Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

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Equality City – Year 7 Enrichment Program, Northern Beaches Secondary College, Manly Campus

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be asked to run an enrichment program for year 7 students at NBSC, Manly Campus. The program involved leading students through a week of inquiry based learning regarding the theme of ‘Equality in Contemporary Australian Society’. In order to attend the program, students had to send in an application addressing their ability to work independently, in a self-directed and regulated manner, to think critically and creatively, and to collaborate effectively as part of a team. 18 students were chosen to take place and the program was run in the school library’s Learning Centre – a modern double room which consisted of a collaborative, flexible learning space which adjoined a computer lab with access to 40 desktop computers. It was an awesome week, so I thought I’d take the time to write a wee post about it.


After brief introductions, the week started with a hook designed to get the students thinking about equality (or lackthereof) in an engaging and experiential manner, through play and discussion. This was achieved having them join a Minecraaft server in order to complete the challenge of building a cobblestone building with an internal volume of 160 blocks. Students were each given a number, and depending on which number they were given, some had access to necessary building resources and some did not. This quickly led to discussion of fairness and questioning as to why some students were given resources over others.  After closing the server, we got together as a group to discuss the experience and how it may relate to any themes we would be focussing on throughout the week. Once the students identified the concept of equality as being particularly relevant, we gave them the briefing for the week and organised the students into teams.

Each team negotiated a focus area of inquiry for the week, centred around aspects of contemporary Australian society to which the concept of equality/inequality is particularly relevant. These areas included employment opportunities, equality for those living with a disability, equality for those living in rural as opposed to urban environments and gender equality. The task for each group for the remainder of the week was to collaboratively research their focus area in order to collaboratively produce a 1000 word reseacrh report as well as a multimodal text exploring and explaining their research findings. We also jointly constructed a KHWL table and calendar to keep learning on track throughout the week (sorry, no photos).

The second day began with another Minecraft hook in which students were required to create a simple construction which encapsulated what equality looked, or didn’t look like for their particular focus area, and also led to the idea for the final products to be submitted by the end of the week – to be explained shortly. One of the contructions which I found particularly creative during this task was the ‘Inequality ATM’, in which the amount of money dispensed was related to your ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender; highlighting disparities in employment opportunity in contemporary Australian society.

This led us to the idea of creating a Minecraft world in which two symmetrically oppposed cities existed – ‘Equality City’ and ‘Inequality City’. As the names imply, the society was either relatively equal or unequal on either side of the fence, depending on your gender, ethnicity, or the area in which you lived. The idea for each group’s final product was a video tour of the cities, exploring the life experiences of residents according to each of their focus areas. We also gave each group a particular text type and genre through which to explore their ideas. Of course, no building or multimodal text creation occurred until each group had submitted their research reports to a shared Google drive for the purpose of iterative feedback and modification. Once the research reports were up to scratch, which as always, took a varying amount of time for each group, construction of the cities commenced.

The week culminated in a presentation of each group’s research findings and video tours to an audience of year 10 students, parents and the principals and executives of the secondary college, which is a joint collection of five campuses across the Northern Beaches.

The best of the videos were chosen to take part in a cross-campus showcase, which sadly has been postponed due the current COVID-19 health crisis. However, the videos can be viewed below.

The Chunky Tomatoes produced a comedic take on investigative journalism, following a journalist ‘Steve McSteve’ as he visits ‘Inequality City’ and interviews one of its residents to learn more about the experiences of those living in Inequality Town with a disability.

The Fire Breathing Rubber Ducky Dinosaurs produced a day in the life style narrative of a girl who lives in ‘Equality City’ but experiences a nightmare in which the city is renamed ‘Inequality City’ and society favours males over females.

Well done to all students who attended the program and congratulations to the two groups who will be attending the cross campus showcase, date TBC.
We hope you enjoy the videos!

