On Friday I got stuck into my third ‘Golden Ticket’ day at Newington. This is where a student – who is chosen from a digital draw – gets to have me come to all their classes for the whole day, do all their work and complete their homework. This year’s winner was Bo Chung in Year 9. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for him I did not do his scheduled three-kilometre swimming training before school nor his major term assessment on a novel I read 25 years ago.
The day began with my struggling and failing to recall my 1982 knowledge of Year 9 chemistry to fill out a ‘revision’ worksheet on ionic bonding. I got the answers wrong, cadged for help and eventually copied the answers from Flynn Visch sitting next to me, as Bo contentedly looked out the window. The practical activity we did on burning magnesium was great – there was heat, flashing light and chemical bonding aplenty. I had thought I had my nose above the waterline by the end of the period, until another science teacher approached me at lunchtime and said ‘rumour around the school has it that you can’t do ionic bonding.’ Sigh. And there was still double maths to come.
English had me on safer ground. As part of the study of a war novel, we did a fascinating activity where we had to decide when, if ever, we would go to war. For each of five scenarios we had to walk a different corner of the room depending on our choice and justify our decision. I wouldn’t join a mercenary army, but I would go if Australia conscripted me. Surprisingly a handful others in the room made the opposite choices – but this doesn’t mean we will be inviting Blackwater (an American private military contractor) to a careers night any time soon.
After an interlude for House singing practice, double Maths began ignominiously with me having my phone confiscated by Ms Mamo after it rang in class and I answered it. Bo received a demerit for this, but he needs to learn to take the rough with the smooth. What followed was an absorbing practical activity where a group including Oliver Tri, Huxley Hope and me, had to set up a farm: design it, work out the costs and the profit margins depending on market conditions, scale, etc. This was designed by the Newington Maths department and is so good it could be used in schools everywhere. I learnt a whole series of graphing, design and practical skills. Bo caught up on a bit of sleep, socialised with a few other groups and read a book.
After lunch was Geography. In trying to catch up with some of my own work at lunchtime, I was late to class and then had to trudge down to Mrs Forgan to get a late note. As this too was recorded against Bo’s name, he started wondering whether this whole ‘Golden Ticket’ thing was worth it. However, we then got stuck into a very relevant, holistic and practical group assignment about transforming the Rozelle train yards. The group of Chris Yoo, Xavier Lising and I got to start designing an urban oasis of parks, swimming pools (Bo is a swimmer), high rise, art precinct, mini golf courses (Bo is a golfer) and community housing. In my capacity as Headmaster, I got to look at a few other groups’ work and then in my capacity as Bo Chung I was able to take what I learnt back to my own group. It worked out very well for us.
The dreaded Friday Period 6 completed the day with Physical Activity and Sports Science. We were late again, but Mr Wilson was forgiving. We had an interactive revision section about coaching principles, and then did a case coaching study on… of all things… juggling. At the start of the lesson, I could not juggle at all. By the end of the lesson a mere 50 minutes later – and with some expert coaching – I still couldn’t juggle. Maybe it was a Friday afternoon thing.
I always learn a lot doing the Golden Ticket, and not just about ionic bonding. It serves as a regular reminder of how rich, full, but also intense our students’ lives are here; and I didn’t even do the swimming. There was little opportunity to sit back and let the day wash over you. Instead, every lesson rigorously stretched you, engaged you and challenged you. No wonder boys are always hungry at the end of the day.
There was a great variety too, from group work to individual work; from design principles to open ended ethical questions; from hands on activities to cerebral nutting out of a problem. It means you also must task switch at a rapid rate. The Inspired Mind section of our Wyvern has ‘Curiosity’, ‘Open Mindedness’ and ‘Rigour’ as features and they were all baked well into the classes of a more or less random day in the life of a more or less random boy (sorry, Bo).
The classes were also very focused and well behaved (or maybe this was just me). The teachers – Declan Everett Morgan, Kate Shepherd, Amanda Mamo, Katie Goldsmith and Ru Wilson – were all terrific. They were all personable, clear, engaging, committed and effective. They were also good sports to have me in the classroom. I think that the students are lucky to have them and so many of our other teachers.
All in all, it was a great opportunity for me to get under the skin of daily life at Newington. I hope that Bo got as much from it as I did. I look forward to doing it again in the next year or two.