpected sense of euphoria and renewed purpose, which I can credit solely to the Education for a Changing World symposium that I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend. I don’t share this portrait of my psychological rollercoaster for sympathy, empathy, or voyeurism, I share it because it was a genuine experience and something I know I must document for my future self, for when the reality of life as a teacher, mother, wife, author, and passionate perfectionist human overwhelms me… for those days when I feel that all I have done amounts to nothing, and that no matter how much I give it will never be enough. I’m recording this for future me.

I loved that I was invited to a symposium – just like I loved being invited to a roundtable earlier this year… there’s something about the names of both that (for silly me) is powerfully Romantic and evocative. Upon receiving my invitation to the roundtable by Secretary Mark Scott, I was overcome with thoughts of knights and grand adventures, noble deeds and fierce battle alongside brave colleagues… I even joked that I was going to wear armour and carry a sword. Of course, I didn’t do that, and the event didn’t live up to my vision (through no fault of the organisers), as life often doesn’t. However, clearly not one to learn from my experiences, when I received the symposium invitation my imagination flared again – I saw myself immersed in rich dialogue and debate, surrounded by very clever people eager to discuss very big ideas. I saw myself as an ancient Greek, sipping wine and listening sponge-like to the visions of those much smarter than me… and (thankfully) this is what I experienced on day one of the symposium. There was dialogue and drinks aplenty! The second day, whilst far less academic in its focus (and a totally dry event), brought me into contact with some incredibly talented educators – I was sat at a table with some of the loveliest people I have met – and also had me listening to some very insightful talks. So, my aim for this post is to try to reflect a little on each of the components that made up the symposium, and to (as Yeats would say) hammer it all into some type of unity, to help me better understand what it means for me as a teacher, as a leader of learning at my school, as a mum to two teenage boys, and as a human being. If you continue to read, I hope you find something within this post of use also.

N.B.: Please read the information about the symposium on this website to help contextualise my reflections below: http://educationchangingworld.com.au/ 

Day One – 2pm-7pm, Carriage Works

Secretary for Department of Education, Mark Scott’s Opening Address

The thing I like about Mark Scott is that he doesn’t mess around, preferring to clearly articulate his message without faffing about. The focus of his opening address is not new to most educators (especially those who have been following him during the first year as secretary) – basically he is worried about how we are going to change the way we teach to make sure we are catering for the new mindset and skillset that next year’s kindy kids need to have acquired before they leave school and emerge into a workforce unlike anything we have ever seen (or can honestly even properly predict). Once again Scott reinforced the important role that education plays in shaping society and its future citizens, whilst also acknowledging that there is no more complex, demanding or important institution than the education system. The complexity and inherent diversity within the institution where highlighted as challenges that we must embrace as we begin to consider how we will reimagine schooling in the coming decade. I personally loved his call to fight institutional and cultural inertia – we can’t sit back and expect someone above us to identify and fix our problems on our behalf – we can’t expect that solutions will be easy, that they will be centralised, uniform or swift. Scott reminded us that the impetus to change is coming most forcefully from outside of the education system – from the business world, as the begin to enthusiastically (and, sometimes even uncritically) embrace AI and automation. Finally, it was heartening to hear Scott acknowledge the incredible innovation already happening in schools that have long identified the need to move away from the traditional industrial model of education – those who have not sat back and waited passively for direction from above before ‘tearing apart the traditional vision of schools’. It is this that I will continue to remind all who represent the DoE, including Mark Scott, as we move from conversation to action – we cannot have our creativity and freedom as educators (those who know our students and our communities the best) curtailed by systems, tools, programs or structures designed by people from ‘without’. Lasting, quality, meaningful change does not come from above or without, but from within. What we need as educators is support – in the form of money, networking between schools (plus also cultural institutions, business, the tertiary sector, government), modelling and increased visibility of schools running proven successful programs), and access to quality resources (like free online courses, leadership training or mentoring, a range of digital tools/ICT programs not just one imposed upon schools). The one size fits all approach to schooling is naive and dangerous, and as this was part of Scott’s speech, I hope it is the one thing to which he definitely sticks.

 Dr Fang Chen – AI and Our Future 

Straight up having a woman as the first speaker was awesome – not only that, but an incredibly intelligent and inspiring individual well selected to speak on the positive impact that artificial intelligence is already having in our world. It was timely that Chen spoke about cognitive load as a lot has been made of it in edu Twitter lately thanks to a recent CESE paper, and Chen highlighted how AI has the capacity to manage cognitive load to allow humans to focus more on what we are good at such as creative problem solving. She highlighted the benefits of machine learning – the capacity to combine large sets of data to create a wholistic visual of a system, something many teachers would like to take advantage of when considering the diverse data sets often collected regarding students (wellbeing, academics, extra-curricula, engagement). I think the big takeaway from Chen’s talk was that we need to be really optimistic about the potential relationships between human beings and AI, and that there is no need to be afraid of what is to come.

