Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Goethe quote

Every school of thought is like a man who has talked to himself for a hundred years and is delighted with his own mind, however stupid it may be.
(J.W. Goethe, 1817, Principles of Natural Science)
From the Schools of Thought page of the History of Economic Thought site. I think that site is a very good starting point for serious economic study.

update (25th December): Here is a counter balancing quote, from the HET introduction page, also from Goethe
Somebody says: "Of no school I am part,
Never to living master lost my heart,
Nor any more can I be said
To have learned anything from the dead."
That statement - subject to appeal -
Means "I'm a self-made imbecile."
(J.W. Goethe, Den Originalen, 1812)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Paul Samuelson developed Frankenstein

Economist Paul Samuelson has just died (age 94) so there was some coverage about him on the PBS NewsHour (my favourite news source) tonight.

As part of my economic study I am currently acquiring an overview of the mainstream neo-classical schools (they argue amongst each other). I'm impressed by the History of Economic Thought website. They have a summary of the various schools of thought which is more coherent than wikipedia. Wikipedia is not bad but tends to be more muddled and padded than the HET site.

Anyway, according to the NewsHour interview with David Warsh, Paul Samuelson was one of the four most influential economists of the 20th Century, the others being John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman and Kenneth Arrow. (Late Economist Samuelson Bridged Math, Money). From what I've read Samuelson was very good at developing mathematical arguments to update and refine Keynesian type government interventions into the economy.

Given his importance what he said about the current crisis, at the start of it, is interesting:
PAUL SAMUELSON: I'm really very realistic about the mess that we are in. People compare it with the Great Depression. But the Wall Street shenanigans this time are much worse. And people like me, who lived through the Great Depression, as a young, budding, kind of bright economist, are in great demand because the other people don't have a clue as -- as to what this kind of situation is.

PAUL SOLMAN: Well, what did Wall Street do this time that it didn't do last time?

PAUL SAMUELSON: This is the first time ever that this happened after the -- and I have to use my words very carefully -- fiendish, Frankenstein monsters of financial engineering had been created, a lot of them at MIT, some of them by people like me.

And these are marvelous things which can be used to spread risks rationally, and, in that sense, reduce riskiness. But the Frankenstein part of the story is that they also are marvelous things, Samson-like, to blind you. You don't know what you're doing. All transparency disappears. What's happened this last eight years is an absolutely unnecessary thing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

neither an alarmist nor denier be

Richard Burton once when approached by a beggar quoted Shakespeare:
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be -Shakespeare"
The beggar responded:
"Get fucked - Henry Miller"
That's pretty close to how I feel about the global warming pretend debate.

James Hansen sounded convincing on Lateline when interviewed by fellow alarmist Tony Jones. When I watch a seemingly reasonable and well researched scientist like Hansen I start to think who am I to question this?

But then when I read a counter argument by Richard Lindzen, a qualified environmentalist, (The Climate Science isn't Settled) then I wonder why the ABC takes the easy path of having an alarmist interview another alarmist. Why don't they set up a real debate between Hansen and Lindzen?

The ABC has already decided on the truth and present us with a carefully massaged version

It is still best to be neither an alarmist nor a denier. I would describe myself as a lukewarmist. Perhaps I should set up a political party but lacking the stridency and certainty of those who are sure it would not receive many votes.

The notion that complex climate "catastrophes" are simply a matter of the response of a single number, GATA, to a single forcing, CO2 (or solar forcing for that matter), represents a gigantic step backward in the science of climate. Many disasters associated with warming are simply normal occurrences whose existence is falsely claimed to be evidence of warming. And all these examples involve phenomena that are dependent on the confluence of many factors.

Our perceptions of nature are similarly dragged back centuries so that the normal occasional occurrences of open water in summer over the North Pole, droughts, floods, hurricanes, sea-level variations, etc. are all taken as omens, portending doom due to our sinful ways (as epitomized by our carbon footprint). All of these phenomena depend on the confluence of multiple factors as well
- The Climate Science isn't Settled
Lindzen's argument conforms with my belief that sustainability, although in some cases maybe a desirable goal, is not a possible goal. There is no ideal climate for the earth, there has never been any long term stability in the earth's climate or anything else for that matter. The idea that we can achieve this is ludicrous.

Previous blogs about this:
the case for unsustainability
the left and right of global warming
the problem of too much bullshit

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chicago 10

This has been out for a couple of years but I only saw it recently on late night SBS documentaries.

It's a very smooth rendition of the Chicago 1968 Hoffman / Yippie / Black Panthers (Bobby Seale) trial

1968. I lived through that time and the anti Vietnam war street demos. It was a historical hinge point. This documentary perturbed me because I lived through somewhat similar events in Australia - the sometimes violent protests, trails and gaoling of draft resistors and demonstrators. I feel like saying you have to see this documentary to understand those times. Maybe that's true, I think it is, but if you didn't experience things like this then maybe you wouldn't understand it anyway - because 1968 was such a radical break from the past. If you don't understand what life was like before 1968 then is it possible to understand 1968?

On the one hand NLF flags in the Courtroom and on the hill. On the other hand the pro war voices trying to depict hippies as commies or stooges, which just didn't gel.

I've seen previous versions of the Chicago trial. The previous versions had a different focus - mainly on the gagging and chaining of Bobby Seale by Judge Hoffman.

This one was different and possibly overall more accurate. It presented the Yippies as the main players of protest and Bobby Seale as almost an afterthought. There was new footage in there for me. Ginsberg's bad poetry, Norman Mailer shots and much more.

Two forms of protest or "rage against the machine". The Yippies with fun and drugs, the Panthers far more serious and fight fire with fire. Back then I read their literature avidly trying to work out where I stood. Cleaver: Soul on Ice; Jerry Rubin: Do It! In the end I agreed with Timothy O'Leary (the LSD professor) when years later he was asked why he left the hippies, replied: "I never really like the hippies anyway" LOL

The judge makes all these terrible errors - like chaining up and gagging Seale who was demanding his constitutional right to defend himself. Everything operates on a more subtle level today

I think the struggle goes on but the forms of struggle vary immensely over the decades. The Yippies and the Panthers were very romantic and exciting and I can't escape those feeling when I watch that old footage.

my fake farewell speech

Due to various push and pull factors (one of them being the need to study political economy thoroughly) I am planning to take a whole year's leave in 2010. This got me thinking as to what I would say to my teaching colleagues at the inevitable staff meeting if I was retiring. I've watched all those other teachers retire and now it's (almost) my turn. Since I'm not I won't get to give the speech but here's a draft of some thoughts about it (short version). btw I'm a secondary teacher.

The life of the soldier has been described as long periods of boredom interspersed with short periods of terror.

aside: maybe the life of some students is more like that of the soldier than the teacher but these days more accurately described as long periods of boredom (as in "this is boring") punctuated by long periods of playing with their mobile phones. If I was to resort to uncharacteristic sarcasm then I might describe them as the you-twit-face generation (thanks rob!), the achievement of dynamic overlap of you tube, twitter and facebook.

At any rate, for the last cottage industry, teaching is the most contradictory of professions

There is:
  • magic - the magic of a great lesson
  • the almost magic of the almost great lesson - where after describing the wonders of the Hubble telescope penetrating the mysteries of the Universe, a student comes out the front, you think you have inspired him to ask a deep question, but instead s/he says "Can I go to the toilet?"
  • discovery - the continual discovery of new learning ideas and new student personalities, in the final analysis teaching is a great privilege
  • the need for courage - unexpected confrontation, sometimes serious, can and do strike from a clear blue sky. I didn't realise that Nietzsche was a teacher in a Disadvantaged school until I saw this quote: "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger"
  • frustration and aggravation - aka the Department and their representatives
  • attrition - in the end it wears you down
On the magic days it's the best job in the world. On the need for courage days you wonder why the hell am I doing this

Best story. At the end of an excursion one teacher explained to me that when she went to primary school in her class there was a cupboard labelled "teachers cupboard". She thought that at the end of the school day after the kids had gone home that the teacher got into her cupboard and waited there until the next day!

