Monthly Archives: December 2014

Reflect and refine

The end of a year is often used as a time for reflection, reassessment, and redefining goals. This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking just that: reflecting on the year that was, assessing her achievements and failures and redefining her goals for the next part of her journey. Charli admits that she didn’t achieve all she had hoped but acknowledges that those shortcomings were more opportunities for learning than failure as such. While she learned more about herself and her abilities she was able to recalculate her goals and redefine her vision.

In education, failure is recognised as integral to learning.

Willingness to

  • have a go
  • try something new
  • seek alternate solutions and ways of finding solutions
  • persist and not give up
  • recognise that success does not always come with a first attempt;

these are effective characteristics of learners, innovators and creative people.

Thomas Edison, after many unsuccessful attempts said,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

There is no failure in a failed attempt; there is only failure in giving up.

Again, to quote from Edison,

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

C.S. Lewis is also quoted as saying,

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

He says,

“One fails forward toward success.”

The-greatest-glory-in Ralph Waldo Emerson

What helps that ability to rise again is a sense of where we are going, of what we are aiming for and what we want to achieve. This is often referred to as a vision, and it is a vision that Charli Mills has challenged writers to include in a flash fiction piece this week: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a vision.

Having a vision of the future and working towards that future is essential to effective teaching.

As explained by Vicki Davis in her post Thank You Teacher for Your Presence on the Cool Cat Teacher blog, teachers are constantly preparing students for more independent and resourceful futures.

Through learning from a mentor teacher Jackie Catcher was able to refine her vision for effective teaching, which she shared on Three Teachers Talk :

“I learned that to lead students into our subject, we must make them feel valued within our community. We must work to acknowledge their strengths and show them that we are all equals when it comes to developing as readers and writers. We must praise their hard work and determination far more than their failures, and we must make ourselves available both in and outside of class to have meaningful conversations and connections. In the end, we are never too old to change our outlook and education. After all, one teacher can make the difference.”

I constantly share my own, and others’, views about and vision for education on this blog.

I-had-this-dream-Chris Lehmann

Some of those posts are:

Visioning a better school, a better way of educating

Talking interviews

Whose failure?

Imagine that!

Child’s play – the science of asking questions


I have also referred to an alternative to traditional schooling that I “failed” to establish in the 1990s. The vision for that alternative was:

“A dynamic centre of learning opportunities

for children, families and communities

which focuses upon the development

of self-esteem and positive attitudes

in a nurturing environment

in which individuals are appreciated

for their uniqueness and diversity

while fostering the commonality of their human essence.”


Which brings me to my flash fiction piece for this week. In it I attempt to draw together many threads from views expressed over the year and finish with an optimism for the future.


The power of “No”

It was grey.

For as long as anyone could remember.

They moved about, comfortable in the familiar, avoiding the unknown.

Shadowy shapes beyond incited fear: a threat to all they knew?

Lives lacked definition, blending to sameness, conforming to rules.

“But why?” The tiny voice shattered the stillness.

All eyes turned. Bodies stiffened.

Whose was this unruly child?

“Shhh!” the hapless parents failed to hide their offensive produce.


Again! No one moved.

“Because!” was the parents’ definitive reply.

They breathed. “Because!” they confirmed in unison.

Defiantly the child pressed the dust-covered switch and flooded the world with light.


The-principal-goal-of education - Piaget

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

I wish you success as your vision takes shape in 2015.


The True Story of Rudolph (The Red Nosed Reindeer)

What a heartwarming and inspiring story, just right for this time of year. I found it via Book Chat by Michelle James.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

This was emailed to me by a friend:

A man named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer.

Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?”

Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob. Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember.

From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit…

View original post 473 more words

‘Tis the Season

Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

At about this time of year people all around the world are finding something to celebrate. According to about one third to one half of the world’s population celebrate Christmas, whether they are Christians or not. I am not sure about the authenticity of their “facts” but other sites also suggest that arriving at the number of people who celebrate Christmas is problematic.

As explained by Education World December: A Month of Multicultural Holidays Celebrations and National Geographic Kids Winter Celebrations , for example, many other celebrations occur at this time of year.