Professor Peter Cook, QUT – AI and Automation

If you’ve seen Most Likely to Succeed, like I have (almost ten times), then you wouldn’t have found anything very new in Cook’s talk. He started off with a focus on robots beating humans at games (like Go), but made it very clear that despite these impressive wins and the very real likelihood that soon computers will be smarter than us, that we need not be afraid of that possibility. Currently robots are not like those presented in dystopian science fiction films, and it is a long way off before they could get to replicate human beings. Despite the fact that automation has resulted in many job losses – specifically those where people were employed to operate machines – Cook believes that automation brings with it potential job creation which we must embrace. One moment that I found very interesting in Cook’s talk was his passionate plea for us to challenge the introduction of what he called ‘robots in care’ citing concerns regarding the ethics of putting the care of our loved ones into the hands of robots. The ethics of AI and automation has been a central focus across all of the papers commissioned by the DoE for the Future Frontiers project, which I have particularly enjoyed. All authors, like Cook, have advocated for a renewed focus on the explicit teaching of ethics and philosophy to counter the very real possibility of large corporations creating quite ghastly AI ‘solutions’ to perceived problems in a society devoid of ethical regulation. It is here that education must move beyond cold curriculum content descriptors, and embrace teaching the whole child, the future citizen, to ensure our future heads towards utopia, not dystopia.

Marita Cheng  – 2012 Young Australian of the Year, and technology entrepreneur 

I didn’t write down the name of Cheng’s talk, but I do know that it centred on her impressive experience with designing technological solutions for social problems. I was particularly interested in the overseas cadetship (I think it was?) that she did with about twenty other young entrepreneurs from around the world where they were given this challenge: create something that will positively affect the lives of a billion people in the next ten years. This project (a bit like a hackathon, or Shark Tank) resulted in the creation of  the app aipoly.com which provides verbal descriptions of visual data (like photos and video) for people with vision impairments. It’s pretty amazing, and Lee and I were both excited about the possibility of using it in the classroom for a range of uses, Lee was particularly keen on it for Stage One early readers. Cheng also spoke about her current work with telepresence robots – basically it is like Skype or Google Hangouts on wheels that the viewer controls so you can tour spaces in real time from the comfort of your home, school, office etc. They are already being used by students who are in hospital to allow them to ‘move’ around their classroom as if they were there in real time. We got to try this out at the break, with Lee and I chatting with a teacher in Dunedoo – it was pretty cool seeing her control the robot to change her viewing angle etc! Feng spoke about the important role of consulting with the user when designing a piece of technology, as this ensures that it effectively addresses their needs and solves the identified problem. This got me thinking about how in an institution like the DoE we so often fail to ask the users – the students, teachers, parents, school leaders – what they want when introducing something new (especially technology) and this is unfortunate as it often results in distress and frustration, creating more problems than it solves.

Genevieve Bell – On Managing Machines 

One of the themes of the symposium was articulated nicely by Bell – ‘robots don’t want to murder us all’. I must be honest, I haven’t listened to Bell’s Boyer Lectures yet and therefore didn’t know much of her or her work before this talk. It didn’t take long for me to be an instant fan of her – she showed herself to be what I always admire in people: witty, knowledgeable, insightful, genuine, and wise. I particularly loved Bell’s talk because of its focus on the impact that innovation has on social structures and systems. She looked back briefly at the history on innovation since the Industrial Revolution, and posed the provocative question: if technology-driven revolutions have historically led to new education systems, then what does that mean for our current system and what does our future hold? She articulated the need for thoughtful discussion about what our new applied sciences system might look like, emphasising the need for a system that prioritises autonomy, agency and assurance. This conversation must bring in our social scientists, not just our technologists – specifically our philosophers, sociologists and our anthropologists. Bell’s talk was over much too quickly, but her final words continue to resonate with me and will for some time: We have a huge responsibility to do, and be, and think a little bit differently.  Schools have a great power to shape the values of the young people in our care, but so too does society have the power to shape the focus of education, thus impacting the types of values we teachers impart (both implicitly and explicitly) in our young people. Bell highlights a concern we must all be cognisant of – technology (through business interests) has the power to restructure society and if we let things go to far without public conversations about that power, it might be too late for us to have a say in the type of future we want.

AI and the Future of Life and Work Panel: Genevieve Bell, Andrew Charlton, Daniel Petre, Toby Walsh – Moderator: Mark Scott

This panel was probably my highlight of the whole symposium – it was what I imagine being at a screening of Q&A would be like, except the debate was always in good humour and not undermined by individual agendas. It was awesome getting to hear from Toby Walsh, and I do wish that he had been given his own talk on one of the two days as he is so engaging and knowledgeable. One of the best things he said was ‘the future is the product of the decisions we make today’ and I know this will stick with me personally, as a reminder of how I can shape my own future, plus that of others through the choices I make. Part of the conversation was about the dispositions that people will need to thrive (and by this the panel really meant, to some extent, to stay employed) with a strong focus on emotional intelligence. I liked the example of medical specialists, like those working in radiology or pathology, being replaced by AI whereas the demand for GPs will increase, since humans don’t want their diagnoses coming from robots. Another provocative question raised, this time by Bell, that I find important for educators given our government’s current obsession will collecting ‘learning data’ was ‘Is productivity the only metric we would like to tell us how well society is progressing?’ She garnered lots of applause from the audience for this observation, hitting a nerve with the educators in the room who too often are told by ‘those above’ that what counts as important measures of student progression is standardised test scores – we all know this is a heap of shit. In relation to this comment by Bell, Walsh pointed out that too often in this discussion about AI and the future of work there is a perverse imbalance in favour of discussing formal work – that is paid work – to the detriment of the many hours of unpaid work done mostly by women in society, as well as the very important work (like creative or social pursuits) that are a significant part of human experience.

