Sunday, 16 December 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

An exciting year for Paul Blackman

It’s an exciting year for Whitianga resident and retired teacher, Paul Blackman. He will next week launch a children’s books he wrote and has received some time ago a generous grant for a ground-breaking neuroscience project that will help children learn to read. 

The book launch, to be held on Wednesday 12 December from 7:30pm to 9:00pm in the Kauotunu Hall, will include a PowerPoint presentation on ways to help children learn. The book, the first in what will eventually be a series of four books, includes elements of neuroscience that can help children to achieve their potential.

One of the elements is to make children laugh. Paul says laughter is an emotion that helps people remember. 

The book, “Wallace the Balloon Boy” came into Paul’s head one night when his grandson, James, couldn’t sleep. “My grandson wasn’t going to sleep, so my daughter asked me to read him a story,” says Paul. “I thought he’d settle best with the lights off and decided to make up a story. Out of this came the adventures of Wallace Watkins.

“Well, the next day James wanted the story again. I had to remember what I had said. Then I expanded on it.”

After seeing James’ enthusiasm for the story, Paul decided to put it in print. A friend did a “fabulous job” of illustrating the book. Paul was so happy with result that he started to work on three more stories about the same character, a mischievous boy who Paul admits is modelled on his own character as a child.

Paul loves seeing children laugh. He says things that give them a buzz or an emotion hit a part of the brain where long-term memory is stored. It’s called the limbic system.

“Major events may create an emotion that keeps the memory of that event alive,” says Paul. “Think of the first step on the moon, that sort of thing. Humour and laughter are also strong emotions that help us remember. If we use emotion as part of a learning experience, we can help those who may struggle to learn.

Proceeds from Wallace the Balloon Boy and other books in the series will go towards the establishment of a trust to develop courses in neuroscience. “I want to show parents some of the things they can do at home to take advantage of recent discoveries that will improve their children’s performance,” says Paul.

The grant Paul received, which covers 40 percent of his neuroscience project that will help children learn to read, is from the government’s Callaghan Fund. The project involves building an app and could be very helpful for children with learning differences like dyslexia. By using an IBM Watson program, speech recognition and artificial intelligence will keep a record of each child’s individual reading progress. 

Paul and his wife Johanna moved to Whitianga in 2001. He has 40 years’ experience as a teacher, starting as a primary school teacher. He was also a secondary school guidance counsellor, a resource teacher of learning and behaviour and a counsellor working with young people with learning and behavioural problems. Paul was a drama teacher at Mercury Bay Area School before his retirement.

Meanwhile, young James, now seven, continues to love living the adventures of mischievous Wallace Watkins during bedtime stories with grandad Paul.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.