Best compliment. One student once nicknamed me the detective. I asked why and he said, "You never give up on a case"

(in house anecdotes left out)

Marx is thorough

It has been sitting on my bookshelf for 30+ years. Because of the economic crisis (not yet over), I finally got around to reading Part One of Capital by Karl Marx. It took me many hours. It demands the slow, deep thinking mode.

The thoroughness of Marx is very impressive. I think I now understand what an everyday commonplace commodity is and so I see the world in a different way. That's one thing that good thinkers do; they make you see the commonplace in a completely different way.

I hope it doesn't take others 30+ years to get around to it.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Dan Willingham's book

I was impressed earlier by some you tube videos and articles by Dan Willingham (some summaries here) so when I discovered that he had written a book I bought it

Why Don't Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions about how the Mind Works and What it means for the Classroom (2009)

From the Introduction:
Repetition is good for learning but terrible for motivation
This quote and book is a timely reminder for me that teaching is a complex balancing act, there is no one true way. Also, the claim that we have learnt "more about how the mind works in the last twenty-five years than we did in the previous twenty-five hundred" is credible. And Willingham makes a brave attempt of translating these discoveries into worthwhile "Implications for the Classroom" in every chapter.

So far I've read two chapters and skimmed the others. Below is a thumbnail of what each chapter discusses.

Chapter 1: Although we are naturally curious our minds aren't naturally good at thinking and often avoid thinking

Chapter 2: Background factual knowledge is essential for skill development (Content precedes process)

Chapter 3: Memory is the residue of thought. If we want students to remember things then work out a way for them to think about those things.

Chapter 4: Abstraction is hard. We understand new things in the context of things we already know and most of what we know is concrete knowledge.

Chapter 5: Expertise. Extended practice is essential to become proficient at a mental task.

Chapter 6: There are no short cuts to teaching expertise. Cognition early in training is very different from cognition later in training.

Chapter 7: Learning Styles. Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn.

Chapter 8: Slow learners. Children do differ in intelligence but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.

Chapter 9: Teachers. Teaching like any complex cognitive skill must be practiced to be improved.

The book title, Why Don't Students Like School?, is a little sensationalist. This book does contribute significantly to the answer of that question but the main point is better expressed in the long subtitle.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

radical hope: education and equality in australia

Radical Hope: Education and Equality in Australia
It's in the latest Quarterly Essay ($17). It's over 100pp, they have just one big essay per issue.

It's a must read IMO. I'll try to explain why.

The genres are: education - learning theory - politics - social class - philosophy(dialectics) - disadvantage - indigenous australians - history

Although Pearson is an aboriginal activist and theoretician this is more an essay about social class than an essay about culture and race issues. Pearson does discuss the latter at some length and his essay is much enriched through that discussion, but the crunch issues focus around social class.

From a young age I've had the belief that schools and school systems are well constructed shipwrecks designed to select the best swimmers. That education is a subset of social class and that education alone can not overthrow social class.

The purpose of education is production and reproduction. Production is churning out the next generation of capitalists and workers, from elite to low skilled jobs. Reproduction is the reproduction and legitimisation of our existing class structure.

This truth is reflected in public Schools by techniques for managing but not educating the bottom 25% of students. It is also reflected in Society by our division between elite fee paying Private Schools and Public Schools and in many other ways. Teachers in Australia have a relatively low social status, poor working conditions / pay compared to other professionals and hence more often than not teaching does not attract high performing graduates.

But, although social class is the bottom line here, none of the above is set in stone because capitalism is a dynamic system that continually generates new ideas, knowledge and new forms of activism to tackle inequality.

One aspect of Pearson's essay is that it does provide a good summary and discussion of methods used in the USA (Charters, Teach for America, KIPP, The New Teacher Project, Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein etc.) which has had more diverse approaches to educational reform than Australia

In this context Noel Pearson is a deep analytical thinker and pragmatic activist who is doing his best to raise up aboriginal Australians who have been treated so badly. He understands all the above but still tackles with insight and determination the most intractable of problems.

What policies and methods might be successful in achieving good educational outcomes for the mass of indigenous Australians?

He advocates a "No Excuses" approach combined with the methods developed by Siegfried Engelmann (Direct Instruction) and Kevin Whedall (MULTILIT). He has also been influential in the formation of Teach for Australia.

Pearson's superficial critics label him as a Rightist. Pearson analyses this phenomenon as well. Why is it that the middle class humanistic Left comes up with solutions to our worst social problems that make things even worse?

Education is not Pearson's primary field of expertise. There are other alternative educational approaches he does not mention and perhaps has not analysed. For instance, there is no mention of Piaget, Papert, Bruner, Alan Kay or Liping Ma.

One crucial point here is the need to scale basic educational reform, meaning basic numeracy and literacy. The methods advocated by the authors in the previous paragraph require highly skilled educators.

Pearson is not prepared to wait around for one or several generations waiting until we train up skilled teachers to go to remote rural locations. He agrees that teacher quality is the central issue for education reform (p.39) but he is looking beyond that truth to what can be done now to improve education for those who have missed out.

This is an essay which I would like to discuss more with those who have read it and thought about it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

the crazy logic of declining curriculum standards

I've been working with and working around bad curriculum standards for so long now that the idea that standards might be worth fighting for has become counter intuitive.

However, in a thoroughly researched blog about English Arts standards in the US of A, Tom Hoffman reminds me that some countries can discover new creatively disgraceful ways to race to the bottom even faster.

They are about to turn their English Arts standards over to testing companies and of course dumbed down standards are easier to test than more demanding standards

There is a crazy logic in this development which I have seen being played out in Australia over the past 15-20 years

1. Give teachers some autonomy. Social disadvantage does not reduce. Progressivist educators gnash teeth and wail.
2. Reluctantly, we conclude that teachers can't be trusted to fix it so we have to find a way to measure their work and hold them accountable
3. Progressively introduce more and more measuring (standardized test such as NAPLAN) and accountability techniques (comparisons between so called like schools)

Does this whole process logically lead to handing over the Curriculum standards to testing companies? Tom demonstrates that things can become much worse.

Given that our education minister, Julia Gillard is infatuated with the methods of Joel Klein (Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education), then this development makes me even more nervous.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

xo australian deployments

Blue means full deployment and red means partial. Visit Google Maps here for more information, including the names of the schools

Congratulations to Rangan Srikhanta and the OLPC Australia team for their quiet, hard work in achieving all of this.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SBS Insight: Should schools test results be made public?

I'll flag this for anyone who wants to watch and read in preparation for more detailed future analysis and discussion.

SBS Insight, 18th August 2009: Best and Worst Schools - Should schools test results be made public?
Watch Online
Live Chat

This features Julia Gillard (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education), Barry McGaw (Chair of the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority), Brian Caldwell, Joel Klein (Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education) and others in a discussion about the Australian Labour Party Government policy to publish school performance on line at the end of this year

Some of the to and fro in this discussion is very interesting and provides a good starting point for a deeper analysis

Although part of the Gillard critique of schools is legitimate her analysis consists mainly of motherhood statements ("we will be there with resources ...", etc.) and the solution of publishing test results, which will lead to media outlets constructing league tables of schools, will not improve things.

