Monthly Archives: May 2017

Memory Workshops – Saturday 17 June

The first  Memory Workshops will be held at The Orality Centre in Castlemaine, Victoria, on Saturday 17 June 2017.

Dr Lynne Kelly will give a short talk to all participants about the background to the memory methods. But most important will be the practical workshops. Lynne will oscillate between parallel workshops to be led by Paul Allen and Alice Steel.

BOOK HERE: Workshops can be booked through this link

You do NOT need to do two workshops, but are welcome to come morning or afternoon only.

Morning: 10 AM to 1 PM  $60 per workshop.
Memory Palaces OR Winter Count (Tea / Coffee / Biscuits provided)

Lunch: 1 PM to 2 PM Optional. Main course and desert for $20 catered by Caroline Cook. (Lasagne (meat or veggie) & salad OR Pumpkin Soup & bread then Sticky Date Pudding OR fresh fruit platter.)

Afternoon: 1 PM to 5 PM  $60 per workshop.
Memory Palaces OR Memory Boards (Tea / Coffee / Biscuits provided)

Memory Palaces (also known as the method of loci or memory trails)

800px-Hans_Vredeman_de_Vries_Nachfolge_Ideale_PalastarchitekturA workshop on Memory Palaces has been the most requested workshop, so it will be run twice, from 10 AM to 1 PM and then again from 2 PM to 5 PM. No materials are required for this. Paul Allen will lead the workshop. The memory palace consists of a sequence of locations in which information is stored by linking it to the physical properties of the location. It is the single most effective memory system known, used by all indigenous cultures (such as Australian Aboriginal songlines and Native American pilgrimage trails). They are best known from the orators of the ancient Greeks from Homer to Cicero. All contemporary memory champions use this method.

Paul will teach the method using the example of the countries of the world in population order. The workshop will then adjust to working with participants to encode the information of their choice to the memory palace. Participants will need to bring their information with them.

Winter Count
lone-dog-winter_count-1000Winter Counts are best known from the Sioux Indians of North America. The Sioux add one image per year, decided at the first snowfall of winter. The image represents the most significant event of the previous year. Tribal history and learnings are then attached through story to that image. By retelling the stories, the information is retained. The Orality Centre has been discussing recent research about the impact of dementia and feel that one component may be our lack of links to the stories that define our history and identity. By creating a personal TOC-WinterCount participants will discover how effective this method of storing information can be. As a bonus, participants will have the fun of creating a beautiful object to be constantly updated and valued by their family. They will need to bring dates for defining events of their lives. This workshop will be led by Alice Steel and will certainly lead to a great deal of discussion.

This workshop will be held in the morning, 10 AM to 1 PM, so the conversations can continue over lunch. All materials will be covered by the $5 materials charge.

Memory Boards
3-reefe-lukasa-fig1Memory boards are incredibly effective portable devices and found in various forms right across indigenous cultures, from the songboards and birchbark scrolls of Native Americans to the tjuringa of Australian Aboriginal elders. We will model our memory boards on the well-documented West African lukasa of the Luba people.  In its simplest form, the lukasa consists of beads and shells attached to a piece of wood, just the right size to hold comfortably – which we will call a TOC-lukasa. A personal TOC-lukasa is a gorgeous object which is hugely practical as well.

Participants will encode information of their choosing and design their memory boards accordingly. Please bring information for any topic with you. We will also have examples of suitable information on offer. The TOC-lukasa at right is encoded with an entire field guide to the birds of Victoria.

A charge of $5 will cover all materials needed. The workshop will be lead by Alice Steel from 2 PM to 5 PM.


Castlemaine Secondary College – plans galore!

NalderunThe Orality Centre is on Dja Dja Wurrung Country. We acknowledge the Elders, past, present and future.

Lynne Kelly started working with Aboriginal leaders, Kath Coff and Aunty Julie* last week at Castlemaine Secondary School (CSC). Although funding comes through Nalderun, The Orality Centre (TOC) will be working with both indigenous and non-indigenous students at CSC. One of our goals is to show all students how much we have to learn from Aboriginal cultures. Aunty Julie, Kath and Lynne went bush with indigenous students and talked about knowledge, the stories, the dynamic nature of oral tradition and so much more.

