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Engaging Boys is Gold!

Protesters on the Gold Fields.

One of my favourite comic characters of all times is Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. These comics were touching, thought-provoking and funny – a difficult task to accomplish in any text. As an adult, I occasionally see a comic and, even though I have read most them, I still find myself engaged. For me, there is an important message as a teacher of boys in the panels of Calvin’s adventures.

Calvin finds it difficult to learn and is seen to struggle in class and his behaviour often is reflective of this. Surprisingly, I do find it hard to muster any sympathy for Miss Wormwood, Calvin’s world-weary teacher. Her classroom is arranged with separate desks, in rows and filled with questions that require straight regurgitation of facts. Most of the time, she seems disinterested. This is not the type of environment to keep an active mind engaged. Calvin is a complex and creative thinker who creates solutions to problems in the real world. He is a risk-taker. He is filled with wonder and awe with a voracious appetite for understanding of the world around him. I consider Calvin to be gifted and talented – the learning environment in which he is placed however has no avenue for him to show how intelligent he is.

Calvin and Hobbes shows the greatest challenge of educating boys: engagement. In my opinion, many of the boys in our Junior School would struggle with Miss Wormwood as their teacher. The lack of engagement in the room would stifle the creativity and problem solving that we hope to nurture in our students. To help our students, we strive to build a learning environment that allows them to take risks, think deeply and reason.

In Year 5 this term, students have been studying the Eureka Stockade. This pivotal event in the formation of our country could be taught by pure fact regurgitation, however, our teachers have gone above and beyond to make this topic more real to our students. Boys have been collecting money (pounds), ounces of gold and weighing up the advantages of banking in the gold rush game. The perils of life on the Victorian gold fields are shown to the boys through licence fees, cost of supplies and the reality that not everyone was striking it rich. To keep them on their toes, bushrangers have invaded classrooms and stolen from those who don’t trust banks. With these strains on finances, discontent has been brewing, and licence fees are increasing – a rebellion against the unfair regulations is currently taking place. I believe Governor Cashmere has been forced to resign from his position because of recent protests in the year 5 deck. This type of activity is hands-on, engaging and helps students understand the events from history.

Students have shown tremendous amounts of creativity by planning ways to ensure successful businesses on the goldfields. The shoe shine business has been particularly profitable and this has also ensured year 5 dress standards are impeccable. The challenges presented in the game test the resolve, problem solving and interpersonal skills of all students as well as drawing a parallel to the historic event they are investigating.

We strive to engage our boys. We strive to give them multiple opportunities to show their strengths and capacities. We value each learner. Calvin and Hobbes has been a great inspiration to me, affirming my ideas on educating boys and perhaps in this cartoon, Calvin has come up with the next talk homework topic for me.

Gavin Baumber, Junior School Learning and Curriculum Leader
baumberg@atc.qld.edu.au