Some issues raised need to be discussed in more depth:
  • the problematic notion of comparing Like Schools (first it is not possible for many schools; second the whole notion of Like Schools is accepting inequality to start with - some schools are so Unlike that comparisons are pointless)
  • the claim that smaller class sizes do not make a difference
  • the Finland comparison articulated by Brian Caldwell
  • Teach for Australia
  • a fascinating exchange between Mary-Ellen Betts and Joel Klein about the New York experience
  • how the media has already and will sensationalize complex issues - the editor of the Hobart Mercury was exposed here as a namer and shamer and was seen as ridiculous in his denial of this
At the end, the moderator, Jenny Brockie, did challenge critics of the Gillard policies to voice their alternatives. I think the alternative arises out of a correct analysis and I can provide a thumbnail here.

The problem is social class, that disadvantage does not arise alone from school and so cannot be fixed alone by school or teachers. In reformist terms, to make a real impact would require a co-ordinated effort involving:
  • massive early intervention in cases where parents are not willing or capable of helping with their children's education
  • raising the status and qualifications of teachers - Caldwell makes valid points wrt Finland requiring teachers to have a Masters Degree
  • 1:1 assistance in the early years when children fall behind
  • government intervention in welfare policy in cases where parents provide destructive learning environment for children, following the lead from Noel Pearson wrt indigenous policy
Rather than providing real answers the Gillard solution is attempting to leverage all or most of the responsibility of the problem onto teachers. Her talk of "being there" and providing extra resources is mainly rhetoric. It is true that schools have problems with under performing teachers ("deadwood") but that is mainly a representation of a far broader problem - the status and respect of education in Australian society. That broader problem is a government responsibility not just a responsibility to be passed onto teachers and schools.

There are votes in this - attempting to do it on the cheap and blaming teachers for the failure of government. Politicians have to be seen as doing something and for Julia and Labour that something is the "education revolution", an empty phrase which she uses far too much.

In this regard the most opportunist and disgusting rhetoric was that provided by Barry McGaw right at the start of Part 3 of the online video where he criticises the counsel of despair of those who claim that socio-economic disadvantage cannot be overcome and promotes himself as someone who is doing something effective about it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

the internet of things

Cerf: The Internet of things is on its way. The clear evidence of that, of course, is mobile to begin with, appliances that are now Internet-enabled, picture frames, refrigerators and things like that, office appliances, appliances at home. The smart grid is going to accelerate that process because more and more appliances will be part of the smart grid and its ensemble. They will be reporting their use. They will be accepting control saying, "Hey, don't run the air conditioner for the next 15 minutes, I'm in the middle of a peak load." We'll see many, many more devices on the Net than there are people [and] more sensor networks on the system, as well
- 'Father of Internet' Reviews His Work

Saturday, September 19, 2009

shape 31

I asked some of my more able students to create the above shape in Turtle Art (from the Barry Newell shape sheet) using variables, so that by varying the input value they could create the same shape in different sizes, as shown below:

Well, this did set the cat amongst the pigeons even amongst my better students who had been happily in the groove making complex shapes from the BN sheet. One problem was that in their procedure they were using subtraction to alter side length and of course this will not work for variable size shapes.

Another issue is that despite doing algebra out of a textbook they didn't really grasp the box model of a variable, that you need for programming. Imagine a box which has a name, which doesn't vary, but you can put numbers (or other things) in the box which do vary.

So, I realised this was a nice challenge in real maths and understanding of the application of variables, measurement, ratio, proportion and fractions. I see this as an excellent example of constructionist maths in contrast to textbook maths.

Clue: When I measure the lengths of the "curly rectangle" (not sure what the correct name is) on a larger diagram in BN's book they are 46mm, 32mm and 39mm

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pearsons Writers Festival transcript (partial)

Here’s an extract I’ve transcribed from Noel Pearson’s speech to the Brisbane Writers Festival. He challenges us to recognize our self interest as real and outlines how the left has deteriorated from a radical movement in the 19th Century to a pseudo progressive movement that covertly opposes the interests of oppressed people. While Pearson spoke the Green Left organized a demonstration against him outside.

It’s best to listen to the audio (and the whole thing) since his delivery is very powerful. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/foraradio/stories/2009/2686843.htm

14:00 minutes
I’m very taken with the discussion about self interest and its relationship with altruism …. you know Adam Smith’s discussion about self regard and other regard and the relationship between the two … and our capacity as human beings to have regard for other things than ourselves and our own interests

I want to make two observations about this

The problem with a lot of contemporary thinking about the whole question of self interest and altruism is that too many left liberals think that we can somehow abandon our self interest, that we can be completely altruistic

We forget David Hume’s point that self interest is present at all times. We never for a minute abandon our own self interest. It figures in all of our calculations, it is the starting point when we get up in the morning. and yet we carry on with a conceit that somehow we are singular in our capacity to transcend our self interest in favour of the interests of other members of society, in favour of the environment, in favour of a whole lot of important causes

As the old leftist would say, we engage in false consciousness, we’re kidding ourselves when we think we are singular in our ability to cut a link with our self interest. Yes we are human and we have that extraordinary human capacity to transcend our interests. But we are never cut off from it

And my great truculence in relation to the whole environmental debate and peoples’ concerns about the state of the planet, the destruction of bio diversity, climate change and so on, is that too much of this discussion takes place as if we are uniquely capable of putting aside our self interest. We are not. We engage in conceit when we think we can. The minute our interests start getting effected is the minute that we will buck up. And in my view the great function of the western environmental movement (it will not have the function of effectively confronting and solving the problems of environmentally catastrophe facing the world. I don’t believe it) … All that the western environmental movement will do will be to try to shift the cost to those who can least bear it. (repeated again) The minute that the changes that are sought will affect your interests, those in this room, is the minute you will turn against those changes

And this kind of schizophrenia about us not wanting our material well being to suffer whilst at the same time wanting a whole lot of fundamental changes made to the way we deal with the environment is an absolute reflection of the fact that when it comes down to it, whatever we might profess is at odds with what our actual interests are

The other point I wanted to discuss is that in consideration of the predicament of indigenous Australians our analysis has not just got to take into account the horizontal division between indigenous and non indigenous Australians – the race division. We can’t understand what is going on here unless we also understand the vertical stratification within the indigenous community and so on. This is not just a question of race. It is also a question of class. And this is one of the issues I address in my Quarterly essay. I am not just an aboriginal Australian. I am in truth a middle class aboriginal. And there are many indigenous people who share that class position with me. And a real challenge for us is the challenge in relation to whether many of the things we believe in represent our interests in our class status. Or are we unique in our ability to abandon our interests in being members of a class? It seems to me that that is another conceit that we engage in. There is a middle class black Australia. In my Quarterly essay I seek to discuss what comes down to a real challenge to the black middle class and the white middle class left.

In my view the middle class left is by definition an oxymoron. There is no true middle class left. It is in the definition of the tradition an impossible category. In my Quarterly essay I seek to articulate my argument in relation to this.

My own view about political economy is that the Left / Right divide has swung over time. Its polarized around this way. They are not true Left and Right positions. Because the original critique of liberal political economy that was advanced in the 19th Century was a radical critique. This is not the critique that the Left advances today. So the winds of political economy have swung over the past century and a half such that, yes, there is a cultural and political animus between left and right today. But it is not an animus on the original plane. The left’s critique is not a radical critique as it was when it was first invented. The threatening radical critique that was developed in the 19th Century in response to liberal capitalism is not the lefts position today.

And so we get to the really curious situation where we find ourselves in relation to the predicament in relation to aboriginal Australians. I’ve been an absolutely unrelenting advocate for the land rights of my people of Cape York. We have been relentless in insisting on the land rights and land entitlement of our people. And we’ve recovered a lot of lands under state legislation and under the Mabo decision and the Wik decision. Over the course of the last 20 years we’ve made great gains in restoring the land rights of our people. Mabo was extremely important in that as was the Wik decision.

Now the agenda for our development is an agenda that promotes both land rights and reform. – development reform and welfare reform. Our people taking responsibility for our lives, rebuilding families, rebuilding the strength in our people. And never succumbing to victimhood .

