Archive for the ‘Pathfinders’ Category

Mantel on history and Constable and McTaggart exhibition

June 14, 2017

A very interesting article in The Guardian Review section by well known author Hilary Mantel. In the article, Mantel discusses “Why I became a historical novelist” and writes “My concern as a writer is with memory, personal and collective: with the restless dead asserting their claims”. The author cites her great grandmother as an example of a historical figure and there is evidence of where her relative grew up, who she married and of her 10 children. However, Mantel, argues “I have no access to her thoughts” and it is in expressing the thoughts and words of historical characters – real or imagined – that the work of the historical novelist is involved. Mantel also discusses what we call history and states that “history is not the past – it is the method we have evolved of organising our ignorance of the past. It’s the record of what’s left on the record”. My first degree was in history and I’m now doing an oral history project on my home town of Dunbar in the 1950s, so definitions of history intrigue me. I remember having lectures in 1st year at university where the lecturer posed the question “What is history” and referred to E H Carr’s book with that title. Much of Carr’s arguments about what constitutes history has been revised since the 1960s when it was published. In my own educational research and in my current local history research, I take a constructivist view i.e. that historians construct their versions of history from evidence that is also constructed. For example, in my oral history project, when I was interviewing people about visiting the whales stranded at Thorntonloch in 1950, I was not expecting the people (aged between 70 and 95) to report what they saw, but to construct the scene from their memory. My job was then to interpret what I heard in the interviews and newspaper reports and construct a version of events in my book. So history for me is an interpretation of events in the past, not a reporting of them.

An exhibition currently on at the National Gallery in Edinburgh features the work of John Constable and William McTaggart. This is a small but powerful exhibition with 2 outstanding paintings at its core. The first is Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows shown below.


Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows by John Constable (Click to enlarge)

This is a very large painting and in the booklet helpfully provided by the National Gallery at the exhibition, Constable is quoted as stating “I do not consider myself at work without I am before a six-foot canvas”. At the time of this painting, landscape was not seen as a proper subject for artists and Constable was also criticised for his use of both brush and knife when paintings were supposed to be smooth. It is also very detailed and worth close study at the exhibition or online. At first, you notice the rainbow, the church, the large tree and the cart being hauled across the river by horses. Then you see the dog in the foreground, the birds on the water and another church to the left. What is striking of course are the clouds and their various colours and the threat of rain. Constable was criticised for his depiction of the clouds as it was a departure from the painting norms at the time. The booklet states “Constable created a varied surface where dense, craggy areas alternate with passages of subtle translucence and movement is created by the dynamic application and flecking of paint”. The more you look at this picture, the more you do see movement in the horses, the swaying trees and the clouds.

The exhibition seeks to show how McTaggart was influenced by Constable, particularly in his painting The Storm shown below.

William McTaggart

The Storm by William McTaggart (Click to enlarge)

This painting is not as clear as Constable’s and deliberately so. The first impression you get is of the flow of the water and light and landscape, like a lava stream. Then you see the figures at the bottom left who look desperate and frightened. Look again and in the mid to top right a small boat looks in peril on the sea. The notes at the exhibition comment on McTaggart’s “remarkably dynamic brushwork” which was influenced by Impressionism. There are other paintings in this exhibition by Constable and McTaggart which makes a visit to the National Gallery well worth while. As a footnote, my lifelong friend Tam, on a recent visit to Dunbar, recalled that my current interest in form and shape in art did not match my inability to create art at school. Despite the advice of our excellent art teacher Carnegie Brown, my attempts were hopeless. I still can’t draw for toffee but I have learned to appreciate some aspects of art, including how it is constructed.



