Archive for April, 2009

The close of the school term is fast approaching yet I have not stopped to reflect on the achievements of our first project for our 10th Grade students. This year, I teach two double classes of year 10 with two different team teachers.

Our first project involved the students examining aspect of the Vietnam War in relation to Australia. The entry document we presented was designed using Zoho Notebook which modeled for the students the tool we were expecting them to use through the duration of the project. So through the study of Vietnam War it tied in nicely with looking at the overall migrant experience of different groups to Australia. The final product of the project involved the students collaborating within their groups in order to create an e-archive, a collection of resources that needed to be located or created.

I particularly was impressed with the creativity and originality behind some of the diary entries that students composed.


The response from the students was varied, particularly from the across the three different classes. I strongly believe that in order to achieve a positive and engaging learning environment it is essential for the teaching and learning strategies to be varied. It is not enough to simply say student centred learning is the answer, “Here’s the project, off you go!” The unrolling of the project still needs to have a structure. I find the projects I design have ‘phases’, and you will recall this from the “Write on, Write Now” project that we completed last year with 9th Grade students.

So the first ‘phase’ of “Voices of the Other” was to learn about the impact of the Vietnam War.
It is easy to identify the foreign ‘other’ as purely the enemy, an oppressive force which must be crushed for freedom to survive. Although governments may fundamentally disagree which can lead to war, the individual soldiers involved often have little say. They are plunged into deplorable living conditions in an environment filled with the foul stench of death. It’s kill or be killed. Such events leave lasting scars – it is this very real human experience which you will be asked to explore through this project.

This is what interests me. The human experience. This isn’t what is assessed in our School Certificate exams but I feel it is so important to expose our students to this reality.

As the individual component, students needed to visually represent their understanding of the Vietnamese migrant experience. What I enjoyed next was the students working on their final product – creating the e-archive of their chosen migrant group.

One student describes the experience of the young migrant he created and explains why he is not happy in his home country:

I’m scared. I’ve been scared for a while. Death is now the only thing i think about. Being blown into pieces because I took a bad step or was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s been getting to me and this book is the only book I have left. My house, my clothes, my friends, MY RIGHTS gone! They were taken away from me today!!

It all happened so fast. All I remember is entering my house with dad, mum, and my younger brother. We had all gone out because dad had finished his time in the army even though the war is still going on. I can still hear the echo’s of bombs and gun fire as i sit in a tent made out of newspaper and the rubble of blown up buildings. We came back all tired and happy about the night. Dad had been awarded medals while me and my brother ate the left over oregano pizza we were able to take home. I didn’t even enter our house before dad was yelling to get out. I was right at the door and that’s when the smell hit me.

The smell of gas from the stove hit me filling my nostrils and taking over my lungs. My sudden reflex was drop to the ground. While mum jumped to cover the “habibi” of the family, Jean-Paul. Dad being the fit, army experienced, old man he shut the door and jumped to cover me. I closed my eyes and covered my ears as we waited for the bang. It took a few seconds for the bang to happen. When it did i felt all the wind be sucked inwards towards the house before the heat and the debris hit me. The noise lasted for a second but the damage that it did to my ears is still taking its time. As soon as all the debris had rested I pulled myself out. Dad was still alive but needed a rest. Mum summoned the energy to climb off Jean-Paul. He was fifteen but now he wasn’t recognisable, Neither was mum or dad. Their clothes were burnt, their skin covered in ash and cuts, I’m guessing by the looks of shock on their faces we all looked the same. We walked around for a while looking for anything that survived. The only things were a picture of mum and dad’s wedding, my journal and Jean-Paul’s half burnt sling shot. Now I’m here, homeless, bruised and sick and tired of fearing for my life. So far dad has decided that were going to travel to my aunties how were we will live until were back on our feet. Until then, I will be wondering through cities picking up any pens I find on the street and get down when people tell me to. No one deserves this life.

It was striking to see how much this student engaged with his created individual. An individual who we were able to learn so much about during the five diary entries this student composed for the e-archive.

One group chose to focus on the genuine migrant experience of one of our boys parents. I was awe-struck with the sincerity that each member shared as they traced the history of the experience of this family. The student even interviewed his mother and TRANSLATED the interview as part of his collection of resources. This story wasn’t invented. It was genuine. It was amazing.

One student reflected on his learning throughout the project:

War has always been part of my world, whether it be because of terror, dictatorship, or civil issues. From my parent’s homeland of Lebanon, to Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the fights that have broken out in between. Most of the time, all it results in is death of civilians and soldiers while the old people who choose to incite and declare war sit around on their high seats, behind walls of defense. However, this project has lead me to believe that with war, there is also the life that can come from it. People may flee, migrate, or become refugees, however, most if not all occurences of this result in a better life for the next generation, a life of peace, without war, and disputes that flare up in their homeland. This is something that has happened for me, but something that is happening everyday. With war comes death, yet also strangely, life.

But I was mostly struck by this comment, which in many ways confirms for me the learning that occurred during this project. To gain a better understanding of your self and those around you, surely indicates that the young people in our care each day are life long learners beyond the classroom.

I’m the only person in my group who is not of Lebanese background and i felt a slight disadvantage when i was outnumbered to study the migrant experience of the Lebanese, however my experience has opened me to a greater understanding of my colleagues cultural background and what their families have gone through.

Learning about the civil war and the migrant experience of the Lebanese has made me understand more about what the Lebanese people have gone through and why they would move to Australia. It has also made me curious and interested in the experience of my many Lebanese friends.


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