Hard to tell…

Years ago as a relatively new interpreter, I worked at an outdoor education centre in Ohio that did living history programmes. The most popular programme was an Underground Railroad programme where school kids played the part of escaping slaves. As they travelled north toward Canada, they met a variety of characters, some nice and some not so nice to them. During our staff training, I was uncomfortable with the programme. We were expected to threaten the children with guns, lock them in a shed, and treat them roughly. I thought it was going too far—these were kids, after all! Living history or not, was it really necessary to rough them up for the sake of interpretation? I had a talk with the director, and though he was quite comfortable with the programme, he agreed to allow me to play characters that were not required to threaten the children with firearms.

African American slaves picking cotton in Alabama
http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/

What I didn’t count on was our audience. These little children arrived with no understanding of the history of slavery in America, and often with a wall of inherited prejudices against African Americans. Within a month, I was one of the most ruthless slave hunters on the programme, luring the children into my confidence, then turning on them as I pulled a pistol from my skirts.

For me, slavery was one of those “hard to tell” subjects—a subject that for me was too emotional, too inflammatory, too…well…shameful to tell in graphic detail. But for my audience it wasn’t a difficult subject at all. In fact, it wasn’t nearly difficult enough for them. I realised that my job was to turn my nation’s history of slavery into an emotional, inflammatory, and shameful subject for these children. To these kids, slavery was dates and names to be memorised—dry and unemotional. My job as an interpreter was to make it emotional for them; make it personal.

As interpreters, we need to tell the hard stories. They are often the most important ones to tell. And sometimes those stories will necessarily evoke negative emotions. We can’t shy away from that. There is power in those emotions. A power we can harness.

Next month interpreters will gather in Christchurch to spend a weekend sharing our triumphs and troubles as we search for powerful and positive ways to tell difficult stories. I encourage you to join us, whether you’re a war-scarred veteran of “hard to tell” stories, or a fresh recruit facing your first “hard to tell” story. You’ll find more information about the weekend, plus a registration form on the INNZ website.

iPads and pre-schoolers – confessions of a perplexed parent

Child using iPad.

Ryan has fun at preschool using the iPad; photo courtesy Above and Beyond Education.

OK I admit it – my nearly-three-year-old daughter is more familiar with iPads than I am. It’s not hard – I think I have only just fully realised I am raising a “screen-ager”. Once they started appearing at her preschool, I should have realised that if I didn’t catch up soon, I was going to be left behind; and possibly speaking an entirely different language according to the latest scrabble dictionary!

The infamous Douglas Adams came up with a set of rules that describes our reactions to technology;

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. 

So perhaps I should not be surprised that my daughter asked for a ‘pink ‘puter’ for her third birthday. Although I was still a little taken aback when I spotted one in a local café being used by a similarly-sized girl. She was colouring while mum drank coffee. Not a lidless felt-tip in sight.

Children using laptop; S Mankelow

Josie and William Webb of Christchurch both learned their ABCs thanks to programmes like 'Letterland'.

I must admit, iPads are particularly well-suited to the preschool market. They are small and compact – much like many pre-schoolers. They have no power cords to trip on, chew on or get caught on. You can carry them and plonk them down anywhere you (or the child) likes. They are instantly on – which cuts down on whinge-time. They are intuitive to use – kids touch everything and these things are made to be touched! No keys to bash and get stuck up with nutella.

And according to i-TUNES, over 20,000 educational Apps (May 2011). But of course, like with all media, not all Apps are created equal. It’s easy to get excited about the possibilities, without first checking if the experiences you are buying into are quality ones.

Luckily there are plenty of websites and blogs to help; this is just a few:

www.teacherswithapps.com- Founded by two teachers this site reviews educational apps, under the premise that they are the tools of the future, if used responsibly.

www.adesontheweb.com – This site posts reviews of apps being used by Apple Distinguished Educators; searchable by name or grade level.

www.momswithapps.com – Moms with Apps is a collaborative group of family-friendly developers seeking to promote quality apps for kids and families.

ictece.blogspot.com – This NZ blog focuses on issues relating to children and teachers using Information and Communication Technology in education.

blog.core-ed.org/  – CORE Education is a NZ non-profit organisation devoted to education.

And of course, if iPads are useful in formal education, what is their potential role in informal learning situations such as museums and visitor centres? Our July newsletter highlights Tauranga Art Gallery’s first go at incorporating iPads into the Lynley Dodd exhibition.  On pedestals child-high; yeah they had a clear idea of their target audience.

New Plymouth Museum Puke Ariki launched an iPad-based visitor experience in August last year, claiming to be the first in New Zealand to deploy iPads for public use in a museum. Their story can be found at www.nzmuseums.co.nz/

And a partnership between DOC and University of Otago’s Centre of Design will see a trial of iPads use in the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre launched during Conservation Week this September. See the story in our newsletter or find out more on the DOC website http://www.doc.govt.nz.

Imagine visitors wandering around your art gallery, centre, museum or park with an interactive App that encourages them to look at details and discover connections to their own lives. It’s getting closer every day.

Foodprinter; Latitude Research.

Latitude Research had children draw the future of technology as they saw it.

According to a study by Latitudeº Research, “Children’s Future Requests for Computers & the Internet,” kids ages 12 and under are predicting that the future of media and technology lies in better integrating digital experiences with real-world places and activities.

Sounds like a mandate for interpretation to me! It’s a brave new world out there – and according to my daughter, it should come in hot pink.