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The Platypus – For Teachers and Parents

July 19, 2020

The Platypus - A Guide for Teachers and Parents

Step 1 – Introduce the Story

Story Synopsis – ‘Storyteller’s Corner with Cheryl Thornton’:

After making all the mammals, birds and fish, the creator had several bits and pieces left over, so he put them all together and made the platypus. Over time, the three animal groups started arguing over which group was the best. Since the platypus had characteristics belonging to each group, he was approached by each to join. The platypus thought carefully about each proposition, but decided to not join any of them, explaining that he felt a part of each one equally and that no group was ‘better’ than any other. The animals understood and agreed with what the platypus was saying. A nearby hunter, who overheard the platypus’ explanation, was so impressed with the wisdom of this gentle creature that he vowed never to hunt the platypus.

Exploring the Premise or Big Idea: How this story relates to our world today.

This is a variation of a creation story that originates from the aboriginal people of Australia. In this version, the main focus is upon diversity and equality, expressing the idea that differences are to be celebrated and appreciated, and that no group is ‘better’ than any other.

In a very gentle way, this story highlights the value in seeing how we are alike, rather than focusing on the qualities that make us ‘different’ from one another.

The story also speaks to the benefit of having a unique individual viewpoint: The platypus, belonging to no single group, belongs equally to all. His unique viewpoint inspired the other animals to see clearly that they were all, in fact, equal. 

This story can be used as a starting point to discuss important and timely topics such as diversity, equality, respect and individuality.

Also of value is how the story shows a divergent point of view becoming honoured and respected by the majority.

Step 2: Play Story Video

Listening Suggestions:

Storyvalues recordings are designed to elicit mental pictures through the interplay of narration, music and sounds. Mindful listening can be facilitated by having the listener take a deep breath or two, becoming aware of his or her immediate surroundings and physical sensations and finding a quiet comfortable place to listen. 

Play the recorded story for your class or individual child, pausing occasionally to make predictions or to contribute problem solving ideas.  (Inference)

Step 3 – I Wonder What YOU Think?

Stories provide a great foundation for children to express their own personal viewpoints about the characters, the plot and the various situations that arise in the narration. Questions such as, ‘what was your favourite part of the story’, ‘if you were one of the characters who would you be’, ‘what do you think is the main idea of this story’ are a few examples of questions that can elicit kids to express themselves.

Story Discussion Suggestions:

This story and the recording can be used to support a wide range of curriculum, including Language & Literacy, Social Studies, Arts, Geography, Character Education and Social and Emotional Learning.

Broad Concepts: Diversity and Equality

  • In the story, the groups of animals came to understand that despite their differences they were all, in fact, equal. What is equality? (Equality – ‘the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.’) Explore this definition. Have students contribute their thoughts about equality, and how the concept may apply to their own life experience. (Character Education).
  • Likewise, define diversity. (Diversity – ‘a range of varieties that exist within a group’.) Explore this definition. Have students contribute their thoughts about diversity, and how the concept may apply to their own life experience. (Character Education)
  • Using the story (and the Gallery of Mammals, Fish and Birds) as a guide; discuss how some animals have wings, some have fins, and others have fur, and how these attributes give each animal special abilities to thrive in their environment. 
  • Expand this idea into a discovery of the special unique abilities that people have. Relating this idea to personal experience, discuss how friends or others in the classroom make for a diverse community in which everyone belongs. (Character Education)
  • Further discuss what the animals have in common, noting that they share a common environment; they are all animals, living in the same world together. Each one needs to eat, they all breathe oxygen, have families, etc. Relate this to what people have in common, even through we are all unique individuals. For example, we share the same classroom, we like to play, etc. (Text-to-Self, Diversity)
  • The platypus, having characteristics in common with each group, could see that no group was ‘better’ than the others. Discuss ways that we can respect our differences while appreciating how we are alike.  (Character Education, Text-to-Self, Mindfulness, Diversity)

Mindfulness: Peer Pressure and The Value of Thinking for Oneself

Note how the platypus was approached to join each group, but did not join any. Instead, he thought very carefully and chose to remain independent. He was able to think for himself, and not be pressured into adopting a viewpoint he did not agree with. Discuss with your class (or student) the importance of being able to ‘think for ourselves’. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Introduce the idea of ‘peer pressure.‘ Everyone has had a time when they have been coerced into doing something that may go against their better judgement. Discuss how the platypus resisted the offer to join a group in opposition to the others and chose instead to remain true to his own more inclusive way of thinking. Discuss what benefits came as a result.
  • Notice how the platypus, by being true to himself, was able to inspire an understanding among the animals that they all are, in fact, equal. He even inspired the hunter, who overheard what he was saying about equality. How might the story had turned out differently if he had simply had joined one of the groups? 

Literacy Connections – Discussion Suggestions:

These questions can help students reflect on the content of the story and draw parallels to their own life experience. The questions can apply to the story as a whole, or to individual characters and situations.

Text-to-Self:

  • What does “The Platypus,” remind you of in your life?
  • What in the story is similar to your life experience?
  • How is the story different from your life experience?