Moving on to the second half of the panel the focus was on higher education and its capacity to provide the worked needed for future professions, with a specific discussion around those desirable dispositions for those facing an uncertain and dynamic work future: collaboration, communication, storytellers, can manage through ambiguity, risk and diversity within work teams. It was cool to hear storytelling listed as a desirable skill – it made this English teacher very happy! It also led to a discussions about the increasing (continued?) valuing of the Arts – all on the panel agreed that STEM was insufficient for future success, and that it had honestly been introduced into the political and business landscape as a (failed) proxy for thinking skills. (Everyone needs to read Peter Ellerton’s paper on Critical Thinking and Collaborative Inquiry – it is bloody brilliant, and powerfully articulates why we must move away from a culture of teaching for learning towards one that centres on teaching for thinking. I love that paper!) Bell made a great observation that we can teach abstraction and pattern recognition through poetry as well as we can through coding (with the latter, in my opinion, far more cold and detached from human experience, lacking the much needed ethical dimension)… I already planned a project with Lee to introduce his students at MEPS to some really great complex poetry! Yeah for Keats, Dickinson and Shakespeare in Year 5! Yeah, I was that one person who clapped loudly when Bell spoke so fondly of poetry and its role in education – word nerd alert!

Some final points from this panel worth noting – there wasn’t any acknowledgement of the cool stuff young people are already doing in online spaces (such as fanfiction writing, contributing to the booming bookstagram movement, nurturing their own learning networks via YouTube tutorials, collaboratively solving complex problems in MMORPGs… the list goes on!) which is an ongoing frustration for me as the mum of two teenage sons immersed in these incredible spaces; the tyranny and malfunction of NAPLAN and the HSC were only given a cursory glance when prompted by an audience member; the hypocrisy of saying in one breath that the burden of developing important future skills shouldn’t fall entirely on the shoulders of schools and then in another breath saying that school is the best way to stop your kids watching too much YouTube and playing too many games (that was Andrew Charlton) and the increasingly problematic relationship between consumerism and our technologised future.

Well, it’s now 10pm on Sunday night and since I have to run a workshop on Project Based Learning for 20 teachers tomorrow morning (to help them educate for the present, and for the future), I better stop writing and get some sleep. Yeah, I didn’t get to day two of the symposium, sorry about that – maybe I’ll get to it before the end of the week, we’ll see. I hope you can get a sense of why I have been unashamedly gushing about the symposium on Twitter – I just genuinely enjoyed the two days, maybe it was influenced by my mindset heading in, being in need of some filling up with intellectual discourse and some hope for the future, I don’t know, but I do know my comments are sincere.

Oh, and also, about 3/4 into this post I realised that you all have access to the live stream of the talks I just summarised, haha – what a fail! Oh, well, I’ve posted links to them at the bottom so you had to endure my ramblings before finding the hidden gold – sneaky! 😉

Flash talks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2G0L32NeZpI&feature=youtu.be

Panel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZvk9QS0UYE&feature=youtu.be

Finally, here is a link to all of my tweets from the two days:





Is studying the concept of ‘discovery’ essential for teenagers? A persuasive writing task for year 12 English.

About a month ago I read a post on Facebook by Kelli McGraw where she asked whether we should be teaching students a range of essay types in English, and not just the typical literary analysis essay expected in the HSC. This is something that I have often asked myself, and (through my love of teaching Orwell’s essays to my year 12 class a few years ago), I have dabbled in this area a little over the years, especially with regards to having students write personal essays to develop their argumentation and personal voice.

Kelli’s post prompted me to challenge my year 12 students to write an essay form unexpected for year 12 – the persuasive essay. Of course, thanks to NAPLAN, this form of essay is not foreign to my students, and after a quick flick through an online guide (see link in task outline below), my students were good to go! I introduced the task with a (rather long) quote from John Green (thanks to my colleague Kate for sharing this Reddit AMA link with me) in which he explains why he loves writing young adult fiction, because ‘teenagers are doing so many things for the first time’. I think what he says about teenagers asking the big questions, and facing the world with sincerity, relates nicely to the concept of discovery… and I think it explains beautifully why I love teaching teenagers. ❤

The final part of the writing task involved me selecting the best responses and publishing them on my blog! So, after you read the task, please enjoy the incredible words of the incredible young people I get to hang out with for the next 12 months.

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‘Studying the concept of discovery is essential for teenagers.’

Do you agree or disagree with the above statement? Support your position for or against the above statement with evidence from the texts we have studied in class, making comment on both the ideas about discovery explored in the texts, and the way in which these ideas have been communicated through the features of the specific forms.
Tips on writing a persuasive essay from: https://www.time4writing.com/writing-resources/writing-resourcespersuasive-essay/


Essential…absolutely necessary… extremely important… crucial… indispensable… imperative… paramount… vital…discovery. Can you spot the odd one out?

Though this initial sentiment points to the notion I am extremely adverse to the subject, I actually do believe it to have some positives, with which I will initiate this discussion upon.

The study of Discoveries is a somewhat essential element of the HSC as it provides students with an invaluable, new and developed understanding of themselves and others and of their experiences, relationships, attitudes, perspectives and values past, present and future. As indicated in the infamous rubric, Discovery can not only encompass the experience of discovering something for the first time but also rediscovering something that has been lost, forgotten or concealed. Furthermore, discoveries can vary in nature, possessing qualities of being sudden and unexpected, or emerging from a process of deliberate and careful planning evoked by curiosity, necessity or wonder.