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Crowded Class – Four Stages in One Week

Regarding the title, that wasn’t the plan, but became the plan, then as tends to happen, things didn’t go according to plan.

I’ve spent the last seven years commuting fifty kilometres each way to work ‘out west’, and this year I’ve taken LWOP (leave without pay) to gain experience working at schools closer to home. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time teaching in southwestern Sydney, however the commute and long working hours due to regular after school meetings and PSSA (Primary Schools Sports Association) training provided less than adequate or ideal time for me to spend with my family and enjoy a reasonable work/life balance. The decision to take leave wasn’t easy; it’s difficult to remove yourself from a context in which you’ve invested so much of your time, effort and passion, but I really just needed a break.

Initially I was quite concerned about how things might pan out. A permanent teaching position provides security and regularity, leave entitlements, holiday pay, and various other benefits whereas teaching ‘casually’ provides none of those – you don’t know where you might be from one day to the next, there is no leave or holiday loading. There’s also the fact that I’d never before worked at schools locally and no one even knew who I was, at least on a personal basis anyway.

With these considerations in mind I cut off my NZ trip early, put together my CV and relevant paperwork and did the rounds, submitting it all and talking to APs and principals wherever I could.

I’ve been lucky and have quickly picked up work at a few local schools.

Last Friday I taught year 6 at a school around the corner from home.
On Monday I taught year 3 at a school a few suburbs away.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I went back to the school around the corner to cover their ‘STEM room’, teaching years 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in that space over those three days.
Today I taught year 6 again at another school quite close to home.

One of the things I have noticed over the past week is that my initial concerns about returning to ‘casual’ teaching were actually some of the things that are most exciting. I’ve managed to teach across multiple grades and classes and really test my repertoire of teaching skills, whether that be teaching the content K-6, classroom management in new contexts, or gaining a working rapport with new faces. I’ve actually found it quite invigorating and affirming!

Returning to the title of this post, whilst working in the STEM room across almost all of the classes at the school around the corner, I came up with the mini-goal of teaching all years K-6 (all four NSW primary school stages – ES1, S1, S2, S3) within the space of a week. I almost got there, too, however the regular STEM teacher returned on Friday, which stopped me short of taking kindy for STEM. Alas.

I’ve been lucky enough to land a short block with year 2 at the end of term, and I’ve been using the hashtag #waginskiGapYear on Twitter so that I can keep track of all my adventures – feel free to follow if interested.

Thanks for reading!

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Te Araroa Adventures – Days 8 – 9

After the forest shenanigans of the 42 Traverse we booked ourselves a couple of unpowered sites at Tongariro Holiday Park. A nice little spot with all you’d expect from a holiday park – powered/unpowered sites, a well-equipped camp kitchen, cabins and laundry; plus a few extras such as a TV/games room, drying room and a hot tub/spa.

The night had us sleeping through another alpine thunderstorm and drying out our tents the following day. We took some time to recover somewhat by attending to our blisters and resting the legs, eating through a bunch of our heavier foods such as lentils and rice and generally getting ready for the upcoming Tongariro Crossing. I paid for the luxury of a spa to massage my ageing, sore legs which are still becoming accustomed to this thru-hiking business.

We heard mixed reports about the crossing from others staying at the campground who had done the day visit. Some said it was quite windy and misty at times, with poor visibility, whilst others said they were blessed to have clear skies and wonderful views of the Blue and Emerald Lakes and surrounding volcanoes, with relatively few tourists – one of the benefits of doing the crossing on Boxing Day. Whatever the case, all reports were that the crossing was spectacular and unlike anything the majority of them had ever seen. We were itching to go and see it for ourselves.

Night time brought much clearer skies, with incredible views of the Milky Way, accompanied by the repetitive howls of Morepork owls. Reports in the morning were of clear skies, relatively low winds and a near perfect hiking high temperature of 15°C. Without further delay, we made our way to the trail.

