Gapminder – what a great resource


Many an IDEAS FESTIVAL wants people to think about ‘the way we think, eat, move, build, care, communicate and share information’. is a phenomenally useful site and resource, particularly for Years 9- 12, though with opportunities to be employed even in the upper primary Years.

Gapminder’s primary focus is on using statistics to explore developmental issues (and to perhaps debunk myths). This VERY USEFUL site contains interactive graphs related to development issues (via the Gapminder World tab), videos, downloads, notes and other resources for teachers. The interactive graphs [press PLAY] are particularly appealing and offer potential lessons in a number of subjects; they initially load a modern set of data but can be played (and paused) to run from 1809 to the present (or, in some cases, to some projected year in the near future). Statistics used to create graphs can also be reconsituted to display against a global map. The videos are also informative, with great potential to engender discussion. The site would perhaps work best with Year 9s and above but, with teacher assitance and judicous selection of what is used, the site offers pedagogical potential from Year 6 onwards. One glitch was found: tutorial videos such as ‘Learn to select indicators…’ would not load for the evaluator. The issue may be bandwidth or speed of connection.

Top 10 teachable novels – a list of sorts

Here’s my list (the order is not important.)

Tomorrow when the war began. For year 9 or 10. Students, even reluctant readers, respond to this book and it would be eminently teachable given that there is now a recent film.

Holes: Easy reading, big themes; an apparently simple book but the result of skilled writing – for Years 7 or 8 (I’d do it at 8). The video adds a good visual comparison.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Year 10 – 11: despite its apparent difficulties (let’s face it – the vocabulary and focalisation {adult sensitivity via a young female} are difficult for many) this is very teachable – even to reluctant readers. I always read and contextualise the opening chapter (show excerpts for the film vesion to help establish the tone and feel of 30s Southern USA. I have also taught this novel in conjunction with the film (what has four eyes and cannot see – Mississippi) with Year 12s. A great novel for links to other curriculum (Modern History). There is also a host of other great teaching ideas out there in cyberspace; look and enter TKAM in the search panel to see an example of what I mean.

The world according to Garp –
 For year 12 and with the qualification that some parents hate the notion of this book being studied in schools.  This gets them reading (and the film with Robin Williams – despite deficiencies – is a good visualisation).

Animal Farm – classic novel for Year 9 – 10 (11s via postmodernist critique). A fable which has these benefits. It’s short and so the length does not put students off. It’s concise – every event tells. It’s lucid, lovely for teaching the power of language. It has a mulititude of links to History. I’d also use it in a Modern History or Senior English class. (Positioning, background on Orwell, deconstruction, and such.)

The day of the triffids – Year 10; great, thoughtful sci-fi (post apocalyptic) novel. And it is not all that sci-fi’ish. Also by John Wyndham and eminently teachable is

The chrysalids – and this one works well if taught in conjunction with a film addressing a similar theme (the opposition of most societies to a difference that they see as threatening.) An example isPhenomenon. Imagine the historical and/or contemporary connections you could make with any oppressive regime – Germany’s Nazis, Pol Pot, Spains Franco, the US and its flirtation with McCarthyism (or Patriot acts maybe), the current administration in Myanmar… alas, the list goes on. 

Snow falling on cedars – Years 10 – 11. A ripping plot, subtly handled.Very good for thematic work on tolerance.

 – Still a great novel that appeals to the innate morbidity of many a student in Year 12. The film with John Hurt has some appeal too.

The English patient – but only with a class of Year 12 fliers. This is great for teaching post modernist rejection of historiography.(I also like making links between Ondaatje and his sapper ‘hero’….)

That’s it – 10. I am sure I could think a little longer and add at least another five. I wonder what other English teachers favour teaching – and why?

Book Drum – Great for the new Australian curriculum in English

Within the new National Curriculum for English, the opening sentence beneath the heading – Year 9 Achievement Standard – is:

“By the end of Year 9 students listen to, read and view a range of spoken, written and multimodal texts, recognising how events, situations and people can be represented from different perspectives, and identifying stated and implied meaning in texts.”

