Saturday, September 24, 2011

Poisonous Beast Test

As I was taking the laundry off the line one evening earlier this week I heard a rustle in the grass. 

Me being who I am, a nature-lover, an animal-lover, an ugly beast lover, and an immigrant myself, I immediately thought fondly of the little - or big - cane toad who was probably hopping nearby.

"Hey Ryan," I yelled.  "Run and ask your father for a flashlight."  (Ryan was stationed nearby to deal with my imaginary nighttime fears - vampires and werewolves lurking in the bushes - not with toads and snakes.)

Jedi Knights

Within seconds - I barely ever get a response this fast from my men - Damon and the three boys were by my side, carrying not only torches (whatever, can I mix Englishes, please?!) but armed with baseball and cricket bats.

Like there really was a werewolf after me.  And a baseball bat was going to make the difference if there was.

"Honestly, Damon.  A cane toad isn't going to kill me.  I just wanted to see the little guy, not mash him to bits."

"They're poisonous though."  Damon replied.  Treading rather carefully.

Yeah, only if I lick it.

Damon is right, you are actually obligated by law to kill the little buggers here if you see one.  They are an introduced species - intentionally introduced by early morons trying to get rid of the cane beetle.  Like most other introduced species, they thrive here, outbreeding native fauna and destroying the ecosystem.  My guess is they dealt with the cane beetles though.

If we could find a way to ship 'em to Haiti, they are the same toads whose venom is used in Haitian voodoo ceremonies for its hallucinogenic properties.

And I can't kill 'em.  First of all you have to prove it's a cane toad and not some other local toad.  And then I just can't bring myself to blame that one cute little toad for all the destruction his species does to the habitat.  It wasn't his fault he was brought here.  And again, I'm an immigrant too.  (Really I just can't see myself allowing anyone to kill anything, let alone with a baseball bat.  Or a cricket bat or golf club either.  And who the heck wants to stick one in the freezer next to the icecream?!)

What to do when you aren't sure?  (Matthew has his doubts.)

Two days later we were at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where we were fortunate enough to see the keepers taking some of their charges out for exercise.

"Is that poisonous?"  a woman asked me, eyeing the large green python on the ground with suspicion.

"No.  No.  It's a python."  I reassured her.

"But how can you tell?" she insisted, not at all perturbed by my rather odd accent.  (Like I should be an authority on native Australian fauna!)

"Well, frankly, " I told her.  "I can't really.  I just go on the attitudes of the zookeepers handling her."

Send in an overconfident brother!  (Aidan checks it out.)

Aussies are pretty brave, to the point of nonchalance - Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter is a BIG hero here (and his zoo is right up the road) - but even Aussies will exercise caution - and USE a snake stick - when dealing with poisonous snakes that eh, might not KILL you outright nowadays, but will certainly give you quit a sting, put you in the hospital for a few weeks and generally ruin an otherwise perfectly good day. 

So that when the kids and I got to the beach yesterday and saw a bunch of large, blue plastic-looking jellyfish lying all over the sand and in the water, although my INITIAL reaction was BLUE BOTTLE, the saner part of me thought that even Aussies wouldn't be letting their children swim if they REALLY WERE blue bottles.  (They are called Portugese Man of War everyone else, but Aussies like to put a light-hearted spin on it!  Box jellyfish, also blue, are also deadly.  I believe THESE were blue blubber jellyfish though.  Perfectly harmless.  I checked!)

Touch it and see!  (We DID ask first!)

A few weeks ago we got the kids - ALL of the kids, not just ours - out of the water when a fin pierced the shoreline.  It was probably a dolphin, but it popped up quickly.

I am SO bummed it disappeared just as quickly.  Shark OR dolphin, I would have REALLY LOVED TO SEE THAT!  As long as I wasn't in the water.

Ryan's solution.  Bring shark bait.
So that, just in case there were any doubts by now, this really IS the place for me.  The Huntsmen join me in the evenings when Damon is out.  And I just let them out the back door.  The tiny little spiders help me hang up the laundry.  I haven't actually SEEN a redback - the POISONOUS one - but I figure if it's flourescent yellow or green or that really pretty, snowy white I'm clear.  And the little guys swing about happily letting me get my work done.

You can pretty much tell how dangerous something is by watching an Aussie react to it.

And maybe letting him touch it first!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lawnton Rocks!

Pine Rivers Press, September 14, 2011
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Subtitle:  Lawnton State School and Mt Maria College Petrie were among 19 schools in the north coast region to record big improvements in the 2011 NAPLAN test.  The results were revealed to the schools on Friday. 

Lawnton State School and Mt Maria College Petrie have improved the most in the 2011 NAPLAN results, testing students in reading, writing, numeracy, grammar and punctuation.

