Saturday, December 31, 2011

ending the groundhog day of educational reform

Some notes on a talk given by Noel Pearson on the launch of his book, Radical Hope, in September, 2011 :
Bringing Explicit Instruction to remote aboriginal schools in Cape York, Queensland

Primary school education was the hardest domain for us to penetrate. NAPLAN results over the past 3 years provided useful evidence to break out of failing education programmes. We could say to professional educators: “We can no longer leave the future of our children in your hands”. We could end the groundhog day of educational reform

The grandmothers in Cape York are more literate than their grandchildren. The Missions had succeeded in teaching children to read and write in their own indigenous language. Over the past 40 years indigenous children have become illiterate in both their native and English language

We arrived at the conclusion that in the Reading Wars, the Explicit Instruction / Phonics side of the war was correct.

MULTILIT (Making Up Lost Time in Literacy) and all Explicit Instruction programmes have their genesis in Direct Instruction, an American programme developed by Professor Siegfried Engelmann at the Universities of Illinois and Oregon. In early 2009 we visited the USA and subsequently formed a partnership with the American National Institute of Direct Instruction.

We established this programme in two Cape York primary schools: Aurukun and Coen. The programme consists of Class and Club. Class is the western curriculum. Club is indigenous culture.

The compulsory school day runs from 8:30 to 2:30. This is followed by a voluntary programme which runs from 2:30 to 4:30.

The new programme commenced on January 28, 2010. The first few months were marked by chaos, controversy, revolt and alarm. But eventually things settled down. There were 65 kids in the Time Out room one week. Then there were 3 kids the following week. This transition marked school acceptance of the new programme.

There is regular coaching of teachers in the required methods every 3 months. Each week there are mastery tests of the previous 5 or 10 lessons. Students do not move to the next level unless they achieve a 90% achievement score.

Every Tuesday morning there is a conference with coordinators in the USA with the Principals of Auruken and Coen. The operating assumption is that if the student has not learned then the teacher has not taught. There is no alibi for the teacher. The Principals main task is to lead instruction.

When kids experience success, then behaviour changes and interest engages.

Aurukun was possibly the worst school in Queensland. In 2009 police were called to the school 160 times, for a school of 230 students. The attendance rate was 30%. We are now 18 months into this educational reform.


Welfare System
The welfare system must be reformed from unconditional welfare to conditional welfare. Parents must meet four conditions to continue receiving welfare:
1. send children to school
2. children free from abuse or neglect
3. meet housing tenancy obligations
4. don’t break the Law

The welfare system has been funding dysfunctional lifestyles. The Commonwealth government has been paying for people’s drug habits. There has been unconditional financing of dysfunction. Welfare is not a wage, it is social assistance which comes with conditions.

Trust Accounts
Trust accounts were created to cover educational expenses (uniform, tuckshop, equipment, computers). The money comes from the parents. They are completely voluntary.

At Coen there was a 100% signup to the trust accounts. The trust accounts now contain $1500 per child and over 1 million dollars in total. The swift uptake of trust accounts persuaded us that parents care deeply about their children’s education.

We use DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy), which is more informative than NAPLAN, to assess the progress of students. This tells us that:
- the top 30% is progressing at double mainstream speed
- 50% are progressing at above mainstream speed
- poor attenders continue to have poor results

Lack of Support from Education Department Bureaucracy
A Cairns Principal who was prepared to run a Direct Instruction stream was banned from visiting Aurukun by the Department!!

What sort of teachers are required for Direct Instruction?
The DI programme has been described as “teacher proof”. For Pearson the biggest surprise was that they are making progress with the stock, standard issue Queensland trained teacher. As long as the teacher is amenable to the program there are good results. However, teachers college has not taught these teachers how to teach reading!

audio: Noel Pearson: Radical Hope (the above notes are made from this extract)
video: Radical Hope Book: A Talk by Noel Pearson (the whole talk including an informative Q&A session)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

alyawarre scratch file

I used Scratch to make a tiny multimedia dictionary (voice, pictures, words) for the Australian indigenous Alyawarre or Alyawarra language. It's available here. Three girls from wiltja provided the words and their voices. Alyawarre tribe is near Tennant Creek.
The words are:
  • kungar = blue tongue lizard 
  • numa = snake 
  • loget = goanna 
I always remember the insightful words of Noel Pearson:
"Keep our diverse languages and cultural traditions by excelling in education and digital technologies, the only means of arresting the decline of our ancient and oral traditions"

Friday, June 17, 2011

chess swings and roundabouts

My chess results have been quite erratic of late. Currently I'm playing interclub in South Australia for the Modbury Club. I'm busy so for preparation all I really do is go through some tactical exercises in the Combinational Motifs book by M. Blokh, beforehand.

Last Tuesday I played against the new State Champion, Goran Srdic, and lost.

We did a quick post mortem after the game and Goran revealed that he thought his position was always good. I had played a risky move 16 which enabled him to cleverly win the exchange. Nevertheless, he had weak pawns and I had the 2 bishops so I thought I was still doing ok. His move 28 looked strong but I had thought of a brilliant reply, which I played. I thought he would have to give up his queen but he didn't. My attack petered out and he won the endgame easily.

This game stayed in my head, particularly the position after move 31. I recaptured his knight so I wouldn't fall too far behind on material. I was short of time. Eventually, a better move came to me without even setting up the position. It looked like I was winning now. How exasperating!

