Saturday, May 31, 2008

students fail - and professor loses job

Students Fail - and Professor Loses Job

Do we help people from disadvantaged backgrounds by some form of affirmative action, by the modification of standards?

One issue which seems clear to me is that institutions should never create an expectation for students from disadvantaged backgrounds that anything less than full attendance is acceptable. Talented students might be able to do very well with poor attendance but in most cases poor attendance equates with poor performance.

Teachers need to find new ways to engage and motivate students without dropping standards. Students need to accept responsibility for learning. These simple statements seem to have become quite complicated.

It's wrong that someone who takes a stand for high standards should lose their job.

What isn't mentioned in this article is the post modern trend towards cultural relativism that erodes the very notion of standards, it all depends on your perspective.
High standards are attacked from both the Left and the Right: The Left from the point of view of "inclusion", the Right from the point of view of "back to basics". The cultural "Left" (what I call the pseudo left) is more dominant, they promote a politics of inclusion, participation and flattery. It sounds progressive to include people. But it's not a response to a demand from below, it's imposed from above by cultural commissars who are looking around for some way to "engage" the "disengaged masses"
- truth slips from view ...

... some see truth itself is seen as a meaningless concept – due to their embrace of cultural relativism, the importance of "diversity", celebration of difference, a particularist world view linked to the politics of identity, repulsion or revulsion from modernity, all knowledge is seen as socially constructed, different views are equally valid, experience is more valuable than theory
- constructivism and objectivity
We have entered a period where there is incredibly pressure to look good, to achieve well by accountability measurements that are often dubious - the fuzzy standards of outcomes based education. This achieves very little real improvement but generates enormous amounts of paper work and wasted time.

I remain quite conflicted on this issue. On the one hand I see a clear need to establish standards of improvement for the most disadvantaged groups in our society, indigenous Australians in particular. On the other hand, there is a need for sweeping educational reform along the lines of slow deep learning and meta cognition which is perhaps very hard to measure.

Friday, May 30, 2008

fractions in real life

This is a continuation of earlier blogs about the difficulties of initiating and maintaining a meta dialogue with students about fractions -
"a dialogue with students which involves meta cognition (thinking about their own thinking) and meta-conceptions (students thinking about their own knowledge and understanding of concepts)"
earlier posts:
meta-dialogues are hard to establish
initiating a meta-dialogue

In my last blog I said:
What happens next? Focus Question: What do the other students find hard about fractions?
I did ask that question of the class and did get some response (eg. they find ratio harder than fractions) but the response wasn't sufficient to reach the point where my students felt they could design their own fraction question. My students had no intention of approaching this analytically like a teacher might, eg. go through the fractions test, find out which questions the other students got wrong, make generalisations about what they knew and didn't know and devise an intervention to bridge that knowledge gap, etc. No way!

I should explain. I have a relatively small class of year 8 "specials", a mixture of some students with learning disabilities (various), some with behaviour issues and others who are "normal" (whatever that means).

Fortunately, I had thought about this potential road block beforehand and had another question ready to facilitate my goal:
Can anyone see any fractions in the room?
A few students could immediately see other fractions in the room and I wrote their responses on the white board. This included what fraction of the class were boys, what fraction were girls. Then one girl came out the front and demanded the white board marker and she wrote on the board, "1/12 is the old guy" (!!!) Of course, the class loved it and this became the exemplar I could use to illustrate how they could write their own fraction problem. We did this collectively on the white board.

The idea of fractions in real life became for me the way out of the dry pages of the maths textbook into something richer and more meaningful.

Next lesson I offered the class a deal. We would go outside for a walk provided that each one student agreed beforehand to find a fraction outside and come and tell me about it. This worked a treat and developed into questions like this:
  • What is the ratio between the seats and the bin?
  • What is the fraction of red cars?
  • What is the ratio between the goalie and the players?
  • What fraction of boys is shorter than xxx?
  • What fraction of the class is wearing glasses?
  • What fraction of the class took off their jackets?, etc.
So, although the class is not really reflecting yet on what the other students find hard about fractions they are, nevertheless, now at the point where they can develop their own fraction puzzles to give to the other students.

I have slowed down the amount of content being covered. This is a central point. To go deeper (meta cognition) you have to find a way to go slower.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

genetic epistemology

Sometimes big words are important, not too hard to understand and they do throw a fair bit of light onto what educators do and how that might be improved.

When I read Mindstorms carefully many years ago I realised that Piaget's phrase made the distinction clear between open ended discovery learning and a more scientific approach that actually tried to tease out the evolution of knowledge structures both within a subject domain and the child. ie. both ought to evolve - our view of knowledge itself as well as its development within a child

What I wrote in 1991:
Piaget was not an educational psychologist but a genetic epistemologist. These obscure words are highly significant. Papert has recently moved to a new lab at MIT which has been named the Learning and Epistemology Group. Clearly epistemology is central to the concerns of Piaget and Papert. So, what is epistemology and what is genetic epistemology?