The concept of discovery can help us to understand processes occurring within our own lives, the visual text ‘Cosita’ by Ali Chalmers-Braithwaite achieves this, illustrating to us how the experience of physical and internal discoveries can transform the perspective of an individual. The juxtaposition “Home was an unstable concept… Spain was simultaneously more familiar and more foreign than a lot of places I’d been.”  Accompanied by the gaze of the character looking outward over the horizon illustrates the broad possibilities highlighting that every circumstance for discovery is different, and results in the development of knowledge and perspective, which can help us not just to understand and associate better with others but also consolidate our emotions and discoveries to mature emotionally and intellectually. Furthermore, studying discovery can catalyse internal realisation, this process is evident in the article ‘Why do we care who Banksy is?’ By Noah Charney which can help readers to understand ‘what makes us tick’. This is demonstrated through the use of repetition and truncated sentences in “If we know a secret, we wish to reveal it. If we learn of a secret, we wish to know it.”  whereby inclusive language highlights the shared, innate desire or curiosity we share to make discoveries of things that intrigue us, serving to develop our understanding of human nature. Additionally, through analysing the discoveries of others, one can make discoveries of themselves. It’s ironic but it’s brilliant, and it is one reason why the study of discovery is essential. Such a phenomenon is exemplified through the study of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ by William Butler Yeats, which highlights the fragility and changeability of our lives; as in the causal statement “whatever is begotten, born and dies.”  Which serves to foster in our own minds the seeds of contemplation within our own lives. We begin to question the nature of our existence and conclusively form perspective on life, making us come to terms with our place in the world; helping us to realise, alongside other vital life lessons, that no; the world does not evolve around us and no; we are not immortal.

One would argue these to be important life lessons.

However…the study of discovery is not without its flaws. Flaws that, arguably, are much akin to a stubborn and insistent parent – they must not be ignored!!! Firstly, the study of discovery is complex. So very complex. Take for example again the poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, that presents to students the complexities of life and ageing. Us students already have to grapple with their tenuous transition into adulthood, some of us don’t have the mental endurance let alone capacity to withstand grappling with the intricacies and convolutions of the concepts explored in this area of study!

The motif of time is used to present the confrontation with one’s mortality and “sing to lords and ladies of Byzantium of what is past, or passing, or to come.” Illustrates the desire for immortality and sense of in his search for personal value in the physical world, then further confrontation with what awaits us beyond in what Yeats describes to be a pure spiritual world. Woah! Hold up! This is a notion reserved for the period of our mid-life crises! Also, has no one ever considered the fact that it is the near-identical-but-not-quite twin of the year 11 AOS Journeys? Like the kind of near identical twin that only their best best friends who are super super close and spend all their time together (i.e. teachers) can tell them apart but anyone who isn’t so emotionally attached and doesn’t quite know them (i.e. students) couldn’t tell them apart if their life depended on it? Well, I have; and I find it to be another reason that the study of discovery is really not all too necessary. Aren’t they basically the same, and if not, it is an undeniable truth that they catalysed each other and occur simultaneously. Is the syllabus just stuck on a broken record? We have (mostly) done it all already last year, why should we repeat ourselves?

So, is the concept of discovery essential? Honestly, my perspective on this is accurately summated in the rhetoric in ‘Why do we care who Banksy is:’ “are were any better off for knowing?”. But, overall, while the study of Discovery is not an essential element of the curriculum, I do believe it is still an important one in a necessary wide range of study of text and conceptual areas within the study of English that serve not just to enhance our intellect but also our understanding of the human condition and experience.



Does society remain sheltered and anxious without the drive for discovery, or is this a wistful grasp by self assured poets to try remain relevant in a changing world? School shines light on our inept education system, implicating the study of a concept can have real world impacts on an individual, translating to application within different scenarios. But this simply isn’t true. Though discovery in itself is a pivotal catalyst for the growth of teenagers, learning about the idea of discovery within a classroom setting is futile at best. William Yeats ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and ‘Byzantium’ evidence this through the incoherent ramblings of a writer trying to relive his ‘glory days’.

Firstly, the most important part of appealing and teaching an audience is the metalanguage and jargon of their time, to act as an intermediary for their learning. Yeats completely ignores this in his text  ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ , with references to lines such as ‘Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre’, the use of rhyming couplets used to create flow and rhythm, but provide no meaning as to what is actually meant. Without truly understanding, the line is rendered useless to the audience, and even with substantial annotation by teachers, students are intimidated and no knowledge is gained. Following this, Yeats describes a spiritual journey he has supposedly undertaken, ‘Once out of nature I shall never take my bodily form from any natural thing’, juxtaposing ideas of birth in nature and rebirth in machines, unwittingly mirroring his alienation from the audience he is unsuccessfully trying to connect with. Yeats’ experiences with spiritual rehabilitation prove to be extraneous, as teenage readers simply cannot relate due to their lack of real world experience and ironically, revelations about themselves. Context is a central part in learning about discovery and without proper engagement with the target audience, Yeats’ poem is trivial.

Additionally, reading and absorbing information of other people’s experiences does not provide the same relevance as independently facing these challenges/journeys. In Yeats’ ‘Byzantium’ this is clearly revealed by ‘An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve’, metaphoric fire used to represent anger and anguish by the forgotten spirits. Though this is a ‘clever’ piece of writing, it has little substance in emulation of a real scenario and will not truly benefit teenagers in how they can and choose to behave. Our education fixates on the ideology of personal growth and rationalises discovery as a means to catalyse change in the ascension to adulthood. The paradoxical statement ‘death-in-life and life-in-death’, highlights the immortality of the mind, through the idea of intellectual preservation, but ultimately does not have any impact on an individual who reads it. The concept of rote learning and memorising pieces of texts thusly appears to be asinine, yet the HSC rewards retention of information, over application of the concept that is supposedly being taught.

