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Choose to balance both worlds

An article about GenX parents popped up on my Facebook feed earlier today.

As a 36 year old, self confessed 90s tragic, and mother of three kids aged 13, 10 and 9 a lot of the points in the article resonate with me but I also think that previous generations of parents probably thought the same about their own baby boomer kids and the modern technology of their time too, TV, radio etc.

Just last night I Instagrammed a video of Mr10 playing with Aurasma for the first time. He was combining the real world objects in our household with interactive content to create Auras. Totally fun. Totally creative. This morning, he and his brother were arguing as they built something together in Minecraft. After that they worked together to do the washing up without an issue. This afternoon, they were playing a drawing game (with pens and paper, not on a screen) and awarding one another points. Mr9 thought Mr10 was awarding points too low. They argued. Right now they’re playing Guitar Hero together and laughing their heads off together. Just the usual ups and downs of spending a day together with your brother during the holidays.


Whether you have a screen in front of you or not, your ability to engage with the world still boils down to a child’s ability to engage with other humans. They learn this from their parents, their siblings, their friends, their experiences, their holidays, their conversations. I try to provide my kids with a range of all of these things, online and off.

We the grown ups, need to figure out how to share what we love of our world and memories with our kids, as they navigate their own world and make their own memories. It’s like balancing in the middle of a see-saw…a little bit exciting, a little bit scary.

How do you balance on the see-saw?


Choose to play without stereotypes


Flicking down my Facebook news feed today, an image of a 1981 print advertisement particularly stood out because of two reasons:

A. It had a redheaded girl in the image who had a cheeky smirk, jeans, t-shirt and joggers on. My (not so) little girl is redheaded, cheeky and often found getting around in jeans and a band-based t-shirt with Chuck Taylor’s on her feet. I love her style.
B. That girl was holding Lego. And I mean old-school Lego. The Lego I remember from my childhood. A seemingly random assortment of blocks in red, yellow, blue, green, black and white, along with a tree and a couple of people figures (not mini-figures, but their predecessors – true old-school). This is the Lego I remember and love. The Lego from my own children’s collection barely resembles the Lego in the picture. Today, it’s so specific and detailed, with Lego based on themes and films, with pieces created specifically for just one set, and so many fricking tiny pieces!!! Twelve months after packing away my kids’ MASSIVE Lego collection (more about that later) I am STILL finding teeny tiny pieces of Lego all over my house.

So the little girl and the Lego stood out, and I immediately thought, “That is awesome” but then I glanced at the picture next to it and saw a woman about my age, holding onto a TV van made from a Lego Friends set. Overlayed on this image of the woman were the words, “What it is, is different” compared to the words overlayed on the 1981 advertisement of, “What it is, is beautiful”. I then looked above the images and saw that my edu-mate Bianca Hewes had reposted the image suggesting it would be great for a stereotype unit for English. That spiked my interest further so I clicked on the image and the link within the comment led me to this blog post about the 1981 advertisement, where I discovered that the woman on the right of the Facebook image is in fact the little girl from the 1981 advertisement. Reading the blog post and thinking about my childhood and adulthood Lego experiences made me think…lots. Hence this blog post!

I started to share the picture on my Facebook feed and type my opinion about the image, and they way Lego and society have changed, but the post just kept getting longer and longer. I talk too much. I post excessively to an excessive number of social networks. I write really long blog posts, which is probably why I don’t blog much. I started this whole blog with the intention to reflect on my teaching experiences but I’ve found that I’m more inclined to blog about things I experience or think as a parent instead. I ramble. I know I do. But that doesn’t stop me! Though I initially saw that image and blog post as a teaching opportunity for the English classroom, as I wrote that really long Facebook post, I thought more and more about the stereotyping my own kids have experienced, and their views of the world based on the toys they’ve played with and the TV or films they’ve watched, ultimately, the plethora of media they have consumed in their short lives. I’m not aware of them judging others based on stereotypes formed by this exposure, but I’m not around them 24-7 either.

The blog post made me question Lego! Lego for crying out loud! LEGO!!! That’s almost sacrilege! Then it made question other choices I’d made. I thought nothing of plonking my kids in front of DVDs/Foxtel. Granted there were good programs like Dora the Explorer and Little Einsteins that definitely avoided the negative stereotypes but there was a lot of rubbish too. Then it seems that once they hit school-age, many of the books, games (online and offline), TV shows, films, and toys (including Lego) all begin to conform to a gender stereotype. We choose to put our kids in front of those shows, and we choose to buy them the books and toys. We need to choose wisely when it comes to toys, books and screen time. You guessed it, we need to choose awesome. I thought I was choosing awesome with Lego and now I’m questioning that.

