31 March 2006

CBHS: Grades

Welcome to the next installment about public education in Australia. Today's topic: grades, grading systems, marking, and graduation. Let me first share this disclaimer: I don't have all this figured out yet. This is only an overview of what I know so far. More information can be found at the Board of Studies website.
The first thing to understand is that we work on a year-round school year. As a teacher (but not as a student), I was always intrigued by this system. I am looking forward to having time off in different seasons, not just summer. We have just begun our school year, but in two weeks, I already get a two week break. I think this keeps teachers and students fresher throughout the year. We have ten (or eleven) week terms, with two weeks in between, and six weeks for the summer holiday. Classes tend to be focused on one unit for an entire term (at least in HSIE and English), with two or three assessments each term. Assessments may by projects, presentations, tests, papers, or some other relatively large-scale body of work. Homework is assigned and checked, but not necessarily graded, or "marked", and do not necessarily figure into class grades. That's what the assessment tasks are for. When grade reports are turned in (which I have not had to do yet), they are not a 100-scale number figure, but a written assessment of the student's work and mastery of the material. The approach is much more holistic, and much more subjective. Assessments are individually marked using a more holistic method as well. Students are given outcomes to achieve, and these outcomes are assessed in their work.
School is compulsory only through Year 10. At the end of that year (actually, at the end of the third term), students take the school certificate test. If they pass, they receive their School Certificate. At this point, they have choices: continue on to Year 11 and 12, go to TAFE (think vocational training), or get a job. Students who continue their "senior" years do so in pursuit of a High School Certificate (HSC). This will allow them to go to university if they so choose. The HSC is a very intense program, requiring students to choose a subject area (a high school major?), complete major projects throughout the year, and take a series of tests at the end. Past tests can be found here. It is a very impressive program, and much more rigorous than a one day test like the SAT or ACT. Projects more closely a graduate thesis than anything I did in high school. Students may produce artwork or compose a song, conduct an advanced scientific experiment, complete intensive historical research, or choose any number of other advanced work. Add it all up, and I think students who graduate with their HSC should be very prepared for expectations at the university level. Maybe this is something that the US should look into. It wouldn't be easy (for students or teachers), but it would be a more accurate representation of readiness for college.

27 March 2006

Elizabeth House

Heather and I went to Hyde Park for a run, and on the way back I saw Elizabeth House, a residential facility, which reminded me of a previously untold tale concerning my job search here.
After I completed my Overseas Trained Teacher program, I had an exit interview with the Department of Education. As I was taking a seat, my interviewer mentioned that I lived in Surry Hills, and that he visited there frequently. Here is a transcript of the rest of the conversation:

Me (politely): Really? Jazz clubs?
Interviewer: No, my stepson lives there, at Elizabeth House.
Me (conversationally): Oh, that's nice.
Interviewer: Do you know what Elizabeth House is?
Me (ignorantly): Uh, no.
Interviewer: It's a drug rehabilitation facility.
Me (stupidly): . . .

Now, Heather says this was not my fault and I was just making conversation. I say I'm lucky to have a job.

George Mason?

Did something go wrong with the underwater transcontinental internet wires, or is George Mason really in the Final Four? I picked them to upset Michigan State in the first round (and was pretty proud of myself for it), but that was it. Cinderellas aren't supposed to make it this far--midnight strikes at the Sweet 16. I think it is great, because this year I have noticed a lot of "Cinderella backlash." I have read quite a few articles about how these teams pull an upset or two in the early rounds, and it's a nice story and all, but the real contenders always bury them in Sweet 16, and how it's time to get down to the "real" games. Well, take that, Mr Pessimistic Sports Writer. Cinderella's in the Final Four--not UConn, Duke, UNC, Nova, Memphis, or any of the other "real" contenders. My only pick for the Final Four to make it was UCLA, and I probably wouldn't have picked them if they hadn't been in Memphis's region.
Something else I have noticed in sports journalism lately is the overuse of the word "stun," and it hasn't just been during March Madness. Go to ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, or Sporting News, and I can pretty much guarantee you will find at least one "stun" at any given time. I find this extremely lazy. There are so many other words that could be used, so why does it seem they are all recycling "stun"? It's not even the appropriate word most of the time: I understand the ending was crazy, but UCLA didn't stun Gonzaga--UCLA was ranked higher. I'll give you George Mason "stunning" UConn, but everything else should have been "tops," "dominates," "upsets," "shuts down," "sends Team X packing," or a nice simple "beats" or "wins." "Stun" me and use another word.

