Final Ethics of the year

This morning was my last Ethics class of the school year. I walked to the school (3.1 km away) because the weather was cool and winds had blown yesterday’s smoke away, thankfully.

In this class we didn’t discuss ethical questions, but instead reflected on the year gone past and what the students learnt. I asked them what topics they enjoyed most, which ones made them think when other students expressed different opinions, and which, if any, changed their minds. We had a really good discussion, and the kids’ behaviour was excellent. Towards the end of the lesson I handed out completion certificates to each child. I told them I wished them well as they begin high school next year, and said I would miss them, as this would probably be the last time we ever see each other.

I genuinely will miss (most of) them, and it makes me a bit sad to think that I really won’t ever see any of them again. However when the bell went, they basically just got up, waved bye, and filed out the door. I think at their age it doesn’t really hit them when they have to say goodbye to someone forever. Come February I’ll have a brand new class with new names to learn, and no doubt I’ll grow fond of the new kids as well.

I decided to walk home through the Lane Cove Bushland Park, which is more or less an alternate “shortest” route home. The track passes through some dense bush, and it would be very difficult to go cross-country off the established walking track. I should have emerged back into a street near my place, but when I was almost there I found a fence blocking the track, with signs indicating that it was undergoing repairs and was closed for safety due to heavy equipment being used. The idea of jumping a safety fence and incurring the wrath of construction workers didn’t appeal, so I had to backtrack through much of the park and emerge an extra kilometre of so away from home, adding maybe 2 km to my journey.

On the way though, I went down some streets I’ve never walked down before, and found a lovely old estate house on a big block of land:

Fancy house

Back home, I didn’t have much time before picking up my wife and Scully to take them to their very first job as a Delta Dogs therapy dog team! This was an event held at Macquarie University for international students who won’t be travelling home to see family over Christmas, with the dogs there to give them some good cheer. They had a team of seven dogs there today, with Scully among them. Normally she’ll be working solely with my wife on hospital visits, but occasionally they have other sorts of events like this as well. Here’s Scully in her Delta uniform:

Delta Dog

While I waited to pick them up I had lunch at a nearby friend’s place, and we played a game of Wingspan (the same game I played last Friday games night), which I won handily. Then I picked up Scully and my wife to head home.

I spent this afternoon and evening doing some coding work on the mezzacotta generators, adding some stuff to a new band name generator which we’ve been collaborating on.

Oh, and last night I made a batch of eggnog, using Jamie Oliver’s recipe. It had to refrigerate overnight, so I didn’t taste it until tonight. Actually, I had some commercially produced eggnog at my friend’s place at lunch today, to compare it against. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever had eggnog. The commercial stuff tasted okay, but honestly not something I’d buy.

But then I had my own home-made eggnog tonight… and it was delicious! A much nicer drink than what I’d had at lunchtime.

Home made eggnog

Yummo! I’ll definitely be making more of this some time.

New content today:

Rhino poaching

Today was the second last Ethics class of the year, and I started a new topic with my class this morning. It was about the dangers of false beliefs, and started with a story about rhinoceroses being endangered by poaching, driven by the trade in horn for traditional medicines. There was a sharp increase in rhino poaching after 2010, when a prominent Chinese politician declared publicly that rhino horn had cured him of cancer. The question put to the children was: Who is to blame for the rhinos being endangered?

There were several possible answers: The politician, practitioners of traditional medicine who push the “cures”, the masses of people who believe that rhino horn will help them, and the poachers. Most of the kids agreed that the poachers deserved most, or even all, of the blame, as the ones who are actively killing the animals.

There were a few other short questions on who is to blame for various things, such as a cricket player hitting a ball out of the field and damaging a car (the kids mostly agreed the player should not be blamed). And then we ended with some questions about various false beliefs, and if it matters whether people believe them or not. It doesn’t matter if a young child believes superheroes are real, but it does if an adult believes it, because they might be regarded as crazy. It matters if people believe smoking is not harmful. It matters if people believe rhino horn can cure cancer.

Back at home, I avoided going out again because of the ongoing smoke in the air around Sydney. There are now stories every day about the adverse health effects of this bushfire smoke hanging over Sydney. The air quality has been awful for days on end now, and it’s forecast to stay until at least Saturday. Today was warm and tomorrow will be hotter, and the fires continue to burn. I saw a story on the news today that said that in parts of Sydney the smoke is so heavy that being outdoors for eight hours is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes.

So I stayed indoors and assembled comics from the photos I took yesterday. I also briefly drove Scully to doggy daycare, so she could get some exercise and play time with other dogs, because it would be bad to take her out in the smoky air outdoors.