Piaget has recognised it as a mistake to separate the learning process from what is being learned. The study of what is being learned is epistemology. Hence, a genetic epistemologist is a person who investigates the evolution of the structure of knowledge in the minds of young people!

This is a much more dynamic conception than a traditional psychology of the learning process which passively accepts the traditional structure of knowledge as a given. Piaget and Papert are suggesting that there is a dialectical relationships between knowledge and people. Papert quotes Warren McCulloch tellingly to make this point:
"What is a man so made that he can understand number and what is number so made that a man can understand it." (Mindstorms, p. 164)
In looking at learning it is not enough to look at "learning how to learn" (ie. concentrate on the learner) but we need to study the basic structure of the subject itself. Papert investigates the basic structure of mathematics in some detail including a critique of the formal logical thinking emphasised in Bertrand Russell's Principia Mathematica and the "new math" of the 1960s/70s. In Piaget/Papert's view the basic structure of maths is derived from the thinking of the Bourbaki school: order, proximity (topology), combination (algebra).In Papert's view it is not natural that advanced maths ideas are inaccessible to most. What Papert has tried to do is restructure maths so as to accommodate the natural tendencies of the child. Instead of mathophobia Papert hopes to create a mathsland where it will be natural to learn maths, like learning to speak French in France.

Logo was designed with this philosophical/mathematical background in mind. Logo was developed as a language so that mathematically naive users could learn how to program and control the computer as well as more sophisticated users.
- Papert's ideas
Although, perhaps now out of date in some respects (eg. Bourbaki) this is still a very valid framework for a research agenda in a more general sense - that we explore the deep meaning of subject domains and develop better ways (in some cases using modern technology) for those deep meanings to be developed within the minds of children.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

18 surprises about New York City

My friend Barry has just returned from trip to the USA with his family (Joan, Joey, Hannah)

He has written an interesting blog, 18 surprises about New York City, and is looking for feedback particularly from those who have visited or who reside in NYC

Saturday, May 24, 2008

australia's shame: breaking the "code of silence"

The main problems of the australian aboriginal people are substance abuse and dependency on passive welfare (see my noel pearson blog for the full argument)

This is a problem in australian cities as well as remote communites such as Aurukun

An article in today's Australian (the forgotten fight a violent cycle) spells it out for the suburb of La Perouse, hugging Botany Bay in Sydney's southeastern suburbs:
  • aboriginal men sexually abusing children
  • the local rapist , a man known throughout the community, and how every time he comes out of jail he rapes again
  • the woman who was tortured for two years by her boyfriend
  • a two-year-old boy spending the night in the open
  • Department of Child Services very slow in responding to complaints
  • everyone in the room affected by suicide
  • the men of the area have gone missing - in jail, dead or just AWOL
  • grandparents are commonly "rescuing" children - a word used by one of the local women - from drunk, violent or absent parents
  • more young girls becoming pregnant now because of the baby bonus
It's great to see women like Carrine Liddell now speaking up and breaking the "code of silence" in her community and calling for the quarantine of welfare.

initiating a meta dialogue

previous blog about this: meta-dialogues are hard to establish

I asked another teacher if my year 8s could teach her year 8s something about fractions. She happily agreed.

My students responded very positively to the idea of being in charge of administering a fractions test to other students. This was in marked contrast with the earlier reluctance from most to divulge to me what they found hard about fractions.

I asked them to play the role of the teacher, to explain the administrative requirements of the test and that it was alright to explain the meaning of the questions but not to give answers.

Of course, after a while a few of them (not all) began to break the rules and started to teach the other students. My inclination was to "not notice". One of my thoughts was that if I had initiated the process by telling them that their role was to teach fractions to other students (rather than administer a test that they had already done) then there would have been some resistance. But once they found themselves in a situation of sitting next to another student doing the test they found it hard to resist helping. Some of my students took the formality of their teaching role seriously and "told off" some of the students who were helping their peers too much by supplying the answer (or more accurately what they thought was the answer).

My purpose is to get my students to think about their own knowledge of fractions, their meta cognition (thinking about their own thinking) and meta-conceptions (thinking about their own knowledge and understanding of concepts)

There were two teachers in the other class because it was the year 8 Wiltja class, which contains many indigenous students from the Lands in Central Australia. Both of the other teachers were curious about my approach and that was a good conversation too.

It felt like a win-win-win. My students enjoyed it, the other students enjoyed it and the teachers enjoyed it.

