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This is the second in our August series of guest blog posts by author, educator and media commentator Dannielle Miller. 


What is the one thing teen boys say they wish adults better understood about their lives?

Forget raging hormones, academic angst and peer pressure. When my team and I run our personal development workshops with young men the thing they tell us they feel is the cause of most inter-generational misunderstanding is their passion for computer games.

“I wish my parents knew that just because I like gaming doesn’t mean I am a loner or that I’m going to become a serial killer.” “I wish the adults that mock me for the games I play would at least learn a bit more about them, and how skilled I am at playing them, first.”

The very fact that we tend to only ever target in on young men when fretting about gaming highlights how misinformed we tend to be. The reality is that almost half of those who play are female, and approximately a third are aged over 35 years old (yes, it seems that we have already had a generation of young game-loving people emerge as adults, and yes most are happy, well adjusted and productive members of society).

The reality too is that gaming is actually highly social; players work together to solve problems, share tips and tricks, compete with one another. My biggest complaint when my son plays?

There’s too much noise as he’s animatedly chatting via Skype to the mates he’s teaming up with online.

And make no mistake. Gaming does develop valuable skills. It is a fluid intelligence mega-booster, encouraging participants to seek novelty, challenge themselves, think creatively, do things the hard way and network.

There are many surprising socio-emotional benefits associated with gaming as well. It has been shown to be helpful in alleviating depression (it is believed games distract people from negative thought patterns), in developing intrinsic motivation (gamers learn to overcome one obstacle after another), and in developing the type of 21st century skills that employers require (not only the familiarity with computer operating systems, but the ability to work and collaborate virtually).

As for the notion that games are violent, whilst it is true that some of the most popular games like Minecraft are not, many do have violent elements. While this doesn’t thrill me, it also doesn’t surprise me. Children’s games have long explored such impulses; be it through playing with toy weapons or soldiers, or through role-plays such as Cowboys and Indians.

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The real question is whether playing these types of games leads to more violent behaviour, and on that point the findings are mixed with most studies concluding that whilst for a person predisposed towards violence this might be triggering, for well-adjusted individuals it is not. In fact, some young men I talk to say that when they are feeling angry, playing a game that is aggressive can be a helpful way of channeling that rage safely.

All this is not to say we should white-wash the very real issues that need addressing in gaming such as the sexist and abusive way in which some female players and game developers are treated (something my son thinks is shocking) and debates around ratings. Games like the Grand Theft Auto series, which tend to attract the type of media interest that may have contributed to the current culture of fear and misunderstanding, are rated R (18+). They will, of course, like all forbidden fruit, appeal to younger kids as well and just like when they wish to view films that are not suitable for them, it is then that parental boundaries need to be established.

Leena van Deventer, a game narrative lecturer at RMIT and Swinburne Universities, argues parents have actually never been in a better position to engage with the games their children play, and setting boundaries is aided not only be the games rating classification system, but by better parental restrictions that can be set on game devices. “We don’t have to play every game before our kids get it, these days either”, she says. “We can jump on YouTube and watch a complete play-through of the game and decide whether it’s the sort of game we want our child to play.”

It is true that like anything a young person becomes passionate about, gaming can become addictive. However, It seems odd to me though that whilst we wouldn’t dream of shaming a young person who was obsessed with locking themselves off into their room to read books, it tends to be open season on the gamer.

The way to connect with our children about anything is to open ourselves to their interests, instead of reflexively dismissing the things they love as harmful or trivial. Rather than policing and patronising, we need to empathise with, and understand the world of, young people. Only then can we positively engage with them and effectively support them.

We need to be prepared to get in the game.

 

Dannielle’s books may be purchased at her web site. During the month of August only, if you use the code SKWIRK at check out, you will receive a 25% discount off all purchases.

The first of our August guest blog posts by author, educator and media commentator Dannielle Miller. 

Dannielle works with thousands of teen girls every year as CEO of Enlighten Education

Dannielle works with thousands of teen girls every year as CEO of Enlighten Education

“Lies, scams and deceit — just your average teen girl.” “Lost innocence: Why girls are having rough sex at 12.” “Drug toll … A generation of teenage girls riddled with fear and anxiety is overdosing in record numbers.” “The Invincible — A startling exposé on this generation of young women who show no fear about the dangers of sex, booze, or even the sun.”

Another day, another media headline urging us to view adolescent girls as either vulnerable victims in need of protection, or as a wanton and wild demographic we need to be protected from.