And we’ve been at odds with so much of the progressive thinking around what was right for aboriginal people. In my Quarterly essay I discuss a rule of thumb I’ve always had. The rule of thumb that I’ve had over the past 10 years is one that says whatever the progressive nostrum is to a particular issue we have got to look at approximately the opposite of that for the solution. And it’s always born out. In searching for the right way forward our rule of thumb is nearly always born out. If we do almost the opposite of what is prescribed it turns out to be the right thing to do.

And that’s a strange state of affairs. It is strange that on too many issues the progressive position is regressive. The progressive position would see us further unravel and make no progress.

We actually need more law and order in order to have freedom. But the progressive position is 180 degrees away from that. In my writing over the years I’ve sought to articulate this position about how it is that the sails of progressive thinking are set almost entirely in a way that I would be able to argue is contrary to our interests

I could give many examples of this. One of which is our position with regard to welfare. My position is that we’re not entitled to welfare. We’re entitled to a fair place in the economy like you people. How is it that you’ve convinced me that I’ve a right to 12,500 dollars per annum. How is it that I have been convinced that I’ve a right to 12,500 dollars per annum. I’ve a greater right than that. I have a right to a share in the country like the rest of you. I have a greater right than welfare. But if you condition a people to think, "Geez, we have a right to welfare, we’re going to defend it to the death", then you’re defending your right to remain at the bottom of the pyramid. With complete obedience you accept your position down there. But we in Cape York say no. we’ve got a better right than welfare. We’ve got a right to take a real place in the economy. Just like everybody else.

So on numerous policy settings we set the sails in a completely different position from the progressive prescription ... how is that our culture can produce currents to get an oppressed people to accept their oppression, to get an oppressed people to accept their right to welfare.
28:00 minutes

Noel Pearson's speech to Writers Festival


links to a fabulous recent talk by Noel Pearson (41 minutes) to the Brisbane Writers festival replete with biting sarcastic humour whilst the green left demonstrate against him outside

conservatism, socialism, liberalism - we came to the view that these three great traditions are each necessary in defining a good society

13 minutes elaboration, including … there is no miraculous social justice forklift - only individuals climb the stairs

then discusses the relationship b/w self interest and altruism - lets drop the conceit that self interest is not involved in our motivations

the middle class left is an oxymoron

then he lets rip into wilderness society protesters who have a far greater carbon footprint than the average indigenous family from Cape York

He refers to a recent essay he has written (Quarterly essay) which discusses the real relationship b/w left and right - at the end the title is identified: “Radical Hope”, soon to be published by Black Ink

fabulous speech, take the time to listen - it deserves a better review than these hasty notes

Saturday, September 12, 2009

skeptical about economic recovery

I'm skeptical about the green shoots talk of economic recovery

I'm very far from being expert about economics. I do hope to get back to studying it more soon.

How do you judge these things when you are not expert?

Well, if those experts who did predict this "great recession" thought that there was a real recovery happening then I would be more inclined to think it true

Who are those experts who have some real credibility?

Steve Keen (of Western Sydney Uni) is one. I'm subscribing to his blog: Steve Keen's Debtwatch: Analysing the Global Debt Bubble

One of Keen's blogs links to this pdf ("No one saw it coming") which includes a list of 12 experts who predicted the recession:
Dean Baker, US co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
“ …plunging housing investment will likely push the economy into recession.” (2006)

Wynne Godley, US Distinguished Scholar, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College
“The small slowdown in the rate at which US household debt levels are rising resulting form the house price decline, will immediately lead to a …sustained growth recession … before 2010”. (2006). “Unemployment [will] start to rise significantly and does not come down again.” (2007)

Fred Harrison, UK Economic commentator
“The next property market tipping point is due at end of 2007 or early 2008 …The only way prices can be brought back to affordable levels is a slump or recession” (2005).

Michael Hudson, US professor, University of Missouri
“Debt deflation will shrink the “real” economy, drive down real wages, and push our debt-ridden economy into Japan-style stagnation or worse.” (2006)

Eric Janszen, US investor and iTulip commentator
“The US will enter a recession within years” (2006). “US stock markets are likely to begin in 2008 to experience a “Debt Deflation Bear Market” (2007)

Stephen Keen, Australia associate professor, University of Western Sydney
“Long before we manage to reverse the current rise in debt, the economy will be in a recession. On current data, we may already be in one.” (2006)

Jakob Brøchner Madsen & Jens Kjaer Sørensen, Denmark
professor & graduate student, Copenhagen University
“We are seeing large bubbles and if they bust, there is no backup. The outlook is very bad” (2005)” The bursting of this housing bubble will have a severe impact on the world economy and may even result in a recession” (2006).

Kurt Richebächer, US private consultant and investment newsletter writer
“The new housing bubble – together with the bond and stock bubbles – will invariably implode in the foreseeable future, plunging the U.S. economy into a protracted, deep recession” (2001). “A recession and bear market in asset prices are inevitable for the U.S. economy… All remaining questions pertain solely to speed, depth and duration of the economy’s downturn.” (2006)

Nouriel Roubini, US professor, New York University
“Real home prices are likely to fall at least 30% over the next 3 years“(2005). “By itself this house price slump is enough to trigger a US recession.” (2006)

Peter Schiff , US stock broker, investment adviser and commentator
“[t]he United States economy is like the Titanic …I see a real financial crisis coming for the United States.” (2006). “There will be an economic collapse” (2007).

Robert Shiller , US professor, Yale University
“There is significant risk of a very bad period, with rising default and foreclosures, serious trouble in financial markets, and a possible recession sooner than most of us expected.” (2006)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Sutton reviews Pearson

Here I Stand
An excellent review by Peter Sutton of Noel Pearson's book "Up from the Mission". Actually it is more a review of Pearson, the person, his gifts and incredible contribution to Australia.

Monday, August 31, 2009

40 maths shapes challenges

Forty shapes to make in Scratch or some other version of logo, such as Turtle Art. It's hard to see the thumbnail but click on it for a larger view.

This is one of the best sheets ever for teaching maths (designed by Barry Newell):
  • the logo turtle or scratch cat acts as a transitional object between the concrete maths shape and the abstraction of the script that makes the shape
  • the sheet includes both simple and complex shapes, increasing in order of complexity, there is a challenge there for everyone
  • many of the more complex shapes are made up of combinations of the simpler shapes

Source: Barry Newell's Turtle Confusion (1988)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

scratch challenges update

I'm using this challenge sheet with Year 10s at the moment and have updated it, improving the order of challenges and adding some extensions. The first one is very popular with students. Scratch is a free download.

btw there is a new scratch page for educators, scratched, but I haven't checked it out fully yet.


1) Use the Letter shapes to write your first name on the page. Then introduce some special effects such as making the letters wobble and change their appearance.

2) Point, click and move
Make an object both point and glide towards the mouse position when you click on the stage
Hint: Motion > point towards
Hint: Sensing > mouse down?