What has happened so far?
  • fraction knowledge exploration has begun
  • social interaction between classes has begun
What happens next? Focus Question: What do the other students find hard about fractions?
  • by reflecting on the knowledge of others my students reflect on their own knowledge
  • design own fraction problems for other student on paper
  • program your fraction designs in Scratch (transform to a new medium)

error in chess and life

For me, competitive chess is sometimes the best way for becoming self aware of my own potential to make idiotic decisions.

That is good for me. Although, that particular way may not work for you, I would argue in general that it's important for everyone to become aware of their potential for idiocy. Unless of course you are one of those people who don't make idiotic mistakes.

In chess you win, lose or draw and so there is objective measure of performance. (cf. "real life" where stupid decisions can continue to be disputed for years, sometimes even centuries.)

Over the board competitive chess is public - other players watch your games and observe your brilliance or stupidity, as the case may be. Chess has a touch move rule so mistakes cannot be withdrawn even if you see them after you move and before your opponent has replied. Your mistakes are irreversible, your guts lay on the floor and everyone can see them. In chess you can make a whole series of good moves and then wreck it all with a single bad move, perhaps when tired and under time pressure from the clock.

Although this is not "real life", there are enough similarities for the learning process to transfer into real life. Many chess players do assert this. As in real life there are different types of errors, such as: incorrect evaluation of the whole position (you think it is better for you but it is really better for your opponent); tactical calculation errors (you miss your opponents killer move after a 3 move deep sequence); atrocious blindness when tired or in time pressure ("how on earth could I have been so stupid as to miss that?").

Unlike the colour of the pieces this process is far from black and white. In many chess positions there are a handful of "good" moves (not just one good move) surrounded by many poor moves. This means that chess players can have style as well, eg. "positional", "aggressive", "closed", "open", "Nimzovitchian, etc."

Competitive chess players develop acute sensibilities with respect to error and the potential for error. This develops in a significant way for serious players who go through their games afterwards to identify at least some of their errors. This can take the form of an immediate postmortem. In my experience nearly all serious players accept the invitation to go through the game immediately after it is finished (time permitting). For players into improving their game further this is followed up by an analysis at home with annotations and running positions through a computer program such as Fritz, for further enlightenment.

It's best to look hardest at your losses, which can be (is) a painful experience. I know of many chess players who confess to sleepless nights after a painful loss. At the highest level this has even become life threatening in exteme cases. Karpov lost 10 kg and was hospitalised several times in his famous 1984 match against Kasparov (reference). This is the way that good players improve - by intimate dissection of their own stupid errors in an attempt to reduce errors in the future.

This chess process seems to me to be quite similar to the development of scientific knowledge - the public process of hypothesising, experimenting, making knowledge claims publicly and then arguing about those claims. This process of casting away illusions about ones own competence and becoming involved in a sometimes painful process of internal struggle with ones ignorance is central to both individual development and our development as a society.

Elaborations from other fields:

1) Marvin Minsky coins the phrase "negative expertise" in part as a critique of the behaviourist approach ("who trained themselves to think only about the physical actions that people do, while ignoring questions about what people do not do") but also because "negative expertise ... is a very large part of every person's precious collection of common sense knowledge ... much of what we come to know is based on learning from our mistakes" (The Emotion Machine, section 3.5, p. 81)

2) John Lienhard in his historical review of how books changed the world:
.... what principles should the adults, who currently control things, follow, in shaping a future we cannot predict? Lienhard recommends:
  1. Seek out our own ignorance, that wisdom is having some awareness of our ignorance
3) Alan Kay's views on system design, summarised by John Maxwell:
The problem with both a user centred approach to design and a designer centred approach is that both assume that we know in advance what the system will be like. So, the starting point for designing a children's machine ought to acknowledge ignorance, that we don't know the endpoint.

How do we build a system that can grow into something yet unforseen by either its users or designers?

It ought to be more like paper or clay than a finished device like a car or a TV.

One metaphor here is cell biology. One kind of building block which can differentiate into all the needed building blocks. You need an evolutionary approach.

Late binding (Etoys, References) allows a fluid approach to change, the opposite of hard wired instrumentalism.
- alan kay's educational vision
4) the domains of ignorance
Known unknowns: All the things you know you don't know
Unknown unknowns: All the things you don't know you don't know
Errors: All the things you think you know but don't
Unknown knowns: All the things you don't know you know
Taboos: Dangerous, polluting or forbidden knowledge
Denials: All the things too painful to know, so you don't
- from The Domains of Ignorance
5) five orders of ignorance

from Philip Armour's "Of Jet Planes and Zeppelins"

  • 0th Order Ignorance: Lack of Ignorance
    • I (probably) know something
  • 1th Order Ignorance: Lack of Knowledge
    • I do not know something
  • 2nd Order Ignorance: Lack of Awareness
    • I do not know that I do not know something
  • 3rd Order Ignorance: Lack of Process
    • I do not know a (suitably effective) way to find out that I don't know something
  • 4th Order Ignorance: Meta-Ignorance
Philip goes onto explain that you can only have a process for something you already know how to do.