In the end, discovery remains and always will be vital for teenagers, especially with how they can apply it to themselves as they move through life. However, studying the concept of discovery, especially the way in which we learn it now, is highly detrimental, and acts as a weak excuse for headstrong literature fanatics to force ‘classics’ onto a new generation of unwilling and unhappy teenagers.

Chris H

“Découverte, Entdeckung, Descubrimiento, Scoperta… Discovery.” No matter what country or culture, the innate importance discovery holds in all humans is a factor that universally binds us together. Discovery is not merely a noun, instead, as a concept it encompasses the experiences and emotions evoked; jubilation, fear, curiosity and the ultimate effects on the individual physically and emotionally. Studying discovery allows teenagers to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of the human condition and the desire to discover one’s place in the world and additionally, investigating this concept can potentially lead to the relieving of earlier personal discoveries  and the effects these had on oneself. Hence, I believe it is important that we teenagers should study the concept of discovery.

Learning about (essentially discovering) other people’s discoveries allows for teenagers to gain a greater understanding on the human condition which can make them more global citizens. Teenage years see us moving away from the enclosed enclave of school and parents into the ‘outside world,’ and it is natural that many of us may question what our role is in this world. Through the persona of William Butler Yeats 1928 poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” the discovery of mortality and the fear of being rejected is conveyed, only to be changed as the poem progresses and the persona discovers that he can gain immortality through his intellectual works. The persona’s initial disappointment with his sense of unfulfillment in current society is

illustrated through the high-modality language “That is no country for old men,” which emphasises his frustration, however, this then changes as he gains acceptance of himself through imagery “Into the artifice of eternity.” Many of us may relate to Yeats and this poem. Not so much in the fact that we are ageing and becoming disjointed with the society around us… well hopefully not, but because we are reaching a new phase in our life. Studying discovery through this text may affirm or challenge our assumptions about the human experience and may even give us hope that if a 60-something year old can still discover his place in the world, so can we.

The exploration of the concept of discovery through texts also allows for us as teenagers to understand the significance of personal discoveries on the self. Already in our young years, we have made many discoveries either for the first time or have rediscovered things that have been lost or forgotten. However, many of us may overlook and downgrade these discoveries and their impact until we are forced to look closer in the form of a NESA A4 rubric that tells us everything a discovery should lead to and entail. Tim Winton’s 2004 short story “Aquifer,” describes a young male protagonist’s childhood years in which he gains new knowledge about the world around him, in particular through making a poignant discovery on the construct of time and how the experiences we live in our lives are more important than the ticking of the clock. The metaphor “My parents bought a kitchen clock that seemed to cheat with time. A minute was longer some days than others,” highlights the protagonist’s discovery and road to maturation. It wasn’t too long ago when we were this age and through analysing this text by focusing on discovery, we may be able to reflect on our own experiences of discovery when we were a child and re-evaluate their worth on our progression. The power of discovery may be elevated as through ‘Aquifer,’ we see the permanency of these changes on one’s self, or, by trying to understand the protagonist’s epiphany at the very end due to his discovery, teenagers may ultimately be confused about how energy can move through a wave without the physical movement of water.

Despite the many reasons for studying the concept of discovery , there will still be those students who disagree with my arguments and try to write an essay better than this, but they won’t due to the very fact that their base thesis is wrong. Those of the opposing view may believe that the concept of discovery is too complex for our immature selfs. This may be true, however, many of us have already learnt about complex topics and have been challenged in multiple ways, and, if you have a great teacher :), the concept becomes quite bearable. Additionally, many of us can already easily relate to this topic as discovery is part of the universal human condition.

Hence, I believe that it is important that teenagers study the concept of discovery through texts. Studying discovery can allow us to understand more about the people around us and the innate human desire to discover your place in the world and also, this concept can help us gain a greater appreciation of life-discoveries and their effect on us. I hope you discovered something today.


Some things have to be learnt from first-hand experience. And some things don’t. At least, the foundations of an idea can always start in the classroom, where there is guidance and an experienced voice to show you the way. Why should teenagers be pushed into the deep end when upon finishing high school, they are forced into a world of unknowns where all the discoveries-in-waiting become so overwhelming and confronting as to become stagnating.  

Study of Discovery within texts lets us know that sometimes the unexpected happens like Tim Winton’s protagonist bony discovery in ‘the Turning’, and that it’s okay if sometimes everything goes sideways, but it also gets us inexperienced youth pondering greater things. Tim Winton’s character asks himself ‘is time moving through us or us through it?’ and so as the audience we do to, and are privy to an inner discovery that maybe we wouldn’t experience first-hand. Therefore, if nothing more than a slight change of perspective, the study of discovery expands our youthful and naïve field of vision, to better develop our understanding of the world’s intricacies and perhaps allow us to consider all those discoveries we have yet to make. 