3) Make Dan or Anjuli or Cassy or ballerina dance to a beat, using all of their dance shapes

4a) Make two animals have a forwards and backwards conversation
Hint: Use broadcast
4b) Make it an interesting conversation with each animal speaking at least 3 times and making gestures too

5) Make 2 different balls move around on the stage
a) the first ball moves in straight lines but bounces randomly whenever it hits the edge
b) the second moves randomly, changing direction all the time

6a) One sprite chases another sprite around the stage. The first sprite moves in straight line but bounces off the edge randomly. The chasing sprite chases the first sprite but is moving slower.
b) Extension – if the chasing sprite catches the other sprite then it says something sensible and makes a suitable sound

7a) Play all the different drum sounds automatically
Hint: create a variable for the drum number
b) Extension – keep recycling through all the drum sounds automatically

8) Make a sprite gradually grow in size and then shrink
Hint: make a size variable

9a) Count down on a timer. A rocket takes off when you reach zero
Hint: Use the number icons in the letters folder
9b) Your rocket has pulsating exhaust and disappears at the top of the screen

10) Add, multiply or subtract two variable numbers
Hint: Just to do addition only you will need 4 variables: firstNum, secondNum, answer (computer calculated) and myAnswer (human calculated)

11) Variable coloured squares
a) Write a script that can draw a square of any size
Hint: Make a variable for the side length
b) Use the variable square script to draw a series of square with variable sides, with a single click
c) Now add variable pen colour and pen shade to the variable square script and use it to draw a variety of different coloured squares, with a single click

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

windows 7 sins

Correction (28th August):
I have to withdraw my support from this FSF campaign owing to their attack on the xo in the education link of their site (click on the Learn More link at their site). They conclude:
... it is expected that the main effect of the OLPC project -- if it succeeds -- will be to turn millions of children into Microsoft dependents. That is a negative effect, to the point where the world would be better off if the OLPC project had never existed.
I think this is far too over zealous and purist. Also note that at this time not a single xo has shipped with Windows.

Update (2nd September): The section I was complaining about above has been removed and replaced with:
Microsoft is now targeting governments who are purchasing XOs, in an attempt to get them to replace the free software with Windows. It remains to be seen to what degree Microsoft will succeed. But with all of this pressure, Microsoft has harmed a project that has distributed more than 1 million laptops running free software, and has taken aim at the low-cost platform as a way to make poor children around the world dependent on its products. The OLPC threatens to become another example of the way Microsoft convinces governments around the world that an education involving computers must be synonymous with an education using Windows. In order to prevent this, it is vital that we work to raise global awareness of the harm Microsoft's involvement does to our children's education.
I did write a letter to Peter Brown of the FSF on the 29th August complaining about that section but so far have not received a reply.

Just for the record my original post is below (not altered apart from this correction):

As far as I can see the following indictment of Microsoft from the Free Software Foundation is entirely correct:
1. Poisoning education: Today, most children whose education involves computers are being taught to use one company's product: Microsoft's. Microsoft spends large sums on lobbyists and marketing to corrupt educational departments. An education using the power of computers should be a means to freedom and empowerment, not an avenue for one corporation to instill its monopoly.

2. Invading privacy: Microsoft uses software with backward names like Windows Genuine Advantage to inspect the contents of users' hard drives. The licensing agreement users are required to accept before using Windows warns that Microsoft claims the right to do this without warning.

3. Monopoly behavior: Nearly every computer purchased has Windows pre-installed -- but not by choice. Microsoft dictates requirements to hardware vendors, who will not offer PCs without Windows installed on them, despite many people asking for them. Even computers available with other operating systems like GNU/Linux pre-installed often had Windows on them first.

4. Lock-in: Microsoft regularly attempts to force updates on its users, by removing support for older versions of Windows and Office, and by inflating hardware requirements. For many people, this means having to throw away working computers just because they don't meet the unnecessary requirements for the new Windows versions.

5. Abusing standards: Microsoft has attempted to block free standardization of document formats, because standards like OpenDocument Format would threaten the control they have now over users via proprietary Word formats. They have engaged in underhanded behavior, including bribing officials, in an attempt to stop such efforts.

6. Enforcing Digital Restrictions Management (DRM): With Windows Media Player, Microsoft works in collusion with the big media companies to build restrictions on copying and playing media into their operating system. For example, at the request of NBC, Microsoft was able to prevent Windows users from recording television shows that they have the legal right to record.

7. Threatening user security: Windows has a long history of security vulnerabilities, enabling the spread of viruses and allowing remote users to take over people's computers for use in spam-sending botnets. Because the software is secret, all users are dependent on Microsoft to fix these problems -- but Microsoft has its own security interests at heart, not those of its users.


Monday, August 24, 2009

the vision is more important than the mouse

During the dot.com boom at the dawn of the 21st century, bits and pieces of his framework emerged in interesting and unintended ways. Blogs, wikis, hypermedia, and networked communities of practice using dynamic knowledge repositories, such as the Center for Disease Control website, the Human Genome project, and Wikipedia proliferated. But the haphazard, market-driven diffusion of technology lacks Engelbart's foundational philosophical framework for augmenting human intellect for solving complex problems. These writings by Engelbart and his colleagues place his well-known technology achievements in the context of his grand vision for a paradigm shift in our thinking. We believe that Engelbart s philosophy is at least as significant as his inventions
The Engelbart Hypothesis: dialogs with Douglas Engelbart by Valerie Landau (Author) and Eileen Clegg (Author, Illustrator)

Much of this book also seems to be available online at the engelbartbookdialogues blog

Very smart people like Doug Engelbart ("a man who has always had ideas before words caught up to him") need popularisers

Related: kay-and-van-dam-discuss-engelbarts-ideas

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Aurukun realities

The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the End of the Liberal Consensus by Peter Sutton

In the video of the book launch (at Readings in Melbourne in July 2009) Marcia Langton and Peter Sutton embark on the difficult task of exposing the disastrous situation in Aurukun by spelling out difficult to face realities and contrasting that with the romantic stereotype.

Below is a 4 minute extract from the longer video here. The format is an interview /discussion between Marcia Langton and Peter Sutton. Definitely worth watching the longer version.

Background information about Peter Sutton's extensive research into the Wik people here

Book review: Untruth by Omission

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

sugar evaluation blogs

I'm evaluating Sugar on a Stick (SoaS) with my year 10 control tech class in semester two.

I've created a separate blog for this:

Go there if you want more detail. Student blogs are linked through the sidebar. It would be nice for students to get comments, if you feel like encouraging them. Most of them haven't written blogs before so they receive a pleasant surprise if something drops in and leaves an encouraging or thoughtful comment.

My blog might also be a useful guide in some respects for other teachers wanting to test out sugar on a stick.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


MIT grad student David Merrill demos Siftables -- cookie-sized, computerized tiles you can stack and shuffle in your hands. These future-toys can do math, play music, and talk to their friends, too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jeff Elkner's python resources for school

Using Python in a High School Computer Science Program - Year 2 (2002 Python conference paper)
Part I: Reflections From the Classroom by Jeffrey Elkner

This paper is refreshingly frank and honest about the real difficulties (and also the real potential) involved in introducing python programming to a school environment

It's really very important that the kids have a smooth start in a consistent environment (and in practice this seems almost impossible to achieve)

You need good resources, such as a good textbook.

The students need to see that the skills they are developing are relevant to some close at hand real world situation

Even with a smooth start some of them are going to find it hard and so we need to be on the alert for new ways to retain them (such as the LiveWires materials)

It's hard to get girls involved

Great to see that Jeffrey Elkner understands and is systematically addressing these issues. As well as the above article see his Open Book Project, his GASP python course and his adaptation of the How to Think Like a Computer Scientist to python.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

iran: the protests continue

The internal power struggle between clerics is not going away and this leads to more opportunities for the democratic forces to continue to protest on the streets

July 17: Fresh protests after a Friday prayer sermon delivered by the cleric and opposition supporter Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

Slogans: (video)
Death to the government
"Neda" is not dead, it's the government that's dead
"Sohrab" is not dead, it's the government that's dead
As hard-liners repeated their signature cries of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel," riled-up Mousavi supporters overpowered them with chants of "Death to Russia" and "Death to China," the Islamic Republic's powerful United Nations Security Council protectors.

But Mousavi's backers came not so much to show support for Rafsanjani, who is widely viewed as a cynical power broker serving his own interests, but to voice opposition to Ahmadinejad and continue to register discontent over the election results they view as rigged.