25 March 2006

Sculpture by the Sea

This little adventure happened
back in early November, but because of other events at the time, was never posted. Sculpture by the Sea is the world's largest annual free outdoor exhibition of art. It comes to Sydney every year in November, and is displayed on the scenic walk between Bondi and Tamarama Beach. For 2005,
105 pieces of art were on display, and were seen by over 400,000 people. A large number of these came on the first weekend, which is of course when we went, too. The exhibit included silly/goofy art and serious/thought provoking works, and a little bit of everything in between. As with most art collections, there was also a fair bit that made you
wonder what the artist was thinking when he created it. I have tried to include a representative sample of this diversity for you here. Our little Look Right tour will start at Bondi and head toward Tamarama, just as Heather and I did that day. The first picture is of the "Wave of Steel" (all titles
here are mine), constructed on a cliff overlooking Bondi. It is clearly visible from the beach, and when we went back to Bondi in December after the exhibit, it seemed kind of strange not having it up there. This was Heather's favorite piece. Next on the tour is "Stone Faced". I have
no idea what this "means" or anything, I just thought it looked cool. Around the corner from "Wave" and "Faced" was "Lots of Crushed Cans", which consisted of (I think) ten square bundles of crushed cans. I suppose it was a reminder to recycle, not to litter, and conserve our planet. I liked looking at the cubes and
picking out the different brands of drinks they included. Near "Cans" but closer to the ocean overlook was "Dogs". There were three, but only one is pictured here. We thought the cutouts were interesting, and made sure to get a picture with an ocean view. We tried to get one with a beachfront view, but the way the dog was positioned wouldn't allow it. Moving on to Tamarama, we have "It's Hot Enough Out Here to Fry an Egg", which was kind of the Official Artwork for Sculpture by the Sea Bondi 2005--it was pictured on the adverts for the event. Finally, we have the "Giant Lounge (and Thongs)". Please click on the picture and note that Heather actually has the strap of the thong between her toes. Very impressive. Everyone was getting a picture of themselves in the sandals, but no one actually got on the chair. In fact, I didn't even think about getting in the chair until writing this. I guess that would have been too intrusive, but if there is a similar piece next year, I might have to try it.
We both look forward to seeing the exhibit when it returns this November, although we might have to avoid the first weekend this time. If you have any ideas about the "meaning" of any of these works, post a comment--I'd like to hear your thoughts. I know some of you are much more in tune artistically than me.

18 March 2006

Travel Expo

Heather and I went to the Travel
Expo today and came home with about fifteen kilos of travel brochures, booklets, and maps. We also entered every contest available, because as Heather said, I'm on a streak. Conspicuously absent were booths for the continental US and anywhere in western Europe other than the UK. But if you want to know about safaris in Africa,
campervans in New Zealand, golf in Ireland, skiing at Thredbo, or the Great Wall in China, I've got it. If you should meet your untimely demise on your journey, I even have information for a body retrieval company. Here's the tally: 178 brochures, 2 books, 2 magazines, 8 bags, 2 pens, 4 pins, 2 post-it pads, 4 DVD/CD-ROMs, 1 luggage tag, 2 luggage security tags, 1 mousepad, 1 sticker, 1 shirt, and 1 stuffed panda. We'll be poring over this stuff until next year's expo.

