Within an hour after starting the #blimageNL challenge, the challenger himself, me, was challenged. It was not entirely fair, as my challenger had not written a story first himself 😄, but I decided to take the challenge up nonetheless. After all, it did not really come to me as a surprise. It was a bit unclear to me though, whether I was supposed to respond to the #blimage challenge, so in English, or the #blimageNL uitdaging, so in Dutch. Time permitting, I took it upon me to try to do both. English first.
The reasons for questions
Seeing the picture of the black swans in connection with the challenge triggered my brain into asking itself questions. Asking questions is not uncommon to me, after all I am a teacher. Asking questions is what I am supposed to do. Or am I?
Black swans are mostly black-feathered birds, with white flight feathers. The bill is bright red, with a pale bar and tip; and legs and feet are greyish-black. Cobs (males) are slightly larger than pens (females), with a longer and straighter bill. Cygnets (immature birds) are a greyish-brown with pale-edged feathers
Anyway. I always ask myself questions as I am always looking for answers. Or is it the other way around? I am curious. I want to know things. I want to understand what is going on. So now I want to know about this particular picture and black swans. I have an urgency to know and look stuff up and tell my surroundings immediately about what I have found, what I know. Is this actual learning? Not really, most, if not all, of what I have looked up I will have forgotten in a matter of weeks. Unless of course I do something with the information, like writing about it. So this should help. I have, by the way, learned that my surroundings don’t always appreciate my immediate sharing and have learned to curb myself there.
A mature black swan measures between 110 and 142 centimetres (43 and 56 in) in length and weighs 3.7–9 kilograms (8.2–19.8 lb). Its wing span is between 1.6 and 2 metres (5.2 and 6.6 ft). The neck is long (relatively the longest neck among the swans) and curved in an “S”-shape.
The black swan utters a musical and far reaching bugle-like sound, called either on the water or in flight, as well as a range of softer crooning notes. It can also whistle, especially when disturbed while breeding and nesting
How many students want to know things? How many want to learn? How many want to know the stuff we want them to know? How many want to learn the things we want them to learn? How can we persuade students to go beyond mere knowing and start learning because they want to? How do we need to organize education to help them achieve this? I think we all want to know things and want to learn, to varying degrees, in varying ways. Choice in what and how would go a long way here.
The black swan is common in the wetlands of south western and eastern Australia and adjacent coastal islands. Black swans were once thought to be sedentary, but the species is now known to be highly nomadic. Black swans, like many other water fowl, lose all their flight feathers at once when they moult after breeding, and they are unable to fly for about a month.
Why a picture of black swans? Are they his favorite animals? Does it have anything to do with where they live or what they look like? Why is this guy in particular challenging me by the way? (I know him through blogs and twitter but I have never met him). Is it just a picture he likes or happened to stumble upon? What do I know about black swans? That’s what they are, aren’t they? What connections would this guy himself see between black swans and education? What connections do I see between this picture of these black swans and education? In general? Personally? How would my students react to this picture? Has the fact that I am a teacher in Biology anything to do with it?
The black swan is also very popular as an ornamental waterbird in western Europe, especially Britain, and escapes are commonly reported.
Questions kept popping up in my head and shapes of answers appeared. More and more the questions started focussing on meeting the challenge I had accepted. What to write about? How to write? A general story? A story focussing on me as a teacher? A story focussing on students? A magic mix? Shapes of stories appeared. And disappeared, just as quickly. My brain was working overtime, as it loves to do.
The black swan is almost exclusively herbivorous, and while there is some regional and seasonal variation, the diet is generally dominated by aquatic and marshland plants.
How to go about it
Work hard, rest hard. It is something that I have always seen as a good recipe for success. I used in in the days when I was still heavy into running long distance, alas long gone days. I still use it in my professional career as a teacher. I try to install this recipe into my students, with varying results. The rest hard part is usually easier accepted.
Work hard in this case means looking up information, finding the answers to questions for which the answers can be found by simply looking them up. Filtering the information, putting different answers together, making edible soup of them. Discarding bits, adding new ones. Flavoring the soup by changing the order of things, changing the way they are connected, changing the words used.
Like other swans, the black swan is largely monogamous, pairing for life (about 6% divorce rate). Recent studies have shown that around a third of all broods exhibit extra-pair paternity. An estimated one-quarter of all pairings are homosexual, mostly between males. They steal nests, or form temporary threesomes with females to obtain eggs, driving away the female after she lays the eggs.
Resting hard in the days when I was still running was easy, especially once you had discovered for yourself how important it was. Just lie down. Just sleep. Just watch a movie, read a book. Nothing physical. Nothing to it. A breeze, certainly after having worked hard, practiced hard.
Resting your mind hard, at least for me, is a little more challenging. Just lying down doesn’t do it. Watching a movie or reading a book sometimes does, but often I get distracted by my own thoughts. Doing nothing mental is hard to achieve. Going for a walk does do it for me, most times.
On the other hand, the mind does not need to be switched off from the topic completely. The mind is more able than the body. It just needs to be allowed to look at it from a different angle, a new perspective, a wider distance, to allow the hard information and the story to be told to come together, to fall into place.
The black swan is protected in New South Wales, Australia under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.
The balance used to be perfect.
Running hard would be resting hard for the brain. Thinking hard would be resting hard for the body.
The black swan was a literary or artistic image, even before the discovery of Cygnus atratus. Cultural reference has been based on symbolic contrast and as a distinctive motif.
So….., I went for a walk, with my dogs. Dogs are great in distracting me. A different place to walk would certainly help too. Seeing new things, even though they look very similar to things seen before, guides the mind into new directions. So I went for a walk in an area I hadn’t walked in before, at least not in the last 30 years. The sun was shining and a slight breeze made for perfect walking conditions. A huge storm had run through the area and broken branches and trees were adding to the surroundings definitely looking like something different than usual.
The surprise that’s always there
And then I saw this.
A typical Dutch picture. A grassy field, a patch for vegetables to grow, some trees, blue skies filled with beautiful clouds, a high voltage tower, a fence. Not so typical is what is behind the fence: black swans in captivity. I had not seen these particular black swans before, but I had the knowledge that I could come across them. So in a way I was prepared, but still surprised, actually very much so by the sheer coincidence of seeing them on this walk! Who would have thought that? I did not zoom in to take another picture, I did not need feel the need to. Why do we fence off students in classrooms so often? Can we do this differently? How?
During the walk the story for my ‘#blimage black swan challenge’ was getting shape, after shape, after shape. Back home I did some more hard work, looking stuff up, writing, rewriting, and some more hard rest, watching a series on netflix, sleeping. I gave it all some time and at one point, as usual well before it all was really finished, I decided just to start writing on the final draft. This would be it. This is it. For now.
The story continues
By the way. I took another picture from a different spot in this garden. Again, of something not uncommon in Dutch gardens. But in this entire context I saw a connection I had never seen before and a question, one of those annoying things again that keep haunting me, popped up. In the same garden where black swans were kept in captivity there were garden nomes were allowed to run free. Who can get his head around that? I challenge you to #blimage!
Source for information: Wikipedia, Black Swan
Disclaimer: as all my blogposts this one is a mere exercise to make my next one better.