And the corollary: you can't have a process for something you've never done.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dewey might say this

What might Dewey say about education2.0?

I wanted to say something about this blog a few months ago but it was hard to quote from because it was so good I wanted to quote the whole thing. I went back and read it again and had exactly the same feeling - so go and read the whole thing!

Disclaimer: I haven't read any Dewey original (blush)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

tidying up the constructionist suitcase

Constructionism has become a suitcase word. If we are to continue using the word we need to tidy up the suitcase because different sorts of garbage have crept in.

So, what is in the suitcase, what should stay in and what should be taken out?

Take out:
  • religious aura or grandiosity, it's the answer to all our problems regarding learning
  • fuzzy goodness, it's similar to other good things like freedom
  • superiority by assertion, it's better than all other learning theories
  • stand alone definition - definition is only one narrow and fragile pathway to knowing
  • technocentrism - something that will just happen by sending out OLPCs to children, it is somehow embedded in the hardware and software of the machine
  • straw man opponents - all School is "Prussian" or some other derogatory term

Keep in:
  • learning by the process of designing things (design, make, appraise)
  • objects that are good to think with (eg. logo, LEGO, OLPC, Scratch, etoys)
  • deep structural learning, knowing the "fundamentals" (not quite the right word) not just knowing how to get the "correct answer"
  • rich concept development, knowing a thing in multiple ways, not just one way
  • personal appropriation, aka as love, where the separation between cognitive and emotional (affect) becomes hard to maintain
  • setting up whole new learning environments (total learning environment) - changing lots of things to achieve synergistic learning effects, not just one thing - this includes creating "context(s) where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity" (Papert/Harel)
  • meta cognition (thinking about ones own thinking) and meta conceptual development (thinking about ones own knowledge and understanding of concepts)
  • an honest children's version of a powerful idea, based on the non universals
Rough notes - thought arising partly from some recent discussion at list

One thought is that the suitcase still looks rather full

Reference: Software Design as a Learning Environment, Idit Harel and Seymour Papert. MIT. January 1990

These are the guys who initially made this suitcase (Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert):

updates: I'm adding some updates to the original, in italics

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

meta-dialogues are hard to establish

I gave my year 8 class a pretest in fractions. The pretest was derived from Idit Harel's "Instructional Software Design Project".

The range of marks for my students was between 20 and 47 out of 67. So, there were significant gaps in the fraction knowledge of all the students.

I then returned the marked test to the students with a copy of the original test questions. Some expressed surprise that I was given them a copy of the test which they had already done. "Do you want us to do it again?", some asked and then answered their own question, "No way!". I explained that I wanted them to look at some of the questions again for discussion, not do them again as a test. I felt that they felt this was a strange request, that they had a task oriented mentality, that you complete a task and then move onto the next task.

I then taught a brief lesson about fractions, explaining that the underlying rationale of the test was transformations between different representations of fractions - transformations between maths like pictures, real life pictures, words and symbols.

I also covered some fraction vocabulary asking for the meanings of numerator, denominator, proper fractions, improper fractions and mixed number. Some of the class members knew the answers to these questions. I invited them out the front to write their answers on the white board and some of the students were happy to do this. Many students enjoy being out the front, writing on the white board.

I then came to the point of the lesson by asking them: "Can you identify for me and somehow articulate a fraction puzzle from the test which you found difficult?"

Once again I gained the impression that I was asking for something strange. One student said that he now understood it all since I had taught a (brief) lesson about fractions. This led to a friendly argument between me and him where I claimed that if he did the test again he would still obtain wrong answers and he insisted that no, he would get them all correct - but no way was he going to do the test again because he had already done it. This went on for some time, a bit like a Monty Python skit about the difference between an argument and a contradiction.

Eventually, after some turmoil and mulling around, the students submitted to my request and began to give me examples of fraction problems from the test which they found hard. One confident student even came out the front and wrote a question she didn't understand on the white board.

But the main thing I noticed from most of the students is that they gave me examples from the end of the test which had the hardest problems, even though many of them had made errors on problems from the easier sections at the beginning and the middle. So they were complying with my request but I think trying to give the impression that they knew more than they actually did know.