[* For non-Australians, Aunty or Uncle are terms of respect for Aboriginal Elders, only used with permission.]

On Friday  5 May 2017, Paul Allen and Lynne Kelly visited CSC. We set out the Engineering Precinct Memory Trail of 40 locations in the area between the Engineering Precinct and Administration building. By making every 5th location a door, traversing the trail in memory is much easier as four locations need to be found between the doors.

Paul Allen checking out a service door, one of the key locations in the new memory trail.

We met with quite a few teachers and discussed applications. Of course, using the methods for specific applications also teaches the methods so students and teachers can use them whenever they see fit.

Initial trials include Lynne Kelly doing the periodic table with Dino Cevolatti’s Year 9 Science class as well as working with the Nalderun students. Other topics suggested by the few teachers we had time to talk to included the fact that all years of science need to understand units and converting units. Year 10 Science Biology including  anatomy and organic chemistry were proposed as a good testing ground. A challenge will be the request to look at quadratics in maths which teachers and students struggle with, but are a fundamental foundation for further years.

We are also starting a CSC Memory Club at lunchtime this week.

Discussions with the teachers indicated a number of clear directions for initial engagement. Both primary and secondary level teachers have emphasised that the major benefits would be in grounding the fundamental knowledge. Most commonly mentioned are multiplication tables. The secondary teachers estimated that at least 70% of students do not have a basic ability to do tables. Paul and I looked at the tables from a mnemonic point of view. Clearly learning the 144 tables by rote learning leads to kids knowing the tune but not the words. Understanding along with visualising could be done in stages. Tables are used individually, not in a sequence, so they need to be known that way. We have many ideas which we will start testing at both primary and secondary level soon. We dream big!

We all agreed that the memory methods shouldn’t be used for everything, but we are looking for where they would most support the curriculum. It is the solid ground for higher cognitive discussion and understanding which teachers feel is the most needed.

Art Curriculum

Paul and Lynne talked with senior art staff about the art curriculum in general. We didn’t raise the issue of the role of art for other subjects – there was too much to be said about the art curriculum itself. CSC is particularly strong in this field.

With Art teacher, Ken Killeen, TOC staff Lynne Kelly and Alice Steel have put the 20 VCE art elements and art principles into the Engineering Precinct Memory Trail with the Year 11’s.

It was suggested that an art history memory trail for the various art movements, with a few significant artists in each, would be very useful for junior years.  This would also put the art forms in the broader historical context. That naturally led us to …


Location 7 is now named Square-Monster. Once you see the monster with his tiny eyes and flat mouth, you will never lose him. For the periodic table, this will be Nitrogen. Monsters/night – that’s an easy association.

CSC History Trail

The history trail we have just started at Malmsbury PS is going extremely well. We are looking to set up the same thing at CSC, separate from the Engineering Precinct Memory Trail.  As an art teacher himself, Paul has already documented a basic history of art to place in such a trail. The beauty of memory trails is that they are infinitely expandable. It doesn’t matter what aspects of history are added, there is room for everything. Students will be able to walk through time.

We left the school knowing there was a lot of enthusiasm from the staff. Now we just need to make it work.

Even at this early stage of our work, we have already been approached by a number of other primary and secondary schools. Lynne is also working with John Monash Science School. We will expand our reach but are keen to restrict our work at this stage to what is manageable and what will be the best partnerships to explore the combination of orality and literacy for the regular curriculum. We are learning from the students and teachers very quickly what works well.

Lynne Kelly

Singing Science at Malmsbury

One of the key aspects of memory for oral cultures is that they sing their knowledge. Songs are far more memorable than prose. We are testing out the ways we can use music as a learning tool across the curriculum. Malmsbury Primary School Principal, Carolyn Tavener, has asked that we concentrate on the basic concepts, those on which all future teaching is built.

Everything got a song, no matter how little, it’s in the song – name of plant, birds, animal, country, people, everything got a song.

These are the words of Aboriginal woman Eileen McDinny (Yanyuwa) as quoted in John Bradley’s Singing saltwater country: journey to the songlines of Carpentaria, p. 29.

