Thinking about ‘what if’


Photo courtesy of midnight-digital on Flickr

Last day of term, and Maria and I are talking about what we’ll do when we get back. How’s that for dedication!

We’re thrilled to once again have the privilege of bringing a real live author into our ning for real live conversation. This time it’s Michael Gerard Bauer, another brilliant Australian writer, who has somehow managed to write several novels (including The running man and Don’t call me Ishmael and its sequel) in between teaching. Michael has recently been involved in Jenny Luca’s Year 9 ning, and Jenny has spoken glowingly about his generosity towards and inspiration for her students.

Maria and I have been throwing some ideas around, and we have ideas to work around the theme of ‘what if’. I facebooked (yes, it is so a verb!) Michael and he agreed to take part in a ‘what if’ discussion. We want to stretch the boys’ boundaries with regard to ‘what if’ possibilities which would lead to writing, drawing and multimedia creations.

I have a book called The dictionary of imaginary places which contains extracts from the most amazing literary lands from literature throughout history and from different cultures. Some of these entries are weird and wonderful, and we thought we’d include them in a group on the ning to get the boys’ imaginations working.

Here are a few examples of these imaginary places:

Growleywogs Dominion, a kingdom to the north-west of Ripple Land, which separates it from the Land of the Whimsies.

The Growleywogs are gigantic creatures with not an ounce of fat on them; their bodies are solid bone, skin and muscle. The weakest of the species is capable of picking up an elephant and throwing it seven miles without the slightest difficulty.

(L. Frank Baum, The Emerald City of Oz, Chicago, 1910)

Makalolo, a small country in central Africa inhabited by a tribe of women warriors. In Makalolo the men are never given any real power; the highest post to which they can aspire is that of royal cook. Travellers will be interested in the large military parades in which the tall women warriors, mounted on armoured giraffes and ostriches, display their combat regalia. Makalolo is an elective monarchy in which two queens are elected for a period of five years. When their reign comes to an end, a large banquet is served to the highest Makalolo officials and worthies in which the two outgoing queens are roasted and eaten.

(Albert Robida, Voyages Tres Extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul dans les 5 ou 6 parties du monde [et dans tous les pays connus et meme inconnus de M. Jules Verne], Paris, 1879).

Strange stuff…  That’s what we want the boys to get into. Push their safe boundaries a little. Personally, I think that growing up on the original versions of Grimms’ fairy tales (not actually very fairy), instead of our kids’ abridged Disney versions and Simpsons mashups, I’m more in tune with these weird lands and peoples than my students.

Maria had a couple of brilliant ideas this morning – how she managed that on the last day of term, afflicted with a cold and all, I don’t know.

The first idea is for the students to collaborate with Michael Gerard Bauer (we haven’t told him yet) on a continuous ‘what if’ story. Perhaps Michael could start it off, write a brilliant introductory paragraph which would get all the ‘what if’ juices flowing.

The second idea is to take a simple object (an orange, for example) and change it by adding 5 different things you wouldn’t normally associate with the object. You could add legs to the orange, change its colour to green, put it on wheels, etc. I thought we could make up a box of different objects, and the boys could pull out one; it could add to the ‘game’ aspect of the activity, so that it was done playfully, and not bogged down in the seriousness that classroom writing sometimes takes on. We thought this might be a good group activity, pooling on collective wisdom.

Altogether, while hanging out for the holidays, Maria and I are looking forward to an enjoyable last term for the year. We’re going to have fun.


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