It seems that contrary to the idea guidance, there comes the expectation that we are allowed to experience failure and ‘learn our lesson’, and yet in reality the two are not distinct from one another. Most worry that a preconceived idea of the discovery experience – a preconceived idea of life – can be debilitating; it won’t allow us to come to our own conclusions because we are only following planted recipes. But guidance is not a bad thing. I experienced this first-hand with the Yeats poem ‘Byzantium’ wherein the first reading is so overbearing and intimidating. Confident direction has brought comprehension to a beautiful piece of literature, and yet my interpretation of the poem is still just that – mine. This study has opened my awareness to a whole new array of writings, you could even say it has helped me to make my own independent discoveries (hah). And if discovery’s not for you and you like being boring and leaden that’s fine, at least you’ve gained a little bit of knowledge of one of the greatest poets ever. See? No downside. 

But most importantly there is one fact that runs all counterarguments into the ground – something I’m certain of because I am experiencing it firsthand. The study of discovery can only gift you knowledge, and being a teenager on the cusp of strange new horizons rife with potential findings is scary, so I can say with utmost confidence that even this little bit of preparation could never be a bad thing. 


Roll up teenagers, you avid English fanatics! Today, I will take you on a journey and together, we will discover how the study of discovery is essential for teens. Please don’t leave, hear me out! Discovery is a key component of the human condition – that is, we all can and will experience it, especially during this important period of teenage identity development! Without discovering, our lives would be bland and very, very boring. Through studying discovery, we can gain a better understanding of our emotions, desires, abilities and strengths. This intricate concept has been artfully weaved through the non-fiction text ‘Why do we care who Banksy is?’ by Noah Charney and short story ‘Aquifer’ by Tim Winton, allowing us to explore why studying discovery is essential for us to reveal more about ourselves and the people around us.

Ah, the human condition. For those of you who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, the human condition are the essential characteristics and events that are the building blocks of human existence, one of which happens to be an aspiration to discover. Through studying discovery, we learn of its potential and gain a better understanding of why we want to discover. This is seen in Charney’s use of synecdoche ‘We humans dislike secrets. Or rather, we love secrets…after a period of wondering, guessing and inquiring’ unifying experiences of the human collective unconscious (props to Carl Jung) hence perpetuating that we will all inevitably experience discovery. Furthermore, the study of discovery allows us to realise the sheer power of discoveries able to trigger traumatic memories. Winton uses the persona’s sombre tone ‘I saw a shabby clump of melaleucas and knew exactly where it was that this macabre discovery had taken place’ conveying the persona’s emotional turmoil after rediscovering a death he witnessed as a child, and while we don’t particularly want to experience discoveries which take a severe emotional toll on us, it’s what makes us human. Hence, we can see that discovery is a key component the human condition, something all of us can and will experience, therefore allowing us to appreciate and understand the many facets of discovery and the effects they can evoke.

The human mind can sometimes cause us to behave in incomprehensible ways. Sometimes, we just don’t know what to do after discovering something traumatic, shocking or awe-evoking, however, studying discovery through the numerous texts the concept is manifested in allows us to see how others react to discovery. A literary learning experience, if you will. Charney reiterates the curious and inquisitive nature of the human mind and its desire to both make and hide discoveries, in the repetition ‘If we know a secret, we wish to reveal it. If we learn of a secret, we wish to know it. If we are the secret, we want someone else to find out’ making us wonder why our gears turn in such a paradoxical manner. Similarly, Winton’s persona undergoes extreme emotional torment from witnessing traumatic events as a child, in the rhetorical questioning ‘What did he want? What did he ever want from me?’ conveying the persona’s realisation of the mental strain and torment that persists years after witnessing the death and having no outlet to release his emotions. Therefore, through studying discovery in many different texts we can see how characters, personas and composers respond to the upsides and downsides associated with discovery, and allow us to relay this information in our own lives.

Of course, it can be argued that teenagers don’t need to study discovery as the process of ‘revelation’ somewhat detracts from the allure of mystery. Charney concludes his article with his opinion ‘The moment a secret is revealed, no matter how engaging, there’s something of a deflation. The world could use more unsolved mysteries.’ juxtaposing and mocking our widely held belief of the importance of discovery. However, studying discovery is highly important. I’ll propose to you some questions (you too, Mr Charney): If we aren’t discovering, then what are we doing? Is there any point for our existence if we aren’t discovering? How do we develop without discovering? Even now, Mr Charney providing us with his opinion that discovery isn’t important, that in itself is a discovery, isn’t it? Your move, Mr Charney.

Phew, what a discovery that was! I hope I have allowed you to discover the intricacies, the many facets and significance of the study of discovery. Whilst some people think that the teenage brain is too underdeveloped and lacks experience to fully understand discovery, I firmly believe studying the concept allows us to understand happenings in our world. We can comprehend parts of the human condition, understand our emotions and what we really desire. Kudos to Noah Charney’s non-fiction text ‘Why do we care who Banksy is?’ and Tim Winton’s short story ‘Aquifer’, two texts which explore the different aspects of discovery beautifully.


“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”[1]

Ultimately, Discovery is a vital unit for teenagers to study, as it broadens their horizons so that they might sail further, or gain the courage to set sail in the first place. The fact is simple: discovery is an unavoidable wave on the ocean life, and there won’t be just one. An appreciation of the mysteries of life, and the new knowledge and experience gained from revealing them, is attained through studying the value and many faces of Discovery. Discovery is essential for teenagers to study as it develops empathy and appreciation of life experiences, although the confronting nature of some discoveries may give reason for shelter up until the teenage years.

