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

The Art Of Teaching Through Doing Nothing

Outdoor Activity - Outdoor Education

As teachers, there's always the desire to go out of your way to help students with their learning. However, what if this is harming their ability in the whole learning process? The increasing lack of ability for kids to problem solve is concerning on many levels. The standard solution of google, it has helped reduce people's ability to think and respond! ‘eLearning’ has a lot to answer for in terms of building incompetence into kids, where they're encouraged to seek solutions to their problems from the Internet. Instant access to the answer to almost everything has created new problems in that kids who are reliant on instant results, can't cope in situations that require a more complex and challenging approach.

Recently, I had a group of students out on a hike into the Budawang Wilderness. This pristine and amazingly rugged part of Morton National Park is a challenging, yet invigorating experience. Prior to the trip, we set the scene for the students. It was their expedition and they were in charge. We would only intervene if there were a safety issue that arose, otherwise every decision was up to them. They were briefed on directions, leadership and group management and given a map and compass.

Moments after the end of the brief, the questions started flying “How far is it?”
“When’s lunch?”
“What time are we going to get there?”
We both gave the same response. “You've been given all the information you need. Work it out yourself!”

It quickly became obvious that none of them had ever experienced this before. They were expecting to be taken on a trip, rather than being challenged by the experience. The temptation of teachers (often born out of frustration) is to take over and do it for them, or show them, as it's an easy way out. Yet if you do that, you never put the kids outside their comfort zone. You never push them to take any initiative or responsibility and they never actually learn anything.

So we waited for them to work it out, which took some time, then we were off and along the track. The questions about how far we'd gone, how long left and can I eat this muesli bar, continued and were met every time with the same response, “It's your trip. Work it out yourself.”

Whilst the questions are annoying, once they realise you're not going to provide them with any answers, they eventually stop asking, until they want reassurance that they're on the right path, or they're tired and then like flies to a dead horse, they ask again and again and again, which I refuse to answer unless there is a safety issue.

We eventually made it to camp, probably two hours later than if one of us had been ‘running’ the trip, but what educational value would that have provided? If we just ‘ran’ trips, we would just reinforce the notion that everything can and will be answered and done instantly with no effort on the part of the student. From an educational point of view, this is a complete waste of time and allows for no development of resilience nor initiative in kids, which ultimately will cost them dearly when faced with any sort of challenge later in life.

When leading trips, this has always been my guiding principle. Set the group up once and let them work the rest out for themselves. They must do everything out there in the field for themselves. What time we start, what time we break, pace of the group, setting up camp, dinner time, wake up, pack up, departure and navigation. Everything about the trip needs to be put on the students to think about and take appropriate action to complete.

At the end of the day, you never learn to drive sitting in the passenger seat, so set the group up, then put the responsibility on the group to take ownership and run the trip themselves. It might be tough. They might winged and complain about it, but it lets them develop real problem solving skills and teaches them some valuable lessons that they will never learn anywhere else.

Next time you're out with a group, don't take charge and do everything for them. Brief the group, then sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

Risk Avoidance

Risk Avoidance.jpg

Having recently been to a risk management conference, this got me thinking! Are some schools becoming so risk adverse to the point of harming kids?

When I was at school, I'd never heard of something called an incursion. In fact, I've only heard it in recent times. To me it just sounds like the school is getting raided by teams of crazed militia. I'm not sure whether it's just a stupid term for having a guest speaker, or an attempt by schools to avoid taking kids off site, by bringing the excursion to them.

If it's the latter, then there’s several problems with this, as so much learning occurs by actually getting out there and doing stuff, not by hanging around in the classroom. This is not to devalue the benefits of a guest speaker, but seriously, call them a guest speaker. The next time I go to a school to do a presentation, if they call it an incursion, I may feel like I need to bring a large collection of stray cats and let them loose to cause an expected level of disruption!

There is a serious point to this though. I’ve noticed an increasing number of schools opting for this type of experience for their students (maybe not involving cats), but having ‘incursions.’ The idea of a virtual ‘excursion’ falls into this same area of total risk avoidance and borders on stupidity, because we're creating a generation of people who can't cope with any sort of adversity. They're too used to having everything done for them or being able to do everything at arms’ length through technology. When things get real, they go to pieces.

A recent example of this was on a long-stay camping program. The students aren't allowed to bring phones, because part the aim is for them to have a break from the distraction of technology. One student was caught with his phone, and when confronted with this and the phone was confiscated, he had a complete meltdown.

This same concern ties back into the idiotic notions of incursions. Let's keep everything safe and risk free because we’re worried too much about consequences. I’m sorry to say, the world is full of real consequences and if you don't educate kids and expose them to at least some of this, then you're setting them up for failure. There are many excuses why people want to avoid real experiential education, but if you want kids to learn and grow, you need them to face real challenges, feel discomfort and be able to build up some resilience in anticipation of what will hit them once they leave school. The danger of failing to do this, means that you're just setting kids up for failure. Therefore, by totally avoiding risk, you're actually causing real harm to the students.

So the next time you're thinking of either going to the art gallery, or bringing the director of the art gallery to you, stop being stupid, book a bus and go and see real works of art, rather than have someone just come and talk to you about it. Real experience produces real learning outcomes and there is no substitute for this in life.

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