There is so much more STUFF in 2014 compared to 1981. More TV, more films, more books (yay!), more media (yuk!) and more toys! As the girl (or woman, as she’s now 39yo) from the advertisement said, “In 1981, LEGOs were simple and gender-neutral, and the creativity of the child produced the message. In 2014, it‚Äôs the reverse: the toy delivers a message to the child, and this message is weirdly about gender.” When did we start letting toy companies dictate to our kids? I think I can answer this one in regards to my kids and Lego.

Twelve months ago I packed up four 22 litre containers of Lego. I tried to find a picture of the boxes, but it’s so far down my Instagram feed it will take forever to find. I’ll put it on my to-do list. So I packed it all up. They had barely played with it for the last few months and I was sick of treading on it when they did play with it. We didn’t have any of the Friends Lego but we had plenty of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Spongebob, and other character-based Lego. I was a bit sad. They didn’t seem to care. I had ‘played’ with Lego into my early teen years and thought my kids would too. My daughter was 11 when we packed up the Lego. My boys were 8 and 9. They didn’t bat an eyelid. I’m sure I shed a small tear. Only after considering that 1981 advertisement today did I really think about why they didn’t care that the Lego was packed away and why I was sad.

When I played with Lego as a kid, I made the stories, I made the characters and I made the places. With today’s Lego, all of those decisions are made for the kids playing with it. That’s a bit sad. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Harry Potter and Star Wars Lego but I make it and display it on a shelf…coz I’m old. So kids’ creative choices when playing with Lego are limited. I think that’s why my kids weren’t too concerned when I packed up the Lego. I wasn’t robbing them of their creativity so it was okay.

As I packed the last box of Lego away I noticed that all three kids were on computers. The boys were playing Minecraft on a server with about 25 other young kids from around the world. They were creating epic structures, with no instructions, made from very basic, 8-bit materials sourced in-world. They had probably updated their ‘skin’ at some stage so their characters had different outfits, hair and faces. Meanwhile, my daughter was playing Sims 3 and creating yet another house that would impress any architect, having first created a couple of Sims with unique hair dos, facial features and names. They were making choices about their characters, their stories and their setting. They were getting the same buzz I got when I played Lego as a kid. I think, whether it was conscious or not, that with Lego, they were over being told how to play when gaming provided them with so much more creativity and freedom.

Think back to your childhood and when you had the most fun just ‘playing’. Was it when you were making choices or when they were being made for you? Do we form stereotypes in our minds because our choices are taken away?

We aren’t born with those stereotypes in our heads. We develop them based on the things we see and hear. My hope is that my kids, whether conscious or not, abandoned Lego because they wanted to think for themselves. I don’t regret spending what is probably an obscene amount of money on all that Lego. I think it provided all the fun of Lego that I remember from my childhood; the feeling of completing your new set, breaking it all up after playing with it for a couple of weeks, creating your own new structures from your vast collection, and that glorious sound of a large bucket of Lego being tipped over the floor. But the Lego days didn’t last as long for them as they did for me. Perhaps because Minecraft and Sims 3 provided more creative appeal. Perhaps because, like the text overlay on the picture of the grown woman says, it’s different. Lego in 2014, is not how I remember it from 1985.

In summary, finally, I hope that the small amount of worldly experience my kids possess means they will choose to base their opinion of people on face value, and the stories those people tell and the adventures they share, not because the media or a toy company dictates their idea of ‘normal’ to them.

Do you question the ‘messages’ toys are sending to kids? Are they developing negative stereotypes based on those toys?

Creating Fake Social Media Profiles

Creating a social media profile for a fictional character or historical figure is a fun way for students to embrace their creative mind and explore the character or person further. By using creative tools like Photoshop and PowerPoint (yes, PPT can be creative!) students don’t need to create social media accounts as they can simply create fake versions of these.

For years now, I have used John DeLisle’s fake Facebook profile PowerPoint slides with students (see JFK sample below). Though the layout may not accurately reflect the latest Facebook layout, the general gist is still there. I have it on my to-do list to create an updated one but it keeps pushing down the ever-growing list. I’ll get to it one day ūüėČ


More recently, I created a Twitter template in PowerPoint that students can use to create a fake profile. It’s fairly simple to manipulate and change the texts and images. Please feel free to check out my blog post on it and use freely with your students. I had lots of fun making the WillShakes profile as the sample (see below).


Finally, just this week, I taught my final lesson of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Year 7 and we used the fake Instagram template using Photoshop. You can download this resource from the Adobe EdExchange and use it with your students. Instagram is one of the latest and greatest social media networks with students so you could get high engagement with this one. I also suggested to my students to use it in conjunction with PicMonkey to edit their pictures if their Photoshop skills weren’t so great. My example below is also WillyShakes but I had fun demonstrating this same resource in a webinar this week and used Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series as the example – both were fun to make.