I realised then the importance of being able to setup a cross age tutoring scenario. So, that instead of asking what my students know it's far better to ask: "What do you think students in another class would find hard?" Then my students would be more likely to identify a problem in their own zone of proximal development, rather than something that might be too advanced for their current zone at this stage

It's hard work setting up a dialogue with students which involves meta cognition (thinking about their own thinking), meta-conceptions (students thinking about their own knowledge and understanding of concepts) or self evaluation. For many you have to think up ways to trick them into being comfortable with revealing what they don't know. It would be very easy for a teacher to give up on establishing meta dialogues.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

internet safety

The world's first road traffic death occurred in 1896; the coroner was reported to have said,
"this must never happen again"
  • 1.2 million people killed (2003)
  • up to 50 million people injured (2003)
  • predicted 65% increase over next 20 years

Saturday, May 17, 2008

common sense is astonishing (piaget)

When he was a small child, he was counting pebbles one day; he lined them up in a row, counted them from left to right, and got ten. Then, just for fun, he counted them from right to left to see what number he would get, and was astonished that he got ten again
- genetic epistemology
I think the key thing in this beautiful story about counting pebbles is the word "astonished" in the above quote.

I have no personal recollection of being astonished by discovering the law of conservation of pebble number. And yet experiments with young children show that before a certain age this is something they (meaning all of us) don't know. At some stage in our personal development we learnt this, internalised it and then forgot that we learnt it - and can't recall any sense of astonishment or not knowing something which as adults, seems to us to be common sense

This is why constructionism doesn't scale (yet) - or is dependent on a teacher being there who realises that what is obvious and common sense to them is not obvious or common sense to children. And then finds ways to spend time discussing and experimenting with these common sense notions with children - rather than just assuming that everyone "gets it". Or doing exercises which involve getting the "right answer". How many pebbles? Answer = 10. Next question. This applies to all knowledge, not just to pebbbles or number.

If we don't understand Piaget's genetic epistemology then constructionism or a deeper philosophical approach to learning won't scale. This explains why when a school leader with a deep understanding of learning leaves the site then the whole learning environment of the school often then changes back into something mundane. For those who remain, obvious things become obvious again and are no longer astonishing.

Note also that pebbles are free and that pebbles are not green machines. There are some things that software freedom and green machines can't do.

thanks to Edward Cherlin for the Piaget link

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ivan Kristic's challenges

I also agree that Ivan Kristic's recent blog, sic-transit-gloria-laptopi, is a must read, warts and all, for its passion and the challenging way in which it airs some important questions, such as:

Can constructionism scale?
As far as I know, there is no real study anywhere that demonstrates constructionism works at scale. There is no documented moderate-scale constructionist learning pilot that has been convincingly successful; when Nicholas points to "decades of work by Seymour Papert, Alan Kay, and Jean Piaget", he's talking about theory.

Is there any evidence that "free software does any better than proprietary software when it comes to aiding learning?"

This insight:
There are three key problems in one-to-one computer programs: choosing a suitable device, getting it to children, and using it to create sustainable learning and teaching experiences. They're listed in order of exponentially increasing difficulty
This assertion:
A Windows-compatible Sugar would bring its rich learning vision to potentially tens or hundreds of millions of children all over the world whose parents already own a Windows computer, be it laptop or desktop. To suggest this is a bad course of action because it’s philosophically impure is downright evil.

This proposal:
I’m trying to convince Walter not to start a Sugar Foundation, but an Open Learning Foundation. For those who still care about learning in this whole clusterfuck of conflicting agendas, the charge should be to start that organization, since OLPC doesn’t want to be it. Having a company that is device-agnostic and focuses entirely on the learning ecosystem, from deployment to content to Sugar, is not only what I think is sorely needed to really take the one-to-one computer efforts to the next level, but also an approach that has a good chance of making the organization doing the work self-sustaining at some point

Sunday, May 11, 2008

line rider in scratch (part two)

In Scratch drawn lines are graphics and are not programmable (except for their colour) so I introduced arrow sprites which have properties such as direction, which can be accessed and transferred to the cat character

Make a global variable, named catDirection. Then when the cat touches a line a message is broadcast to the other sprites. Each arrow sprite has its own local direction property, which can be assigned to catDirection.

For more than one arrow you need to create a "touching?" (boolean) variable which detects if the character is touching any arrow. Then you need another if not touching ... and statement to set the direction to straight down when it slides off the end of the arrows

To have the cat speed up when falling down and slow down on an up arrow make another variable, "distance", which increases for down angles and decreases for up angles

Send me an email if you want the step by step instructions. Here are a couple more of the code segments:

line rider in scratch (part one)

Rob Costello came up with the idea of incorporating the popular game line rider into the maths curriculum

When I mentioned this to my year 8s quite a few of them already had it on their memory sticks

I've developed a very simple version using Scratch. I discovered that Scratch comes with a ready made drawing pencil sprite (in the Things folder), with a drawing script. So I only had to write a script for the character to fall and then move along the pencil line.