Remember the first time you discovered the ocean? Maybe you’d lived in the city or inland some, and that first breathtaking sight of its seemingly endless expanse just blew you away. Or maybe you’d known the beach since toddler age, but each time you come back you find yourself knowing something different about the world… Throughout your life, in expected and unexpected ways, you’ll discover more and more about yourself, the world and everything in between, but those little knowledges won’t be as valuable if you haven’t studied the concept and many facets of discovery. Firstly, discovery develops the self. Ali Charmer’s cute comic Cosita explores this: on the protagonist’s lonely travels through Northern Spain, she reveals a hidden truth about herself: that a) she is homesick more for her cats than for her family, and b) she needs affection and a supportive purpose in order to be fulfilled. She adorably suffices this by adopting a stray palace cat and being its carer for a short while, all shown through the minimal monochrome squares of story. Similarly, in Fiona MacFarlane’s humorous short story Man and Bird, our Reverend protagonist discovers his new religious beliefs, hilariously through a combination of psychedelic dreams and believing his pet cockatoo to be an archangel sent from God. However, he simultaneously discovers his solitude in believing these new beliefs, leading him to find God in his little yellow car, with the fantastical imagery of ‘the white bird [flying] in the shaft of light above the car, and the revolving earth… man and bird together reached the sea.’ And we’re back to Square 1 with the sea. New truths about oneself and one’s places in this exciting and tumultuous world are gained through discoveries, but only sufficiently appreciated through a study of this concept.


Due to teenagers’ totally unstable and unpredictable (although actually highly predictable) emotional status[2], discovering the confronting nature of some discoveries can be a tough discovery to discover. Also simply put: some teenagers just don’t have, like, the time to study discoveries, or else they just won’t understand what the heck they’re learning, and so the whole process is wasted on their confusion. For example, you don’t have to be a literary scholar to process Cosita or Man and Bird, but you very well do have to be one to process Yeats by yourself as a teenager. I didn’t understand his two famous poems Sailing to Byzantium and Byzantium until our teacher had taken us through it, at least not the hidden or figurative meaning. Teenagers can easily whack their fingers on the literal, or physical discovery, but the real juicy ones – the figurative, metaphorical, metaphysical discoveries – are the ones that matter. “That is no country for old men.” First line. The first thing I think of is that epic Coen Brothers movie, and then I assume that ‘That’ is referring to Byzantium, because that’s where he’s going right? Wrong. It’s referring what he’s left behind, i.e. the physical world, and sets up the whole mood and theme of the confronting nature of old age, which is arguably not much on the minds of young people. So, if a teenager was reading this by themself, and interpreted the first 6 words wrong, how do you think they’re going to find the rest of the poem!? For some, it’s just not feasible to study the deeper aspects of discovery, but if you don’t what’s the point at all? In Byzantium, he goes on about ‘I hail the superhuman; // I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.’ which is so awesome and beautiful if you get it, but otherwise for the most of teenagers who haven’t read Thus Spoke Zarathustra[3], the vacillation and circular juxtaposition of ‘death-in-life and life-in-death’ would just be plain confusing, and the whole beauty of the spiral motion of Yeats attempted description of The Next Life would be lost on deaf ears (or brains).

Therefore, despite the possibly confusing or confronting nature of discoveries, the empathy and appreciation of life’s experiences gained from studying discoveries tips the scales, and justifies the study of discovery for teenagers, as it will ultimately aid in their navigation of this constantly undulating sea of life. The smooth-sailing texts like comics and short stories provide a pleasant and accessible pedagogy of the value and nature of discoveries, whilst the more difficult, adult, texts like Yeats’ poetry call for a more hands-on-deck approach, but both are valuable in bettering the self through learning. Which, as we know, is a point ceaselessly needing addressing when it comes to teenagers.

[1] Quote: André Gide, French author

[2] I would know…

[3] Unexpectedly, as I have: one of Nietzsche’s most celebrated works that I picked up in Dymocks for, like, $8

Praxis: Rebuilding the World

PRAXIS: Rebuilding the World

Over the last two weeks year 7 students have been delivering their end of Praxis project presentations to a panel of teachers, including History, Maths and Praxis teachers. These presentations were the culmination of a complex, challenging and enriching open-ended project based on the concepts of ‘revolutions’ and ‘knowledge’. Working in teams of five, and through a series of research and design tasks, students were required to formulate an answer to the following driving question: How do revolutions progress human knowledge? Below is the project brief that the students were given at the start of the project:

‘The senior executive at Manly Selective Campus has decided to brighten up the school environment by commissioning year 7 students to design art pieces to be installed outside of each faculty’s staff room. Each piece of installation art must represent how revolutionary people or movements have contributed to the development of each discipline. Working in small teams of 5, students will use historical inquiry skills to research the revolutions in knowledge relevant to their allocated discipline and, using mathematical principles, they will visually represent their findings in a 2D design and a 3D prototype of their installation art piece. Students will present their process and product to a panel, explaining how their piece demonstrates the practical application of mathematical principles and skills, and knowledge of historical content and inquiry skills. Selected designs and prototypes will be developed into complete art pieces for permanent display in the school.’

This project was very demanding – both intellectually and in terms of time-management and collaboration within their teams – and our students reflected thoughtfully on these challenges during their presentations. Whilst we were incredibly impressed with the final products that students produced (the art installation prototypes AND their websites), we were floored by the incredible maturity with which students reflected on the project’s process and how it had taught them valuable skills and life-lessons. Each Praxis project is designed by the three Praxis teachers around our Praxis Principles and Targets and grounded in contemporary Gifted and Talented research in line with the Department of Education’s Gifted and Talented Policy. Below you can see a table that identifies a range of possible strategies to be integrated into the three core stages of Project Based Learning. The highlighted strategies are those that underpin the recent Rebuilding the World project. It was affirming to hear students talk confidently about their learning in relation to these three stages, and the Praxis Principles and Targets.

