It’s National Science Week – 12th to 20th of August. Schools and communities are celebrating with a myriad of science events. But they don’t all need to be sensationally explosive or super-techy … in fact poetry can be perfect!
Sharing snippets of science in poems is a great way to befriend physics, chemistry and biology. And encouraging students to write their own poems helps focus their science understanding in a memorable way.
Since 2011 I’ve run lunchtime Poetry Clubs at Whitfield SS – mostly with Year 5 and 6 students. Our topic this year is The Science, Nature and Poetry of WATER – to complement National Science Week’s theme FUTURE EARTH.
A PowerPoint presentation of weird science facts with specific Science Rhymes was the foundation. We then recited classic and contemporary poems that touched on our chosen topic. During this phase, we identified poetic tools and techniques enjoyed in those poems. Not all students want to write their own poems. Half the group are happy reciting and appreciating the message and music in poems written by others.
For those creating their own poems, most learn it’s possible to rearrange lines of poetry to make improvements. Poems can be changed before reaching their final form. Students mostly work on their poems away from our informal lunchtime meetings. This allows (via email communication with a parent) busy students to still participate.
As the poems roll in, our recital for National Science Week is born. Poems are practised in the Poetry Club setting, published on the Science Rhymes website, and then delivered to an audience of Year 4 students during National Science Week.
Parents appreciate reciting poems in front of an audience can lead to a newfound confidence for their child. Some students become published poets and a few have the exciting experience of promoting National Science Week on a live radio broadcast! I enjoy the whole process, particularly receiving their descriptive poems and knowing we have all learnt a little more science.
I hope you enjoy reading Evie’s poem about capillary action, which causes liquid water to escape from plant stems and wood, which can freeze in cold air to create ICE FLOWERS.
Such complexity and beauty
In a simple form
But only cold conditions:
Winter or Autumn.
The sap in the stem escapes
Thin cracks will form
Then water is drawn
It touches the air
Ice petals will form.
That is how an ice flower is born.
Ravishing and rare
Not found everywhere
Of course green plants can create
Yet also on wood, a fence or a gate
Where water comes through the gate’s pores
The forces push this delicate cause.
So tempting to touch
But wait, don’t rush
Ice flowers will break
Don’t make the mistake
Instead snap your lens
For the longest keepsake.
Isn’t that a lovely way to celebrate National Science Week?
Some links to images and information about ice flowers:
My World of Ice
Dr James R Carter, Professor Emeritus
Illinois State University
Photos: Dr James R Carter http://my.ilstu.edu/~jrcarter/
For Australian writers only, this competition was for a non-rhyming poem suitable for a child up to the age of 12 years. Judges were Dianne (Di) Bates who sponsored the competition in memory of her late daughter, and her husband, poet and author Bill Condon.
There were 44 submissions. Overall, the standard was very good with some memorable poems. Some (excellent) poems which missed out on being placed were thought to be too sophisticated for young readers. Very few of the poems were playful or about children’s everyday life; most of the poems focussed on aspects of nature.
The judges have chosen the following poems for prizes:
1st prize of $150 for ‘Roar’ by Jaz Stutley
2nd prize of $100 for ‘Looking at the Moon through Binoculars’ by Vanessa Proctor
3rd prize of $50 for ‘Refugee Girl in the Playground’ by Duncan Richardson
The following poems were Highly Commended: ‘The Stars in the Sea’ by Paula Stevenson and ‘Dog = Love’ by Holly Williams
Thank you to all poets for entering the competition!
Poetry in the Upper Primary Classroom
by Patrick Dower
‘Just as many PE teachers say “don’t use physical activity as punishment” to prevent students associating negative emotions with being active, I try my best to ensure students associate poetry with fun.’
The process of introducing in-depth poetry study to my class was gradual and – at least initially – incidental. As with any teaching approach, it was only once I recognised student interest that I began to consider the potential in a poetry focused Literacy unit. Prior to that, I had embedded the study of song lyrics and poems into Social & Emotional Learning lessons as a stimulus for discussion and personal reflection. These lessons helped create relevance in text from which the students had previously appeared detached. Discussing and comprehending the poems with a personal focus also assisted them in gaining the confidence required to study and compare a variety of poems in-depth and, most importantly, find enjoyment in reading and creating works of written art.