Worrying about the younger generation is nothing new. An inscription found in a 6000 year-old Egyptian tomb highlights the enduring nature of our fears that youth are lost: “We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit taverns and have no self control.”

But thanks to this digital age the hand-wringing dialogue that surrounds our daughters in particular — no matter how well intentioned it may be — is now forming the running commentary for the lives of many teen girls.

Author and feminist Emily Maguire, in her essay “Sugar, Spice and Stronger Stuff” asks us to consider how the teen girls who see and hear these discussions might feel:

“Teen girls are not a separate species — they walk among us. They see and hear and read the same things we do, including all those features about sexting and raunch culture and under-age sex. They notice how those articles are always illustrated with photos of teenage bodies in tiny skirts or low-cut tops, the faces blurred or heads lopped off. They are aware of the way serious news sources and trash media alike use their bodies to sell papers even as they express deep concern about how girls are using those same bodies — their own — for pleasure …

No wonder so many girls feel misunderstood and alienated … And when loving parents buy into it they end up either alienating their daughters or infecting them with their own fear and panic.”

There is in fact a longstanding tradition of using scare tactics as a means of controlling women and this starts early. Fairytales are some of the first cautionary tales told to girls. These stories provide clear messages about obedience, adherence to traditional gender roles, beauty and virtue, and the dangers inherent in being an ambitious woman who seeks any form of power (cue wicked witches). They also often emphasis the need for girls to have male protectors; whether these be handsome princes or kindly kings.

There is also a longstanding tradition of omitting the bravery and resilience of young women from our cultural narratives. We tend not to share stories of girls who thrive and strive, or broadcast statistics that highlight the positive.

Here in Australia teen pregnancy, cigarette smoking, illicit drug use and alcohol drinking rates and all down. Meanwhile school retention and academic performance rates have significantly increased for girls. It seems we have a generation that are not as self-obsessed as we’d like to paint them as being. 80 per cent of Girl Guides over the age of 10 commit two or more hours each week to volunteering; almost double the amount of time contributed by adults.

Anecdotally, as an educator who works with thousands of teen girls every year across Australia I’ve observed that girls are doing remarkably well in a culture that often doesn’t seem to like them very much, or have much faith in their decision-making capacity.

 

And when we are not choosing to ignore, we sometimes choose to conceal. Historically, we have attributed the achievements of adolescent girls to those of much older women. Case in point, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin who in 1955 was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

Colvin’s act inspired the civil rights movement that followed as nine months later middle-aged Rosa Parks became the public face for this movement. Colvin has since explained “[t]hey (the leaders of the civil rights movement) thought I would be too militant for them. They wanted someone mild and genteel like Rosa.”

None of this is to say that there are not very real issues teen girls struggle with that we do need to address; body image angst, disordered eating, self harm, binge drinking, navigating technology safely, developing and maintaining respectful relationships. These are some of the issues I’ve devoted my career to supporting girls to manage. But the answer lies in education — not moral panic, or policing and patronising. We must give girls the skills they need to make informed choices and encourage them to turn their critical gaze on their culture, not themselves and each other. We must present them with more positive role models. We must actively seek out opportunities to celebrate their wins. Importantly, we must also make it OK for them to take risks and make mistakes.

Dr Briony Scott, Principal of girls’ school Wenona, in her essay on “Women and Power” called too for a change in perspective:

“In the years that I have been a principal, it is abundantly clear to me that families are doing a magnificent job but they do so in the face of cultural expectations that would lead them to think otherwise. There is a social and cultural normalising of the belief that raising girls is an almost impossible task. Along with this comes a presumption that when anything does goes wrong for girls, it must be because they are depressed, mentally fragile, and/or prone to anxiety.

Such a view, apart from being inherently presumptuous, trivialises those young women (and men) who genuinely struggle with their mental health, and pathologises what is fundamentally, a normal developmental path. It does an extraordinary disservice to young women who are simply navigating the road to adulthood.”

Let’s not feed the self-fulfilling prophecy that teen girls are either troubled or trouble.

Because the real picture? It’s far brighter.

 

Dannielle’s books, including her bestselling guide to raising happy, confident teen girls, The Butterfly Effect, may be purchased at her web site. During the month of August only, if you use the code SKWIRK at check out, you will receive a 25% discount off all purchases.

Hi Skwirkers!