Book Drum ( offers a great resource for teachers wanting additional information on many many novels, such as To kill a mockingbirdPride and prejudiceThe great Gatsby and many more. In addition, it is a wonderful way to teach ‘representation’ and contextualisation (particularly since much of what Book Drum calls a ‘profile’ offers snippets of background information on specific text within the book – via ‘bookmarks’). For good examples of this check out the profiles on Dava Sobel’s Longitude or Hemingway’s A moveable feast.

I’d also imagine that getting students to create a profile for a study novel (would work really well as a paired or small group collaboration) is an excellent opportunity to assess how well the student has engaged with the book. This could be done outside Book Drum via Blackboard or Moodle, or using Word or web design software.

Book Drum has been added via evaluation and quality assurance to the Learning Place‘s edusite. Check it out – it’s a wonderful resource.

PS – I selected a statement from the year 9 curriculum as a starting point; Book Drum has great relevance in subsequent Years. Witness the Year 10 statement: “By the end of Year 10 students listen to, read and view a range of spoken, written and multimodal texts, identifying and explaining values, attitudes and assumptions.”

Fishing and fiction

Fishing & fiction have any number of connections for me. Let’s begin with the mundane; seven letters, the f beginning…

A Jungle Perch.
A sooty caught on fly


Fishing is associated with exaggeration, with hyperbole, with slow tension, sudden climax and resolution, ecstatic or aggrieved. And the tellers of fishing tales: John Gierach, whose fish are as long as a leg, Hemingway’s Nick Adams, returned from war, in big two hearted river, who loses a big fish and feels the disappointment subside slowly after the thrill that gives him a sharp pain in the shoulders and those for whom a river runs through it (life, the story, tragedy, family, laughter…)

Here is my humble addition to the canon; and like others this one draws on facts. Approximately truthful.


There are no pictures with this story. This is to protect the approximately innocent – namely me. The reasons will become obvious.

It was September.

We were tourists, a long way from home at a place called The Cascades. This is where LeFroy Brook takes a right turn out of south-west Western Australia’s Pemberton and stumbles down a series of granite steps. What had lured me there were reports of wily trout.

The Cascades is a national park. We wandered. A wooden boardwalk skirted the lip of a pool and the track wound off up the hill, going I cared not where. I had eyes only for the pool.

What a lovely little pool it was. There was a rapid and its little tongue of white water swirled round a big drowned tree. I flicked out a rusty cast. I flicked out another and snagged the tree. A judicious pull from a different direction freed the lure. I looked up at my wife, who was watching with amused resignation.

“It looks cold,” I said. It had that heavy, viscous look that cold water gets.

She nodded. “There’s a lot of snags,” she said.

“You show a deplorable lack of faith in my casting,” I said.

“It looks cold,” she said. She smiled and wandered off up the track. To nowhere.

When she’d disappeared from view I bent down and put my right hand in the water and immediately lost contact with it. The air temperature was about 11 degrees celsius. I had no sensation left in my fingers so I couldn’t say how cold the water was.

A party of three tourists (all the locals were safely ensconced before fires at home or in the local hostelry) wandered in just as I’d snagged another log. I played out my delusion that I’d hooked an enormous fish but they weren’t fooled; the stream wasn’t that big.

“Getting any?”

I looked non-committal and they wandered off up the track. I reeled in a slimy branch and opted for a move away from civilization. Downstream, to be precise.

I made my way around a dogleg bend and left the sight of the boardwalk behind.

Ah, wilderness!

The brook, cutting into the opposite bank, had excavated a gloomy grotto. The pool looked deep and a nicely sized, submerged log poked up through the surface. It only lacked a sign – `Salmo’s Boarding Home.’ The point of the bend was miraculously clear of undergrowth, with the sole exception of a slender sapling. I had otherwise unobstructed casting into that fishy corner.

The first cast plopped into the current and disappeared from view as it was swept into the hidey hole. I engaged the gears on old trusty, started a slow retrieve and waited for the strike. It wasn’t forthcoming. The second cast was treated with similar disdain by the trout (or trouts – why be parsimonious?) that lived in there. And so was the third. I tried a faster retrieve. I tried a different lure. Nothing.