Education Minister Cameron Dick credited the introduction of Prep for the improved results across the State, especially in Year 3.

Lawnton State School principal Kylie Smith said teachers, students and parents also deserved credit.

"This year's grade 3 is the first cohort that were part of Prep so that may be part of the improvement but as an entire school we looked at the areas that we were strugglin in and really focussed on those," Ms Smith said.

While the greatest improvement was in Year 5, the school recorded improvements in all three year levels tested - Year 3, 5 and 7.

To be fair, the school needed improvement. 

In 2010, the school was ranked either below or substantially below the Australian schools' average in all five testing areas.

So were all but one parochial school in our area.  (And that was ranked as barely average.)

What impresses me, beyond the improvement itself, is the transparency of the system, where I was able to go online ( and look at the rankings and the ability and willingness of educators to evaluate themselves, see and ACKNOWLEDGE THE NEED FOR IMPROVEMENT and then do something about it.

The teachers and administrators have worked really really hard. 

But you can't improve if you don't admit there is a problem in the first place.

This frankness, honesty, and willingness to admit there is need for improvement is the basis for the improvement.  (Try getting ANY national test results out of a German school - even on your own child - it is all classifed as state secret apparently.)

The willingness to work longer hours, to work harder in those longer hours and to try new programs....the willingness to try something new...oh, heck, you all know where I am going with this.

Who knew I deserved a school like this for my children?!

Really.  This is the kind of school my children get to go to.  (And the message on the board was posted in May, long before the national test results came back.)
It's attitude like this that gets the job done.

I asked Ryan why she thought we were all so much happier here than in our old school in Germany. 

She very thoughtfully came up with three reasons.  (Negating my need to worry about her processing and synthesizing abilities!)

1.  They help me here when I need it.
2.  We have one teacher for all of our main subjects.
3.  We aren't stuck in the same classroom all day.

Eh.  Every now and then we can get her to knuckle down and read.

1.  In Germany Ryan was ignored and overlooked.  She was quiet and didn't make trouble.  And so noone bothered to help her even though it was obvious from at least second grade on that she needed it.  Her classwork was half-finished and incorrect.  She had no idea what they had done all day.  And yet that was all seen as her own fault, for not being more mature to get it done.  When I tried to talk to the teachers about helping her, I was seen as overambitious and meddling.

 The entire class of around 30 students was taught at one - admittedly academically high - level.  Tough luck if you couldn't keep up.  Not every child can go to university you know.  This, of course decided by second grade.  No special help for those who needed it, no extra challenges for those who were ahead and bored.  No small group work at all.  (This is seen as unfair.  All the kids should be treated equally - interpreted as EXACTLY THE SAME - even though each one has individual strengths, weaknesses and needs.)  This system is so horrendous and outdated that the United Nations has officially cited it as a violation of human rights.  No kidding.

2.  From first grade on the kids in Germany had at least four teachers for German, Maths, English, Religion let alone Sports and Music.  When I tried to talk to Ryan's third grade teacher about her problems in math she HAD NO IDEA how Ryan was doing in math.  NONE AT ALL.  This despite the fact that I had been asking for help for Ryan for three years and could see the correlation between her reading and comprehension difficulties and her comprehension problems in math.  NO ONE KNEW.  NO ONE CARED.  Not all kids can go to university you know.

3.  The school in Altdorf had no library.  How unbelievable is that?  There were 30 computers in a computer lab.  For over 400 kids.  No computer interface in the classrooms.  The kids sat at their desks all day.  Here the kids alternate serious maths and writing time with trips to the library and computers.  (They also have computers in all the classroom and the teachers can and do access the internet for lessons.)  The large, grassy sports fields - and the climate to use them year round - are an admitted luxury.  As are the gardening and cooking classes.  The music program.  The choir.  The interschool sports and scholastic competitions. 

Poor Aussie kids - FORCED to read and write at 5!
Funny enough, Ryan and Andrew both feel they are learning MORE here than they did in Germany.  To be fair, I believe it is just a change in emphasis.  Since the kids don't have to spend as much time learning to form their letters perfectly (they do work on it but not to the same all-exclusive extent as in Germany) or rewriting their essays four times (talk about taking all the joy out of writing) they are able to spend more time on science and history and social studies and the world around them.

I'm just so proud of our little school.

And while I know I need to get over the anger I have towards the German system, it does make me sad that children I know and love and Germany are stuck in it. 

A culture of change.  An ability to acknowledge faults and seek improvement.