For dinner tonight I tried a new combination: mushrooms, broccolini, pine nuts, garlic, and a bit of basil pesto as a sauce for pasta. Normally when we do pesto we just have that, but throwing a couple of vegetables in added some nice body and texture to the dish.

New content today:

Ethics of eating animals, round-up

This morning was the last lesson of the current Ethics topic on whether it’s okay to kill and eat animals. Since most of the kids missed last week’s lesson when we went through arguments that it was okay, I did a quick recap of those arguments, before launching into today’s lesson on arguments why it’s not okay. It went fairly well, with fewer interruptions and blurting out, and more kids putting their hands up to speak, so we had a good discussion of the topic.

At one point the very quiet girl (who I’ve mentioned before) put her hand up and I noticed it – but I was busy quelling some diverging discussion between a couple of other kids. One had started talking about how vegetarians are hypocrites because plants are living things too and have feelings and feel pain, and then another kid interrupted and said no they don’t, and then the two of them were talking at once and I had to step in and quieten them both down. I said that we weren’t discussing plants, we were discussing animals, and to stick to the topic. Then I turned to the quiet girl and she had her hand down, but I asked her anyway if she had something she wanted to say – because I want to encourage her to speak whenever I can. She said, “No, it was about plants.”

My pleasure at seeing her raise her hand was somewhat deflated. But after the class, she hung around because this was her regular classroom. She always helps me put the furniture back from the circle of chairs to the regular desk layout. As we were doing this, I asked her what she was going to say during the lesson. She said that leaves of plants can die, so they’re definitely alive. Okay, it wasn’t that profound, but I was happy that she’d raised her hand, and that after the class I’d followed up and encouraged her to talk. I only have two more lessons with this group of kids, and this girl is the one I hope the most turns out to have a good life ahead of her. And that in some small way my teaching her helps lead to that. I mean, I hope all the kids do well, but I think this girl will need a bit more luck than most of the others, and I hope she gets it.

I’d walked to the school, and I took a longer route home, via the hardware store again to buy some garden stakes, because after yesterday’s repotting our chilli plant was leaning a bit, and I wanted to stake and tie it to keep it vertical. Along the way I passed a kitchen supply shop and decided to poke my nose in to browse around a bit, since I’d never been in there. It’s way bigger than I expected, and full of all sorts of fascinating gadgets, as well as cookware and tableware, and some other stuff on the extreme fringes of things related to food preparation and service.

As I walked home through the grounds of Royal North Shore Hospital, I saw that a whole tree had been uprooted and blown over, probably by yesterday’s storm.

At home, I spent the afternoon writing some Darths & Droids strips. Oh, and doing a bit more housecleaning – the job that never ends! And tonight played a couple of games of Codenames Duet with my wife. We managed to win both by the skin of our teeth, phew!

New content today:

Application day

After applying for the Alaska Robotics Comics Camp yesterday, today I did another application. This time for a job. Primary Ethics, the non-profit organisation that runs the ethics classes I teach, is seeking people to train ethics teachers.

I remember the training course I did nearly 3 years ago, and I’m sure I can deliver the training. I have all the relevant experience and skills as per the job description. And it’s a contract position, expecting an average of 2 full days of work per month. This is exactly the sort of thing I wanted, to give me a bit of income while still allowing me to do my creative projects close to full-time in an effort to turn them into income as well. So here’s hoping!

Speaking of Ethics, today was my weekly class with the Year 6 students. We discussed reasons why it’s okay to kill animals for meat (next week discuss reasons why it isn’t okay). Most of the class were away today – being year 6 kids near the end of the year, they had a high school orientation at one of the nearby high schools, to prep them for moving up in January. With only about 8 kids, the discussion was tighter and more focused, and I got a lot of good responses from them.

New content today:

Back to Ethics

It’s Wednesday, which means Ethics teaching day. I walked to the school – which is a bit of a hike, and very hilly. The kids told me that last week they didn’t have a substitute Ethics teacher, so I did the final lesson of the Homelessness topic with them.

One of the scenarios today was about and 8-year-old girl named Jenny, whose mother and father lose their jobs, and can’t afford their rent any more, so they move to a caravan park, and then after a while the bills pile up and they can’t even afford that, so the family ends up sleeping in their car. The question: Did Jennyโ€™s family choose to become homeless? Or did they have no choice in the matter?