This Saturday 2nd of July, the members of the 45th Parliament of Australia will be decided by national population vote. Today Skwirk Explores ACHCK023 in Stage 3 to help develop students’ understanding of voting, elections and Federal Government structures allowing them to better interact and process media and discussions occurring around them during this time. Let us know some of the ways you have addressed the upcoming Federal Election as a topic in your classroom!

Introduction

Voting is the process whereby the people choose someone to represent them in government. A person’s vote is their choice of an elected representative.

Who can vote

All Australians over the age of 18 must vote in elections.

To be allowed to vote you must enrol as a voter. You can enrol if you are

  • 17 years old; and
  • an Australian citizen.

It is compulsory to enrol when you are 18 years old.

The system was not always like this, as there were times when both women and Aboriginal people were not allowed to vote. Different States allowed women and Aboriginal people the right to vote in different years. Generally women were allowed to vote by 1908 and Aboriginal people were only allowed to vote in all States by 1967.

When and where do you vote?

Elections are held on a Saturday and people vote at their nearest polling place. Often these polling places are in local schools or community halls. People are placed in electoral divisions and generally must vote at a polling place within that division.

For people who cannot vote because they are away or out of their local area there are special procedures. These include:

  • People who are away from their electoral division but in the same State can still vote by casting an absentee vote. This means that they can vote in another electorate.
  • People who are overseas or who are seriously ill and are unable to go to a polling booth can vote by post, or cast a vote before the voting day.

Voting day

Election day is always on a Saturday. Polling places open at 8.00 am and close at 6.00 pm.

At the polling places there are different people who play an important role in the voting process. The three main types of people at the polling places are:

  1. Party Workers (for example Labor Party or Liberal Party volunteers) standing outside polling places handing out how-to-vote cards. The cards show voters how particular candidates would like the voters to fill in their ballot papers.

  2. Polling Officials are employed and trained by the Australian Electoral Commission and make sure that the voting is carried out correctly. They are required to ask voters three questions:
    What is your full name? What is your address? Have you voted before in this election?

    The official checks the voter’s enrolment on the certified roll and gives the voter a ballot paper to vote with. The voter then goes alone into the voting booth to vote in secret. The voter then puts the completed ballot papers into the sealed ballot boxes.
  3. Scrutineers represent the candidates. They are allowed to go to the polling place to observe but cannot influence any voter. The most important task of the scrutineers is to watch the count and make sure that only formal votes are counted and that they are counted properly.

Secret ballot

A secret ballot means that when a voter casts a ballot no name appears on the voting paper. Although the name of the voter is checked of by an official before voting, no one knows who a person voted for. This is an important part of the democratic system because it means no one can be forced or pressured into voting for a particular candidate. Secret ballots help to eliminate corruption in the voting process.

Voting systems

The voting systems for the two houses of parliament (the Senate and the House of Representatives) are different. Voters are given two separate ballot papers (voting slips) for each house. (Refer Chapter 3: Voting Systems).

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Current Skwirk subscribers can access all our content on this chapter here including a voting-themed interactive game and six “Prove It” exercises to demonstrate your student’s knowledge on voting! Not a Skwirk subscriber? You can access this content and more through a free trial of Skwirk to use these resources in your classroom during the election period.

Happy Skwirking!

Online learning services like Skwirk are revolutionising the world of home education, making it easier and more effective to conduct than ever before.

The number of children learning at home in New South Wales alone has risen by 65% in the past four years (http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/home-schooling-up-65-in-four-years-20130907-2tcj8.html), and at Skwirk, we’re seeing more and more parents sign up for our online interactive portal every day.

Skwirk brings Australia’s curriculum to the home

The big reason why more and more home educators are turning to Skwirk in Australia is because our online content directly reflects the Australian teaching curriculum.

A big challenge in the past for parents educating their children at home was to provide textbooks, tests and content that was in keeping with what was being taught in the regular school system.

If they failed to do that, their children could have been at a disadvantage, negating any positive outcomes of bringing the classroom into the home.

The rise of the internet and online education portals like Skwirk means that it’s now easier than ever to access high quality teaching materials that allows parents to perfectly replicate what’s being taught in school in their own home.

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Home education can be effective

Another major reason more and more home educators are turning to Skwirk in Australia is that home schooling is well and truly a viable alternative to regular schooling.

Through home education, parents can tailor their child’s education to their abilities and interests and provide a more focused learning environment than what can be found in the regular school system.

And by using Skwirk’s online education portal and its wide range of lessons and teaching aids, parents and their pupils have everything they need for effective learning at their fingertips.