North American Sports Thoughts

Thirty two games down, and I am my typical .750. Good picks on #12 Texas A&M and #11 George Mason, but lost with #3 Iowa, and #4 Kansas has killed me into the Elite Eight. For the record, I've picked Texas to lose to Duke in the Atlanta regional finals, so that means they will lose one round earlier (to #6 West Virginia?)--I always pick them one round too far.
And by the way, is it just me being half way around the world, or was this a tough bracket to pick this year? No one is great--no team, no player. If Redick is the best player, I hope your favorite NBA team isn't desperate for draft help. I can see everyone losing this tournament. Is there a way they can all eliminate each other?
On to the World Baseball Classic. Not too terribly upset the USA lost, just like I wasn't upset by the US losing hockey at the Olympics or US basketball losing two years ago. I don't have a problem with pros playing because our pros can be beat. I'm tired of our athletes, and the organizations putting these teams together, thinking they can have two days of meetings, show up for the games, and collect medals. Enough already. Get organized. Practice. Put together a real team, not an all star roster. US Basketball seems to have figured this out--three year commitments and a real team atmosphere.
Finally, the rumour mill has Terell Owens in Dallas. I'm not against this, but I don't think he's the final piece, either. Everyone acknowledges he'll be trouble eventually, but it is also assumed he'll get you over the top for the short term. When has this ever been true? When has he won a Super Bowl? And I don't think it would be a good idea for him to run to the star at midfield, even if he is a Cowboy--too many hard feelings there.

16 March 2006

CBHS: Sport

Students in public school in Australia have PE as part of their curriculum, but Wednesday afternoon is Sport. This means that all students sign up for a winter sport (for terms 1 and 4) and a summer sport (terms 2, 3), and compete in that sport. Some are "school" sports, which means it is recreational, and some are "grade" sport, which means inter-school competition.
Since I found out last December that I would be at CBHS this entire year, I have been lobbying to be the baseball coach. I was told that last year's team was full of big strong Islanders who homered their way to an undefeated season and a premiership (Australian for champs). So I was excited about the possibilities. Well, none of those guys signed up this year--they are all ice skating (seriously). I have a team of Under 14's who have never played the game (OK, one guy has). We had two training sessions before our first game, which barely covered hitting and fielding. Don't stand on the plate, hold the bat up, drop the bat when you run, you have to run when you get a hit, don't stand on the bag when fielding, stuff like that. I had to fight a lot of cricket habits. Our first game, we played a team full of guys who played last year, so they knew what they were doing. My guys accused them of cheating when they stole bases. We lost 10-1. As an American coaching an American game, it was fairly humiliating.
That was three weeks ago. We lost our next two games, but yesterday we played Blackhurst again, the team that beat us 10-1. (There are only three other teams in the league--baseball isn't that big here, but if you caught Australia in the World Baseball Classic, you already knew that.) I wasn't feeling very confident about our season at that point. But the boys have been working hard, and they won the rematch 7-6 for their first win of the season. We batted second, and only had one out in the second (and final) inning. Maybe there's hope yet for the Australian WBC team in twelve years or so.
As I am typing this, I am sipping on a "Green and Gold" Slurpee (another American comfort) in recognition of the Commonwealth Games (that I would be willing to bet you did not know existed) being played at this moment in Melbourne (Australia is beating England in Rugby 7s). The Slurpee kind of tastes like cheap lemon-lime soda gone flat, but I'm showing my support for my favorite Commonwealth nation. Plus, fifteen cents from the sale goes to support Australian athletes, and you can't put a price on that. All right, you can: the Slurpee costs two bucks.

13 March 2006

Shelly Beach

If you read Heather's comment
on "Quarantine Station" you already know what I'm going to write here. After we left the QS, we went to Shelly Beach, so named because it is not made of sand, but rather fragments of shells. Heather likes to go there and search for good shells and sea glass, pieces of glass that have been frosted from being worn down in the ocean. We found a few good pieces, but the prize this trip was the shark tooth I found, pictured here. It's about three quarters of an inch long, and appears to be from a nurse shark or some similar species. Now if I could only find a great white tooth...