The first kid to answer said it was the parents’ fault, because they must have done something wrong at work to get fired and lose their jobs. As someone who lost my job earlier this year, because the company was closed down, I had to bite my tongue. Fortunately some other kids mentioned that people can be made redundant and companies can shut down, so no, it probably wasn’t their fault. I think some of the kids have had their assumptions challenged during this topic!

I walked home via a longer route, passing by the post office depot where I had a package waiting to be picked up. It’s weird – when I have to pick up a package sometimes it’s an one of the nearby post offices, sometimes it’s at the other post office, and sometimes it’s at the further away postal depot. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to which place I have to pick it up from. Oh, the item was a Kickstarted roleplaying book that I backed almost a full year ago – so it was good to receive that! And my total walk was close to 9 kilometres.

I got home close to lunch time, and spent the afternoon mostly cleaning the house. Oh, and this evening I played the first game with my wife of Walking in Burano that I picked up at Spiel in Essen. It’s very strategic for a small game. My wife beat me 61 points to 53. But it was only a learning game, so the result doesn’t count! ๐Ÿ˜‰

New content today:

Finishing comics

Most of today was spent writing annotations for the batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips that I photographed on Monday and assembled yesterday.

This morning I had my Year 6 Ethics class, and we continued last week’s discussion of homelessness. The goal this week was to educate the kids on some of the facts about homelessness, including statistics on how many Australians are homeless, and in what age and demographic groups. Most of the kids were shocked that at the last census over 8000 children of primary school age (that is their age or younger) were classed as homeless. And that the largest age group of homeless people is under 18s, not older people like they had thought. They heard the story of a homeless boy, who had been living on the street since he was 8. One student said that she had a 7-year-old brother, which is not much short of 8, and she couldn’t imagine him being out on the streets and surviving like that.

The rest of the lesson concerned stereotypes about homeless people. I asked the kids what ideas they had about what homeless people were like. Then we went through an exercise about jumping to conclusions from a small sample or hearsay, ending up with the question that if someone says homeless people are just lazy, does that mean all homeless people really are lazy? And would it be harmful to conclude that? Since last week there were a few of the kids who expressed the view that homeless people should “just get jobs”, I hope that today’s lesson made them think again about that assumption, and realise that 8 year old kids on the street can’t just get a job, and older homeless people might want to work but have trouble finding a job because potential employers turn them away.

I’ll miss next week’s lesson with my kids since I’ll be travelling in Germany. I’m not sure if they’ll get a substitute teacher or have a non-lesson time.

New content today:

Homeless Ethics

Today was my first Ethics class of the new school term, the last term of the year. Just nine lessons to go until the end of the year and my kids move on to high school, and I get a new batch of Year 6s next year.

We started a new topic today: Homelessness. The first lesson today was really just talking about what homelessness is, and how being homeless might affect people – making them feel unsafe, unhappy, making it harder to eat healthy food, keep clean, etc. In the next two lessons we’ll be talking about what people and society can or should do about homelessness.

The teacher’s materials started with introducing the topic to the children with a short story, and then telling them we’d be discussing homelessness, and to tell them that some people in the class might know someone who has been homeless, and so to be mindful of that during the discussion. The teacher’s eyes only notes contained advice that this topic might upset some children, and to be aware of their behaviour and handle it appropriately (using our training materials). The discussion was going really well, and the children were a bit more engaged than usual – it’s clearly a topic that some of them had pretty strong feelings and ideas about.

Then one girl put her hand up, and when I called on her she said, “My parents told me that before I was adopted I was living on the streets.”

I don’t remember what I said in immediate response. I had to handle this sensitively and keep the class both moving on with the topic and from harassing this girl with inappropriate questions. I must have said something sensible because we managed to move on with the discussion. Fortunately the girl didn’t seem upset in any way – I guess it’s a fact about her past that she’s already internalised and become comfortable with. So that was an interesting revelation – I had no idea this girl was adopted before.

The other good thing about today’s class was another girl who is usually very quiet and says nothing volunteered to answer a question, and gave a very well-considered response. I had this girl in my Year 4 class two years ago and she was similarly quiet. I feel her thought processes are not as rapid as most kids her age, but since then she seems to be gaining in confidence and ability to absorb and discuss a topic. It’s really wonderful to see her develop and become more intellectual in this way.

After my class, I took a long walk home, detouring past the new location of a kitchen supply shop that used to be near us, but recently moved. They had a normal sort of retail store before, but now they’ve moved to an industrial area and are operating out of a warehouse. It was hard to find – I walked past the building twice looking for any signs, but saw none, then finally had to go knock on a door and ask the woman who came to answer it. When I said I was looking for Kitchen Kapers, she directed me to walk around to the back of the building, through the car park, where I found the place with a giant open garage door and no signage whatsoever. I had to confirm with a guy that they were open for retail sales, which they were. Given my recent experiences with shops in industrial areas, this was relatively positive. I didn’t end up buying anything though.

This afternoon I drove across town to pick up some super cheap second hand golf clubs that I won on eBay. Andrew C. has been suggesting I move up from playing a “pitch and putt” course to a full length golf course. I’m keen to try, but needed some clubs suitable for a beginner without a job. The ones I picked up have seen some heavy use, but should do the trick. We’re planning to go play a round of the short course on Friday, followed by some driving practice at the range next door, so I can start to get a feel for hitting with more power.

New content today:

End of term Ethics

This week is the last week of school term 3 in New South Wales, so it’s my last week of teaching Ethics class before a two-week break. We finished off the topic on “Jumping to conclusions”, which was really about applying a couple of rules of formal logic to language to avoid drawing incorrect conclusions from statements. (As discussed in the posts for the last couple of weeks.)

Today I thought I’d take some photos to show the classroom setup I use. This is the room after I go in and rearrange the furniture, putting enough chairs in a circle for the group discussion:

Ethics class setup

The school has very nice grounds, with plenty of trees and grassy areas. There are often Australian ravens (you can see two in the photo) and rainbow lorikeets and other birds on this patch of grass. This is the view from the door of the classroom I use:

Lane Cove Public School

After teaching my class, I walked home via Chatswood, a suburb with a large shopping centre, where I bought some new footwear for the imminent summer, and had some sushi for a slightly early lunch. I caught the train home and started work on assembling the new batch of Irregular Webcomic! that I photographed yesterday.

New content today:

Ethics morning tea

It rained all day again today, which was good in terms of the climate, but bad in terms of getting stuff done. Normally I walk to my Wednesday Ethics class, but this morning I drove, since it’s a solid half hour walk and would have been very unpleasant in heavy rain.

The topic was more on inverting sentences, like last week, only this time we considered negative sentences like “No lions are eagles”, which inverts to “No eagles are lions”. The inverted sentences last week changed from true to false, but these ones stay true when inverted. So we now had a second rule. Then we discussed how useful this is, realising that many sentences can be converted to an “All * are *” or “No * are *” form. I thought this topic was a bit abstract when I read the teacher’s notes, but the kids seemed to follow it okay.

After the class there was a morning tea meeting for the ethics teachers at the school. We don’t really meet much, so this is a good chance to catch up and share stories about our classes, and get news from our coordinator about the progress of classes at the school, and plans for recruiting new volunteers and so on. I stayed for a couple of hours before realising if I stayed any longer I’d have to pay for parking, so I dashed off home.

This afternoon I mostly wrote up another post for 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe, but I haven’t quite finished it tonight, so I’ll do that and post it tomorrow.

New content today:

New walking route

Ethics teaching day! We started a new topic today (having finished “stealing” last week): Jumping to conclusions. It’s actually about applying a bit of formal logic to statements to transform them into other statements, and how that changes the truth value. For example, one of the statements we discussed today is “All carrots are vegetables”, which is true. If you reverse the statement, “All vegetables are carrots”, you get a false statement.

Then we moved to trickier examples, like “All Persian cats are fluffy” – which you can’t reverse in the same way as easily: “All fluffy are Persian cats”. You need to add a noun to the second part: “All Persian cats are fluffy animals” โ†’ “All fluffy animals are Persian cats”. Again, true becomes false. Then “All birds have wings”, which needs to be modified to “All birds are animals with wings” โ†’ “All animals with wings are birds”. Again, true becomes false.

Next week we move on to examples where the truth value doesn’t change when you reverse the sentence. The goal of the topic is really to get the kids thinking about the rules of logic rather than to teach them rote rules, so that they can avoid jumping to incorrect conclusions.

On the way home I walked a new route which I haven’t explored before, through a local bush park. This is a park that straddles a creek, and consists of uncleared eucalyptus forest. I took some photos on the walk:

Lane Cove track

Gore Creek

It’s nice having relatively untouched bushland so close to home. There are several areas like this within walking distance of my home. The full walk to Ethics and home via the bush park was over 9 kilometres, and I climbed 176 metres of elevation. It’s a very hilly area around here.

Speaking of which, I’ve been keeping track of everywhere I walk using the Fog of World app for a few months. Here’s my current map showing everywhere I’ve walked in that time:

Fog of World map

New content today: