The History & Geography Of Middle Head

Middle Head - Excursion

From the snow to a stunning winter’s day in Sydney, last week I took a group of year 7 students to Middle Head for a geography and history excursion. There were all the elements of a fun day out of the classroom as well as to get a real feel for the natural and built environment and how it changes over time. Even though the kids are all from Sydney, I was surprised how many hadn’t been to Middle Head, or anywhere around there, especially when Taronga Zoo is just down the road. Thinking of Taronga Zoo, I must pay another visit, as the last time I was there, was on a school excursion when I was 5! I do remember that there were giraffes and a koala, but I’m sure there’s more animals there than that and I’m getting side-tracked.

Middle Head, its history and military usage is fascinating. Much has been preserved as National Parks are now responsible for the area. What could be better than spending a day in a beautiful National Park that’s located right in the middle of Australia's biggest city!

The Disappearing Gun Emplacement

The Disappearing Gun Emplacement

As with much of Australian history, it starts with the aborigines. Middle Head is no exception. If you're looking for an amazing place to live, with beautiful beaches and stunning views, you can't go wrong here. Whilst it’s not entirely clear which tribe based themselves on the headland, the Camaragal (Cam-mer-ray-gal) lands took in a signification area of Mosman and North Sydney. Hence the suburb Cammeray!

After settlement and before Fort Denison was built, a fort was built on the southern side of headland next to Obelisk Beach as a means of providing early warning for the colony when ships entered the harbour and to surprise them with a shot over the bow if they had hostile intent. However, due to the distance from the colony, it was soon abandoned. Today however, this is a nudist beach, which can still provide an equally shocking a surprise to passing ships.

In 1815, with Governor Macquarie in charge, busily building the colony and naming things after himself, he granted Middle Head to Bungaree, an aboriginal who accompanied Flinders on his circumnavigation of Australia. Named the ‘Chief of Broken Bay’ and the ‘King of Port Jackson,’ Bungaree was a colourful character who was an important intermediary between the European Settlers and the local aborigines. Whilst it was probably a noble gesture for Governor Macquarie to ‘give’ Bungaree this land, which he probably already ‘owned,’ this quickly fell apart, as the soil on Middle Head isn’t much good for farming.

The site was soon abandoned until its (no apostrophe!) rebirth as a military fort in 1853 when NSW was getting worried about the prospects of being invaded by Russia. In terms of success, this fort was amazing! It protected us from invasion by Russia right throughout the Crimean war. We won’t dwell on the fact that Russia didn’t even bother sending out anyone to New South Wales, because that would ruin a good story.

Main Middle Head Fort

Main Middle Head Fort

Middle Head as a fort was of great strategic importance. As the headland is positioned right in the middle of North Head and South Head, you can see and track everything that comes into Sydney harbour. The fort had several key areas and gun placements built throughout and many of the remnants can still be seen. Over the years, the fort was upgraded for each subsequent war in which Australia was involved. The cannons changed to artillery pieces and at the height of its military use, it was covered by 71 guns. The most important period of operation however, came in World War II when the Japanese posed a real threat to Australia and managed to get two midget subs through the anti-submarine net and into Sydney Harbour.

The military base on Middle Head was finally abandoned after the end of the Vietnam War. It was then handed over to National Parks in 1979 and has been cared for and developed into a wonderful natural and historic tourist attraction. The added bonus that we had during this excursion, was to see the air ambulance conducting training exercises on and around the headland. It was awesome to see them doing a moving boat rescue exercise as well as landing and taking off right in front of us. Whilst I can’t guarantee that you will have the same amazing experience with a helicopter, you can be assured that a trip out to Middle Head is well worth it to explore the fascinating geography and history of such an important site in the development of Sydney. If you’re not feeling up to guiding this yourself, give National Parks a call and talk to them about school options.

Banksia

Banksia

Monopoly

Monopoly.jpg

One thing everyone’s looking for is someone who is genuine. This is a real challenge in education because often teachers are placed in situations where they’re teaching something that they’re not particularly interested in. As a result, they don’t have the passion, they don’t have the enthusiasm and therefore, they don’t have that genuine vibe and engagement in what they’re doing. I noticed this myself the other day.

I was supervising a group of students and there were two activities going on. One was table tennis and the other was monopoly. I’ve never really liked table tennis and so I always avoid it and I make up endless excuses as to why I can’t play. Even though it could be quite beneficial and would help me to develop a rapport with some students with whom otherwise it’s hard to develop, in reality, playing the game wasn’t worth it for some superficial rapport.

If I were to play, since I wasn’t really interested in it myself, I mightn’t put much effort into playing. It would have ended up being counter productive. The students would easily see through this and ultimately there’d be no point in pretending I was enjoying what I was doing. As experiential education is as much about relationships as it is about pushing boundaries, there’s no actual benefit from engaging in some sort of activity such as table tennis, if you’re not genuine about it yourself.

Conversely, there was the game of monopoly being played and one of the kids said to me, “Hey Sir, do you want to be on my team?”
My immediate reply was, “Sure! Sounds like fun!”

