Tuesday, December 05, 2017

farewell speech

I had to think about what I have learnt from this place.

In the late 1960s Bob Dixon, a linguist, came to the Cairns areas.

At first he visited the TableLands, got to know some aboriginal people, and wrote down the Dyirbal language.

Then he travelled down to Yarrabah and found Dick Moses, the last Yidinji speaker. He sat down with Dick, under a fig tree, and wrote down the language.

After a while he complained to Dick. The green ants in the tree dropped onto him and were biting him. Would we be able to move to the verandah?

No way, said Dick. Those green ants are good for you. They are medicinal. When they bite you that will stop you from getting sick.

So, that is what I have learnt from this place. When things drop out of the trees and bite you then you have to understand that it is good for you!

Monday, December 04, 2017

beautiful cairns

Djarragun mountain: Djarragun means scrub hen. She builds her nest in a pyramid shape. I climbed her this morning, one quarter way, that is.

I will miss the beautiful natural environment of Cairns / Gordonvale. But one can't live by environmental beauty alone.

The plan is to continue teaching the indigenous in the NT. More, later.

Monday, November 06, 2017

moral philosophy: honest description precedes solution

Honest description of an issue / problem precedes any possible solution to that issue or problem.

The reason that Plato banned the artists from his republic is that he felt they would tug on emotional heart strings and sentiment would get in the way of truthful description.

The world is full of clever people who talk the talk but don't walk the walk

I encounter people coming up with solutions to problems before they have fully described or delved into the problem. For some hard to fathom reason they don't talk to people who might know more about the problem than they do. They are more concerned about looking good on paper to those above them in the hierarchy than an honest and open dialogue with those below them in the hierarchy. The lazy solution is accompanied by slogans. eg. "No child left behind" (reality check: we did leave quite a few behind)

Programmatic solutions often don't work even though they look good on paper. The nitty gritty reality on the ground, the tremendous suction generated by dysfunctional forces can tear the program to shreds. The makers of programs often hide in their offices and leave others to be the sacrificial lambs of their failed paper work.

As their failed solution spin out of control, they plan the next step in their career pathway.

I like the Iris Murdoch quote about the artists: "Rilke said of Cezanne that he did not paint 'I like it', he painted 'There it is.'"

In more detail the Iris Murdoch quote goes like this:
"One might start from the assertion that morality, goodness, is a form of realism. The idea of a really good man living in a private dream world seems unacceptable. Of course a good man may be infinitely eccentric, but he must know certain things about his surroundings, most obviously the existence of other people and their claims. The chief enemy of excellence in morality (and also in art) is personal fantasy: the tissue of self aggrandising and consoling wishes and dreams which prevents one from seeing what is there outside one. Rilke said of Cezanne that he did not paint 'I like it', he painted 'There it is.' This is not easy, and requires, in art and morals, a discipline. One might say here that art is an excellent analogy of morals, or indeed that it is in this respect a case of morals. We cease to be in order to attend to the existence of something else, a natural object, a person in need"
- On 'God' and 'Good', from pp. 437-8 of 'Existentialists and Mystics'

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Bob Dixon "Searching for aboriginal languages"

I've finished Bob Dixon's "Searching for Aboriginal languages".

It's an amazing book. He manages to get inside the head of aboriginal people and report their life truthfully and eloquently. He achieves this through his love of language and over time that translates into a love for the people who were giving him their dying languages.

It's full of interesting anecdotes as well as a whole lot of of linguistics, most of which I didn't understand. It's available on line you can download the pdf from here: Searching for Aboriginal languages. This book will help you understand aboriginal culture, the positive, the negative and the interesting, more so than most.

My quick, very inadequate notes included:

60 talk in language about wanting to kill the author (see below)
99 language forms reflect the present mountainous environment
100 I'll walk in front of you because even though I like you I don't like white people; if I walk behind I'll be tempted to knife you in the back
115-6 making woman's sexual organs
157 different language used for talking near in laws, shame built into the culture, error is shame
166 the taboo on the name of a dead person leads to borrowing words from another language
212 test out the author by talking BS at the first meeting
238-9 Yarrabah depressed, aboriginal culture destroyed replaced by nothing
251 hunger 2 days before welfare cheque
298 green ants medicinal so don't complain when they bite you

I have worked with family of some of the people in the book, which made it special. Details not included here.
"Mabi bayingala yawangga malagangu jangganany nyinany," Maggie said. "he's like a tree-climbing kangaroo sitting high in a tree eating malagan vines, that white man there. I'd like to throw him to the ground," she continued, "hit him when he's down there and the dog might bite him. Then peel his skin off, cook him in the fire and eat him. I'd eat his liver first. Cut his hands off and his tail, and put him back in the fire to cook a bit more. Cut the carcass up with a knife and share pieces around to all the kids ..." (p. 60)
update: for an outline of Bob Dixon's remarkable life see here (James Cook Uni site)

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Has the dream of cheap computers + FOSS for the disadvantaged evaporated?

What Rangan Srikhanta, who formerly distributed OLPCs in Australia is doing now:
  • Not a cheap laptop
  • Not free and open source software
One Education

Their infinity computer sells for $380 + GST. What happened to the dream to make a laptop for kids for $100?

His initial plan was to make a modular computer that kids could put together and to have multiple OS: Linux / Android as well as Windows. But then Microsoft intervened....
"What happened to the modular infinity?"

"... the short story is that Microsoft put us in touch with manufacturers that could make the Infinity:Concept a reality"

"We are currently working to get both Android and Linux supported on the Infinity:One! Our aim is to provide your choice of operating system, and Windows 10 is just the beginning"
- FAQs
Promises, promises ...
"We’re not there yet, but we’re working towards it. The road to Infinity begins with the Infinity:One - join us on our mission to make the world a better place for children through technology."
- Concept page
Contrast what has happened with this 2015 interview of Rangan:
This week, the Australian 15-employee One Education will announce its new generation low-cost computer. A Lego-like modular PC-and-tablet in one that can be assembled by a four-year-old, updated as components reach their end of life, and repaired in the classroom.to last their primary years

Its main components - screen, battery, keyboard, CPU, camera, Wi-Fi connection - are separate parts of the puzzle, with the main bits concealed under a soft silicon cover. A trade scheme will allow schools to swap parts as the technology evolves and students' needs change.