E-pathfinders and kangaroos on course

December 7, 2011

Firstly, apologies for the absence of the blog over the past month, due to a combination of circumstances. I’ll try to rectify this with some additional posts before going back to a weekly addition. My students on the M Ed. Teacher Librarianship course at CSU last session completed an e-pathfinder as part of their studies in the Information Environment subject. Students were asked to construct an e-pathfinder which would be a prototype learning website for their school. The e-pathfinder assignment restricted the students to a particular format, with an introduction to the topic (e.g. water conservation for year 2), keywords and definitions, and information literacy advice. This was followed by a total of only 15 resources, both print and digital which were to be accompanied by a meaningful annotation i.e one which advised students on using the resources and not just a description of the resources content. Students had to use a wiki format or construct a website using a package such as Weebly. The results, from a large class of students, were very positive although inevitably there was a range of quality in the prototype learning websites. My hope is that my students will follow up this assignment with actual use of their sites in their own schools. Examples of the e-pathfinders can be found at a wiki site constructed by one of my top students.

I have been travelling for almost the last 2 months and the main part of my journey was to work at CSU in Wagga Wagga. One recreational aspect of my stay was a weekly cycle around Pomingalarna reserve, a large plot of land near Wagga Wagga which is a walking/running/mountain biking site for active people. The reserve features a range of wildlife including many birds, as well as snakes and echidnas. There are also 2 tribes (mobs) of kangaroos which live on the reserve and it can be an unnerving experience as you are flat out on your mountain bike on one of the trails, and 3 or 4 kangaroos of different sizes hop across the trail not far in front of you. Next to Pomningalarna is one of Wagga Wagga golf courses. In the evening, the kangaroos are often seen on the golf course and this makes for an unusual site – see picture below.

Kangaroos on golf course

SLJ webcasts and Scottish walls

June 1, 2011

If you would like some easily accessed CPD (continuous Professional Development) then you might want to take a look at – and listen to – the webcasts provided by School Library Journal. I’ve just accessed one which looks at integrating digital resources in the school curriculum. The webcast has 3 presenters – a teacher librarian, an administrator and a teacher, who all give their own perspective on this topic. My impressions were that this was very down to earth, not that difficult to achieve, advice on using e-resources. You will need time to listen to the webcast, and it would be a good idea to dedicate some time to doing this – and importantly, tell your colleagues, managers etc that you are doing this and when you are doing it. Too often, TLs/SLs do this kind of self development without indicating that they have done so. Letting your manager know, in particular, is important.

One of the questions I always get asked by visitors to Scotland from Australia, New Zealand, North America and elsewhere, is why are there so many walls in the Scottish countryside? In the south east of Scotland, where I live for most of the year, you will see many farms with walled sections,  high stone walls stretching out often for perhaps 100 metres. Also, along fields, you will see dry-stane dykes i.e. dry stone (no cement used) walls which edge huge fields. The simple answer is that, perhaps 300-400 years ago, wealthy farmers had a plentiful supply of free stone – from their fields – and a plentiful supply of very cheap labour – their farmworkers. Walls were also status symbols for owners of large estates and were build, not just to keep other people out, but to impress them. During a walk near Peebles on Sunday, I took the photo below of this dry stane dyke, carefully constructed only from stone – an impressive work.

Dry stane dyke near Peebles

TL abilities and snowy sprouts

January 6, 2011

Firstly, a very Good New Year to you all. The ever informative, imaginative and practical Joyce Valenza has presented us with a list of abilities that she would like to see TLs/SLs have, in order to be ‘fully loaded’. Now, the term ‘fully loaded’ may have many meanings and not all of them suitable for a family show, but in this instance, Joyce Valenza is talking about the ability of TLs to have mastery of a range of areas in order to be fully effective. The article highlights mastery of: publishing platforms, web based pathfinder creation tools; applications for digital stories; “cool tools for publishing digital work’; search tools and strategies – and many more. I’ll certainly be getting my teacher librarianship students to read this article and discuss it. It is aimed at practitioners, so I hope many of you will access it and think about how it fits in with your present role and your possible future role.