Skwirk’s cost effective education

Sending your children to school can be one of the most expensive things you ever undertake, with some places of education charging tens of thousands of dollars a year. And that figure excludes the cost of uniforms, books and extra curricular activities.

If you can educate your child at home to the same level of quality as a regular school for a fraction of the price, then it’s a no brainer.

Skwirk is offering home education subscriptions for just $200 a year, giving you access to most major subjects taught in the Australian curriculum as well as teacher tools, student assigning, tracking and reporting.

It’s a complete package that puts the power of education in the hands of both parents and children.

Skwirk is the answer for home education

At Skwirk we think the growing trend towards home education is very exciting. Our mission is to provide the highest quality teaching materials and teaching aids through our online portal, and knowing that our content is being used in homes, as well as schools, makes us proud.

Home education can be very effective and Skwirk can help bring the Australian curriculum to a tailor-made learning environment.

For a free trial subscription to our service, just click this link 

Watch the home educator video tour below:

There is no one-size-fits-all teaching method that will help every child in a class to learn. Instead, each person tends to respond in a unique way to different stimuli. Different learning styles require different teaching methods, and Skwirk can make it possible to tailor information to suit the many minds housed together in the same classroom.

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In order to help students improve their grades, the eLearning database of Skwirk is designed to cater to an array of different learning styles. Some students will respond best to colourful animations, videos and visual stimulus, others will respond to aural learning – listening to the information presented. Others still will be able to retain information if they experience it via a demonstration or by doing it themselves. Many will respond to a combination of these techniques – every class and every child is unique.

Because each student will have their own individual style of learning, it can be a challenging task for a teacher to create lesson plans with so many personalities in the room. It’s no easy feat to make classes and assessments for students that will be helpful to everyone, especially if some students simply cannot fit within that particular learning framework. What works for most may exclude some from the process of learning. This means that without an inclusive lesson plan, teachers can run the risk of leaving some students behind.

Not only is the aforementioned situation upsetting, but the fact that a myriad of learning styles can exist in the same room makes it hard to assess students’ progress on their report cards. How can teachers mark educational progress fairly? Some teachers know that their students are intelligent and have engaged with their learning material, however this may not be reflected in their marks. Why does this happen? It can be because the testing format is not one in which the child can communicate what they know. 

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Skwirk Online Education is an invaluable resource to solve this problem within classrooms. Now there is a way to create a fairer method of assessing what students have learnt. This is because everyone can have the chance to fully comprehend their classes, and be tested in a way that allows their learning style to flourish. By using Skwirk, it is possible to assign tasks that teach the same information in line with the Australian curriculum, but in different ways to suit different learning styles. Teachers are able to assign individual students or groups of students their own activities, assessments and tasks. This is how Skwirk has been helping students improve their grades for years.

Although it is true that some students require a certain style of learning in order to retain information, it is also true that a blend of teaching approaches give kids a better change of learning as well. This is yet another advantage of this online education system. Revising the same information is made invigorating when kids are able to do so via varied and interactive methods.

Education has come a long way since children got in trouble for not being able to memorise their textbooks. Help your students get the best start and tackle learning from a new angle.  

Skwirk is offering all individual teachers 30% off a Skwirk subscription until the end of December. Simply use the discount code eLearning when subscribing. Click this link to get started.

Australia’s economic health is often linked to China’s appetite for its minerals – but a new kind of resources boom could be set to make its mark with online education as the next big product.

China’s education sector is the largest in the world with over nine million students taking the National Higher Education Entrance Examination in 2015. It accounts for over 4% of the nation’s GDP and is seeing record amounts of overseas investment.

And now, e-learning is rapidly emerging as one of Australia’s biggest exports to China, highlighted by the recent trade trip of 10 education technology companies to Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing in August.

“It is estimated by 2017, the value of China’s online education market will reach A$36 billion so there is enormous benefit to NSW in exchanging knowledge and ideas with China in this sector,” said Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, Stuart Ayres, who led the program that was a joint initiative between Austrade and NSW Education.

The companies met a range of potential local partners to discuss distributing Australian e-learning products across China’s vast and valuable education system. This could lead to the creation of a big new market for Australian business in China beyond the usual commodities and agriculture.

This opportunity is already paying off for Australian education technology company Skwirk, which was selected to take part in the trade trip and is now set to expand its e-learning network to China. Skwirk is an online interactive learning portal for primary and secondary school students. The portal is accessed in over 1400 schools in countries across the world including Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Skwirk is now adding China’s e-learning sector to that growing list, already hiring a company representative and conducting ongoing discussions with potential business partners.