The XO-Infinity is only a prototype thus far.The first working model is due in August, the first shipment early next year.
- Meet Rangan Srikhanta, the former refugee who wants to change the world one laptop at a time
Update (Oct 9, 2017)
Received this mail from Tony Forster:
I see the Infinity one in a similar light as OLPC's XO Android tablet as a bid to 'stay in the game' while cheap tablets and phones undercut the OLPC business model.

The smartphone is the hardware that now best fits the OLPC concept:
"provide educational opportunities for the world's most isolated and poorest children by giving each child a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop"
I think that Sugar's bid to control the OS or Desktop failed and the best thing to do is work with the user's choice of OS, be it Linux, Android or Windows and provide good free open source educational software to run on these platforms.

Specifically I would like to see a drag and drop programming app for Android that is optimised for a small touch screen.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education

I've written a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education, here. 6425 words.

Different authors have different opinions about what culture is, cultural change and how important culture is. I dismiss strong cultural relativism but argue there are deep reasons why culture is important.
Culture is the brain wiring that occurs in the first 5-7 years of a child's life. We forget how we learned that stuff, it just becomes part of us, part of our identity, more or less impossible to change. So, for example, a rural Aboriginal child will almost certainly grow up believing in the spirit world, whereas an urban white middle class child might well grow up being an atheist or agnostic. That early “brainwashing” can't be avoided in our current society and it's not going to go away any time soon.
Should indigenous culture be integrated into the school curriculum?

Tyson Yunkaporta's 8 indigenous ways are outlined:
  1. Holism: the Aboriginal learner concentrates on the overall picture before going into detail
  2. Visual: a concrete, holistic image serves as an anchor for the learner
  3. Community: for Aboriginal people the motivation for learning is inclusion in the community
  4. Symbols and Images: since learning styles are problematic reframe visual-spatial learning as symbolic learning, using both concrete and abstract imagery (it's not clear to me from Tyson's descriptions what this alleged reframing of problematic learning styles actually means – see later for a critique of learning styles)
  5. Non verbal: Kinesthenic, hands on, silence, imitation
  6. Land links: Aboriginal people have a deep connection to place
  7. Story sharing: Elders teach using stories, the lesson is contained in the narrative
  8. Non linear: the linear perspective of direct questioning, direct instruction is categorised as “western pedagogy”; contrast this with Aboriginal pedagogy where multiple processes occur continuously. But note that in the next paragraph Tyson says there are “excellent western non-linear frameworks available like De Bono's Lateral Thinking ” (p. 13)
Tyson does argue a common ground position, that in selecting the 8 Aboriginal pedagogies he has kept an eye out for “common ground” between Aboriginal and western ways

He sees positive synergies arising from interaction between cultures and rejects those who make negative comments about indigenous learners and their cultures.

My case against

I'll just list the headings of my points in response:
  1. Tyson's 8 processes of Aboriginal learning and reality.
  2. Traditional culture is a warrior culture
  3. There are negative (welfare dependency) as well as positive (open culture) indigenous cultures
  4. The complexity of the cultural interface defies attempts to simplify it. One effect of simplification is to promote a pressure to conform to a cultural stereotype
  5. There doesn't appear to be good evidence that different learning styles make a difference
  6. The cultural solution feeds into the ongoing Political Blame game
  7. The cultural solution is silent on what I believe ought to be the fundamental goals of the education system, the non universals
  8. Philosophy of harmony or philosophy of struggle?
I conclude with some historical context and my current position on the role of culture in the curriculum.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

the indigenous imitation game

"Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the pictures”
- Iris Murdoch, Existentialists and Mystics, p. 75
“the magical power of replication, the image affected by what it is an image of, wherein the representation shares in or takes power from the represented”
- Francesca Merlin (1998), p. 150 quoting Michael Taussig (1993)
Most of us, white fellas, have images of the indigenous “problem”. Some of us even have images of the indigenous “solution”.

Ever since Whitlam, 45 years ago now, indigenous self determination has been on the table. The indigenous will determine their own future. Old style, immoral, coercive assimilation into white culture will be a shameful thing of the past.

Into this power vacuum step indigenous thought leaders who map out the requirements for self determination.

Is this real? Or is it more an imitation of an image of what aboriginality is meant to be. An attractive delusion for the guilt ridden white middle classes down south. (Please, please someone fix this problem, this terrible shame in our nation's history)

The reality is that aboriginal culture was never a unity but divided into more than 100 different tribes with differing language and cultures. Those different cultures are now positioned in a complex limbo somewhere in between their old partly forgotten, partly degraded traditions and western culture, the good, the bad and the ugly.
“Representations of Aboriginality as made most powerfully by others come to affect who and what Aborigines consider themselves to be. The imitative relation as lived out in Australia has rested on the assumption that Aboriginal cultural production continues to be autonomous from what previously sought to encompass or displace it. Further, the relation often requires from Aborigines demonstrations of the autonomy and long standing nature of what is seen of their cultural production.”
- Francesca Merlin (1998)
Caging the Rainbow by Francesca Merlin (1998)


mimesis: an attempt to imitate or reproduce reality

Imitation is inferior to the real thing. In imitation we select something from the coninuum of experience. We create boundaries that don't really exist.

Humans create texts, poetry. We have a strong urge to represent reality. Imitation may approach reality but is not quite real.

Plato distrusted art and poetry. Divine madness. It may persuade by rhetoric rather than truth. It is seductive.

mimesis₁: actual praxis (ethnomethodology), real life, day to day drama. Marx called this sensual human activity. What people in real life actually do.

This makes ethnomethodology a radical alternative to all other forms of research

mimesis₂: a created world, a world of text. This world works well on paper using abstractions from the real world. If it describes practice then that description is not really practice but a formalisation of practice. This is not an argument against abstraction as such. But abstraction should only be introduced when it has a clear empirical use and can be verified in actual human behaviour.

mimesis₃: a theorisation or reconfiguration of mimesis2 by academics or bureaucrats three steps remote from the actual praxis.