Choose “Red Power”

I usually try and embrace the positive when writing a blog post but today I was angered to the point of rage. I was walking through a shopping centre with my husband and kids earlier today and a teenage boy walked passed us and muttered to his mate, “Gingers have no soul”. For those who don’t know, my husband and all three kids have red hair. None of them heard what this kid said but I did.

I was so angry. In a nano-second I considered doing nothing but my mothering defensive instinct kicked in – this punk wasn’t going to get away with insulting my family. I turned around and yelled after him to repeat what he had said and come back and say it to our faces. The weak human that he was, he didn’t do this. His friend turned looking sheepish but they both kept walking. At this point I had two choices, pursue him or keep walking.

There’s too many crazies in the world and this moron could have been one of them so I chose to keep walking but I’m still angry.

I’m sick of the jokes and cruel nicknames about my kids because of the colour of their hair. The two that annoy me most are “ranga” and “gingers have no souls”. Ranga originate from “orangutan” and gained popularity when Summer Heights High gained popularity on ABC in the late naughties. Chris Lilley’s “Jonah” bullied a redheaded kid constantly calling him “ranga” and other names. Apparently it was funny to refer to a person as a monkey. When a dark-skinned person is referred to as an ape, they call that racism. As for the “gingers have no souls” statement, if you find that funny, I really don’t want to know you. Your soul is who you are, what makes you you, and to suggest someone doesn’t have a soul because of the colour of their hair, is just plain disgusting.

Now many people might say, “That’s life. Kids tease other kids all the time” and I get that. We try to build resilience in our kids and teach them about dealing with taunts but also not being mean themselves. There is a healthy amount of sarcasm and joking around in our family but never to the point of criticising the way someone looks. Joking around is fun but not when you hurt feelings.

Thankfully as my hubby has red hair, he’s walked in their shoes before and has always taught them to be proud redheads – it’s known as “red power” in our house. Good friends might have nicknames for him (Cheezel Dust is a favourite) but they are never mean, always in good fun and there is a trusted friendship established where the joking around is acceptable. I love nicknames – all my kids have them and
I usually have them for my friends and students too, but they’re never mean or derogatory.

To have a random kid walk past us today and say what he said just made me so angry. He didn’t have the right to say that about three little kids he doesn’t even know. He’s lucky my husband didn’t hear it. I told hubby afterwards and I’m happy he didn’t hear it because he too, was obviously enraged and probably wouldn’t have been as tolerant as what I was. My boys didn’t hear me yell after the kid (EB Games was far more exciting) but my 12 year old daughter asked me what the kid said and I told her. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. I reminded her of “red power” and we knocked knuckles.

I hope when my kids experience this kind of thing themselves when I am not around, that they can stand up for themselves with respect and dignity and walk away feeling strong. I hope they choose awesome.

Though Tim Minchin made light of the plight of a redhead in his song, Taboo, I still think people should think before they speak. Just like skin colour or sexuality, people do not have a choice of what colour hair they are born with. If you think it’s funny to call my hubby or kids “ranga” or say they have no souls, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. It just isn’t. Don’t do it. Don’t let your kids do it. Be kind. Choose awesome instead.

Choose a Fake Twitter Template

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If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love Twitter! Not only is it great for my professional development as a teacher but it’s entertaining as well. It’s popularity is increasing in Australia and our students are increasingly taking to it to follow and engage with their favourite sports stars, musicians and celebrities.

I’ve always liked the idea of having students create fake Twitter or Facebook profiles of historical figures, fictional figures or even parody accounts, to delve deeper into the understanding of history, a character in a novel or society. Just this week I saw a fantastic account by the name of @TitanicRealTime¬†that tweeted as though it was reporting from the Titanic more than 100 years ago. What a great way for kids to learn about the Titanic voyage in an engaging way – tweet from the ship!

Not all schools have access to Twitter to create accounts so teachers have to rely on templates. I got bored on the train yesterday (not really, but you know once I start these things I have to finish them) and made a fake Twitter template for good ol’ Will Shakespeare! I’d like it to have a second page so kids can extend themselves and include more tweets but that can wait – perhaps kids could do that themselves even! Use freely with your students and let me know how it goes.

Download fake Twitter template: FakeTwitterTemplate


Sometimes all I can do is hope

“Choose Awesome” is a known term in my house. My kids have heard me say it many times, whether it be talking to them about their commitment to their music or sporting activities or simply just talking about being a better person, they know that it means, “To do your best, regardless of the circumstances, in the most respectful and dignified way you can”. I’ll get back to my kids shortly.

Like most teachers around Sydney today, I am sitting at my laptop preparing for the new school year. It’s raining and miserable outside, so it’s the perfect day for planning. In looking for some videos for teacher workshops I stumbled across the one from AITSL below. I’m sure many teachers are sick of hearing ’21st century students’ and ’21st century skills’ as we are now well and truly into the 21st century and I think we should simply be talking about ‘students’ and ‘skills’ so please ignore the title and listen to the message in the video.