We made relatively short work of the 9 kilometre hike from the holiday park to the crossing. It was mostly flat road walking with a more or less steady flow of traffic heading in and out of the park. It probably took us about an hour and forty five minutes.

Similarly, we wasted no time in making our way up to the crossing. The trail had us undertaking a steady climb up to the crossing, negotiating a mix of fairly degraded tramping tracks, well defined boardwalks, and mountain trails; as well as stairs – lots of stairs. It was evident at the lowest sections of the track that the steadily flowing stream, which stems from the volcanic craters above, at times becomes a torrent and takes its toll on the stairs and trail, forging trails of its own. As we made our way further up we were greeted with ever expanding views of the Rotopounamu and Otamangakau Lakes gradually appearing behind us.

As the TA (Te Araroa) Trail would have it, we actually traversed the hike from north to south, which is the opposite to which most people approach it. This had us negotiating the trail with a steady flow of traffic coming in the opposite direction, which made ‘sharing’ the trail a bit frustrating at times. I know that if I was making my way down a trail and I saw someone carrying a substantial rucksack up in the opposite direction, I’d try to ensure to give them the right of way or at least adequate room; it appears not everyone thinks this way.

Anyway, these crowded mountain trails soon gave way to a desolate, volcanic landscape, more akin to how I’d imagine the surface of Mars than anything here at home, except for the snow. We took some snaps of the Blue and Emerald Lakes, noting how lucky we were to have such marvellous clear skies and low winds, checked out the trail of people negotiating their way down the daunting scree slope that we were about to tackle (it must be close to a 75° gradient of loose sand and gravel, and we were yet to make our way up it), and took a quick selfie for family back home. The standard cliche is true that none of the photos could possibly do justice to the views IRL.

We then made our way up the Dune of Doom!

Whilst very challenging, the fact that the scree slope was relatively short in length in comparison to its sharp incline meant that the task was over within a short time when compared to the rest of the hike. It was tough, though, and I did have a slip along the way, falling into the scree with the weight of my pack. We shuffled our way down the other side, with me managing a few more minor tumbles along the way, and gradually made our way through the varying alpine terrain to follow. We ended up making our way 600 or so metres from the side of the track and setting up camp among the birch forest, not far from a stream so we could gather water for dinner and breakfast.

One of the things I’ve learned from my distance running days (which I plan to take up again when I return to Sydney) is that if it’s been some time between runs, it’s always a good idea to let your legs some time to recover after the first initial run back. I’ve backed up long runs after a hiatus previously and it has lead to injury and further time out. After five to six days of continuous hiking under heavy weight, I’ve decided to stay in town for a few days while Jayke takes on the Round the Mountain Trail. From experience, and knowing the way my body recovers, allocating this recovery time will reap dividends down the track. We’ll meet up again around New Years and make our way down to the Whanganui River access point in Whakahoro. It’s also good to have access to a servo/grocery store with some fresh fruit and veges, in fact, that’s where I’m heading right now!

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Te Araroa Adventures – Days 5 – 7

After spending a few days in Taumarunui stocking and psyching ourselves up, it was time to leave and head off along the trail. Firstly we had to take some supplies to the canoe centre, ready for our paddle down the Whanganui some 11 days after our departure from Taumarunui.

We carried our packs to Whanganui Canoe Centre, took part in a safety briefing, signed a few documents and paid our fares before backtracking into town to check out of our motel and send some things to ourselves in Wellington before backtracking again to the canoe centre. Unfortunately these backtracks were necessary due to the strange opening times and signage of some of the shops in Taumarunui, with some saying they would be closed when they were actually open, and a few other weird nuances which messed around our timing somewhat.

The track from the canoe centre started off fairly mildly, with country road walking alongside cattle and sheep farms, some nice views of snow covered mountains, as well as a random ostrich that shared its yard with a few cows. My nephew had fun ‘dancing’ with it as it threatened us away from the other side of the fence.