Rafsanjani's long-awaited sermon neither cooled protesters' anger or appeared to alter the dynamics within the ruling establishment and Iranian society. But it gave explicit clerical backing for some of the key demands of the burgeoning political movement built on Mousavi's presidential campaign and the protests that followed.

Rafsanjani, a key force behind Mousavi, urged tolerance, dialogue and obedience to the law, but criticized the election results and the treatment of dissidents.

"All of us -- the establishment, the security forces, police, parliament and even protesters -- should move within the framework of law," Rafsanjani said. "We should open the doors to debates. We should not keep so many people in prison. We should free them to take care of their families."

He criticized the powerful Guardian Council for its review of the election results, and said all Iranians needed to "restore public confidence, because it was badly damaged."

He said healing will take time and that utilizing the blunt instruments of state to quiet dissent would only make matters worse.

"It is impossible to restore public confidence overnight, but we have to let everyone speak out," he said. "We should have logical and brotherly discussions and our people will make their judgments."

He demanded freedom of the press. Media-monitoring groups say dozens of Iranian journalists have been jailed in last weeks of unrest.

"We should let our media write within the framework of the law and we should not impose restrictions on them," he said. "We should let our media even criticize us. Our security forces, our police and other organs have to guarantee such a climate for criticism."

He also urged respect and sympathy for the families of those killed in the violence. "We should try to console them," he said.
- Tehran's streets erupt after a key cleric speaks

Friday, July 17, 2009

a big wheel falls off Conroy's censorship wagon

Michael Flood, one of the main pro internet censorship theoreticians relied on by Senator Conroy, our worst ever Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has changed his mind

Flood along with Clive Hamilton wrote a discussion paper in 2003, Youth and Pornography in Australia: Evidence on the extent of exposure and likely effects, which has been used as justification for Conroy's ISP based mandatory censorship plans
Now, Flood says, he has seen enough evidence to feel differently. "I am now far less convinced than I used to be of the value of ISP-based filtering as a strategy," he said at the forum. "I am much more convinced of its technological problems and I am much more convinced of its political dangers ... Clive Hamilton on the other hand — my then co-author — is still a firm advocate, I believe, but he and I have gone in separate directions."
The whole article,'Net Nanny' Advocate Does Back Flip, is worth a read. It is not as though Flood has changed his mind completely about the dangers of porn to youth. Some of his thoughts there are quite interesting. It seems more that he has realised that the technological and political problems associated with censorship by government are a greater danger to our social well being.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Clayton Christensen's disrupting school thesis

I haven't read Clayton Christensen's books but I have listened to some of his talks and read some reviews of his books. I see his theory as helpful for understanding the reasons how some businesses boom then bust but less helpful when he transfers it to education.

My understanding of his disrupting schools (Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns) thesis is taken from these reviews:

June Ahn
(1) Children learn in different ways (2) Disruptive innovations gain a foothold and revolutionize a market because they target a niche audience who normally could not consume a good (3) Online learning is a disruptive technology (4) Computers in schools are not disruptive technology (5) Computers “can” be a disruptive innovation, when used to create new learning situations
- Disruptive Innovation in Education
Steve Hargadon:
From my reading, the disruptive innovation is not online education, but the increasing expectation that our children/students will have a customized educational experience. This makes a lot of sense to me, since having watched the ed tech world for some years now, it's hard to imagine a "technology" (even one as compelling as online education) motivating educators or parents to dramatic change. There are just too many practical daily concerns to make it believable that the unfulfilled promise of computing would "disrupt" our current system. On the other hand, a shift from the industrial model of schooling to one that is more responsive to our individual children does seem like an unstoppable force, since increasing parents' expectations for the education of their own children carries huge motivation and power (the authors' claim that in many school districts already over a third of their spending is on special education students [p. 34].)
- A First Look at "Disrupting Class" by Clayton Christensen
I also note that Christensen has been criticised for overstating the case about the extent to which school is a factory model. Andy Zucker writes:
Readers may learn something about the process of innovation from Disrupting Class, but they will not learn how creative school systems for years have been applying technology in precisely the ways that Disrupting Class recommends, namely to individualize learning, to make it more effective for greater numbers of students, and to offer alternatives to students who are not being served well by existing schools
- Lost in Cyberspace: A Review of Disrupting Class
I then watched this video:

where Christensen promotes his book and noticed a couple of straw men in there, one of them identified by Andy Zucker above. He does stress too much that school is like an assembly line. He takes a partial truth and turns it into an absolute. Christensen also subscribes uncritically to the multiple intelligences model. This, of course, suits his theory of the urgent need for more individualised instruction. However, the fly in the ointment here is that multiple intelligences is pretty much discredited as a theory of cognitive development. See Dan Willingham's Learning Styles Don't Exist

I have the impression that Christensen lacks detailed knowledge of where schools are at and is not up to date with learning theories. The purpose of the business world where Christensen initially developed his theories is to make money. A disruptive innovation which ends up making money is a success in these terms. School is far more complex than this.I'm wondering whether Christensen appreciates the complexity and multifaceted nature of schools. At this stage I'm thinking that I won't buy his book because I suspect I will be disappointed in this regard. I'd be interested in hearing from people who have read the book about this.

Nevertheless, the big idea of Christensen's theory - that digital online learning can meet unmet individual learning needs to the point that this will disrupt school significantly - is plausible and well worth thinking and talking about. Education reform has a long, long history and often people ask why reform proceeds at a snails pace. In other posts I have been critical of sections of the web2.0 movement for shallowness. The Christensen thesis, despite flaws, opens a new door here because it is concrete enough and tangible enough to transcend much of the complexity of school as an institution. In a sense, it's good because it is written by an outsider who doesn't know all the complexity of real school. This fits into the general Christensen thesis that incumbents are too bogged down in their own processes to undergo significant transformation.

I also wanted to say something about theories of disruption but will leave that to another post. That is another bonus from Christensen, he puts the whole notion of disruption as a concept onto the agenda.

web2.0 movement - challenged

After VITTA 2007 (critique) I stopped going to computer conferences because the keynotes had become dominated by web2.0. Web2.0 of course is good but when you divorce it from history, philosophy, epistemology and add in some evangelicalism then it's not healthy.

It's good to see this shallowness being vigorously challenged by ceolaf in the comment thread of Wil Richardson's Digital Inclusion post

As part of the discussion ceolaf linked to The Partnership for 19th Century Skills by Diane Ravitch, which once again drives a front end loader through the gaping holes of the 21st Century skills rhetoric

I left a comment at Wil's site but couldn't put it where I wanted due to the nesting levels feature. At any rate, what I wanted to say was that the best broad brush attempt I have seen yet of identifying the fundamentals that ought to be taught in school was made by alan kay in his outline of the non universals. I have made a beginning attempt to put this in one place: non universals

I did go to the CEGSA (Computer Education Group of South Australia) conference this year (cegsa09) and once again was disappointed with the keynotes, with the notable exception of David Loader, who does have a real sense of history (in part because he has made it), the wisdom of our elders, learning theory and human psychology. I don't want to offend the hard working organisers of this conference. The workshops were good. I do think, however, that there is an ongoing issue with keynote speakers at computer education conferences owing to the narrowing influence of the web2.0 movement.