12 March 2006

The Overseas Shipment: The Saga Continues

I have neglected to share the most recent developments in the issue of our overseas shipment to Sydney. I believe the last I had written was the safe arrival of our effects, and our appeal to the Federal Maritime Commission for action on our behalf. On January 18, I received an email from the FMC stating that an Order of Investigation and Hearing had been filed against Tradewind and their other businesses operating under various other names. An injunction was also filed against Elizabeth Hudson, the president of Tradewind, barring further operation until the matter is resolved. In all, over 250 complaints were filed against Tradewind or the other companies run by the same people. The news release can be seen here, and if you are really interested, you can go to www.fmc.gov and search "Tradewind" to download the offical docket. There you can see all the other companies run by these same people, who these people are, including their multiple aliases, and what will happen in the future. Basically, they have a year to gather all the dirt on the company and present it to a judge, who will make a ruling a few months later. In the meantime, Tradewind is barred from conducting any business.
So take this as a warning, dear reader: don't mess with me, or I'll get the US government after you.

Quarantine Station

No, this is not another chapter in the Conflict of the Overseas Shipment (see above for that story). The Quarantine Station is where immigrants used to go before entering the country, where they were quarantined to prevent the spread of diseases in
Australia. Kind of like Ellis Island, except only concerned with germs. It also seemed to be a little bit more summer camp-ish than Ellis Island. By the way, next time you are in New York, visit Ellis Island, and take the (free) official tour. Best thing we did in NYC.
Anyway, while walking around on the tour of the QS, a few interesting things happened. There is a beach next to the landing wharf, and a family was enjoying the sun. At least until the little boy jumped off a pipe
and dropped his icee/slushie/ frozen treat thing in the sand. He
wasn't very happy about that, so his dad picked it up, walked to the water, and rinsed it off. In the ocean. Where people swim. Where kids pee. Where barges and ocean liners cruise by. Then he sampled it. I guess he didn't taste any sand, because he brought it back to the kid, who happily continued sucking
on his "clean" ocean-swim/kid-pee/ barge-sludge frozen treat. Yummy. Oh, but that may not be the worst of it. We found out later on the tour that the pipe he jumped off used to carry all the waste from the QS, including the bodily drainings from the autopsies performed on those who died at the QS from various diseases. I'll stop there.
The second thing that happened was Heather. We were in the building that formerly served as the hospital, when she attempted to straighten a table drawer that was a little crooked. One of the large round drawer pulls fell to the wooden floor with a loud crack, then rolled almost as loudly across the velvet barrier and under an old hospital bed. The look of horror and shock on her face was priceless. The pull was retrieved and replaced by another tour participant, while Heather kept repeating "it just fell off." She maintains it was already broken, but a quick examination of the facts reveals that the pull must have been attached prior to falling, and only became detached when she pulled on it. Verdict: Guilty as charged. She asked me a few minutes later why these things always seem to happen to her. My response was that I guess I'm just that lucky.
The pictures are rock etchings done by immigrants who stayed at the QS. Many were craftsmen, and they stayed a minimum of three months, so they had plenty of time on their hands. Over 2000 of these etchings can be found at the station, chronicling the ships, dates, and other interesting information from their voyage.

10 March 2006

Footy Season

National Rugby League began their season last night. I'm sure the questions comparing rugby to American football will ramp up at school again now. I'll post my opinion on that at a later date. For now, there are two interesting things regarding sport here I want to bring to your attention.
The first is on the field signage. In America, it has become common in the past few years to digitally place ads on the field for the TV broadcast. These are usually done in such a way as to look authentic. I am thinking of flags on the bottom of the pool during the summer olympics, or ads placed in such a way as to appear flat on the ground or the wall of a field. Here, Australians do the opposite. They paint real ads, but do it in such a was as to appear square from the camera's point of view. On the field, the images appear stretched out and larger at the top, but from the camera's point of view, they appear square on your TV. In a rugby game last night, they even had a Diet Coke ad that appeared to be standing upright on the goal line, complete with dark green area behind it for a shadow effect. To sum up: the US creates artifical ads that appear real, and AU creates real ads that appear artificial.
The second sports related issue to come up here is uniform numbers. The Waratahs, New South Wales Rugby Union team, had planned to wear their initials rather than numbers on the back of their jerseys. This idea was shot down, but you can read the story and see a photo here. I find it interesting that numbers, not initials, are still on the shorts. I'm not sure what I think about this. At first I liked it, but the more I think about it, I'm glad they aren't doing it. It is a novel idea, but I believe in Number Identity. 23 will always be Michael Jordan, 99 will always be Gretzky, 42 is Jackie Robinson. For Cowboy fans, 8 will always be Troy Aikman. For Texas fans, 10 is Vince Young (and, unfortunately, it might be his draft position (or lower) if he doesn't get his act together.) Personally, I'm a 24. It's who I am.
To end, I'll address the question you are all asking: What is a Waratah? Our rugby union team is named for a flower.