We hear complaints from teachers who often state that what they learn in university courses is of little use in their actual praxis; and that their praxis is little if at all captured is the theories that they encounter in their university courses. The same point applies to education department documents such as the new national curriculum, which is meant to act as a guideline for teaching practice. Teachers end up turning themselves into knots trying to make their more realistic programmes conform to the supposedly higher level theory.

Reference: The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the late, Spinozist Vygotsky by Wolff-Michael Roth (2017), p. 22 and pp. 30-32. The link goes to a pdf of Chapter one.
Wikipedia: mimesis

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Greens should just shut up and listen by Jacinta Price

When elders from the communities of Kununurra, Wyndham and Ceduna travelled to Canberra last week with a video revealing the appalling violence on their streets, they delivered a strong message. Those streets are war zones of drug and alcohol-fuelled assaults and child abuse — and they want it to stop.

The video, supported by West Australian mining businessman Andrew Forrest, proves the desperate need for the cashless debit card system that quarantines 80 per cent of welfare recipients’ payments to limit access to alcohol, drugs and gambling.

These elders are crying out for the lives of the children being assaulted and abused. In one of these communities, 187 children are victims of sexual abuse with 36 men facing 300 charges, and a further 124 are suspects.

I know all too well the deep frustrations these Australian citizens feel as they are desperate to save their people from the crisis being played out day after day in their communities. They have long fought for our political leaders to recognise the need to take the tough — sometimes unpopular but necessary — steps to make meaningful change that will save the lives of Aboriginal children, women and men.

So why do large numbers of our media and our political leaders (including some indigenous ones) fail to respond to such clear evidence of assault, child abuse and violence at the hands of our own people but are prepared to call for a royal commission when the perpetrator is a white person in uniform or when institutionalised racism is perceived to be at play?

A television report on the horrendous treatment of juvenile inmates at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre swiftly sparked a royal commission. Yet footage of an Aboriginal man stomping on an Aboriginal woman and various other vicious acts — which in my view are far more shocking than that of the Don Dale footage — draws criticism by the Greens that the video was simply propaganda for the cashless welfare card. This is not propaganda; it is proof.

We hear regularly that we should be listening to Aboriginal people on the ground to understand the complexities of the problems and to encourage us to find solutions for our horrific circumstances. Well, here is a video created by Aboriginal leaders in conjunction with the wider community, including the police and a mayor, pleading for the implementation of a practical measure to help curb the purchase of alcohol and drugs so the lives of the most marginalised Australians may be improved. No, it is not a magic bullet, but it is a start towards improving the lives of Australian citizens in crisis.

Forrest has been criticised for telling the world that he has been approached by minors willing to sell sex. A 14-year-old I know who roams Alice Springs streets at night regularly witnesses children selling themselves to “old” Aboriginal men for alcohol and cigarettes. We pass such information on to the police, who already know it is happening, yet the authorities responsible for these children tells us they have seen no evidence of it. Just as there was a conspiracy of silence to deny the reality of frontier violence, now there seems to be a conspiracy of silence on the left to deny what is happening openly in our streets.

The evidence of deep crisis has never been so blatant. This trauma is inflicted on our people by substance abuse and violence fuelled by a taxpayer-funded disposable income. However, if a rich white man throws his support behind a group of frustrated and desperate indigenous leaders living with this trauma their plea simply is dismissed as perverse by the politically correct without offering any effective alternative solutions.

The Greens call Forrest paternalistic, yet WA Greens senator Rachel Siewert has the audacity to tell indigenous people how we should think, what our problems are and what we should be doing about it. Siewert and her party chose not to meet the elders who came all the way to Canberra from their remote communities to communicate the real problems.

The Greens reaction is nothing more than the racism of low expectations and egocentric virtue-signalling of those toeing the line of an ideology that is further compounding the crisis. If the video shocked you, good. It should; and what should follow is an appropriate response that recognises the human right of Aboriginal women, children and men to live in safety, free of drug and alcohol-driven violence and sexual abuse. Sacrificing whole generations to violence and abuse does not help the fight against racism. It reinforces it.

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price is an Alice Springs councillor and a research associate at the Centre for Independent Studies.

Friday, July 07, 2017

maths facts speed and fidget spinners

Good article by Dan Willingham and great comments: On fidget spinners and speeded math practice

I teach Direct Instruction maths and timed maths facts practice and testing is a significant part of that program. Some kids are good at maths facts and complete their sheets easily in the time provided. Others are not good, I can see them counting on their fingers and they can't complete the sheet in time. Over time the pattern repeats. Those who are good breeze through; those who count on their fingers struggle and I don't see a lot of improvement happening despite all the practice we are doing. Does that give them maths anxiety? Possibly. It does give me teacher anxiety. I wonder how can I help them improve?

The main part of Dan's article covered an issue that I think is obvious. Speed in maths facts helps build conceptual understanding.

The comments discussed the issue that concerns me in more detail.

The first commment (Michael Persham) stresses that you have to be clear on the goal of maths facts practice. The goal is for the kids to memorise the facts, to achieve automatic recall.

So, those kids who count on their fingers are not working towards that goal. So, how can I get them to stop counting on their fingers and work towards the goal directly?

Well, I could talk to them about the goal of memorising facts and how counting on fingers works against that. I've never done that! Why? Because I wasn't really clear about the goal and in the back of my mind I was thinking it is better if they get some correct answers by a method that works for them.

Now I'm thinking it would be better to say to them give it a quick guess rather than count on fingers. I'm not suggesting they will all follow my advice - getting the right answer is a strongly, conditioned goal - but a few will give it a go. It's important then that they are not penalised for a quick guess, that it does not become part of their formal assessment.

The second comment (John Golden) suggests some particular strategies to improve maths facts recall. After handing out the worksheet:
  • ask the students to circle the ones they know by memory
  • ask students to identify 5 they want to know by memory but don't
  • give out the sheets like a word search, "find all the computations that sum to 8?"
The third comment (educationrealist) raises some broader issues which are important for my practice as well but I won't go into them now. One issue of concern which he/she raises is that some students never get good at maths facts but that doesn't mean they can't do other, more conceptual parts of maths well. I can see it is really important to identify those students so they don't get discouraged by their lack of ability in one small area of maths.