In the first week of term, all students had a science session introducing the concept of force, although taught at different levels.

The following week, I asked all students the same questions: “Remember doing force in science last week?” [they did] “What is force?” Of the 65 students present for the class, only two could state simply “a push or pull”. A few more did include the word “push”. Some mentioned gravity and others referred to the experiments they had done. Critically, they all enjoyed the class and thought that science was fun. A great outcome!

Many said force was to do with other people forcing you to do things, despite the question putting the definition in terms of their science lesson. Star Wars clearly has great influence, but as a physics teacher, I cannot relate “May the Force be with you!” to the concepts we are trying to teach.

The music teacher Joseph Bromley decided they would use music to embed “push or pull” in their memories so that every time they heard the word ‘force’ they would automatically think “push or pull”. He set the few words of his song to the tune of  ‘The Imperial March’ from The Empire Strikes Back. The students then sung the song at school assembly and they sung it again in music this week. Then we’ll wait a bit and ask the same questions about the meaning of the word ‘force’. We have all their previous responses so we can compare the answers. I’ll update here when we have done so.

If students don’t understand the word ‘force’ in the context of science, every time it is used they are building on very shaky foundations. We believe that music is a way around this issue, but we need evidence.

Watch this space!

Lynne Kelly

The Malmsbury Rapscallions

Our founding school in The Malmsbury Project is Malmsbury Primary School in rural Victoria. One of our first tasks was to develop rapscallions with the students. We will be dealing with two forms initially, personal rapscallions and those we are making in class for the entire school.

Personal rapscallions are any character who already exists for the student – a toy, pet, or tree. (More about the trees in another post). We have yet to find a student who doesn’t have at least one rapscallion in their imagination already. This is a natural thing to do!

As part of the art curriculum, students are learning about sculpture. But the sculptures they are creating will then form a pantheon of characters which can be used in the stories which will tell of the knowledge from all aspects of the curriculum. These rapscallions will talk about science, be the audience for persuasive text – and the creators of alternative persuasive writing. They will perform mathematics and debate spelling. We are just beginning to see the potential. But first we need our rapscallions.

Art teacher, Paul Allen, has devised a sequence of steps to create varied and animated characters. First the students draw the character they wish to create. That is all students from Preparatory year to the Grade Six. Students then use bits of small branches from the local trees. This ensure that they have strange twists which become striking characteristics.


A rapscallion ready for the next stage.


Making sure we understand the action of the rapscallion.

The skeletons are then wired into place. Paul does this for the younger students, but the older students can do it themselves.


Then they start adding the ‘flesh’. Paul has them bulking out their rapscallions with paper and tape.


The rapscallions are already gaining individual character and the students are already talking about the way they want to paint them and what their personalities will be. We have people and bears, horses and skull-headed critters. We have trees and angels and fairies and … a whole pantheon coming into being.

Unlike art projects which then head home, the rapscallions will stay at school to be learning tools. But it is only Week Two – we have to give them skin and paint them first. That will be another post.

Lynne Kelly

Rapscallions everywhere

We love rapscallions. That is the name we are using for the characters we are creating to populate our stories. All Indigenous cultures use a pantheon of characters whose stories, or ‘teachings’ as our Aboriginal Advisors have asked us to call them, tell vivid stories which are far more memorable than a list of facts.


Contemporary kachina from New Mexico and the Pueblo cultures.

We are adapting that approach to memory from Australian Aboriginal teachings of their Ancestors, the Native American Pueblo teachings of their kachina (also spelt katsina) and similar examples from across the world. The Pueblo use dolls and other representations of their Kachina to establish the characters and the knowledge they represent for children from a very young age, but these are not playthings. They are central to learning.

It would be culturally insensitive for us to use any of the terms for these sacred beings from any indigenous culture. Consequently we have decided to use the word ‘rapscallion’ for our characters. They are appearing in many different forms but the most exciting at this moment are the rapscallions being made by the students at Malmsbury Primary School. That will be the subject of the next post.


Haku, our youngest Student Advisor, discussing the concept with a crowd of potential rapscallions.

For children and adults, having characters tell the stories and create teachings will always make information more memorable. This is a key component of the work of TOC

Lynne Kelly