The difference was that I love Monopoly. However, I made sure that I didn’t take over control of the game, because even though I’m pretty competitive at Monopoly, I was still the invited number two team member. On a side note, Monopoly is so much fun. I always love having the car but we didn’t get the car. Actually, I also like the battleship, as well and the dog, but I digress.

Anyway the point is, it’s such a fun game and the difference here was that when I was involved, I was attentive, I was exploring options, I was whispering strategies and tactics with my teammate and we were taking turns of rolling the dice. The fact that I was genuinely interested in playing the game made all the difference and it’s something you just can’t make up or fudge your way through.

The end result was that I got to know more about my teammate than I otherwise would have and it created a rapport that enabled far better engagement from him in many other activities. To be able to engage students effectively is just as much, if not more about the positive role modeling that you can provide as a teacher than your knowledge in any specific subject area. This helps you draw on that positive, professional relationship to be able to encourage students when they’re struggling with their own challenges or even just in helping shape their attitude towards new activities or ways of thinking.

Suddenly, through doing something that you really enjoy (and it doesn’t have to be Monopoly), it can open up dialogues later on and enables you to teach more effectively because when students see that you’re interested, passionate and engaged in something, they’re more likely to become interested, passionate and engaged in other things as well. This can only come from when you’re honest and genuine about what your own interests and passions are. Don’t try to ‘fake it until you make it,’ as kids will see through this every time. Just be yourself and things will naturally fall into place.

As an important footnote here, we actually won Monopoly so I was very happy with that, but at the end of the day, it was more to do with the fact that for over an hour a whole group of students and I played an interesting, fun-filled game that everyone wanted to play and left with a better connection than before.

Self-Reflection

Self-reflection.jpeg

Now that we’re coming into another school holiday period in Australia, it’s time to hand out some homework! Ergh! I hear you groan.

Bear with me! This is more of a post to question and reflect on oneself, rather than anything else and what better time to do it than in the holidays. The aim of this is to try to get you thinking about what you’re really passionate about! For example, even though my main area of teaching is outdoor education, I’ve taught English before and it bored me senseless. I dreaded going in to class because I was so disinterested with the subject. As a result, what possible quality of lesson was I delivering? If I didn’t really care about the content, why would the students? I had to leave this role as soon as I could and get out of the classroom and into the outdoors where my passion lay! However, many teachers never do this and their students pick up on it so easily.

Being passionate about something yourself makes it easy to then share this passion with others, especially in your teaching. As a result, it can make you the most awesome teacher around and you don’t really have to do anything special, other than do what you love. The other week I decided to try something different and run through some basic martial arts with my Year 9 group for PT. I love martial arts. It helps build focus, discipline and fitness. I’ve missed doing it because I ended up getting so wrapped up in work, I’d almost forgotten one of my passions. So after warming up, I ran through some kicks, blocks and strikes. I had so much fun! Even though the activity wasn’t about my having fun, the fact that I was enjoying what I was doing, helped me teach the lesson in such a passionate way that the kids responded and got right into it.

So what’s the point? Well the point is, if you’ve had a frantic term that’s exhausted you and drained your passion (just teach a Year 8 class and you’ll know what I mean), then take some time now to reflect on what you love about life and about teaching. Let’s be clear on this. Teaching is never just a job. You became a teacher for a reason! Let’s find out why?!

Why did you become a teacher rather than doing something else?

Was it for the long holidays? (I really hope not).

What did you feel when you stepped into your first class?

What do you feel when you step into your classes today?

Is there one class that you’re more engaged in than the others? Why is this?

What is it that you’ve most looked forward to this year?

What’s something new you’d love to learn?

What’s something you’d love your students to know and understand?

Where do you find you do your best thinking?

What refreshes you and strengthens your passion?

Try answering each of these questions honestly and use the holidays to maybe try something new, explore something you’ve always wanted to and relax and enjoy the time away from the frantic pace, so you come back refreshed with your passion ready to teach the next awesome lesson!

Escape From The Cave!

Bungonia Caves - Barely Room To Crawl!

Bungonia Caves - Barely Room To Crawl!

What better way to freak out a bunch of teenagers than to take them into a cramped cave in which your chest is flat to the ground and the roof grazes your back. Then turn out the lights!

If this sounds like something you'd love to do, then Bungonia caves is the place to do it! Deep in the Southern Highlands and on the edge of the Shoalhaven Gorge, lies Bungonia National Park. It's an easily accessible area not too far from the Hume Highway. Here there's a stunning cluster of caves with a variety of challenges for all skill levels. Now even though I really enjoyed this experience, caving isn't really my thing, so I'm not going to give you any technical details about the caves themselves. If you're going to do this, make sure you have an experienced guide to lead you, as every cave is different and this presents its own set of risks and challenge.

However, for a simple explanation, caves are cramped and dark and this provides an excellent opportunity for some great experiential learning. The cave I mentioned at the start is quite a short one, literally tens of metres long. However, it can take your group ages to get out in total darkness!