So, why will I buy a fidget spinner? Because a good teacher uses drama, one of the real secrets of teaching. And I'm also thinking they would make a great prize for those who improve a lot in their maths facts speed.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

the persistence of invisibility of really important aspects of indigenous reality

Summary and some thoughts about Ch 3 The Trouble with Culture of Peter Sutton's The Politics of Suffering (2009)

Where I can learn from this chapter is that Peter Sutton has a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of indigenous culture, its negatives as well as its positives, than most commentators. He also blows the whistle on the willful blindness of official government reports and some other commentators / authors, including some who are well intentioned and have done the hard yards. Nor do indigenous leaders escape from his critique although he treats them with respect. The invisibility of reality appears to operate at several levels and he goes some of the way to unmasking that.

I feel that Peter has become pessimistic about indigenous futures as a result of his life experiences but that his analysis is fundamentally correct and serves as an essential starting point for those committed to continuing to try to solve the problems that many have tried to solve without success.

Personally, I prefer pessimism that lives in the real world to the phony optimism of those who draw a veil over the truth. I prefer to face the dark side of life than to live in the false light of self deception. Can we accept the reality of the dark side and still remain optimistic and energetic about positive change for indigenous people? That is the challenge.

The radical historical shift in government approaches to dealing with indigenous affairs which occurred in the Whitlam years (1972-75) forms part of the backdrop to this analysis. As government policy became more humane, open hearted and liberal the actual on the ground situation for aboriginal people became worse. Welfare poison led to drug addiction, dysfunction and death. That is what Peter experienced and has driven him and other commentators to document, analyse and explain this seeming paradox.
“In my time with the Wik people up to 2001, out of a population of less than 1000, eight people known to me had died by their own hand, two of them women, six of them men. Five of them were young people. From the same community in the same period, thirteen people known to me had been victims of homicide, eight of them women, five of them men. Twelve others had committed homicide, nine of them men and three of them women. Most of these, also, were young people, and most of the homicides occurred in the home settlement of both assailant and victim. Of the eight spousal murders in this list, seven involved a man killing his female partner, only one a woman killing her husband. In almost all cases, assailants and victims were relatives whose families had been linked to each other for generations. They were my relative, too, in a non biological 'tribal' sense ...” (p. 2)
Remote communities are shattered. If you google Aurukun, Doomadgee, Koyanyama, Elcho Island or Wadeye and poke around you will see what I mean.

Those who have avoided foetal alcohol syndrome or arrested development through malnutrition still end up less educated (illiterate) and less socially mobile (emotionally immobile) than their grandparents who were raised on the mission. Paternalistic benevolence was more successful than self development.

Various authors, indigenous and non indigenous, have blown the whistle on this devastating reality. The cat is out of the bag but nevertheless still remains invisible to many at the official government level where policy is made.

After reviewing the evidence Peter asserts that the value and power of traditional indigenous culture as a recovery agent is over rated. He agrees with Noel Pearson that economic relations are a more effective method of driving change. (65)

For me, this is the main take away message. White people have to take indigenous culture on board – for reasons of respect and communication – but that needs to be done without romanticising or simply ignoring negative features of indigenous culture. Possibly, Martin Nakata's Cultural Interface approach provides a starting point for a solution here. Still not sure.

So, what are the problems with traditional indigenous culture which make it ineffective as a change agent? This is best summarised on page 85. I will inadequately summarise the summary.

There may be many aspect of our modern society that we dislike and we grumble about those. But we don't leave our modern society to go back to nature and live as a “noble savage” except in our green tinted glasses fantasy dreams. As we acquire real knowledge of the real conditions of traditional indigenous culture we learn about:
  • power stuctures which promote dependency
  • family loyalities, kinship stuctures, at the expense of the common good
  • traditional medicine blocking modern medicine
  • minimal hygiene / demand sharing / rejection of accumulation in keeping with a semi nomadic economy
  • violence as the preferred way of resolving conflict arising from a stateless society
  • fatalistic outlook, that tragedy is normal and the order of things is meant to be
As Peter points out the negative aspects of traditional indigenous culture have been exposed by many authors. He lists 12 such authors on page 72.

How then do we explain the silence, when in fact there isn't silence? The silence operates at many levels, some relatively benign, some well intentioned but blinkered, some self serving, malicious and incredibly harmful.

I loved and have been influenced by “Why Warriors Lie Down and Die” (2000). Richard Trudgen has spent many years in Arnhem Land learning from, working with and helping the Yolngu . He explains how communication between Yolngu and Balanda (whites) breaks down in three related areas (1) Language (2) World view (3) Culture and calls for more understanding and empathy about this. But his analysis is flawed in that he doesn't outline any negative aspects of Yolngu culture as part of the problem. For instance, demand pressure from relatives is a key reason why indigenous people might fail when placed in responsible positions of handling store goods or cash (refer Sutton, pp. 80-81)

We live in a modern society which provides us with a certain living standard, values and expectations. Those values include a duty of care to the vulnerable: infants, the elderly, the mentally handicapped. There is a general social acceptance that our failure with the "indigenous problem" is not acceptable. We are dealing with a hard problem, many have tried and failed, many suggestions have been tried and have worked with varying degrees of success. Programs are tried, they fail and then their failure is not analysed. But even in the rare instances when the analysis is done the problems are so embedded and chronic that their solution is not clear.

Some elements which contribute to the persistence silence include:
  • White guilt / spectre of the past where indigenous people were described as primitive / avoid blaming the victim
  • Euphemism in descriptive language of government reports
  • Tragedy tolerance of the insiders
  • Political correctness
Read Peter's book for more detail.

Is there a way forward without going backward to the bad old days?