From April last year: web2.0 introspection

aboriginal people can look after their own land, take a hike wilderness society and queensland labour

Pearson to the Wilderness Society:
"And our point is that, well mate, the deal was 50/50 here. Now you want a 99 per cent takeover of Aboriginal land. And the problem with what you want is that, basically, you're condemning us to a perpetual life of welfare. And though the welfare cheque comes in recycled paper green, it's still a welfare cheque. And it's no good for our people"
Watch this video: Pearson discusses wild rivers laws

Noel Pearson in full flight is a magnificent and joyous something to behold. He has the personal history, detailed nitty gritty knowledge, incredible analytical powers and the rhetoric of a great orator all rolled into one. Good interview by Leigh Sales, too, who is not afraid to interrupt and ask a tough question.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

scratch interview

All this Scrathin' (podcast 42 minutes)

Chris Betcher (NSW educator) interviewed Peter Ruwoldt, Grant High IT co-ordinator (Mt Gambier) and myself about Scratch, yesterday afternoon . Peter does most of the talking including a description of his Scratch Day involvement this year. The purpose was to spread the word about Scratch and ways to promote it further.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

improving cardboard

mark guzdial:
Seymour Papert once argued that educational curricula should be evaluated like art — don’t try to identify the best, but instead argue about how well this example expresses something, or how accessible another one is, or how another one leaves people thinking and talking for years later. Compare curricula for how they reach and engage people, not for a measurable, numeric bottom line. Wouldn’t it be great to have so many compelling CS1 curricula that we could have a CS1 “art gallery” and compare them along the lines Seymour described?
- education-is-to-social-work-as-civil-engineering-is-to-chemical-engineering

Sunday, July 12, 2009

audacity tutorial

I couldn't find any good beginner exercises for audacity so I developed one myself. I have road tested it with a couple of classes now and the students enjoyed it. A few teachers have said they like it too and so sharing I'm it here for a wider audience.


The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog
The adjective_1 adjective_2 noun verb over the adjective_3 noun

Teacher supplies sound files (in his voice) as show below:
Adjective 1: Quick, Slow, Speedy, Lumbering, Fast, Accelerating, Energetic, Rapid, Swift, Twitchy
Adjective 2: Brown, Red, Purple, Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, Black
Noun: Fox, Dog, Snail, Rhinoceros, Giraffe, Elephant, Lion, Cat, Snake, Robot
Verb: Jumped, Lept, Fell, Collapsed, Dived, Bounced, Lurched, Vaulted, Parachuted, Lunged
Adjective 3: Lazy, Foolish, Flea-ridden, Sleepy, Short-sighted, Dead, Gigantic, Scrawny, Shaggy, Curly

Starting with generic sentence and cutting and pasting from the other files make three new sentences of the above structure

Example: The energetic orange rhinoceros parachuted over the dead cat

File > New to start a new file
File > Import > Audio to import a new audio track
Mute button for the tracks that you don’t want to hear
Select by clicking and dragging with mouse (for copying, cutting)
For playing one section select first and then play
Copy Ctrl + C; Paste Ctrl + V; Cut Ctrl + X; Undo Ctrl + Z; Duplicate Ctrl + D
Fit in Window: View > Fit in Window or Ctrl + F
Fit Vertically: View > Fit Vertically or Ctrl + Shift + F
Saving: The default is *.AUP which retains all tracks, use this initially
File > Export to save your work as a WAV file (or MP3 or OGG for small file size)

Outcome: Three different sentences: sentence1.wav, sentence2.wav, sentence3.wav


Start with one of the sentences you have made. Make duplicates (Ctrl + D), at least six.

Change Pitch – both up and down, so that the voice changes significantly
Change Speed – 30 to 45 and 30 to 78
Change Tempo – Increase and Decrease so that the voice changes significantly

Rename you duplicates as you go along, it helps to keep track with meaningful names

Save As … audacity project (*.aup) so as to retain all the pieces for later


Open a new file.

Select your best three effects and put them onto one track

From the music folder on the L drive (Winds, Synthesiser, Strings, FX etc.) add music before and after each sentence

Create new tracks and add background music which plays over the voices but has its loudness reduced so the voices can still be clearly heard.

When finished save as an MP3 or OGG (small file size) and give it to the teacher for marking

Effect > Fade In
Effect > Fade Out (use this for transition between music and voice)
Envelope Tool (for changing the volume)
Time Shift Tool (for moving selections of sound)


Record your best sentence in your own voice!

Then add Effects and Music to produce a final product similar to above but this time in your voice

python programming competition

The School of IT at the University of Sydney is running a python programming challenge for high school students over 5 weeks in term 3, 2009 - starting on Monday 10 August.

The NCSS (National Computer Science School) Challenge is designed to cater for both beginners and advanced students. Each week, a set of Python teaching resources for either in-class or self-directed learning will be distributed to participants via email and online. A set of challenge questions testing this material will also be distributed. Each week's challenge set will range from relatively easy to extremely challenging allowing beginners to progress at their own rate whilst extending gifted students. The challenges will increase in complexity as more and more programming concepts are covered over the 5 weeks.

Teachers can enter too. I have participated on the past two years and wrote a review two years ago. Note that the competition has changed since then; it didn't have the beginners and advanced sections back then.

Untruth by omission

This appeared in The Weekend Australian but the text is not available on the internet. I have taken it from the Mission and Justice blog, with minor edits.

Rosemary Neill; 11/7/09; Rosemary Neill is a senior writer on The Weekend Australian and author of White Out: How Politics is Killing Black Australia

Review - The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the End of the Liberal Consensus by Peter Sutton; Melbourne University Press (available here)

In 2000, anthropologist and linguist Peter Sutton travelled to the remote indigenous community of Aurukun for a double funeral. Sutton had already lost an extraordinary number of Aboriginal friends from this tiny Cape York community to suicide, murder and premature death. For him, that harrowing funeral was one too many. Shortly afterwards, this respected land rights expert delivered a lecture to the Australian Anthropological Society and gave one of the most damning assessments of contemporary indigenous policy on record. Sutton, who had been adopted (in the tribal sense) as a son by a prominent Aurukun man, urged Australians to reconsider “the contrast between progressivist public rhetoric about empowerment and self-determination and the raw evidence of a disastrous failure in major aspects of Australian Aboriginal affairs policy since the early 1970s”. The evidence of failure, he said, was “now frightening”.

That lecture, as impassioned as it was shocking, has evolved into this incisive, timely and tough-minded book. In The Politics of Suffering, Sutton writes about “the reality of massive failure in indigenous affairs policy” with courage and compassion, erudition and a sense of personal outrage and loss.

Sutton has been visiting Aurukun, a former Presbyterian mission of fewer than 1000 residents, since the early 70s. During a period of 28 years, he knew eight Aboriginal men and women from the settlement who committed suicide and 25 who were murdered or committed murder. He describes how Aurukun went from being a “once liveable and vibrant community” in the mid-70s when alcohol was not freely available, to “a disaster zone” by 2000. In his book, he examines the factors that contributed to this calamity.

Among them are cultural factors that pre-date white contact; factors, he argues, that are still considered so ideologically fraught they are intentionally omitted from public discussions of indigenous disadvantage.

Part scalding polemic, part dispassionate study, The Politics of Suffering is animated by three big and important ideas.

- First, it looks at how racially liberal attitudes have, paradoxically, paralleled escalating dysfunction in many remote indigenous communities.

- Second, as its subtitle suggests, the book explores the collapse of the 70s liberal consensus that a rights agenda — from a treaty to a formal reconciliation agreement — would empower the most troubled Aboriginal settlements. Sutton caustically observes: “This unscientific mumbo jumbo beggars belief.”

- Sutton’s third — and most contentious — theme blasts open a little-explored frontier in the contemporary indigenous affairs debate, taking the discussion to a new level of candour and maturity.

He analyses how many seemingly intractable problems indigenous people confront, from low life expectancy to high rates of domestic violence, arise from “a complex joining together” of post-conquest factors and “a substantial number of ancient, pre-existent social and cultural factors that have continued, transformed or intact, into the lives of people living today”.

Through his observations and careful marshalling of historical and anthropological evidence, Sutton demonstrates how traditional approaches to violence, hygiene, sorcery and child-rearing persist in many indigenous communities. He argues that together with recent, destructive impacts such as welfare dependence and substance abuse, these cultural practices often have a detrimental effect on indigenous health, housing and wellbeing.

