Education and Arts

Rocking Dan, teaching man

With an international following for his successful musical lessons, it comes as some surprise that the YouTube star known as Rocking Dan Teaching Man had a learning disorder and struggled in the classroom as a child.

Dan Colquhoun said he would hate for primary school children to have the same problems he did processing numbers and letters, which was one of his motivations for writing songs to help the children in his classes learn basic numeracy and literacy skills.

"I struggled at school because I'm mildly dyslexic, which meant I had trouble processing sounds and symbols," Dan said. Writing songs to provide a different approach to those sounds and symbols seemed an obvious way to find an alternative for those kids who are challenged when learning the building blocks that the rest of their schooling is based on.

"It's about finding a different approach. Being creative is a great outlet, and music really helps oral language development, rhyming words and listening to them. I struggled to read and write so I tried to find a way to help all children with reading and writing and to help with concepts they might have difficulty understanding."

By catering to differing learning styles and abilities, Dan is trying to motivate children through the use of music and movement in a fun interactive way. "I want to help foster the creative, intellectual, and emotional development of the children I teach through the use of music and collaboration across the curriculum."

As well as developing his unique teaching methods, Dan is also involved in an aspiring leaders program run by the Eastern Region Catholic Education Office (CEO) and is involved in the Early Years Project, a learning philosophy that has been formulated by the Sydney CEO.

Not only do his small charges at St Declan's Catholic Primary School in the Sydney suburb of Penshurst love his musical creations, but so do their parents, other teachers, and a swathe of Google + and YouTube followers around the world. "Being able to share my songs through my YouTube channel and the Google + network is a wonderful way to help children with their learning from around the world," he said.

Most of the hits for the 30 songs he has written and recorded come from Australia, Britain and the United States. The YouTube channel has had more than 490,000 hits and when he did his first animation, it was seen in more than 100 countries.

It was also seen by his peers and employers. "Everyone at school has been really positive, and my principal Maria Ross is very supportive. The Director of Teaching and Learning for the CEO Sydney, Michael Bezzina, wrote to me congratulating me for being awarded ACU's Frater Scholarship," he said.

While completing a postgraduate certificate in education, early childhood lecturer Dr Cathie Harrison encouraged Dan to research the benefits of integrating music across the curriculum, an activity that ultimately led to the Rocking Dan Teaching Man YouTube channel.

Putting his classwork to music was a successful exercise and songs like What makes a good friend, Come on and meet the shapes, and The friends of 10 (a maths song for first graders) have taken off and are regularly used in his classes, and are also available as downloadable classroom materials for others to use.

Dan was an outstanding student with a distinction average when studying for his Bachelor of Education (Primary) and postgraduate certificate at ACU's Strathfield Campus. Both his strong academic results and his efforts to carve a distinctive swathe in his career made him a prime candidate for the Bob and Margaret Frater Travel Scholarship, worth $10,000, which he won in late 2013.

Established by Bob and Margaret Frater, the scholarship recognises and rewards teachers within Catholic primary schools who display leadership qualities and commitment and who will contribute to the continuing development and enhancement of the school system through participation in an international experience.

Dan used his prize to attend an international conference for kindergarten teachers in Las Vegas in 2014. The conference exceeded his expectations and he had the chance to meet some of the educators he had been following and exchange tips. One of the speakers even used an image of Dan in his presentation, much to his delight.

"It was such a great opportunity to be there with some of the big names of primary education, like Harry Kindergarten – a guy called Pete Harry. Pete had asked me if he could use my picture in his presentation but it was still a bit of a shock to see it up there on the big screen. He showed a big picture of me and talked about my YouTube channel in his workshop called 'Teaching with YouTube'. Deanna Jump showed The big bad wolf description song in her workshop about early literacy and said it was a great way to help children with their development of descriptive language."

"It was a brilliant experience to see and hear what others had to say and to meet them in person, share ideas, and talk about the work we are doing. Everyone was so generous with their time and sharing their knowledge." Dan said he was keen to pay tribute to those who had invested in him and his work. "I'd particularly like to thank Bob and Margaret Frater for making that possible. If it wasn't for the scholarship I wouldn't have had made it to the conference. I learned so much and it has just given me so many ideas and so much material to work with. What an incredible experience."

Read more about Dan Colquhoun on his blog at www.rockingdan.blogspot.com.au

This story first appeared in Insight, written by Jen Rosenberg.