Related: Notes:
I've ordered a copy of Caging the Rainbow by Francesca Merlan. Peter's comments about it on p. 69 suggested to me that it anticipated Martin Nakata's Cultural Interface analysis.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

dysfunctional community syndrome in remote Queensland

The situation has been like this for decades and no one knows how to fix it:

A typical cluster of violence types in such a dysfunctional community would be, male-on-male and female-on-female fighting, child abuse, alcohol violence, male suicide, pack rape, infant rape, rape of grandmothers, self mutilation, spouse assaults and homicide ...
Memmott et al., 2001, Violence in Indigenous Communities, p. 51
The remote community of Kowanyama has issued a desperate cry for help following a horrifying run of youth ­suicides.

A senior frontline staffer in the town has told how the community has descended into a deep sense of despair since the public tragedy in ­October when a car rammed into a house full of mourners, resulting in a 48-year-old woman being killed and 25 others injured.

The staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there had been more than 20 suicides or attempts in Kowanyama, which has a population of about 1200, since the shocking event in ­October
- The Cairns Post, June 24, 2017
Update (June 28): Similar situation in the Kimberley region of West Australia.
In what will be one of the largest inquests in Australia in recent years, coroner Ros Fogliani will examine the suicides of 13 young Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region.

In his opening address, counsel assisting the coroner Philip Urquhart said five of the deaths involved children aged between 10 and 13.

They had all been exposed to alcohol abuse and domestic violence in the home, had poor school attendance and most had not sought help from mental health services.

There was evidence six of those who died had been sexually abused...

Over the next three months, the coroner will travel to Broome, Kununurra, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing to hear evidence about what drove the young people to take their lives and what could have been done to prevent their actions.

She will also examine whether recommendations from a similar inquest 10 years ago had any impact.
- Indigenous suicide inquest told rate of deaths in WA's north has 'reached disturbing proportions'

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Teaching algebra using some visual and cultural features

Teaching algebra using some visual and cultural features

8 = 6 - 2(t - 3)

CM (indigenous helper who is studying to become a teacher) was having trouble solving this equation. So, I thought of a different way to teach it which incorporated some conventional elements with some new ideas. The conventional element was a seesaw. This was mentioned in the text but only in passing. The way to use the seesaw is that one side needs to balance the other side. As we move items around from one side of the equation to the other the seesaw is not allowed to become unbalanced in the process, both sides have to remain equal.

                               8                      6 - 2(t - 3)
CM's difficulty was figuring out which things to move to the other side first. So I suggested that the brackets represented a nest and the t stood for a turtle inside the nest. Since there was a 2 times outside the bracket that meant there were two nests. The nest was hard to get at so it was best to move those items outside the nest first. That meant move the 6 first. How do you get rid of +6? The opposite is -6. So subtract 6 from the right hand side (RHS). But that unbalances the seesaw, so you have to subtract 6 from the left hand side (LHS) too.

                                 8 - 6                 6 - 6 - 2(t - 3)

                                   2                    - 2(t - 3)

The turtle nest is multiplied by -2. To get inside the nest we have to deal with that issue next. How do we get rid of a multiplication by -2? By doing the opposite which is dividing by -2. But this will unbalance the seesaw so we have to divide both sides by -2.
                                 2 / -2                     - 2(t - 3)/ -2

                                 -1                         t - 3

Now at last we can get inside the turtle nest. Just finish up by adding 3 to both sides in order to get rid of the -3 on the right hand side.

                               -1 + 3                         t - 3+ 3

                                  2                             t

t = 2

Monday, May 01, 2017

direct instruction and indigenous education (version 5)

I've published an annotated contents page of my research outline at the learning evolves wiki. This has chewed up a lot of thought and time since I had hundreds of bits of paper with rough notes that had to be organised into something coherent. Well, sort of coherent. With this version I think I'm ready to look for a supervisor, to bounce ideas off, and it will provide a more focused guide to future reading / study.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Judith Curry on the current state of climate science

Hearing on Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method
29 March 2017

14pp pdf, quite inspirational IMO, read the whole thing

Science is an iterative process of multi hypothesis formation, collecting data and testing that data against the variety of hypotheses

Beware of dogmatic claims (alarmists, deniers), be sensitive to the uncertainty and complexity of the climate science issue

Explanation of the how and why we have got to a bad place in climate science (page 11, extract below)

There is a war on science - not from Trump but from within the science establishment itself (page 12, extract below)
How and why did we land between a rock and a hard place on the issue of climate science?

There are probably many contributing reasons, but the most fundamental and profound reason is arguably that both the problem and solution were vastly oversimplified back in the early 1990’s by the UNFCCC, who framed both the problem and the solution as irreducibly global in terms of human-caused global warming. This framing was locked in by a self-reinforcing consensus-seeking approach to the science and a ‘speaking consensus to power’ approach for decision making that pointed to a single course of policy action – radical emissions reductions.

The climate community has worked for more than two decades to establish a scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, prematurely elevating a hypothesis to a ruling theory. The IPCC’s consensus-seeking process and its links to the UNFCCC emissions reduction policies have had the unintended consequence of hyper-politicizing the science and introducing bias into both the science and related decision making processes. The result of this simplified framing of a wicked problem is that we lack the kinds of information to more broadly understand climate variability and societal vulnerabilities. The politicization of climate science has contaminated academic climate research and the institutions that support climate research, so that individual scientists and institutions have become activists and advocates for emissions reductions policies. Scientists with a perspective that is not consistent with the consensus are at best marginalized (difficult to obtain funding and get papers published by ‘gatekeeping’ journal editors) or at worst ostracized by labels of ‘denier’ or ‘heretic.’

Policymakers bear the responsibility of the mandate that they give to panels of scientific experts. In the case of climate change, the UNFCCC demanded of the IPCC too much precision where complexity, chaos, disagreement and the level current understanding resists such precision. Asking scientists to provide simple policy-ready answers for complex matters results in an impossible situation for scientists and misleading outcomes for policy makers. Unless policy makers want experts to confirm their preconceived bias, then expert panels should handle controversies and uncertainties by assessing what we know, what we don’t know, and where the major uncertainties lie....
War on Science
With the advent of the Trump administration, concerns about ‘war on science’ have become elevated, with a planned March for Science on 22 April 2017. Why are scientists marching? The scientists’ big concern is ‘silencing of facts’. This concern apparently derives from their desire to have their negotiated ‘facts’ – such as the IPCC consensus on climate change – dictate public policy. These scientists also fear funding cuts and challenges to the academic scientific community and the elite institutions that support it.