Text-to-Text:

  • Does“The Platypus,” remind you of other stories you have heard or read?
  • How is the story similar to other stories you’ve heard or read?
  • How is the story different from other stories you’ve heard or read?

Text-to-World:

  • What does “The Platypus,” remind you of in the real world?
  • How is the story similar to what happens in the real world? 
  • How is the story different from what happens in the real world?

Text-to-Media:

  • Does “The Platypus,” remind you of a particular movie, song or television program?
  • Have you seen anyone in the news talking about some of the ideas that are in the story; diversity, equity, etc?

Step 4: About this Story – Fact and Fiction

In Storyvalues, we use folktales, myths and legends as a foundation to explore culture, character, creativity and communications. Studies show that information is more efficiently internalized when presented in narrative form; our goal is to first engage though storytelling, then to extend the engagement by expanding into other areas of study. In this way, stories can be used as a basis to teach virtually any subject. Here are a few suggestions and examples: 

Australia: Home to Several Unique Animals

‘The Platypus’ is a story that features animals that are native to Australia, divided into the groups, mammals, fish and birds. Explore the Gallery of Animals on the story page as a starting point in learning more about these different types of animals.

This story can be also used as a starting point for learning more about the unique wildlife that exists in Australia. 

Character Values

The story of The Platypus speaks of diversity, inclusion and equality. The culture from which this story originates – Aboriginal Australian – has faced many challenges in their continuing journey toward equality within Australian society.

Exploring the history and culture of the aboriginal people in Australia can broaden one’s understanding of the world and help strengthen appreciation for diversity.

Cultural Explorations:

This story is a modern adaptation of a story that originates from aboriginal culture of Australia, thought by many to be the oldest continuous civilization on earth. 

Like all stories of indigenous origin, the original version would have been created as a unique expression of the culture, the land and the spiritual beliefs of the people, developed and retold over hundreds, if not thousands of years.

It is our hope that our simplified version, along with the other information presented in the program, will inspire greater understanding of the importance of diversity and equality in children, as well as interest in aboriginal culture. Here are some handy links that may be of use as you and your child (or class) explore this vital culture:

Geography:

Explore the map on ‘The Platypus’ story page to discover that Australia is at once a continent, a country and an island.  Discover where Australia is in relation to where you are located.  (Geography, Text-to-World)

Australia is a very interesting and unique place that includes one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Here are just a few topics of interest that may inspire curiosity:

  • Indigenous aboriginal people inhabited what is now Australia for over 40,000 years before European settlers arrived in the late eighteenth century. 
  • Britain first established penal colonies (prisons) in Australia, then formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1829.
  • The largest city in Australia is Sydney (2008 population 4,399,722) 

Personal Stories

One of the goals of this program is to inspire children to be effective communicators – storytellers, in their own right.

To this end, ask your students to share any personal stories they may have involving Australia or Australian culture. Perhaps someone has relatives or friends, has travelled, or is from there. Encourage your students to share their stories with the class. 

Step 5 – Matt’s Music and Art Corner

Support for Arts in Education:

This story and the recording can be used as a means to empower students to explore, interpret and express the content of each story in their own unique way. (Visit the Art Corner to learn more about the art images shown.)  (Visual Arts)

The recording of The Platypus features music played on traditional aboriginal Australian instruments; the Didgeridoo and Clapsticks, as well as Sharkskin Drum, Tambourine, Claves and other percussive instruments. Familiarize your students with these, and see if they can identify the sound of the didgeridoo and the other instruments in the recording of this story.  (Visit the Art/Photography/Music Gallery section of this story’s web page to see photographs and to hear the sounds created by these musical instruments.)

Creative Visualization and Art Suggestions:

This story, being about equality and thinking for oneself, presents a great opportunity for students to explore their own skills of creative visualization and art.

Have your students listen to the recording in a quiet, peaceful setting, perhaps with the lights off and with their eyes closed. Have them pay close attention to how the music and sound effects work with the narration to establish a mood and sense of place.  Ask students to express in their own opinion, how these stylistic elements relate to the meaning of the story. (Visualization)

Then, have your students draw their own visual interpretation of the story. (Visualization, Visual Arts)

View examples of aboriginal Australian art, noting that it is abstract and interpretive (rather than realistic / representational). Encourage students to create their own symbols and compositions that have meaning for them. Hang the resulting artwork in an exhibition celebrating individual uniqueness and equality.  (Aboriginal Peoples, Visual Arts, Equity & Diversity)

Drama Project Suggestions:

The story, ‘The Platypus,’ can be performed as a drama. Download the Storyteller’s Theatre script here as the foundation to develop a performance with your students.

Place special emphasis on speaking expressively, using appropriate body language, gestures and facial expressions to express the meaning of the story. 

Recommended Books: 

How the World Began: Creation in Myths and Legends by Gilly Cameron-Cooper

In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World by Virginia Hamilton

Four Corners of the Sky: Creation Stories by Steve Zeitlin

How the Earth was Made by Margaret Mayo

Story Sources:

Stories from the Billabong, James Vance Marshall, Frances Linclon, 2008