Poetry in Social & Emotional Learning
I regularly use songs as the stimulus for discussions in my Social & Emotional Learning lessons. I will generally read through the lyrics of the song prior to playing the music, particularly if it is a song they are unlikely to know. To ensure the primary focus is placed on the lyrics, I will often play the song on my guitar and sing, rather than use the recording.
Songs which I have used include, but are not limited to, The Road by George Harrison, focusing on the different paths students may take in their learning and progress, and Second Best by Hudson Taylor, which prompted a discussion on not accepting the putdowns of others and striving to achieve your best. Whilst these messages are not necessarily what was intended by the artist, they take on this form as the students relate them to their own lives.
The most powerful example, however, was the first time I used a song of my own. Addressing a specific social issue which had arisen in the class, I played a song I had written several years prior entitled Burgundy & Grey. The underlying theme of the song is that regardless of how well we think we know our acquaintances, we can never be entirely certain what is going on in their lives and how this may be affecting their behaviours. The class dissected it to within an inch of its life and were highly sympathetic towards the central character – a young girl named Keeley. It remained a regular topic of conversation throughout the year. The most powerful aspect of this class, however, was when they found out it was my own work.
After sharing my own writing, I noticed an increased willingness to experiment in their own and seek my feedback. They were more willing to share with the class and refer to their own experiences within their writing. It was an incredibly powerful moment in the context of our class and for me as a teacher.
From here, I was able to write poems specifically for use in the class – such as one entitled Sadness, which explored the difference between emotions and mental illness through the eyes of child whose Father had depression.
Poetry for Fun
Just as many PE teachers say “don’t use physical activity as punishment” to prevent students associating negative emotions with being active, I try my best to ensure students associate poetry with fun. We will regularly play rhyming games and re-write song lyrics as a class. One highlight was altering the words of Fight Song by Rachel Platten to be our ‘Year Five Song’ and performing it in assembly. Similarly, as part of a focus on the work of Shakespeare, the class enjoyed altering the lyrics of pop songs to fit into the format and style of a Shakespearean sonnet.
Poetry in English
My year level partner and I also implemented two English specific poetry units.
The first involved the performance of paired poems by Paul Fleischman. These are fantastic for getting students up in front of their peers reading poetry.
In the second, which lasted for most of Term 4, we used A Children’s Introduction to Poetry by Michael Driscoll to introduce the class to a variety of poetic styles, including villanelles, sonnets and limericks, as well as the work of specific poets, such as Poe, Blake and Shakespeare. After reading about the style of writer, the students would either respond with a poem of their own in that style or through other means, such as creating a film version of The Raven.
This year I am in the process of starting a lunch time poetry club for Year 5 and 6 students. I hope to only facilitate this group, as the students – many of whom were part of my class last year – use their own interests and experiences to direct their writing and study.
Last week was a very exciting and rewarding week – the culmination of four months reading, re-reading, agonising over and judging 6,000 poems received from primary school students Australia-wide. As this was my second year in the role, the mechanics and rules were easier but the volume of poems had increased which made the decision-making even more challenging. Following the decisions, there were reports to write and send off, followed by the final exciting part, the Dorothea Mackellar Awards National Presentation Ceremony held in Gunnedah, NSW on Friday 4th September.
First there was a warm welcome at the airport in Tamworth, at Gunnedah and at the Mackellar Motel, a quick walk about the town before an early night. Thursday was a day of school visits back in Tamworth, before a dinner at the Mackellar Motel to meet the young winners – always a thrill to meet these talented poets and put a name (and poem) to a face.
Friday morning’s first job was a radio interview on ABC Tamworth with two of the winners – upper and lower primary sections . . . I am so proud of these children and all the winners. We then raced on to the Award Ceremony where we heard from new president Jenny Farquhar, The Hon Barnaby Joyce MP, new patron the Hon. Margaret White and guest speaker Sophie Masson. Then came the awards themselves presented by fellow judge Nette Hilton (Senior Categories) and myself (Junior Categories).