The ‘war on science’ that I am most concerned about is the war from within science – scientists and the organizations that support science who are playing power politics with their expertise and passing off their naïve notions of risk and political opinions as science. When the IPCC consensus is challenged or the authority of climate science in determining energy policy is questioned, these activist scientists and organizations call the questioners ‘deniers’ and claim ‘war on science.’ These activist scientists seem less concerned with the integrity of the scientific process than they are about their privileged position and influence in the public debate about climate and energy policy. They do not argue or debate the science – rather, they denigrate scientists who disagree with them. These activist scientists and organizations are perverting the political process and attempting to inoculate climate science from scrutiny – this is the real war on science.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Obama and Trump both lied

Barack Obama said he was going to do something about Assad's chemical weapons and he didn't.

Donald Trump said he wasn't going to do anything about Assad's chemical weapons and he did.

In this case, like the Syrian resistance, I prefer Trump's lies.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

ambiguity is deeply writ


What puzzles me most about Direct Instruction is that it is good practice but poor theory. Part of what I mean follows.

Zig Engelmann starts with the great idea that instruction should be tidied up and made very clear but then takes that too far into the claim that in general instruction can be made unambiguous, “I didn't realise how radical the single interpretation principle was ...” (Teaching Needy Kids in our Backward System, p. 3)

We can strive for clearer instruction, that is a worthy goal, but it is not possible to achieve unambiguous instruction.

For example, when teaching the subtraction sixty two minus fifty seven (62 – 57), the DI teacher asks the students “Can we subtract 7 from 2” and the students are taught to say “No”. They then go onto rearrange 62 into 50 + 12 so as to be able solve the problem. This is good teaching, but there are other ways to solve it as well. Two take seven equals -5. Sixty take fifty equals 10. Ten – five = 5.

My aim here is not to improve DI by making it more complicated. DI works, in part, because it simplifies things. I don't deny that. But the complexity and multiple pathways are written deep into the knowledge domain of mathematics. The claim of unambiguous instruction fails. We can subtract 7 from 2. The answer is not "No". Many more examples of such oversights in DI scripts can be cited.

This is not against DI as such (which in certain contexts works better than anything else in my experience) but against the over simplified arguments often presented by advocates of DI. The idea that data provides the ultimate scientific certainty is mistaken because it is impossible to separate out data from concepts developed internally in the mind. Ambiguity is written into educational theory as well as practice.

These observations are presented here as a stepping stone towards developing a better theory of why DI often works than the unsatisfactory theory (uncritical acceptance of JS Mill's Logic) developed by Zig Engelmann and Doug Carnine.

I speculate further that this seems to tie into a critique of JS Mill, initiated by John Dewey and further developed by Hilary Putnam. JS Mill thought that a perfected science of individual psychology would be able to deliver social laws to solve social problems. This reminds me of the Zig Engelmann cult, which promotes him as the one true educational visionary amongst a sea of deceivers:
"Like Copernicus, who proofs were rejected by the church for 300 years, Engelmann remains a scorned revolutionary, anathema or simply unknown to most people in the field"
- Barbash, p. 8
I can't go along with the way that Piaget, Bruner and Dewey are rubbished in this cult war. I think they have all made valuable contributions to educational theory. Some positives, some negatives, some ambiguities. There is not one true way.

These thoughts were crystallised in thinking about these comments from Hilary Putnam about empiricism:
“Empiricism … thinks that the general form of scientific data, indeed of all empirical data, can be known a priori – even if it doesn't say so in so many words! From Locke, Berkeley, and Hume down to Ernst Mach, empiricists held that all empirical data consists of “sensations”, conceived of as an unconceptualised given against which putative knowledge claims can be checked. Against this view William James had already insisted that while all perceptual experience has both conceptual and non conceptual aspects, the attempt to divide any experience which is a recognition of something into parts is futile: “Sensations and apperceptive idea fuse here so intimately [in a 'presented and recognised material object'] that you can no more tell where one begins and the other ends, than you can tell, in those cunning circular panoramas that have lately been exhibited, where the real foreground and the painted canvas join together” (quoted in Dewey's Ethics, p. 273). Dewey continued the line of thought that James had begun, insists that by creating new observation concepts we “institute” new data. Modern physics (and of course not only physics) has richly born him out. A scientist may speak of observing a proton colliding with a nucleus, or of observing a virus with the aid of an electron microscope, or of observing genes or black holes, and so forth. Neither the form of possible explanation nor the form of possible data can be fixed in advance, once and for all...

Among the classic empiricist thinkers, the most famous ones to call before John Dewey did for the application of scientific research to the problems of society were Mill and Comte. But Comte reverted to meritocracy. He visualised handling social problems over to savants, social scientific intellectuals, a move which falls under Dewey's criticism of the idea of a 'benevolent despot'.

It might seem that this same criticism cannot be voiced against Mill, who, as much as Dewey was to do, valued active participation in all aspects of the democratic process. But as far as the application of social scientific knowledge to social problems is concerned, what Mill called for was the development of a perfected science of individual psychology, from which he thought … we would be able to derive social laws (via the hoped for reduction of sociology to psychology) which could then be applied to particular social problems. This entire program, as most would concede today, is a misguided fantasy
- Ethics without Ontology, pp. 98-100
Further reading will be required to get the bottom of this: Barbash, Shepard. Clear Teaching: With Direct Instruction, Siegrried Engelmann Discovered a Better Way of Teaching (2012)
Dewey Logic
Dewey Ethics
Dewey The Quest for Certainty
Engelmann, Zig. Teaching Needy Kids in our Backward System: 42 Years of Trying (2007)
Engelmann, Zig and Carnine, Douglas. Could John Stuart Mill have saved our schools? (2011)
Jame, William. Radical Empiricism?
Mill JS A System of Logic
Putnam, Hilary. Ethics without Ontology
Quine Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Origins of Modernity