I setup the position to confirm my mental analysis and I'm pretty sure I'm correct. I could have won this game as a brilliancy against the new State Champ. Oh Damn! Here is the game.

White: Bill Kerr
Black: Goran Srdic
1. Nf3 d5
2. g3 Nf6
3. Bg2 Bf5
4. d3 c6
5. O-O h6
6. Nc3 e6
7. Nfd2!
I saw this maneuver in an online GM game a while back and liked it. White's e4 cannot be prevented and his pieces are well co-ordinated
7. __ Be7
8. e4 Bh7
9. Qe2
Black is now reluctant to develop his QN at d7 since then e5 from white would force his other night back to g8. So he decides to expand on the queenside instead.
9 __ a5
10. Kh1 Na6
Preparing f4. Since black has played __ a5 I didn't think he was planning to castle on the queenside so I'm going to attack him on the king side or centre.
11. f4 Nd7
12. exd!
Black has delayed castling and is vulnerable on the K file
12 __ cxd
13. f5! Bxf5
14. Nxd5 exd5
15. Rxf5 O-O
Initially, it looks like white will win the QP but that doesn't work out because black has a strong reply in __ Nb4. After thinking for 15 minutes I played a risky move.
16. Nf3?!
Possibly 16. c3 immediately is better
16. __ Bf6!
17. c3 Re8
18. Qf1 g6!
Winning the exchange
19. Rxd5 Nc7
20. Rd6 Qe7!
I was half expecting __ Nb5 here with a possible draw by repetition. (21. Rd5 Nc7 etc.) but Goran has seen further ahead than me this time
21. Bf4 g5
22. Ra-e1 Ne6
I had missed this move during my move 19 calculations
23. Rdxe6 fxe6
24. Bd2
Nevertheless, I have one pawn for the exchange and his pawns are weak and his king position is shaky. I thought the position was even but Goran thought he was winning.
24. __ Qd6
25. d4 e5
26. dxe Bxe5
This removes an important defender for the black king. But if he takes with the knight then 27. Nd4 is awkward
27. Nxe5 Nxe5
It would have been smarter if I withdrawn the B to c1 on move 24. Now I would have had more options.
28. Be3 Nd3
I saw this coming and initially it looked strong. But then I realised I could exploit the vulnerable position of the black king, with a great move!
29. c4!?
Probably 29. Re2 is good too. But this roll of the dice was worth it!
29. __ Nxe1
30. Bd5+
At this point I thought Goran would give up his queen and thought that would end in a draw by white implementing a perpetual check. 30 __ Qxd5 31. cxd5 Rxe3 32. Qf6 Ra-e8 (anything else looks too risky) and white has perpetual check. But Goran still thought he was winning.
30. __ Kh8
31. Bd4+ Re5
This is where I missed the win. I played the obvious 32. Qxe1 which gave black time to organise his defence. After 32 __ Ra-e8 33. Qe4?! Qf6! 34. h4 Kg7 35. Qg4 Kh7 black went on to win easily.

White missed a brilliant thirty second move which would have forced a win. Can you see it?

Monday, February 28, 2011

xo deployment in australia

View One Laptop Per Child Australia in a larger map

Ear-marked or has expressed interest for deployment
Scheduled for deployment
Partial deployment
Full deployment - one laptop per child

One laptop per child australia has done a good job of deploying to remote aboriginal communities. This is best viewed at Google Maps but even in this version if you click on map icons you can obtain more detail of the deployments.

strange times

I guess that 2011 will go down as the year of the glorious Middle East democratic revolutions!

I have been doing most of my blogging at the Strange Times collective over the past three months. Here are links to some of my posts:

shock tactics in alice

No fly zone demand for Libya

the vlog that helped spark the egyptian revolution

The marxist theory of crisis

Hans Rosling’s fast forward history

the achilles heel of capitalism

a puzzle for some

Resources for studying “Capital” with emphasis on Value theory

As far as I can tell my future posts will be more frequent there and less frequent here.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Build Your Own Blocks

Build Your Own Blocks (BYOB) is an extension to the visual drag and drop programming of Scratch. It adds custom blocks, recursion, first class lists and procedures to the original.

The developer is Jens Mönig with design input and documentation from logo legend Brian Harvey.

There is a make a block shape in the Variables section. When you click on it an easy to use block editor comes up. First up, I made a block that draws squares, then followed up with a hex block and a star block. Here they are:

I am following a sequence suggested by Jens and Brian in their paper, Bringing 'No Ceiling' to Scratch: Can one language serve kids and computer scientists?

The next step is to draw a V shape with a randomly chosen decoration at each end. In a text based logo language this would look like:

to v
left 45 forward 50
run pick [square hex star]
back 50 right 90 forward 50
run pick [square hex star]
back 50 left 45

The tricky bit here is how to implement the line: run pick [square hex star] visually. Initially, I couldn't figure that out but my friend Tony Forster helped me with it:

And here is the whole v procedure, in visual block form:

This procedure draw shapes like this, (running it 3 times with different starting positions):

The next step illustrates how to do recursion in BYOB! Recursion means that a procedure calls itself. Here it is:

There are a couple of places where vee might randomly call vee causing the procedure to loop back on itself. Since it is random (item any) then the result are varied and unpredictable. Here are a couple of the more complex results:

As well as the paper by Jens and Brian make sure you read the manual which comes with the download, too.