Finally it clicked. I wasn’t letting the lure sink deeply enough – I’d been too worried about snags. To hell with it; fortune favours the brave.

The cast did its neat little parabolic trick and the lure splashed down in the right spot. The current took it, away and down. I counted, and one, and two, and three. I started to retrieve and the line came taut. Water droplets started up from the line and it sang. Either I’d hooked a very large, inert trout or I was snagged.

I said some silly things for a while and then my wife suddenly reappeared, downstream, on a brown, wooden bridge I’d simply ignored.

I was a little brusque. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s a circuit track. Are you snagged?”

I praised my wife’s command of the vernacular and we made some ridiculous attempts to free the lure from this daddy of snags by her coming up the opposite bank and floating down small pieces, then bigger pieces and eventually quite large pieces of wood. Some of them even briefly caught the line but the current had them; they shimmied and waggled off downstream.

“I’ll have to go in and get it,” I said.

She offered some very sage advice. “Just break the line and leave it.”

Unfortunately, principles reared their ugly heads. There were, to the best of my knowledge, no crocs in this neck of the woods and I’d always maintained that a little swim for a lure was on, regardless of the lure’s cost, so long as there was no prospect of being eaten. There may have been vicious marauding marron in this stream, it’s true, but I tossed this aside as a wimpish cop out.

I’ve forgotten to mention that I resembled the abominable snowman. We were riding a motorbike, and, as it was a tad cold, I happened to be wearing, from bottom to top, boots, explorer socks, long thermal underwear, jocks, a thermal vest, thick long sleeved shirt, a jumper, and my faithful waxed cotton jacket, not forgetting the pack on my back.

“Anyone coming,” I called to my trusty eyes.

“Not a soul.”

I briefly wondered what had happened to the threesome and decided that they were enjoying the scenery at a leisurely pace. I could delay the inevitable no longer.

I propped the rod against the sapling and began a sickening parody of hasty disrobing. I modestly decided to leave on the top half – the long sleeved shirt was long tailed and should protect my virtue, and the water out to where the line disappeared from view did not look that deep.

The water was what Hemingway once called Moselle coloured. I stepped onto a barely submerged log that obligingly swung out from my stand more or less in the right direction. Even at four inches deep the water was cold. I didn’t have feet any longer and my gonads were performing sumo wrestlers’ tricks.

The log took a wicked wrong direction. The water didn’t look that deep and the bottom was clean white sand. I stepped off the log and went down. The water shot up past my legs, up past my waist and further. My shirt billowed and briefly opened around me and then was tugged on by the current.

I beached myself back on the bank. I don’t know how. My flesh looked waxy and dimpled, and my wife was beside herself on the bridge.

I’m afraid I took the Lord’s name in vain. I did a Spanish castanet version of “that’s cold.”

“Bugger it,” I said when I’d regained partial motor control, and stripped off all my clothing.

My trusty eyes reported the all clear.

So I flung myself back in, moondanced across the water, huffing and puffing, thinking warm thoughts, and duck-dove for the lure (all of two bucks worth). I flailed my way back ashore. I was beyond cold.

A mournful hoot sounded through the forest and a tram hove into view. This was magic for the forest was thick and dense and damp with no room for a track, let alone a tourist tram marked Pemberton Rail. A red tram, packed with aged tourists. That should be pronounced age –ed. Was I hallucinating? No. I girded my loins with the first thing that came to hand (my sleeveless, thermal vest) and crouched behind the two-inch thick sapling. Keep going, keep going, I silently prayed.

No one was on my side that day. The tram stopped, directly opposite me, about fifty metres up the other bank. The tourists sauntered out. They dawdled, they hovered, they moseyed. They sniffed the flowers, they admired the Karris and the Jarrahs. Then they were coming down the bank but not one of them looked at me. I was interesting native fauna and they were too polite to stare.

They eventually found the path and wandered off in a slow group. I jumped for my clothing.

Half clothed I risked a glance downstream. Two gentlemen were talking with my wife. They were pointing in my direction and there was a lot of laughter.

I haven’t got any pictures and my wife was too broken up with laughter to think of taking one. I’m sure they exist though.