Over the midwinter festivals period here in Scotland, we’ve had – by our standards – a lot of snow and very low temperatures. If you are reading this is north America or Scandinavia however, what we’ve had will be fairly mild. One of the great features of snow, of course, is that it’s a boon for photographers. I took the photo below on a walk not far from where I live. It’s a field of sprouts which look like an army of terracotta warriors with white helmets. Sprouts taste horrible! How people can eat them with their chicken, turkey, veggie roast is beyond me. A recently cropped field of sprouts up the road from here had a flock of sheep in it, munching away. I think that the sheep should go in first. I’m sure that those of you who are sprout lovers – and the farmers – would not agree.

Sprouts in the snow

Pathfinders and hydrangea

July 30, 2010

I’ve just completed a chapter for my new book – of which much more later – and one section discusses what a pathfinder for the web 2.0 age might look like. Pathfinders started out as printed list of books in libraries and sometimes there was some annotation with each title, mainly describing the book’s content. Pathfinders now appear on blogs, wikis and websites. Joyce Valenza argues that pathfinders should now take the form of wikis. My argument is that we need to rethink pathfinders as learning resources and provide much more for our students. Thinking of a pathfinder as part of a learning website is to view the pathfinder in the context of providing students with subject content, assignment, information literacy guidance and mediated resources. This puts more emphasis on having meaningful annotations i.e. annotations which do not just focus on content but advise students on using resources. You can also engage your students by using wiki tools to allow students to add their own resources.

In the garden this year, we have a hydrangea which has produced more flowers than ever before. We’ve also got two new and different hydrangeas. The picture below shows one of the new ones which is now darker in colour. What we call hydrangea, the Germans call Hortensie and this was the name on one of the plants we bought. I think I prefer Hortensie. The name hydrangea roughly means ‘water barrel’ because of the plants constant need for water, although it could easily be a Malapropism for some vagueness of thought or action, as in “I think James may be suffering from hydrangea’.


Wikis and camelia

October 20, 2009

This week, some of my students have been completing a wiki as part of their 2nd assignment for my Information Environment subject. As I’ve noted before, there is a plethora of information on the web about wikis in schools and elsewhere. A good source is Classroom 2.0 which has a large section on wikis including a useful video (from YouTube) on a plain English guide to wikis. There are also quite a few good examples of wikis, including an award-winning site Welker’s Wikinomics. You can use this site whether you are interested in the subject content or not, as it’s a very good example of what can be done with a wiki, within the school context. My students are creating wiki pathfinders for groups of students and, for most of them, this is the first wiki they have created. Almost all students have found this an exhilarating experience – once it’s done.

It’s Spring in Australia and the flowers are starting to come out in profusion. Everywhere you look there is a new splash of colour. One of my favourite flowers, not easy to grow except in a greenhouse in Scotland, are camelias. There are many different varieties and I’m not capable of identifying the one in the picture below – the after-rain camelia, I’ll call it.

After-rain camelia

After-rain camelia

Pathfinders and rain

September 22, 2009

For about 150 of my students, it’s time to look at Pathfinders as part of the TL’s role in developing learning resources in the school. Pathfinders are guides which lead students to resources. I’m not sure if I like the title ‘Pathfinder’ as it has connotations of printed lists of books for students. However, it is a recognised term and nowadays, pathfinders are usually in a digital format. Joyce Valenza argues coherently that using a wiki is an excellent vehicle for a pathfinder. My recommendations to students and to TLs is to think of a pathfinder not only as a guide to resources which have been mediated by the TL and by teachers, but also as a scaffold which will help improves tudents’ information literacy skills. Effective pathfinders give students choices, save them time searching and take them to relevant sources from which they can learn.

Now that I am back in Wagga Wagga for a few weeks, the subject of rain comes up. In the UK, we get plenty of rain so no-one talks about it, unless you are in Glasgow and it’s rained for 3 days in a row. In Dunbar, where I live, it rains but not to the extent it does in the West. In rural Australia, there has been a drought of various severity for about 10 years now. So when it rains in Wagga Wagga , people discuss it at length. You overhear conversations – “How much did you get?” “What, 18 mils, we only got 11”. While the fields are green at the moment, with summer approaching, more rain is needed. Rain is also a collection of poems by Don Paterson and you can listen to him talking about different aspects of rain in a Guardian Podcast – excellent listening. Of course, there is Elizabeth Regina (whom Mrs Malaprop might refer to as the Queer Old Dean) who is apparently  good at serving tea. Thus the expression “She never reigns but she pours”.