This activity is a fantastic one for developing communication skills and teamwork. The fear factor that's added in with the total disorientation that comes with being in complete darkness, is the perfect way to test even the most confident of students (and teachers). Now this exercise isn't about messing with people's heads. It's about building a team that can communicate, work together and develop a cohesive plan minus one of their most important senses. You really don't understand total and utter darkness until you've been in a cave like this. Some kids totally freak out, but if you're leading the group, resist the temptation to just turn the lights back on. That's a last resort and defeats the whole point of the exercise.

Once everyone has crawled down into the cave with their lights on, there’s an area in which you can gather everyone together and brief them on the task. Once you're done, it's lights off! Time to work together to get out! Now you get to see the group dynamics either gel or implode and it happens really quickly. Robbed of their ability to see, basically someone needs to take charge and use their other senses to start leading people out. But it can't be reliant on one person. Everyone must do his part! That's why I love this activity, because it forces people to quickly accept or reject the team and the team leaders.

There’s no glimpse of light from anywhere. You can literally hold your hand in front of your face and you still won't see anything, no subtle movement, nothing! It feels weird!

After the initial excitement of being in total darkness is over, you can expect the stress level of the group to increase, and they suddenly realise you're not joking about getting out. This activity can bring a group together, in which case they're usually out in a fairly short amount of time. (Remember, it’s not that deep a cave). However, it can also tear a group apart with nobody wanting to take responsibility, poor communications and internal fears overwhelming students. This sort of experience is raw, challenging and can lead to some amazing learning outcomes.

No matter how long it takes your group to get out, the two most important elements of this activity for you are the pre-lights-out briefing and the post activity debrief. By carefully framing the activity and letting the students know this could be challenging, but they've got each other, then this can guide their purpose and focus their minds. In the debrief of the activity, let them run through how they felt and how they found the communication and team dynamics and let them know how you felt in there as well. Even though it's a safe activity, it can still be unnerving and make you feel uncomfortable too.

This activity is great for putting people right out of their comfort zones. However, we only ever grow in our lives when things are uncomfortable and by adapting to meet the challenge of that discomfort. By providing positive feedback for when the team pushes past their discomfort and grows, is ultimately the goal of this amazing experiential education activity. It’s well worth a trip to the Southern Highlands!

San Diego... It Means A Whale's... Living At Seaworld!

Sea World San Diego - Excursion

This week, I’m taking a look at a combo of an awesome day out and the serious work that an organisation does to help protect our sea life! SeaWorld at San Diego is a great example of an industry leader that provides entertainment, but at the same time education and support for our marine creatures.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about Sydney Aquarium and so it was great to experience what the US has to offer in terms of marine experiences. I was not disappointed, as SeaWorld had a fantastic array of creatures, hands on exhibits, shows and wild rides!

Beluga Whale!!!

Beluga Whale!!!

The shows that are on throughout the day help engage both young and old with a range of different sea creatures they’d never otherwise experience. Although watch out at the end of the dolphin show! If you’re intending to stay dry all day, probably best to stand back a bit! You’ve been warned! The other shows include the killer whales, sea lions and feedings for the whole range of sea creatures. Oh and of course my favourite, the Beluga whale (a white whale), which was totally awesome in the arctic section of the park. You also have the choice of optional extras to get up close and personal with a range of sea creatures, which for many could be a life changing moment. If you like the idea of getting kissed by a large water based mammal, then this might just be your thing! For kids who might have confidence issues, this could be a very rewarding experience.

Dolphin Show - Sea World San Diego

The work that SeaWorld does to help educate and inform people about our marine creatures is amazing. There’s a range of different programs which are conducted by the park that most visitors don’t see. However, it’s so important to the health of our seas and our marine creatures. For some more on the valuable work they do, check out: https://seaworldcares.com

Tons Of Rays!

Tons Of Rays!

If you want to get rid of the kids for a few days then, SeaWorld is also the place to do it! There’s a huge range of holiday, school and education camps available that combine the important education and environmental work the park does, with some great fun and entertainment. Best of all, they keep the kids overnight, so you can go and enjoy a night of fiery jazz flute in the social hotspots of San Diego! To see the full range of options check out the SeaWorld Camps page. (Sorry doesn’t have the places to be seen in SD on this page).

Just In Case…

Just In Case…

Ok so now about the rides! Let’s face it, even the most environmentally scientific minded amongst us just love the rides. My favourite was the Manta, on which I managed to get the front seat for! It was awesome!!! An adrenaline pumping ride which shot up, down and twisted all around, pinning me to my seat as it rocketed along. There’s a stack of other rides, some that will get you totally soaked and others which are moving just fast enough to put a smile on grandma’s face.
This makes for a wonderful mix of education, entertainment and thrill seeking fun, all of which is contributing to the vital work that SeaWorld Parks does for the environment.

SeaWorld has parks in San Diego, Orlando & San Antonia as well as a range of other associated parks and adventures for the whole family. It’s well worth a visit when planning your next US adventure.

https://seaworldparks.com

Sea World San Diego - Excursion