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600, burnt alive by the Church) and Francis Bacon (1561-1626) put forward a clear program of domination or conquest of nature around about 1583-85, the time that Bruno visited England.
“The gods have given man intelligence and hands, and have made them in their image, endowing him with a capacity superior to other animals. This capacity consists not only in the power to work in accordance with nature and the usual course of things, but beyond that and outside her laws, to the end that by fashioning, or the power to fashion, other natures, other courses, other orders by means of his intelligence, with that freedom without which his resemblance to the deity would not exist, he might in the end make himself god of the earth … providence has decreed that man should be occupied in action by the hands and in contemplation by the intellect, but in such a way that he may not contemplate without action or work without contemplation …. when difficulties beset them or necessities reappeared … they sharpened their wits, invented industries and discovered arts … by force of necessity, from the depths of the human mind rose new and wonderful inventions.”
- Bruno, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast
Albert Schweitzer points out that an optimistic view of a modern world where knowledge, standard of living and health could all be improved (as compared with passive acceptance of ignorance, poverty and ill health) met considerable opposition from historical forces. Plato's ethic is world negation., Plato and Aristotle accepted slavery and so did not envisage the liberation of Humanity as a whole. The Epicureans and Stoics preached resignation.

Bacon took the moral stance that real charity involved meeting peoples needs in the full Christian sense of brotherly love. He contrasted this with the tendency of the Greeks to quarrel about opinions.

After dabbling in politics, initially without much success, Bacon took the view that invention was more useful than politics because it is felt everywhere and lasts forever.

Invention required the use of both intellect and labour, the head and the hand. The “mechanical arts” became central to Bacon's vision, he wanted the concepts spread far and wide to a thousand hands and a thousand eyes.

Bacon persistently criticised the influence of Aristotle and Plato on contemporary thinking because their mode of thinking (dialectical argument) did not support the rapid development of the mechanical arts.

The Philosophy of Francis Bacon by Benjamin Farrington (1964), Ch 4, 5 and 6

Saturday, March 18, 2017

natural selection and Direct Instruction

Now for a pithy one liner which also happens to support Direct Instruction:
"Before there can be comprehension, there has to be competence without comprehension"
Dan Dennett, Intuition Pumps and other tools for thinking (2013), p. 105
Comprehension is a latecomer to the evolutionary process.
"Bacteria have all sorts of remarkable competences that they need not understand at all; their competences serve them well, but they themselves are clueless. Trees have competences whose exercise provides benefits to them, but they don't need to know why. The process of natural selection itself is famously competent, a generator of designs of outstanding ingenuity and efficacy, without a shred of comprehension.

Comprehension of the kind we human adults enjoy is a very recent phenomenon on the evolutionary scene, and it has to be composed of structures whose competence is accompanied by, enabled by, a minimal sort of semi-comprehension, or pseudo-comprehension - the kind of (hemi-semi-demi-) comprehension enjoyed by fish or worms. These structures are designed to behave appropriately most of the time, without having to know why their behaviour is appropriate."
- p. 105
Compare with my pithy one liner which critiques Direct Instruction:
"In Direct Instruction there is no script for those who depart from the script or who desire to write their own script"
- fork in the road options and Direct Instruction
You can't begin to write your own script until you have achieved at least a basic competence in whatever domain you are attempting to master.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

philosophers timeline


Thales 625 BC - ?
Anaximander 610 BC - ?
Pythagoras 560 BC - ?
Heraclitus 535 BC-475 BC
Zeno of Elea 490-430 BC
Democritus 460 BC-?
Socrates 469-399 BC
Euclid ? - 366 BC
Plato 429-347 BC
Aristotle 384 BC-322 BC
Epicurus 341-271 BC
Archimedes 287 – 212 BC
Chrysippus 280-206 BC
Cicero 106-43 BC
Ovid 43 BC-17 AD
Seneca 1-65
Plutarch 45-120
Lucretius early to mid 1st C


Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274
William of Occam 1285-1347


Nicolaus Copernicus 1473-1543
Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592
Giordano Bruno 1548-1600 (burnt alive by the Church)
Francis Bacon 1561-1626
Galileo Galilei 1564-1642
Johannes Kepler 1571-1630
Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679
Rene Descarte 1596-1650
Gerrard Winstanley 1609-1676
Blaise Pascal 1623-1662
Robert Boyle 1627-1691
Christiaan Huygens 1629-1695
Baruch Spinoza 1632-1677
John Locke 1632-1704
Robert Hooke 1635-1703


Isaac Newton 1642-1727
Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz 1646-1716
Jonathan Swift 1667-1745
Christian Wolff 1679-1754
George Berkeley 1685-1753
Montesquieu 1689-1755
Voltaire 1694-1778
Carl Linnaeus 1701-1778
Thomas Bayes 1702-1761
David Hume 1711-1776
John Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778
Étienne Bonnot de Condillac 1714-1780
Claude Adrien Helvetius 1715-1771
Baron d'Holbach 1723-1789
Adam Smith 1723-1790
Immanuel Kant 1724-1804
Georg Lichtenberg 1742-1799
Nicolas de Condorcet 1743-1794
Johann Gottfried Herder 1744-1803
Jeremy Bentham 1748-1832
Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749-1832
Joseph de Maistre 1753-1821
Henri de Saint-Simon 1760-1825
Johann Gottlieb Fichte 1762-1814
Pierre Maine de Biran 1766-1824
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770-1831
Charles Fourier 1772-1837