How long must we sing this song?

Don't know if the news reached the Northern Hemisphere, but U2 has postponed their final tour dates, including Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. The reason given at this point is an illness to a close family member of the band. No new dates have been set yet, but I saw November as a possibility on the internet. I have a ticket to the show in Sydney, which was supposed to be on March 31. It has been eight years since U2 was in Australia, and the people here are very excited about the show. They had two shows planned for Sydney, both at Telstra Stadium, which will hold about 70,000 for a concert, and they each sold out in under an hour. For now they are telling everyone to hold on to their tickets. Stay posted for further announcements.

08 March 2006

Choo! Choo!

Yesterday I left a little early to try to catch an earlier train to work. As I stepped onto the platform, I heard the "this train is now due to depart" announcement. I ran forward only to find the doors already closed. Just as I was thinking how I was going to have to wait in the station for my regular train, I hear someone ask, "Did you need to catch this train? Where are you going?" It was the train driver. He told me to hop on with him. I thought he would just let me in through the front into the first car, but he invited me to take a seat in the driver's cab. Then I thought I would move back at the next station. But we started talking and I ended up riding up front all the way to my stop. Over the next twenty minutes, we talked about life in Australia and the US, public and private education, religion, politics, WWII, the Middle East, and good books. His name is Van, he got me to work early, and he fulfilled any boy's childhood dream: to ride in the front of a train or a plane. And he proved that if you take a moment to look around, you can meet some pretty interesting people. Thanks for the lift, Van.

03 March 2006

CBHS: Student population

This will be the first of several posts discussing what school is like in Australia, specifically, Canterbury Boys High School. Enjoy.
CBHS is truly a diverse school. I have heard that there are about ninety different countries represented amongst a student body of 480. I teach students from Australia (both Anglo and Aboriginal), Tonga, New Zealand, New Guinea, Fiji, China, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Romania, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Malta, Cyprus, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and on and on. In all, every continent other than Antarctica and I believe North America is represented. At first I thought it was strange that we have students from everywhere except NA, but after thinking about it, I think it makes sense. NA is basically just Mexico, US, and Canada. Mexicans are virtually non-existent here (and, unfortunately, their food), and any US and Canadian expatriates here don't live in CBHS's zone--they are either in the city (like us), on the beach, or if they have kids, in the more white collar suburbs. A few of the students have family in America, and a few others have visited. I have heard a rumour there might be a student from the Dominican Republic, but I have not been able to confirm this yet.
Back to my point: CBHS is a very diverse place to teach. In addition to the great variety of countries represented, there is also a variety of background experiences that affect the students. The Islander students have a very strong family bond, often referring to other Islander students as their cousin. Because of this sharing, familial community bond, they sometimes do not have their materials for class because they have given them to someone else to use. They are sometimes late for class or do not meet deadlines because time is not as relevant to their lives. Some here refer to this as "Islander-time." Some of my students are refugees from Africa or the Middle East. Many of these have spent a few years in refugee camps before they landed in AU and have gaps in their learning. Many of the Aboriginal students feel marginalised by Anglo Australia. Most of these international students have family back at "home." Many do not consider themselves Australian, even if they have been here most, if not all, of their lives.
But the obvious positive to this diversity is the opportunity to learn about other people and countries. I have enjoyed talking to students about their home countries. The other positive is the strong community bond at the school. There is the potential for conflict with the ethnic diversity, and this is unfortunately true at other schools in the area. But the boys at our school have a great deal of respect for each other's culture, religious beliefs, and backgrounds. It is this sense of community that makes working here the wonderful experience for me that is has been.