From there we hiked along some gravel roads, through rainforests and over hills before making it to the tiny town of Owhango at about 5:30pm. Although this hike wasn’t demanding or arduous by TA Trail standards, it was my first day, and the hike, as well as the 20 kilograms I had strapped to my back were beginning to take their toll.

I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed to learn that we’d have another 5 kilometres or so to go before we would reach our campsite in the Whakapapa River, taking the day’s hiking distance to 35 kilometres (+ 9 kilometres if you include the pack-less backtracking to and from town).

We arrived and set up camp, and I learned how to use my new cooking gear and water filter. It was a nice campsite, with access to the river to collect water and go for a quick dip. We met a father who had taken his kids for a Christmas camping and quad biking journey, he offered us some eggs and gave us a little bit of information about the track to come.

In the morning we set off to begin the 42 Traverse, and this was going to be the day that punished me.

The traverse itself crosses semi-alpine forests, ranging in elevation from 520m – 910m, with many climbs, bends and dips in between. After about two hours of hiking, I began to feel the strain of the 18 or so kilos strapped to my back, and to curse myself to a certain degree for not looking more into ultralight hiking and camping gear before leaving Sydney.

My nephew, being 28 and having about 1000 kilometres of Te Araroa hiking experience over me, lost me quite quickly, only to wait at ‘you are here’ spot on the first of the signs in the images below. We carried on together for some time before he hiked ahead again. However, this time the outcome wasn’t as positive.

I missed one of the trail signs on one of the final creek crossings and veered to the right instead of taking the trail to the left. This caused me to deviate from the trail for a couple of kilometres or so before realising, and by that time I had no safe option but to set up camp beside the track I was on and make my way to the state highway the following morning.

My nephew had been waiting for me by the river we were supposed to camp at and had become quite anxious when I hadn’t arrived by dark. In this time I had found some mobile reception near to where I had set up camp, had contacted my wife to let her know where I was and had sent some messages to my nephew, which I could see had not been received.

The following morning (Christmas Day) I walked ahead a little to find a sign and to ensure that my track would take me to the highway, backtracked to get water from a nearby stream, packed up my gear and set off for the highway.

Some two or three hours of hiking later, I received more mobile reception, contacted Bianca, and finally heard from my nephew. I reached the highway a short time later and hitched a ride up to where Jayke (my nephew) had just made his way out of the forest. From there we hiked to Tongariro Holiday Park. Quite a Christmas adventure!

After setting our tents and weathering an alpine thunderstorm overnight, we’ve spent today resting at the holiday park, to allow one of my legs to recover from the last few days. The spa has worked wonders. Tomorrow we will hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and make our way slowly toward Whakahoro to canoe our way to Whanganui.

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Te Araroa Adventures – Days 1 – 3

So the time has finally arrived for me to start my hiking journey in New Zealand.

After flying out from Sydney, my plans are to make my way by bus or train to meet my nephew in the small town of Taumarunui.

As with all road trips/journeys, the first major hurdle is making one’s way out of the major centres. All of the people and traffic cause congestion and slow things down. I have to say, though, that the InterCity bus network here in New Zealand has so far been amazing in terms of running to schedule and getting everyone where they need to be on time.

They’ve also been very accommodating and have ensures that people are able to take all of their belongings with them, even when some of these belongings have erred on the side of ridiculousness. For example, on the first leg of my journey to Taumarunui (from Auckland to Hamilton), whilst waiting for the bus, I noticed a man applying electrical tape on one of the edges of a massively oversized box. When the time came for him to board, there was a fair amount of confusion evident in the reaction of the bus driver when he requested that the box be stowed underneath.

She agreed that she would attempt to fit it in, but said that she would need to charge an additional $10 fee for oversized luggage. Oversized is really a bit of an understatement as the box was actually longer in length than the bus was in width.