I’ve heard the message in this video many times but what got me thinking, and ultimately blogging (other than avoiding that planning I was talking about earlier), is that my kids will go back to school on Wednesday and some, many or just one of their teachers will have never heard it or has heard it and dismissed it. This concerns me…greatly.

The kids have spent the last 6 weeks travelling to many different places around NSW and spending time with different family members and friends. They’ve built many worlds in many different games, both with technology and without. My 8-year-old loves making stop motion videos and has spent many hours storyboarding, designing sets and creating those videos. My 9-year-old has discovered Skype this holidays and uses it to connect to me when I’m at work, his grandparents, and kids from the Minecraft server he plays in, Massively Minecraft. He has video-chatted with @jokay to learn more about Minecraft. My 11-year-old continues her love of Sims 3, having received many extension packs for Christmas. But her interest has now transfered into real life. She is interested in the architecture of buildings and has definitive opinions on style and construction. All three kids love watching Minecraft parody videos on YouTube and it’s their dream to script, design, produce and publish a parody hit on YouTube. They are always talking about how they can turn new songs into a parody. They have ideas written down everywhere and can’t wait to act on it. The challenge they have set for themsleves is to learn how to make animations like CaptainSparklez, their YouTube hero!

I hope that they will be able to take all the learning and experiences they had during the holidays and celebrate them, use them in the classroom and help others to develop their skills in those areas. But I fear that they will instead launch straight into the business of school. Literacy in the morning session, numeracy in the middle session and a valant attempt to fit the other 4 KLAs into the rest of the time. This is not a criticism of my kids’ school at all. It’s a concern that the message in that video above, is not being received by educators and school leaders, across the board and that governments and institutions place unnecessary requirements (*cough* NAPLAN *cough*) on schools that do not embrace creativity and differentiation. So all I can do is hope.

I hope that my kids turn up to school on Wednesday and their teachers have worked with school leaders to develop project based learning experiences for the school year that are student driven and consider the individual interests and learning needs of all the kids in their classroom. I hope their teachers won’t teach to a test…ever. I hope that creativity will be a part of every lesson, knowing that creativity comes in many different shapes and forms. I hope my kids will tell stories every day, whether they be written, spoken, programmed or acted out. I hope they will connect to other kids and adults across the globe, understanding perspectives that differ from their own. I hope they will bring home homework tasks that ask them to solve problems and create new understandings of the world. I hope at the end of the year, their will be no presentation for ‘Top of the Class’ or ‘Most Improved’ but instead, receive a digital portfolio of their work that shows progress and creativity along with reflections from them on their experiences in the classroom for that year.

This is what I hope for. Some might say I am hoping for something that is unattainable but I say these hopes should be the expectations of every parent if they want their child to be succesful and relevant in the world. So I hope, and if my hopes are met then I will be one very happy parent and educator as my kids will get to choose awesome every single day. If my hopes aren’t met then I hope that my kids will still choose awesome, no matter what experiences they face in their classrooms and homework tasks.


Choose to Host an Epic Minecraft Party

I know I usually post about choosing awesome but for this post, I am choosing ‘epic’. For those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram, you will know that it was my son’s 8th birthday party on the weekend. He wanted, in his words, “an epic Minecraft party”, and an epic party is what he got! The word ‘epic’ was used extensively throughout the day and it will get a decent run throughout this blog post.


I recommend starting the planning at least a few weeks out from the party. I did it all in the week leading up to the party but never got to bed before 3am! I also had help from two amazing people – my best friend Sophie and my wonderful husband, Grant.¬†They helped out in so many ways – mowing lawns, setting up tables, preparing food, cutting out ridiculous amounts of paper, helping with games and generally doing anything I asked of them. I also had Deb Hogg¬†there to help out as she is the famous Wildernes’ Mum (one of Max’s Massively Minecraft friends). She helped out as well by taking photos when I didn’t have a spare hand! The ‘epicness’ would not have been possible without them.

If you would like to purchase the printables I created for this party please visit my store where you can purchase downloads for as little as $1.00.

The Inspiration

When the idea of a Minecraft party was first proposed, of course, I took to the Internet. I found an amazing video posted on YouTube by MarpleFrank of the Minecraft party they threw for their 10 year old son. I used so many ideas from this video and it was so good to have the visuals from that video to guide my planning.

As I found ideas, I pinned them to my Minecraft Party Pinterest board. It was so good to have all the ideas here to return to when needed.If you download any of my resources below as original source files you will need to download the Minecraftia font from as I used this font for almost everything I made.

You should also become very familiar with the Minecraft Paper Art website as I downloaded and used so many print outs from this site for decorations and prizes.

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