Yet he discovers that the complex question of culture is still being quarantined from discussions of indigenous disadvantage through what he calls “untruth by omission”. For instance, debates about poor indigenous educational outcomes commonly cite problems such as students’ hearing loss and undernourishment, but neglect to mention truancy, “stupendous as it has so often been”. He concludes: “One of the obstacles to effective debate in the present context is that so many people are still in denial over the need for cultural change.”

Accounts of indigenous domestic violence – usually disregard how violence and fighting were common features of traditional life. Sutton ; notes how colonial observers and anthropologists witnessed high levels of male-on-female , violence “at the earliest moments of external contact”, while analysis of archeological human remains that predated colonisation reveal an unusually high degree of skull injuries among Aboriginal women.

He believes physical aggression is tolerated in many remote communities today, and that modern scourges such as alcoholism exacerbate the problem. He reveals how some indigenous child-rearing practices encourage children, especially boys, to be aggressive. In a practice known as “cruelling”, parents intentionally hurt their kids, including babies, and teach them . to retaliate physically: a behavioural echo, perhaps, of the days when clans were often at war and children needed to protect themselves.

While historical mistreatment and lack of resources contribute to the scandalously poor state of indigenous health, they cannot alone account for the lack of progress, says Sutton. In remote areas, indigenous people often adopt hygiene regimes suited to a semi-nomadic existence but not to settled households. Many remote-area indigenous people also believe most illnesses and deaths are due “to the ill will and sorcery of other people”, a belief that further complicates efforts to boost health.

Rather than confront these issues, Sutton claims that the media, medicos, bureaucrats and activists have ensured that the indigenous housing and health debates succumb to “the disease of politicisation”.

He quotes one article, published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2004, that partly blamed the appalling life expectancy gap between black and white Australians on the abolition of the widely discredited Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. “That a journal with the historic reputation of The Lancet would stoop to publishing propaganda like this was incredible,” he writes.

The issue of overcrowded housing, Sutton says, is likewise misrepresented in the media as building shortages or evidence of indigenous poverty. But households that have 15 or 20 visitors staying at one time reflect a cultural phenomenon in which houses become a focal point for “demand sharing” by extended family members.

As the indigenous academic Marcia Langton says in her elegant, deeply felt foreword, Sutton’s honesty is “a powerful corrective to the romantic, misinformed fabulations about Aborigines as a special kind of modern ‘noble savage’.” Certainly, his clear-eyed analysis will offer little comfort to those on the Left who have romanticised tribal culture, and those on the Right who insist the answer lies in rapid economic modernisation.

Indeed, he concludes that the evidence “is heavily stacked against” a rose-tinted view that traditional Aboriginal people can quickly and easily change to adopt Western lifestyles.

He believes “deep — rather than superficial — cultural redevelopment is necessary” and that “the cycle of childhood socialisation needs to be regeared” if there is to be radical improvement. However, The Politics of Suffering offers few concrete suggestions as to how this might be achieved.

Sutton is no deep-dyed conservative with an axe to grind against self-determination. Indeed, he tells how he slept with a loaded rifle after being threatened by disgruntled whites for helping to establish a Cape York outstation in the early 70s. He has assisted 50 land rights cases, including the history-making Wik native title claim, as an expert on Aboriginal land ownership. Nevertheless, echoing Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson, he explores how, for too long, “a progressive politics (preoccupied with rights) dulled our instincts about the sanctity of indigenous people’s right also to be free from violence, abuse, neglect, ignorance and corruption.”

Such issues are now firmly on the public agenda. But Sutton is indignant that “the causation wars” continue: “Even people of apparent sophistication can publicly subscribe to causal accounts that are an insult to the average intelligence. The kids don’t go to school because the teachers are racists … the focus on Indigenous community dysfunction is unfair because child abuse and wife-bashing occur in all communities.”

The Politics of Suffering’s later chapters focus on cultural relativism and relationships between 20th-century anthropologists and their indigenous collaborators. Sutton also reveals why he is a reconciliation sceptic. Lacking the rhetorical ferocity of the earlier chapters, the writing here is sometimes circular and opaque. Nevertheless, for its political incorruptibility and startling insights, for its potent mix of personal observation and scholarly research, The Politics of Suffering is one of the most important contributions made to the indigenous affairs debate in recent years.

It’s possible ideologues will misuse Sutton’s arguments about traditional culture to blame indigenous people for their predicament. But without a fine-grained picture of what is occurring in communities that most Australians will never visit, effective policies cannot be devised.

Moreover, as Sutton contends, the lack of improvement in critical areas no longer allows for complacency about “correct” approaches to the most urgent moral problem confronting this country: how to achieve meaningful justice for our most disadvantaged citizens.
- source

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How to Survive in your Native Land

James Herndon: How to Survive in your Native Land (originally published in 1971)

I saw Doug Noon quote some James Herndon. This reminded me that Brian Harvey (great papers here) had recommended this book as one of the great descriptions of our education dilemmas. Visit the amazon link and read the reviews and this is confirmed.
[This book] is a literary treasure, simultaneously a Beat novel, a great feat of storytelling, and a storehouse of educational wisdom. Herndon shows us, with great wit and good spirits, how good education can emerge in the most unexpected circumstances and how caring teachers can transform lives.
–Herbert Kohl
The beauty of Herndon's work is that he is both a wonderful writer (he is featured as one of the better writers of nonfiction in William Zinsser's classic _On Writing Well_) and an astute observer of his own and his children's actions. How to Survive presents him at his finest, discussing not how to teach (he almost never does this) but what teaching and learning are like. He does this with humor, honesty, and an edge. No teacher, reading this book, can come away without a more thoughtful consideration of his or her own teaching. It is stunning and does not deserve to have been forgotten in the way that it has.
- Brian G Fay

crazy inventor babbage meets weird maths genius lovelace

this must be twittered
wait, this is a fan
suddenly, there is a gaping hole in my life of which I was hitherto unaware

taking guzdial seriously

My plans to transition kids from scratch to python have not been particularly successful so I'm thinking of giving the Mark Guzdial approach a trial - using python to tweak multimedia

Kids find the transition from the scratch visual drag and drop to python only text based daunting, or, more likely they just get bored without the multimedia. It's a huge daily problem for practicing teachers to walk the line between engagement and rigour. The Guzdial approach would keep some visuals, sounds, movies etc. involved (as outputs) for student text based programming inputs. It might work.

The Georgia Tech site is a mess but I eventually worked out that you can get enough materials to get started for no cost

There is a free draft copy of his book downloadable as a pdf from this page:

It includes chapters about:
  • Ch 2. Sounds
  • Ch 3 Pictures
  • Ch 5. Files
  • Ch 6 Text
  • Ch 7 Movies
This draft is fairly similar to the one you can buy: Introduction to Computing and Programming in Python: A Multimedia Approach
From the same link you can grab the version of python they use (jython) and also media samples to work with

The draft book explains:
"You’ll actually be programming using a tool called JES for “Jython Environment for Students.” JES is a simple editor (tool for entering program text) and interaction space so that you can try things out in JES and create new recipes within it. The media names (functions, variables, encodings) that we’ll be talking about in this book were developed to work from within JES (i.e., they’re not part of a normal Jython distribution, though the basic language we’ll be using is normal Python)."
- page 22
The direct link for media samples (pic, sound etc. files) which fit the exercises in the book) is http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/cs1315/814

I have successfully setup the Jython environment and completed some introductory exercises (recipes) from the book.

Let us know if you are interested in experimenting with this approach and we can compare notes. Forward on to others if you think they might be interested too. I see it as worthwhile to pursue a variety of pathways aimed to switch students and teachers onto python programming.