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Above table intellectual property of Bianca Hewes, Kate Munro, James Blanch (2016)

Below are some student comments about the project:

‘When we first got given our faculty, we were all excited to get started and ideas were already flooding into our minds.’

‘I made new friends and interacted with people I wouldn’t normally interact with.’

‘This project made me realise how important teamwork is. From the very start, teamwork was needed to finish the preparation and planning. Planning is one of the most important steps when doing a project…’

‘We researched answers using the Cornell note taking method. We found three sources (not just websites) that provided reliable information then made a table for each of them, showing our notes, comments, summaries and answers to our questions. Using many reliable sources helped make sure that our information was correct.’

‘As a group, we enjoyed brainstorming ideas. To begin with, we were a bit unprepared. We were frustrated that we hadn’t collected our resources in time but we learned from this that we need to manage our time a bit better in future. We did manage to finish our machine and digital portfolio but agree that we could probably do better next time.’

‘You need a team member who is as willing as you to put in extra hours outside of Praxis sessions, to work lunch times, class times and even out of school.’

Below are some of the art installation prototypes (these are currently on display in the English corridor):

Check out students’ digital portfolios which captures their learning process – each team made a website to document this process:




























This was our first Praxis project that was explicitly integrated with core curriculum subjects (Maths and History), and as such we have learnt a lot about how we can improve the connection between the three classes, especially regarding explicit discussion of the project in core classes. One of our goals as a school is to develop students’ ability to make connections between subjects, and Praxis is one way that we can do this is a concrete way. We teachers are learning to collaborate between faculties too – a reminder to students that being a lifelong learner is essential in our dynamic world! We very much appreciate the willingness and enthusiasm of our students to support this new way of approaching teaching and learning, to develop the necessary skills and mindsets for successful and thriving 21st century citizens. There may be some bumps, but this is a road very much worth travelling!

As we move into our final Praxis project for the year – TEAM Praxis – a strong focus for students will be on creative thinking, time-management and organisation, curiosity, collaboration and presentation skills. Integrated into the five Praxis sessions that make up this project will be specific lessons on strategies that can develop the above skills, as well as providing students with the opportunity to self and peer assess these skills using co-constructed rubrics.

Should English teachers ban the word ‘technique’ to improve students’ engagement with texts? 

I was chatting with Tanya, my good friend and head teacher of English at my old school (and super amazing clever human), last Friday night about the word ‘technique’ to cover ALL literary devices known to man. We were hanging out and geeking out about the new HSC English syllabuses – which we are both equally stoked with, but more on that in another post – and as we were chatting I mentioned that the new syllabuses, just like the old ones, never once refer to the term ‘techniques’. It’s not in the glossary, it’s not in the rationale, it’s not in the objectives, outcomes or content, it’s not in the module descriptors. Odd, considering it is the go-to word for English teachers when discussing textual analysis. Or, is it? Tanya has all but banned the word. She’s always hated it – preferring to refer to use the language of the syllabuses – language forms and features. This really struck me as an important, um, stylistic choice? Given that last year her year 12 class blitzed the HSC (she will hate me saying this) in a school were historically few students get top English results.

As we chatted we tried to identify when the word ‘technique’ crept into the English teacher lexicon – I feel it was earlyish in my teaching career – maybe a couple of years in, around 2007? Maybe it was the introduction of the words ‘texts’ and ‘composers’ as nondescript references in the last HSC syllabus? Maybe we didn’t feel confident with the phrase ‘language forms and features’ (even now as I type it I’m sure I’ve got it wrong)? I do know that it has become super problematic in the way I teach texts. Students are always asking me ‘What technique is in this quote?’ and I blame myself because I am the one creating formulas and acronyms (ITEE, STEEL, STEW etc) for essays and sentences that require the dreaded T – techniques.

In our chat we both realised the time we first really focused on techniques as mandatory for all essay paragraphs was at the HSC marking centre. We thought it amusing, and kind of weird, that our marker colleagues (including our SMs) constantly referred to techniques – how many, the quality, how well they were discussed/analysed – and yet the marking criteria we were using, didn’t refer to the word ‘technique’. Well, maybe it did sometimes like ‘dramatic techniques’? Even then kids still referred to metaphors – and not metaphor as the BIG type, the small ‘put your finger on the metaphor’ type. Teachers (me included) refer to language techniques, persuasive techniques, dramatic techniques, poetry techniques, film techniques, etc. so it makes sense we would use ‘techniques’ as an all-encompassing term, BUT the problem is when (teacher like me) tell students that every sentence in their body paragraphs must have a technique in it – that you can’t have a quote unless you analyse it – we really start to experience the tyranny of the technique. The essay becomes boring, like a shopping list of single-use ‘techniques’ that doesn’t allow an idea to develop or a personal voice to be heard. We can blame the HSC, but really the expectations set THERE are set by US, I truly believe that.

So, having spoken with my lovely friend, and hearing how she has not only banned the word technique, but also banned essay formulas, it makes me question my own practice. Given the fact that we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of the technique AND the formulaic essay, with this new (awesome) HSC with its incredible focus on creativity, authenticity, and genuine engagement with literature, I wonder if we will. Will you?