Christmas is the holiday that I celebrate with my family and friends. I was surprised to find, by reading a guest post, written by Gordon Le Pard on Geoff Le Pard’s blog TanGental, that many of the traditions celebrated at Christmas time are more recent in origin than I would have thought. It is not surprising, though, that the way Christmas is celebrated differs from country to country, and even from household to household, around the world. Sherri Matthews wrote a beautiful post about a Christmas tree festival hosted by a church in Dorset, England. I haven’t seen anything quite like this.

In a previous post I’m (not) dreaming of a white Christmas I talked about some of my family’s Australian ways of celebrating. Sadly most “Australian” resources are simply innovations on, or adjustments to, the European traditions. There are not enough that recognise the summer celebration and “traditions” unique to Australia. I guess our small population keeps us in the minority so it is not economically worthwhile to create alternative resources.

So from my hot sunny days in Australia I wish you and your loved ones happy and safe times, whatever your celebration.


Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

Best wishes,


It’s not fiction

Most of my current writing is non-fiction with a strong focus on education. The two blog posts I publish each week generally address educational issues or share my thoughts about learning.

In my ongoing work-for-self I develop educational materials and resources for parents, teachers and children. Some of these are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, and are listed on the Teaching and learning resources page of this blog.  My goal is to set up my own website on which all the resources I produce will be available.

During my work-for-pay hours I am also involved in writing resources for teachers. Most of my published material, listed on the Writing – interest and publications page, is also educational.

That is not to say that I am not interested in writing fiction. Over the years I have enjoyed writing in a variety of other genres including stories for children, short stories and poetry; and still do. They are just not my main focus at the moment. That may change in the future. Or it may not.

One opportunity for writing fiction that I am very much enjoying at the moment is the weekly 99 word flash fiction challenge  set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch.

Initially my responses to Charli’s prompts were unsystematic. However it was not long before I was incorporating them into longer posts which maintained the educational focus of my blog. A recurrent theme is the importance for schooling to target the particular needs of individual children.

Soon a character emerged: Marnie — a young girl, from a dysfunctional family, for whom school would be a threatening and meaningless experience without the support of a passionate and caring teacher. Sometimes, as with this week’s, the prompt inspires immediately and I write a story in which I hope that the message is strong enough for it to stand alone, without the support of a lengthier post explaining my thinking background.

Here is this week’s response to Charlie’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about rare gems. I’d love to know how successful you think I have been.


glitch, trophy gem

glitch, trophy gem

Uncut gem

She examined the new arrival, assessing the possible effects of integration into the existing collective. Would the group be enhanced or would this newcomer disrupt the established harmony?

From every angle the edges were rough and uneven. The years of obvious neglect obscured the potential from any but a trained eye.

Fortunately her eyes were keen. A bit of encouragement here, a little adjustment there, an opportunity to sparkle and display unique and positive attributes.

She smiled. Experience had shown what could be achieved with a little polish and care.

“Welcome to our class, Marnie,” she said.


Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about this post and flash fiction story.

Bring a plate

This time of year always seems busy with lots of functions and get-togethers to attend. To avoid leaving all the food preparation to one person, often times in Australia we are asked to “bring a plate” to such gatherings. Most Aussies have no difficulty understanding the intention of the request to bring an item of food to add to the meal.

However the request can be a little confusing for newcomers to Australia as testified by my Canadian friend Robin who found the request to bring an empty plate to eat from a little strange. I’ve also had a discussion recently with my online friend Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch  about the American tradition of “pot luck” which seems to imply a similar request.

Along with an invitation to a “bring a plate” get-together, I am usually requested to contribute a rice salad to the main meal, or a pavlova for dessert, or sometimes both! I am always happy to oblige as both of these dishes are not only very popular, they are also very easy to make. In this post I am sharing my favourite rice salad recipe.

In a previous post I made some suggestions for involving children in Learning in the kitchen. While for safety reasons children may not be able to actively participate in the preparation of the rice salad due to boiling water and the use of sharp knives, there is still much for them to learn through collecting and measuring the ingredients, and observing and discussing what the adult is doing in each step of the preparation.

If you are looking for a quick, nutritious and delicious salad to accompany a main meal at home or away, this rice salad recipe might be just the thing.

Rice salad 1


Rice salad 2


Rice salad 3


Rice salad 4


Rice salad 5


rice salad 6

I hope you enjoy it as much my family, friends and I do!

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

A cute angel

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has set an angel prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features an angel.

