The 2012 Year 7 Camp
Reflections on change in schooling
Things were very different back in the late 1950s. To begin
with, fewer than one-in-ten kids went on to attempt Year 12. The small
proportion of kids who went on to University back then were required to study
(and pass) a language at Year 12 level.
To be PROPERLY educated, that meant that you had to study Latin. Latin! Imagine that.
In the early 1980s I remember being involved in the battle
to rid schools of corporal punishment. The strap was used as an almost routine
punishment, and used on a daily basis.
Hitting children with a lump of leather was seen as being for their own
good! Imagine that.
Around the same time, I recall having a long and drawn out
argument with the head of the Commerce Department at the school where I was
teaching. She was adamant that Year 10 girls MUST learn stenography and
shorthand. These were essential skills, she insisted, for any young girl going
into an office. Stenography and
shorthand –almost compulsory for year 10
girls! Imagine that.
In the 1960s the average size of most classes was between 40
and 50 in Secondary schools. Below is my
Grade 6 class. There were 51 of us present on that day. I think there were
around 60 kids in the class.
Nearly 60 kids in a class!
We sat in rows; we learned our tables off by heart; we
copied notes from the blackboard; we did mental arithmetic; the government
provided free milk to school children; most kids left school after Year 8 or 9.
There were many, many jobs around for unskilled workers; most boys went into trades; most girls worked as sales
girls or office girls. Children were expected to be seen and not heard.
Our teachers believed that each one of us had been given a
certain amount of “brains”. If we were “brainy” they would urge our parents to
send us to a High school; if we were “good with our hands” we ‘d go to a
Girls’ School to learn domestic skills
or office skills or if we were boys,
we’d go to a Technical school to learn a trade.
We were taught 20th century skills. We expected
to leave school and take up a job – a career – that we would work in until we
retired. Imagine that.
I’ve just been up to the Year 7 camp. The kids were involved
in mountain skating, raft making, canoeing, negotiating a water slide, archery,
a flying fox, and cooking damper. Their teachers were a group of 16 Year 11
students who are currently enrolled in a VET Recreation course. Some of them
will go on to become Physical Education teachers, perhaps. Or personal trainers.
Or health professionals.
I spent most of Tuesday as ‘supervising teacher’ at the Camp
Cooking. Pairs of Year 11 students helped groups of ten Year 7 students cook damper. I was there ‘just in case’ the Year 11s
needed someone with “authority” to step in.
It didn’t happen. There was no need.
The Year 7s were better than well behaved. [For the whole camp, I didn’t
hear one kid say “I’m bored.” Imagine
It was late afternoon.
Keeley was working with her fifth
‘class’. She’s taught raft building, archery, downhill mountain skateboarding …
now she was supervising damper making.
‘How are you going?’ I asked. ‘Are you enjoying it?’
‘Yes … but.. I’m pretty tired.’ She paused, then added:
‘Teaching is tiring work.’ I smiled – and agreed.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about 21st
century skills. Teachers are increasingly trying to imagine what life will be
like for this generation of kids. Futurologists point out that the something
like 25% of the jobs today’s kids will enter didn’t exist 10 years ago. Imagine
that. They predict that this generation
will have to re-train for new work five or six or more times during their
working lives. Imagine that.
It’s not easy, preparing kids for such a dynamically
changing world. One thing we DO know: the old answers won’t necessarily work in
the future. Our children will have to be
adaptable; they’ll have to be confident about themselves, and able to accept
challenges; they’ll need to be fast learners; they’ll need to be able to work
independently, and to show initiative. And they’ll need to be able to work with
other people. All sorts of other people, in a work force that is constantly
changing. And they’ll need highly developed computer skills.
This kind of “21st century skills thinking” is
beginning to affect how we do things at Warrandyte.
The Year 7 kids didn’t get the chance to choose who they
were grouped with – in fact, they were quite deliberately put with people they didn’t know. They were
involved in cooperative activities – like raft building and canoeing. Each
activity lasted an hour – then they were with two new Year 11 teachers. They were challenged – by the tasks.
A relative few of the damper-makers produced edible damper.
Many produced little black rocks – which they threw back into the fire. Making good damper isn’t easy. You have to be
patient; the fire has to be just right. There are some tricks of the
trade. And there are 21st
century lessons to be learned – even in the context of 19th century
The VET Rec kids were learning on the job. At each
well-earned break they reflected on how they were going – what was working for
them, what was challenging. They were learning how important clear
In my time as an educator, I’ve attended I-don’t-know-how-many
camps. But it is, I know, in excess of one hundred. This year’s Year 7 camp would rate as
probably THE ‘easiest’ camps I’ve ever attended. The kids participated. I
didn’t hear a single serious complaint. I didn’t hear ONE kid say, ‘I’m
bored’ or “Do we have to do this?’ They
were cheerful, friendly, cooperative. Imagine that. [Of course they weren’t
perfect. The group sleeping in the room
next to mine foolishly started a pillow fight at 6.30 am on our second morning.
I invited them to get dressed and sit with me – in silence – out on the veranda,
and watch the sun rise. Which they did. I think they actually enjoyed it. And
they weren’t resentful or grumpy or hard-done-by either.] The good behaviour of the students meant that
the teachers could relax – we didn’t have to be 24-hours-a-day police people.
The Year 7s were a terrific group of kids to work with.
Back at school – on Thursday -l they started their “ABOUT
ME” ALP (that’s Active Learning Project). All 80 were in the DOIG Centre for
the whole day. And there they were, our
year 7s, working in groups in a focussed, cooperative way throughout the whole
day. Learning how to work cooperatively, learning to be independent learners,
learning to show initiative, using computers to assist their thinking and to
record their emerging ideas: important 21t century skills.
There are some pretty exciting things happening at
Warrandyte. It’s a joy to be a part of it.
Learning & Teaching and Professional Learning