I returned to Sydney Friday evening, retreating into the warm, cosy and welcoming Hughenden Hotel. After a walk with fellow author and SCBWI Regional Adviser, Susanne Gervey first thing Saturday morning about Centennial Park, we journeyed out to be welcomed by Paul Macdonald at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft for a special Father’s Day book signing and reading of my dog books – Bob the Railway Dog, Hey Dad, You’re Great, Little Dog and the Christmas Wish and The Dog on the Tuckerbox.
I arrived back home Saturday night – in need of a good night’s sleep! Thank you Dorothea Mackellar Committee for looking after me so well – especially Jenny, Alice, Russell, lovely Anne and all those warm hearts who do such a wonderful job for poetry and the children of Australia – thank you.
I was very excited when my collection of rhyming verse/bush poetry for children, The Billy That Died With Its Boots On and Other Australian Verse was published by Walker Books in May last year. Walker did a beautiful job of putting the book together, and I felt confident that it would do well.
However, I was a little disappointed with what I felt was a lack of publicity. I made my own efforts, and did manage to secure an interview on ABC Local radio in Melbourne (774) on a Monday afternoon during the school holidays, but that was about it.
Then, when the book won a Golden Gumleaf for Book of the Year at the Australian Bush Laureate Awards during the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January this year, I realised I had the ‘hook’ I needed. It was particularly gratifying – and of interest to the media – that a book for children had won an award that is ostensibly an award for books for adults.
I decided to target ABC Local radio once again and, again, my home town, Melbourne came through. I secured an interview with Libby Gorr on a Sunday morning. However, I had no success with the other capital cities.
It then occurred to me that my natural constituency, given that the book was ‘bush verse’, was probably rural and regional Australia. With this in mind, I began to approach some of the smaller ABC Local radio stations. I quickly struck gold.
As a general rule, responses fell into one of three categories.
I secured a state-wide interview in Ballarat by explaining the history of my various ancestors in rural Victoria. I secured an interview in south west Queensland by discussing the influence of Banjo Paterson on my work. (Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda in this part of Australia.) I secured a couple of interviews in South Australia by discussing the influence of CJ Dennis on my work. (Dennis was born in South Australia, and lived there as a child and young adult.) I have secured an interview in Albany, Western Australia, by explaining that there are poems about whales in the book. (We will do the interview as soon as the whales arrive!) I have also secured an interview in Tamworth, because that is where I won the award.
I should add that all of these interviews (13 now in total) have been conducted without my leaving Melbourne. A few have been live, but most were pre-recorded. Most have been conducted on my mobile phone. I attended the ABC Soutbank Studios for the interview with Libby Gorr.
Of particular interest was the Ballarat interview, where I was placed in a ‘Tardis’ in Southbank. These are highly sophisticated studios that allow the interviewee to sound as though they are in the same studio as the interviewer, even though they may be many miles away.
My favourite interviews have been with the smallest stations in far off corners of this huge continent. The interviewers tend to be more passionate, the interviews longer, and the questions more interesting.
Do any of these interviews sell books? I don’t know, and I probably never will. I cannot see how they could do any harm, however, and they are great fun. Of course, the number of people listening to these programmes is likely to be less than with the large metropolitan stations, but there is nothing to be done about that.
My own feeling is that these smaller rural and regional ABC Local radio stations are a highly valuable and probably greatly under-utilised resource for authors trying to sell their books.
Here are this week’s updates.
In May this year, Walker Books is publishing a collection of Stephen Whiteside’s poetry for children, The Billy That Died With Its Boots On and Other Australian Verse.
Dr Stephen Whiteside shares his journey – The Fulfillment of a Lifetime Quest: Writing the Billy That Died With Its Boots On and Other Australian Verse.
Don’t forget to check our ‘Competitions‘ page for end of April submission deadlines.
As per my recent blog post, if you are interested in assisting as a researcher and writer for the Australian Children’s Poetry blog site, more information can be found here:
That’s it for this week.