It'd also take BUTTLOADS of taxpayer money to overhaul a decrepit system that still teaches the kids NOTHING in the years before first grade and then only teaches the kids part-time once they reach school-age.  With no teachers' aides, with no improvements in the schools...

Our school isn't perfect. 

Lawnton State School pride

But it is still paradise.  Thank you Lawnton State School for making each one of my children special and for helping each one of them to grow into the best people they can be.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Day At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary - Photos

We're on Spring Holidays for two weeks.

This is how we spent September 21st.

Posing for Mommy's blog!

LOVE those koalas
Rainbow lorikeet
Eating oatmeal?
The Germany Bird!  (Known to everyone else in Australia but us as the bush turkey.)
The prettiest bird in Australia.
Andrew gets in on the lorikeet feeding action.
Although holding chicks is just as much fun!
Mommy wants that picture for her "Sheep versus Brumby" essay!

Aussie cowboy and his dog
Let me at those kids!

Shearing the sheep.  (So that Matthew can practice his 'sh's.)

ALL MINE!  (My friend Zianda, her son Oliver and my four.  Could all be mine though, couldn't they?!)

Hey!  How'd I end up with the baby?!

Mommy FINALLY gets to see a WOMBAT!

The usual view of a wombat.  (If any.)
IN THE OPEN!  Must be breeding season.
Australia's Next Top Model

The Fam with Kanga

Posing with Daddy.  (Doesn't Daddy look a lot like Rafiki?!)

Matthew coaxes a kangaroo to bother standing.

Aidan too.  Look - they can STAND on those hind legs!


Supposedly these animals hop.  Saw it on the Animal Channel once!
Isn't a day at Lone Pine without a picture of a koala!

The End!

Ryan's Horses

Just as I was beginning to wonder about Ryan again - she had an oral test at riding that made me question her ability to synthesize and express information - her teacher and vice principal met with me to assure me how well she is doing in school.  (Quarterly student evaluations - there's a concept!)  She scored in the top of her class on the national exams - at par or ahead of other Australian children nationwide.  And, although she isn't as quick or perceptive as some of the other top students in her class (and does seem to have some trouble processing information), she is in the top groups (another nice concept, small teaching groups focused on the needs of students at different learning levels within a classroom) because she tries so hard and is so responsible and efficient about getting the work done.

It's not snazzy.  But she's the one who pulls out the notebook and gets it done.

She may not dazzle but she has a steadiness and maturity about her that her teachers sense and appreciate. 

So that the parent - teacher conferences are really more about treating the parent!

"She's a lovely child." they tell me.

What a nice change from "not everyone can go to gymnasium, Frau Connor."

I'm still learning to accept that she isn't an avid reader.  I still wonder what she could have done if she had had the benefit of the same fantastic program that the twins are in now.  But, thanks to her teachers, I AM appreciating what she DOES have - a steadiness, self-worth and a real sense of who she is.

Parenting Ryan makes me a better person.  If it doesn't kill me first!

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Andrew's Work

Andrew's class has been working on descriptive writing.  He also reads a LOT - sometimes a book a day.  And it shows.  Sure, there are some inconsistencies, and sometimes his fancy turn of phrase makes no sense.  But rather than correct it all to death - and take all the fun out of it - we are letting him express himself freely.  As for staying on the lines....once again, really not as important as learning to put your ideas into words.

Children are a work in progress.  Something there is no word - or concept - for in German.

(These are two essays...neither finished as the idea was to express yourself descriptively in the amount of time allotted.)

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Matthew's Spring Break

Once again, the Germans would be appalled.  No writing on the line.  In fact, THERE IS NO LINE!  God, I love this country.  And don't ask me what Matthew is talking about in his first picture.  Making a dog?  Whatever.  He is proud.   And I love the colours.  Even if his proportion and symmetry is off.  (An automatic fail in Germany.)  

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Aidan's Spring Break

It's September 21st in Colorado and I'm trying to post some photos and artwork from the kids in honor of my mother's birthday.  True to form, I am not only internet incompetent, but internet impatient.   In any case, here's what I got.  Kid by kid.

Also a big 'in your face' to the German school system on what five year olds can and can't do.  Both my five year olds are not only reading and writing in Prep - the year before first grade - but LOVING it.  The emphasis is on encouraging the kids to express themselves, on introducing the CONCEPTS of phonics and writing.   As opposed to spending the first six months of first grade forcing the kids to write on the line and form the letters and numbers correctly with no idea of WHY.  Kids are curious at five, they are interested in the world around them.  These little guys are so excited to be ALLOWED and ABLE to read and to write - to express themselves creatively - that the rest naturally follows.  Learning CAN be fun....if introduced that way!


(PS - Click on the piece of writing and it will enlarge so that you can read the whole thing.)

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