I've written a worksheet. Send me an email if you want a copy.

I'm working on a part two, which introduces arrows for upwards motion and speed variations.

Friday, May 09, 2008

pamela bone

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die

- Aubade, poem by Philip Larkin
- Quoted in Pamela Bone's book about her fight with cancer, Bad Hair Days
Pamela Bone, journalist and author, died recently, from cancer, age 68

Here are some of the other battles she fought and about which I'm in agreement with her:
  • She supported the Iraq war because Saddam Hussein was a horrible, fascist monster who had to be got rid of. That was a consistent theme in her writings, that genocidal dictators must be stopped
  • She criticised the peace movement that protested against the Iraq war but failed to have any plan to overthrow a fascist dictatorship "... why millions of people marched last year (meaning 2003) not to denounce the world's worst dictator but to prevent the overthrow of that dictator."
  • She asked publicly why western feminists failed to speak out against human rights abuses carried out in the name of Islam "When did cultural sensitivity trump women's rights?"
  • She criticised the dreary cultural relativism that pervades the thinking of so many of those once described as on the Left. "Why is international public opinion not outraged at the treatment of women in Islamic fundamentalist societies?"
  • She maintained her optimism and in saying that the overall trend in the world is positive
podcast interview
She talks here mainly about her illness and attitude towards death (also some references to her job as a lead writer at The Age, the Iraq war and her visit to Rwanda). It was good to hear her voice - on feeling really ill with terminal cancer, "... it felt like being slapped in the face and told to get out of the human race"

Bone writes her final column

... Calm and clear to the end

Why we stay mute on Islamic sex apartheid Pamela confronted Germaine Greer for failing to speak out against honour killings

Western sisters failing the fight
"LET it be recorded that in the last decade of the 20th century the brave and great movement of Western feminism ended, not with a bang but with a whimper"

UN must act to save distant people the failure of the UN to act against genocide in the Darfur

The silence of the feminists
Dislike of George Bush's foreign policy has led to an automatic support of those perceived to be his enemies. Paradoxically, this leaves the left defending people who hold beliefs that condone what the left has long fought against: misogyny, homophobia, capital punishment, suppression of freedom of speech

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

the importance of and potential for the enhancement of mentoring

marvin minsky has recently written a great series of articles about the importance of cross age mentoring and how networks open up new opportunities for that - on the OLPC wiki
Memo 3 essays (all four)
Memo 2 -> drawbacks of age based segregation

From where do our children’s self-images come? Of course, they copy a lot from their parents, siblings, teachers, and friends but (as noted in Memo 2) they also tend to emulate familiar public “celebrities,” so that many children come to know a lot about athletes, pop-stars and actors, but few can recognize the name of a single philosopher, scientist, or mathematician, because such achievers are rarely mentioned either in classrooms or media. The images of those celebrities must have substantial effects on our children’s goals—yet those descriptions are mainly fictitious, crafted by publicists to grip our children’s attentions for countless thousands of valuable hours. And even when those biographies are accurate, they don’t often demonstrate qualities that we should want our children to admire.
the teacher's union conservatism is just as bad or worse than the education departments conservatism on this issue - look at what DECS (Ed Department) and the AEU (Union) have done to Al Upton's students (update 3):
"Mentors/coaches – any communication between students and adults overseas was strongly advised against. DECS and AEU representatives agree on this"

probably a good idea but not sure

It seems very reasonable to me that University students should have some requirement / expectation to:
a) broaden their outlook, not just be there for vocational reasons
b) use their knowledge to help the disadvantaged of this world

Macquarie University has developed such a programme:
ALL students at a leading university will have to undertake volunteer work and study subjects from the arts and sciences under an overhaul of its curriculum designed to provide a broader education and more socially aware graduates.

In a first for an Australian university, Macquarie University vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz today will announce a partnership with Australia Volunteers International that will create a mini peace corps, giving undergraduate students the opportunity to do volunteer work overseas.

Called the Global Futures Program, it will develop programs with local communities throughout Australia, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Some form of community work will be compulsory for all undergraduate students at Macquarie under the new curriculum, to start in 2010.