Usually I include my responses to Charli’s prompts in longer posts sharing some thoughts about education.

This week I’m going to leave it as a stand-alone, without the padding I usually provide. I am hopeful that the educational issues I have alluded to will be as obvious to you as they are to me. I’d love to know what you think.

A cute angel

Thank you

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about this flash and what you consider its message to be.




Learning in the kitchen

The kitchen is a great place for learning.


When children participate in the preparation and cleaning up of meals and other food items the learning is richer than just cooking and cleaning, they are learning skills which will be invaluable for their future independent lives such as:

  • cooperation, sharing, taking turns and patience (how long before they’ll be ready?)
  • the etiquette of dining.
  • hygienic food handling.
  • the language of food and cooking and the preciseness of vocabulary such as the difference between dice and chop, shred and slice, boil and steam, bake and roast.
  • counting and one to one matching when setting the table with one of each item for each person.
  • the mathematics of measuring mass (250 g), volume (1 cup or 250 ml) and time (bake for 15 minutes).
  • the mathematics of linear measurement; measuring the length, width and depth of baking tins and trays.
  • reading and following procedures, and understanding that unless the steps of a recipe are followed in order the outcome may not be what was expected.
  • writing of menus and shopping lists.
  • organisational and preparation skills: making sure all ingredients and utensils are available and assembled.
  • the science of mixing and combining, heating and cooling, and the different effects these may have upon different ingredients and utensils.
  • understanding that some of the changes that occur are reversible e.g. water to ice and back again; but that some are irreversible e.g. cream to butter, but not back again.

While it is not suitable for children to use knives or handle hot utensils or heating appliances when young, and only under careful adult supervision when older, children can be included in many kitchen tasks from a young age.

Watching, discussing and asking questions provide great opportunities for learning. Children can be introduced to tasks such as mixing, pouring, measuring, menu planning and cleaning up, amongst others, as they grow.

One of the fantastic things about food preparation is the opportunity it provides for asking questions: it can be an ongoing edible science experiment, for example:

Why do the cakes rise?

What makes the water bubble?

Why is a cloud coming out of the jug?

Where does the water go when it boils?

Why isn’t the egg white white before it’s cooked?

What would happen if I didn’t put the egg in the cake mixture?

Why is some sugar brown?

What the difference between sugar, caster sugar and brown sugar?

What happens to cream when it is beaten?

At the moment I am grappling with a kitchen science dilemma, and if you can provide an answer to my question, I’d be very appreciative.

My question is:

What is a suitable vegetarian substitute for gelatine?

One of my family’s favourite desserts is Mango Cream Tart. Gelatine is used as a setting agent in the dessert.

Some of my family members are vegetarians who, upon discovering the answer to the seemingly innocuous question

What is gelatine made from?

realised that eating anything containing gelatine no longer suited their food choices.

So rather than remove the dessert from family menus, or make something that was unacceptable to these family members, I decided the only thing to do was find a substitute for the offending ingredient.

I have purchased two different vegetarian substitutes but both require being boiled in the liquid which they are to set and are therefore unsuited to the Mango Cream Tart and other cream cheese cheesecakes I may wish to make. An additional factor confirming their lack of suitability is the warning that they may not set some fruit juices.

I did an online search and found 3 Vegetarian Substitutes for gelatine. If you have used with success any these products, or another product, that may be suitable to use in my Mango Cream Tart recipe I would love to know please.

Here is the recipe which includes suggestions for parents on how they can incorporate learning opportunities for their children while making it. If you can’t help solve my gelatine dilemma, I’d love to know what you think of the way I have presented the recipe. Would this format be useful to parents of young children?

Mango 1

mango 2

Mango 3

mango 4

Mango 5

Mango 6

Mango 7

Mango 8

Mango 9

Mango 10

mango 11

mango 12

Mango 13

Mango 14

You can click on this link: Mango cream tart – recipe for a full-screen slideshow of the recipe.

The quote by Michael Rosen at the top of this post is from his new book: Good Ideas How to Be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher. In the book he includes a chapter “The Kitchen” explaining why he thinks the kitchen is the best classroom invented.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post. I’d especially appreciate feedback on my presentation of the recipe and suggestions for a vegetarian substitute for gelatine.


Kitchen photo credit: