Lessons from the Yamanote Line

Last weekend, I was in Yokohama doing some workshops with Kim Cofino for various groups of teachers in the Tokyo/Yokohama area, including the current COETAIL cohort. It was a heap of fun, and I’ll write more about that later.

On Monday, I spent the day running PD for staff of Yokohama International School, and I was asked to do a short presentation to get things started. The brief was just to present “something inspirational”, whatever that meant. To be honest, my mind was drawing a complete blank and was quite lost for an idea. I went back to the hotel room on Sunday night – my last night before returning home to Australia – and started working on my presentation. I was really quite stuck for an idea, but I was also keen to get it done so I could go out exploring some of the Japanese sights on my last night there.

I got to the point where if I stayed in the hotel room working I knew I wouldn’t see anything so I just decided to go out exploring anyway and hopefully something would come to me before tomorrow morning.

This slideshow is what I came up with. As I stood there at a Japanese railway ticket machine with absolutely no idea how to use it, unable to read the instructions, feeling quite anxious about heading off to explore a strange city I didn’t understand, it occurred to me that this is what all learners must feel like as they launch into unknown territory. I reasoned that I would be talking to many teachers the next day who perhaps felt equally anxious and unsure about exploring the world of technology. Maybe there were lessons I could learn from my night out on the trains of Tokyo that might serve as a useful metaphor for my talk the next morning.

I took a collection of photos from my travels on my iPhone, and then used Keynote on my phone to put this slideshow together whilst on the train. By the time I got back to the hotel (an adventure in itself!) the slideshow was 95% done. I did end up importing it to my Mac to add the finishing touches, but it was essentially produced almost entirely on the iPhone.

I don’t claim it’s a perfect metaphor, but hopefully there are a few lessons in here that might be useful to anyone moving into a world where they feel strange and uncomfortable.

Virtual Busking her way to Japan

My daughter Kate loves to sing.  She discovered this ability a few years ago when she came home from school and announced that she wanted to try out for a solo part in a local performing arts concert.  Although we always thought she had a nice voice that could carry a tune, we had totally missed the fact that she was actually quite talented vocally and so her intention to sing solo at this concert was a bit of a surprise.  Long story short, she has discovered her voice and is working hard at developing it further.  She’s done workshops and music camps and is now working with a singing coach.  She really does love to sing.

She was recently selected to be part of the Talent Advancement Program (TAP), a program for kids with musical talent aged 13 to 18.  For the 23 kids selected to be part of TAP, it’s a pretty special group to be take part of.  They get to learn and grow by actually performing in front of people.  Tomorrow, they are all performing at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, next week they do a gig for some senior citizens, and so on.  All great experience.

From the 23 kids involved, 16 of them were chosen to take part in a cultural exchange to Japan later this year.  Our local city, Bankstown, has a sister city arrangement with Suita, a city just outside Osaka.  The kids will be going over in October, performing in local schools in Suita and living with a host family for 5 days. They also get to travel on the Bullet Train, see a bit more of Japan, and even perform at Tokyo Disneyland.  It will be quite the experience for a 13 year old girl!

As parents, you want your kids to have experiences like this.  The things she will see and experience on this trip will be amazing. To be immersed in a different culture for 10 days, especially one like Japan which has such different customs and food, will be awesome and unforgettable.

Of course, it comes at a cost. Despite the fact that the TAP program subsidises part of the airfare, there is still a significant cost involved in going. As excited as Kate was to have been selected, she was also quite apprehensive about accepting because of that cost. Despite that, her mother and I will try to find the money because we think it’s an experience worth having.  To help out, the TAP kids were encouraged to come up with ways of doing some fundraising to help contribute to the costs of the trip.

So Kate came up with an idea. She collected a bunch of videos of her singing and put them together on a website as a sort of “virtual busking” site. The videos were added to YouTube and embedded in the site so that viewers can watch, and a “tipjar” connected to Paypal in case anyone wants to make a donation to her trip. She asked me for a hand with some of the technical stuff, but the rest of it was all her idea.

I’m very proud of her, not just for being part of a group like TAP, but also for her initiative in wanting to find an innovative way to raise some money to cover this cost.  She’s telling family and friends about it, but I said I’d also try to help spread the word about it via Twitter and the blogosphere. I hope you take a moment to check it out, leave an encouraging comment on the discussion tabs, and possibly even drop a small donation in her tip jar.  I know she would appreciate it greatly.

The site is at www.katebetcher.com.