In addition, the university will require all undergraduate students to study subjects from the humanities, social sciences and sciences so that arts students must take science subjects and science students must take arts subjects.
- top uni's peace corp subject
I realise also that this is being done to the students from above, the problem of "political correctness". When I went to University in the late 60s, early 70s many of us worked out these issues for ourselves; there was no need for the University to introduce courses in support of the Vietnamese revolution.

change that's hard to believe in

Noel Pearson on Obama:
"Despite the long debate on welfare reform and the clear benefits of America's Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act 1996, Barack Obama hesitates to accept a social-policy truth that sticks out like canine testes. Responsibility and choice should never be subsumed by a focus on structural solutions; when this happens, you end up with the kind of shallow determinism that Obama ultimately falls victim to. He would be truly radical if he was equally vehement about equipping citizens to seize opportunities and convert them into capabilities."
- Pearson on Obama

clearly, the little children are NOT sacred

The Mullighan Inquiry has found that there is widespread sexual abuse of children in South Australia's Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands:
The report, by former Supreme Court judge Ted Mullighan, found children had been selling sex for drugs, petrol and cash on the lands, in the state's far north.
The report found that at least 1 in 10 children had been sexually abused (often repeatedly). The evidence came from the parents of the children. Because of fear of retribution not one victim would give a sworn statement (source)

This follows on from similar findings in other indigenous communities around Australia, for example, the Little Children are Sacred report.
The author of that report, Rex Wild QC, said the APY Lands report was the fifth such report to identify the same problems in indigenous communities.

"It's about time somebody put them all together and said `there is a problem right around Australia ... let's resolve it for the whole of Australia, not just piecemeal'," he told ABC radio.
Although the current Rudd Labour government supported (when in opposition) the earlier Howard government 2007 intervention into the Northern Territory, no such intervention is planned in this case. While government and opposition fight over the "right approach", the child sexual abuse continues.

No indigenous intervention for SA

Saturday, May 03, 2008

chess: Kerr - Mdinaradze (lost opportunities)

This game is from the current Interclub competition. My team is the Modbury Marauders. Time limit is 60 min + 30 seconds extra per move.

Quite often this happens. One player spends more time thinking than the other and creates a good position with winning chances. But then the first player is short of time and if they can't clinch the win and makes one or two poor moves the tide can easily swing the other way.

In this game against Edgar Mdinaradze I played good moves up to move 25 but then went astray in a position that was still complex. By then I only had 4 minutes left on the clock and Edgar had 36 minutes. This has been a trend in my games this year - obtaining good positions and then not finding a way to clinch a win. So, I'm hoping by analysing these positions I can improve in this respect.

It could have been a brilliancy but instead it turned out messy. But that's normal in chess, very few games are "pure".

Kerr - Mdinaradze
1. f4 c5
2. Nf3 Nf6
3. g3 Nc6
4. Bg2 d5
5. d3 g6
6. O-O Bg7
7. Qe1 O-O
8. e4 e6 (?)
This creates some weaknesses on the black square, try 8___ d4 instead

9. h3
I think this is better than 9. e5, it certainly preserves more tension in the position, which I like

9 ___ Re8(?)
Not really a good idea to plan ___e5 in this position, black just seems to be pushing pieces around at this stage

10. g4!
This is a good counter to black's previous move. Now 10___ e5 is met with 11.f5 with excellent attacking chance on the king side for white

10___ dxe
11. dxe Qb6
12. Na3
The white knight threatens to go to c4 and then to d6, with a big advantage

12 ___ Qa6
Black attempts to keep the white knight out of play. Another attempt is 12___ c4+ Then 13. Kh1 Qa6 14. Rb1 b5 15. b3 looks good for white (if 15 ___c3 16. b4)

13. Rf2!?
The interesting idea here is to reposition the white bishop at f1 and threaten the black queen. But f2 is not a good square for the rook, it obstructs whites queen from moving to h4. The more direct 13. c4! might be better. Black can't exploit the resulting weakness on d3, eg. 13___ Nb4 14. e5 Nd7 15. Bd2 and 15 ___ Nd3 achieves nothing

13___ b5
14. c4! bxc
15. Bf1 Nb4
Black has to waste time moving this knight to get his queen out of trouble. eg. if 15____ Bb7 then 16. Nxc4. Also 15___ Na5 doesn't work because of 16. Bd2

16. Nxc4 Qc6
17. a3 Na6
The alternative 17___ Nxe4 is tricky but insufficient, failing to 18.N(f3)-e5! Qd5 19. axb4 Nxf2 and then 20. Bg2!

18. Ng5! Nd7
If 18___ h6 then 19. Nxf7! and black can't recapture due to 20. Ne5+ forks the king and queen. It's also necessary to look at black's reply 19___ Qxe5 but then 20.Be3! and Bg2 is a very strong threat

19. e5 Nb6
Although 19___Bb7 threatens mate, after 20. Bg2 white swaps bishops then forks queen and rook on d6

20. Nd6 Re7

White has a wonderful position. But how to win?

21. Bb5! Qc7
22. Ne8!?
This is good and possibly best. I saw 22. Be8 but rejected it on account of 22___f6 but missed 23. Bf7+ Kh8 24. exf6 and if Bxf6 25. Ne8 wins the exchange, but it's not simple. The advantage of Ne8 is that it eliminates blacks important black squared bishop, the main defender of his king and a piece that might be involved in a black counter attack.

22___ Qd8
23. Nf6+!
Also strong is 23.NxB but according to my calculations this is stronger
23____ Bxf6
24. exf6 Rc7
How should white continue?

25. Rd2?
After 25. f5! which opens up more lines of attack, white is winning. eg. 25___exf5 26. Rd2 Qxf6 27. Qe8+ Kg7 28. Rd8 wins. White was too anxious to move his queen to h4 but that attack is not decisive

25___ Nd5
26. Qh4 Qxf6
27. Qxh7+ Kf8
And now black seems to be safe ... maybe

28. f5
Pursuing the attack vigorously. Another option was 28. Ne4 Qg7 29. Qh4 f6 with a slight advantage. When you move from a winning position (move 25) to a not winning position it becomes hard to hold back psychologically and re-evaluate, especially when short of time.

28____ gxf5
29. Rxd5?
Losing the plot partly due to time pressure. Much better was 29. gxf5 and black can't take the knight (__Qxg5) because of the reply Rg2. So try 29___ Qe5 and then 30. Rg2 looks to be winning

29___ exd5
30. Nf3 f4
Keeps the bishop out of h6. Black is now winning due to white's errors on moves 25 and

31. g5 Qg7
32. Qh4 Bb7?
This lets white back into the game. With either 32___Re7 or 32___Rb8 black should win

33. Bxf4 Re7
34. Bd6 and white eventually did win (53 moves)

I'm mainly analysing this game as an exercise in lost opportunity, about how to clinch a winning position and the issue of time management in chess. It's hard in chess to consistently play good moves and this is what distinguishes good players from players who sometimes make good moves.

Friday, May 02, 2008

untangling constructionism

It can be important to know what words really mean and to use them correctly. I think the word "constructionism" is being thrown around carelessly at the moment. These trends should be avoided IMO:
  • that constructionism is the best or only good learning theory
  • that constructionism is just learning by doing and making
  • that constructionism means much the same as freedom
OLPC wiki Constructionism page:
Constructionism is a philosophy of education in which children learn by doing and making. They explore and discover instead of being force fed information
Walter Bender:
The other thing is that I was very much influenced by Seymour Papert and his constructionist theories, which can be summarized in my mind very efficiently by two aphorism. One is that you learn through doing, so if you want more learning you want more doing. The second is that love is a better master than duty. You want people to engage in things that are authentic to them, things that they love. The first is more addressed by the Sugar technology; the second is more addressed by the culture around freedom.
- xconomy interview

Benjamin Mako Hill:
"Constructionist principles bear no small similarity to free software principles" (although this article does overall separate constructionism from freedom, it does not attempt to explain the difference)
- laptop liberation
Some points in response:

Learning by doing and making is a big part of constructionism but not the whole thing. Some doing and making is fairly mundane and not much internal "construction" is taking place. Also "doing and making" is not a single magic bullet to learning. This might mean that the theory of constructionism needs to be supplemented with other theories. It also means that the sort of "doing and making" that tends to improve learning needs to be explicated. eg. turtle geometry might work because it is "body syntonic".

Constructionism and software freedom are not the same thing. Both proprietary and open source software development are exercises in constructionism, the difference is that the latter is open to everyone with the required skill level. Software freedom is an essential part of the constructionist learning environment for software developers. But different types of constructionist learning can occur without software freedom. eg. Building things with commercial LEGO. Not everyone is a software developer and although it is highly desirable that many third world children become software developers this is not the only possible constructionist pathway open to them.

Constructionism and open ended discovery learning are not the same thing; the latter has given the former a bad name - because it usually doesn't work.

Proprietary software can be constructionist eg. MicroWorlds is Seymour Papert's sponsored version of Logo

Constructionism is one good learning theory. It is not the only good learning theory. There is no unified "correct" learning theory and it is a mistake to claim one.

Papert's Ideas: Mainly from Mindstorms

Thursday, May 01, 2008

OLPC controversies

For those who want to keep up with current thinking about the OLPC divisions:

OLPC Controversies
Edward Cherlin has created a new wiki page with sections for the major arguments currently happening over OLPC strategy and tactics, included links to blog posts, mailing list threads, and interviews with Nicholas Negroponte

its an education project
Walter Bender has setup a mailing list for discussion about the educational mission (I've joined)