After some rearranging of luggage, shifting of the box, and even some closing of the passenger within the underfloor cabin in order to test it would fit, the box was finally stowed away. I asked the man what was inside and he informed me that it was a ‘radio controlled glider’ – quite a strange thing to take with you on a bus journey in my humble opinion.

Anyway, the bus ride was pleasant and we arrived in Hamilton on time despite initially being somewhat delayed. I hopped off and walked the short 1 kilometre straight stretch of road to my hotel, just as it started to rain. I did contemplate hiring a Hamilton city , scooter but decided against attempting it with 15 kilograms of hiking and camping equipment strapped to my back.

I picked up some supplies whilst in Hamilton, and after a good night’s sleep and a simple breakfast, I made my way to Taumarunui. This bus journey was more interesting, travelling along winding roads through mountainous, rural terrain covered in wildflowers, ferns, grass; conifers, poplars, sheep and cows, and segmented in parts by small creeks and rivers. It had me beginning to become increasingly excited (if not slightly daunted) by the hiking adventures to follow.

I met my nephew in Taumarunui to find him in good spirits and full of stories. We went across the road for a pub feed and to discuss the plan over the next few days.

Tongariro is not too far, only a few days hike from here, but unfortunately the weather forecast up there isn’t the best right now, with cold nights and potentially snowy days predicted. We’ll be OK to do the crossing, but not the additional 2 – 3 day side adventures as planned.

From there we’ll hike fore a few more days down to the Whanganui, which we’ll head down in a canoe trip which should last several days.

We also conducted a ‘shake up’ of our packs, getting rid of any extra/unnecessary gear and packing it to post to ourselves in Wellington to use later. We’ll need to wait until Monday to do that, however, which means one more night here in Taumarunui before making our way towards Tongariro.

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My Barren Blog

I haven’t been active in this space for a long time now. The main reason for this is because I haven’t been in the position to do some of the more exciting educational things I once was in a position to do.

I did also briefly move over to Steemit, where I did write a few posts about some of my educational adventures, you can read them here, if interested:


Perhaps I’ll repost some of the above on this site.

The truth is, however, that whilst I have done some interesting stuff in the past couple of years (including an awesome stage 3 Horrible Histories project, a carnival games science project, and making it through to the finals in this year’s Western Sydney Airport Minecraft Competition), I haven’t really been in the space where any of this has inspired me enough to actively blog about it.

This general lack of inspiration has in part lead to me taking a year’s leave in 2020 to pursue other interests. These include working at a couple of universities in their education faculties, some casual teaching closer to home, and perhaps some further postgraduate research studies in environmental science.

I’m also currently in New Zealand where I’m about to meet my nephew and hike/kayak some of of this beautiful country’s infamous Te Araroa Trail. I’ll be posting about those adventures here on this blog in the very near future.

Hopefully my hiatus in 2020 will lead to a renewed passion for education, and perhaps some doors may open up elsewhere. Who knows.

In any case, I thought I may as well post an update, for whatever it’s worth.

Do feel free to follow my adventures, and thanks for reading.

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5L Ocelots and the 5 As

Back in 2013 Bianca and I ran Project Learning Swap Meet (PLSM) at the Powerhouse Museum, or as one of my students says, “AKA The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS).” This was a whole day of professional learning for primary and secondary teachers from all sectors, as well as academics, on Project Based Learning and how to design and implement authentic projects for students to engage in. Basically the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts of PBL.

As part of PLSM we were lucky enough to have a couple of Skype conversations with Tait Coles from the UK and Suzie Boss from Portland. Tait told us about some of the awesome concepts and philosophy behind Punk Learning, and Suzie shared her ideas about authentic Project Based Learning and some of her experiences of seeing it in action. During our conversation with Suzie, she spoke about service learning (an educational approach which combines student learning experiences with public service) and the 3 As of Project Based Learning. These are:

Awareness – through engaging in Project Based Learning, students raise public awareness about some local or global issue or problem that needs addressing.