School library websites and the Poetry Book Society

December 5, 2008

In the latest edition of Scan, there are some articles about using school library websites to enhance learning in the school. A number of issues arise here, including whether the school library website should be open to anyone to see or should be part of the school intranet. In some cases, TLs may find it easier to develop pages which are part of the intranet and therefore stay within the school, with students having access from home. An intranet, of course, does not let others and in particular, other TLs, view the site and get ideas from it. A second point about school library websites is that many of them are well designed and the result of much work on the part of the TL but many school library websites still focus on providing lists of unannotated websites for teachers and students. As I’ve written before about pathfinders, there is much more likelihood of students and teachers using websites which give them more than the URL i.e. they provide a guide not only to content but to why the student or teacher should use that particular site.

I have just rejoined the Poetry Book Society  (website being updated) and the way the subscription works is that 4 times a year, you get a parcel with a new poetry book plus a magazine with excerpts from other new poetry books. The beauty of this system – for me at least – is that someone else chooses the books and it’s a surprise. I have enjoyed the great majority of the books sent to me and this quarter’s book is Theories and Apparitions by Mark Doty. I try to read one poem per day and enjoy lines like, from a poem entitled Pipistrelle ( a kind of bat) “two twilight mares in a thorn-hedged field/across the road- clotted cream/and raw gray wool, vaguely above it all”.

Pathfinders and making soup

November 1, 2008

My students have just completed an assignment in which a good number of them have designed pathfindersand have used a range of wikis such as Wetpaint, pbwiki or wikispaces . If you do a search for pathfinders school libraries, you will find lots of examples butmost of them, while providing a range of resources suitable to their student audience, often have very content-driven annotations. What I teach my students is that pathfinders should contain information literacy skills advice at the start  of the pathfinder and in teh annotations. Some students search within websites effectively and are good at interpreting what they find in relation to their purpose – but as we know, many are not. So including reminders in the annotations of resources about searching and interpreting is likely to help many students in your classes.

One of the most therapeutic things that I do is to make home made soup. I think that the processes of chopping, slicing, peeling, grating, stirring, seasoning, tasting and simmering are all relaxing. I realise that this might sound awfully middle class, educated, comfortably off and western and I know that for some people in the world, making soup used to be and often is, a chore. Given that admission, however, making soup e.g. lentil soup which I made yesterday, is relaxing and satisfying. My recipe? I used stock from the gammon joint we had, washed the lentils and added them, bringing the stock and letnils quickly tothe boil. I then added chopped leeks, grated turnip (aka swede in England an other places) i.e. large, round and thick purple skin and grated carrot. For more stock I used a vegetable cube and yes, i know there can be a lot of salt int these cubes. Stir the whole thing together and simmer for maybe half an hour. Delicious.

More on Pathfinders and the Life of Pi

October 1, 2007

Pathfinders are a great way for teacher librarians to create accessible and school, subject and topic specific annotated lists for students to use. I mentioned that creating a wiki is an excellent way to present an interesting pathfinder to students and there’s a very good article in School Library Journal about choosing a wiki format. I also think that it’s a good idea for teacher librarians to put their school name and maybe even class and topic as a heading on the wiki as the students are more likely to impressed by a wiki heading ‘Gumly Gumly year 7’s project on birds in Wagga Wagga’ rather than a more general and staid title.

One of the most interesting books I’ve read in recent years is ‘The life of Pi’ and there’s now an illustrated version. You can see some of the illustrations on The Guardian’s books section – so TLs: alert your English and art departments and any local tigers.