CEO David Weston said China’s vast appetite for Australian educational products is an impressive opportunity.

“This was a hugely beneficial trip for us at Skwirk. We knew there would be possibilities in China, but we did not predict the amount of interest we have received.

“We have now been back to continue conversations with multiple companies and investors, and employed our first China based representative. This would not have been possible without the help of Austrade and Stuart Ayres.”

The recent e-learning trade trip could be the start of something big for Australia’s economy, and Skwirk is now ideally positioned to take full advantage of China’s big appetite for Aussie e-learning.

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Photo (L-R): Skwirk CEO, David Weston, NSW Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, Stuart Ayres and Skwirk Chairman, Rod Salmon.

In the last ten years Skwirk has evolved again and again to best support the latest teaching methods and the integration of new technologies into the classroom. Now Skwirk is being utilised in over 1400 Schools, by more than 19,000 Teachers and 200,000 students in Australia and we’re growing with new Skwirkers joining from all around the world, including New Zealand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the UK.

To celebrate we’re giving away 10 XO Tablets, click here to enter our Birthday Competition!

The Early Years

Skwirk was founded in 2005 by company Chairman Rod Salmon. As an entrepreneur and a father, he was frustrated by the lack of high-quality, Australian resources for his children to use as part of their school projects and assignments. The original concept was to create a safe online destination and learning environment for students to use, however after positive feedback from schools and teachers, Skwirk was taken into the classroom, and we have not looked back!

Ten years ago now, schools were installing computer labs and began to bring laptops into the classroom. These were the early years of Skwirk and we want to say a special thank you to all of the schools, teachers and students who have been with us since the beginning and for enthusiastically embracing our resources, your support has helped us become the Skwirk of today!

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(L-R) Skwirk CEO, David Weston, NSW Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, Stuart Ayres and Skwirk Chairman, Rod Salmon

Engaging Students, Enhancing Learning

Taking on-board important feedback from teachers, more options to customise learning for individual students was an important step forward.  

Five years ago, many schools began to use Interactive Whiteboards and teachers were given the ability to customise Skwirk content to personalise their own lesson plans. Suddenly, lessons became media rich experiences incorporating interactive exercises, animations and video content! The feedback from Teachers was overwhelming as they expressed how delighted they were that their students were more engaged, retained more information and had fun in the process!

One of the biggest benefits of bringing Skwirk into the classroom as reported by teachers was that it easily caters to a range of different learning styles, with something to suit every student.

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New Curriculum Aligned Content, Every Week

Week by week Skwirk continues to grow with new texts, interactive activities, animations, videos, games, worksheets, images and podcasts being added all the time! Today Skwirk has over 18,000 resources covering Maths, English, Science, Geography, History and Commerce.

To better use all these wonderful resources tools were developed for teachers to bookmark and highlight sections and a helpful calendar function to assign content so that it is ready to access in class. The feature that made teachers’ lives even easier was the simple Curriculum Code search, displaying all relevant content in just a few seconds. Because all of Skwirk’s resources are aligned to the Australian Curriculum (did you know that you can also search by NSW Curriculum Codes too?), everything on Skwirk integrates into the classroom with ease to enhance lessons from Foundation all the way through to year 10.

Reporting and assessment tools at the end of a topic also help teachers to monitor the progress of individual students. These reports help to inform future teaching and learning so that the appropriate information is assigned to a student to meet their learning needs.

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The Skwirk Team together at a recent training conference

The Future of Skwirk

In the last few years many Schools have introduced individual devices for each student and with the endorsement and ongoing implementation of the Australian Curriculum, Skwirk has evolved again! Since introducing our Home Educator subscription less than a year ago we’ve had nearly 500 families subscribe (watch this space for an exciting announcement regarding our 500th Home Educating family very soon!). We’ve come a long way since those early days back in 2005!

Skwirk’s CEO, David Weston reflects on reaching this milestone –

“I think it is important to remember why we are here. Throughout the changes in technology and the evolving of our resources, Skwirk’s mission has always been to make teachers’ lives easier and support different learning styles. I feel very proud when I think about the thousands of students whose skills and knowledge were improved by our content.

I look forward to future developments in the Education sector and how Skwirk will continue to evolve with these processes.”

Thank you for Skwirking with us and sharing the journey so far – here’s to the next ten years!