Action – through engaging in Project Based Learning, students take action in order to solve or help to solve a local or global issue that needs addressing.

Advocate – through engaging Project Based Learning, students advocate for a particular cause.

After discussing the 3 As with Suzie, I was massively inspired, but still couldn’t really see how they could be achieved effectively within a classroom setting.

Enter the 5L Ocelots.

Over the last few years my class Minecraft projects (that’s Minecraft the actual game, not the super lame ‘Education Edition’ offering from Microsoft) have kind of been building (pardon the pun) on from one project to the next. Our Minecraft world has kept expanding as we keep adding more and more interesting builds along with each project. This is all pretty well documented so I won’t go into any great detail, if you want to know more about our Minecraft work, just scroll through some of my earlier posts.

I will however quickly mention #Project360.

Last year my class researched some of Taronga Zoo’s ‘legacy species’ of endangered animal from around Australia and south-east Asia. After researching the animals, their threats, and some of the things that we may be able to do to help the animals, my students built an endangered animal conservation park in Minecraft and made video tours of each enclosure which were recorded using the Replay mod and rendered in 4k 360º, uploaded to YouTube and can be viewed in 360º using Google Cardboard or some similar headset. We also put on a cinema day at the school and raised $150 for the World Wildlife Fund.

Now this was great, and you might already say that the 3 As of Project Based Learning were already enacted as part of this project – students raised awareness of the plight of the animals by making interesting videos and sharing them on social media, they took action by putting on a cinema day and raising funds to help save the animals, they advocated for sustainable living practices and other ways that we can each do our bit to help keep these creatures alive. However, things get even better.

Our work as part of this project saw us get an invite to the Young Creators Conference at the MAAS to showcase this work and some of our more recent VR work with the HTC Vive. We set up our Minecraft server at the museum along with a Vive, and we also brought along some Google Cardboard headsets so visitors could view our videos and explore our Minecraft world by playing the game and also experiencing it in VR. It was a great day.

During the event we were lucky enough to meet one of the national managers of the Stockland shopping centres who invited us to run a similar showcase at their Merrylands centre. We agreed and just this Thursday my students and I set everything up at their local shopping centre and ran a similar showcase for the public. It was really awesome.

Between 5 – 7pm, as customers went about their Thursday night shopping, my students invited them in to a little enclosed area just outside Woolworths to check out our work, to watch our videos and experience our work in virtual reality. We had interest from people as young as 5 and as old as 50. My students raised awareness of the plight of our local endangered animals and told customers the different ways in which we could help. They took action by conversing with parents and students from nearby local schools and other members of the general public, explaining what we were doing. They became advocates for the animals, for sustainability and sustainable living practices. They were amazing.

The event ran really smoothly and I was so impressed with how well my 10 and 11 year old students communicated with everyone and conducted themselves in such a public space. The 5L Ocelots truly rule.

I feel like I’ve finally managed to achieve the 3 As with my students, and it’s a bit of a milestone which felt somewhat vague and unachievable back in 2013 after that Skype conversation with Suzie Boss. It’s also opened up a meaningful connection with Stockland and the possibility for running further events in the future, perhaps even a holiday showcase when their centre is even busier.


After this experience, I feel that I would like to add a couple of As to the 3 As of Project Based Learning:

Authenticity – students engage authentically with community members outside of the classroom. Whilst this is a necessary component for any class project to truly live up to the ‘gold standard’ of PBL, it can’t hurt to add ‘authenticity’ to a list while we’re in the business of listing As.

Awesomeness – the learning should be awesome. You’re just going to have to take my word for it when I say it’s been awesome working on this stuff with my class and seeing how great they are at communicating their learning to the public.

I’ll put some photos below so you can have an idea of how the event looked. It’s really about getting students outside of the classroom and to realise that they do have the capacity to do things with their learning that extend beyond school. If they want to, they can change the world.