Arthur Schopenhauer 1788-1860
Richard Jones 1790-1855
Charles Babbage 1791-1871
John Herschel 1792-1871
William Whewell 1794-1866
Auguste Comte 1798-1857
John Stuart Mill 1806-73
Charles Darwin 1809-1882
Soren Kiekegaard 1813-1855
Karl Marx 1818-1883
Friedrich Engels 1820-1895
Ernst Mach 1838-1916
Charles Peirce 1839-1914
William James 1842-1910
Frederick Nietzsche 1844-1900
Georg Cantor 1845-1918
Gottlob Frege 1848-1925
Henri Poincaré 1854-1912
Emile Durkheim 1858-1917
Giuseppe Peano 1858-1932
Edmund Husserl 1859-1938
Henri Bergson 1859-1941
John Dewey 1859-1952
Rabindranath Tagore 1861-1941
Alfred North Whitehead 1861-1947
George Herbert Mead 1863-1931
Vladimir Lenin 1870-1924
Arthur Bentley 1870 - 1957
Marcel Proust 1871-1922
Bertrand Russell 1872-1970
GE Moore 1873-1958
Albert Einstein 1879-1955
Moritz Schlick 1882-1936
Otto Neurath 1882-1945
Aldous Huxley 1894-1963
Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889-1951
Martin Heidegger 1889-1976
Hans Reichenbach 1891-1953
Rudolf Carnap 1891-1970
Mao Zedong 1893-1976
Mikhail Bakhtin 1895 -1975
Lev Vygotsky 1896-1934
Gilbert Ryle 1900-1976
Aron Gurwitsch 1901-1973
Herbert Feigl 1902-1988
Karl Popper 1902-1994
Georges Politzer 1903-1942
George Orwell 1903-1950
Alexei Leontiev 1903-1979
Gregory Bateson 1904-1980
BF Skinner 1904-1990
Jean-Paul Sartre 1905-1980
Raymond Aron 1905-1983
Carl Gustav Hempel 1905-1997
Kurt Godel 1906-1978
Emmanuel Levinas 1906-1995
Nelson Goodman 1906-1998
Maurice Merleau-Ponty 1908-1961
Willard Van Ormon Quine 1908-2000
Isaiah Berlin 1909-1997
A. J. Ayer 1910-1989
John Langshaw Austin 1911-1960
Alan Turing 1912-1954
Wilfrid Sellers 1912-1989
Paul Ricoeur 1913-2005
Harold Garfinkel 1917-2011
Iris Murdoch 1919-1999
Elizabeth Anscombe 1919-2001
John Rawls 1921-2002
Imre Lakatos 1922-1974
Thomas Kuhn 1922-1996
Michel Henry 1922–2002
Evald Ilyenkov 1924-1979
Paul Feyerabend 1924-1994
Gilles Deleuze 1925-1995
Michel Foucault 1926-1984
Hilary Putnam 1926-2016
Klaus Holzkamp 1927-1995
Marvin Minsky 1927-2016
Seymour Papert 1928-2016
Bernard Williams 1929-2003
Merab Mamardashvili 1930-1990
Allan Bloom 1930-1992
Pierre Bourdieu 1930-2002
Jacques Derrida 1930-2004
Felix Mikhailov 1930-2006
Richard Rorty 1931-2007
Vladimir Bibikhim 1938-2004
Myles Burnyeat 1939-2019
Marshall Berman 1940-2013
Francisco Varela 1946-2001


Noam Chomsky 1928-
Humberto Maturana 1929-
Maxine Sheets-Johnstone 1930-
Amartya Sen 1933-
Jerry Fodor 1935-
Ian Hacking 1936 -
Michael J Crowe 1936 -
Helene Cixous 1937-
Ronald Giere 1938 -
Mike Cole 1938-
Jean-Luc Nancy 1940-
Bas van Fraasen 1941-
Larry Laudan 1941-
Paul Churchland 1942-
Daniel Dennett 1942-
Marcello Pera 1943-
Donald Gillies 1944 -
Douglas Hofstadter 1945-
Hartry Field 1946 -
Martha Nussbaum 1947-
Camille Paglia 1947-
Bruno Latour 1947-
Richard Yeo 1948-
Yrjo Engestrom 1948 -
Andrew Pickering 1948-
David Weinberger 1950-
Rebecca Goldstein 1950-
Luc Ferry 1951-
Wolff-Michael Roth 1953-
Kwame Anthony Appiah 1954-
Paul Boghossian 1957 -
Andy Clark 1957-
Michele Moody-Adams 1956-
Laura Snyder 1964-
Vanessa Wills ? -
Lucy Suchman ? -

I have been adding to this from time to time.

The genuine refutation

"The genuine refutation must penetrate the opponent's stronghold and meet him on his own ground; no advantage is gained by attacking him somewhere else and defeating him where he is not"
- GWF Hegel, Science of Logic: Subjective Logic or The Doctrine of the Notion
Both the critics and supporters of Direct Instruction do not refute from within the others respective strongholds. That is why this quote has been playing on my mind for sometime.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

fork in the road options and Direct Instruction

An attempt at a pithy critique of Direct Instruction:

In Direct Instruction there is no script for those who depart from the script or who desire to write their own script.

I'd rather be a Robert or a Lauren, than an Alice.
Alice in Wonderland

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”
- Lewis Carroll
The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost

Saturday, January 21, 2017

the pitchfork solution to world inequality

Each year Oxfam delivers a report about how the inequality in the world is getting worse and how this needs to stop. This year, I was encouraged by a marginal note from Nick Hanauer, one of the Super Rich, who warns his fellow billionarie's that:
‘No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out.’
- the pitchforks are coming ... for us Plutocrats
Now, what did that Oxfam report say?
  • Since 2015, the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet.
  • Eight men now own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world.
  • Over the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs – a sum larger than the GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people.
  • The incomes of the poorest 10% of people increased by less than $3 a year between 1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1% increased 182 times as much.
  • A FTSE-100 (Financial Times Stock Exchange 100) CEO earns as much in a year as 10,000 people in working in garment factories in Bangladesh.
  • In the US, new research by economist Thomas Piketty shows that over the last 30 years the growth in the incomes of the bottom 50% has been zero, whereas incomes of the top 1% have grown 300%.
  • In Vietnam, the country’s richest man earns more in a day than the poorest person earns in 10 years.
more details here

Oxfam report: AN ECONOMY FOR THE 1%
the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism
Land of the Free, Home of the Poor

Sunday, January 15, 2017

RAMR Deadly Maths: Adding Fractions

The RAMR cycle originates from Chris Matthews, an indigenous man who has a PhD in maths.

RAMR is a new model for teaching maths, or at least, new to me. I've appended a link to a video at the bottom where Tom Cooper from the YuMi Deadly Centre at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) explains the RAMR cycle. I adapted his talk to a lesson I developed about adding fractions. YuMi is a Torres Strait Islander word meaning "you and me" and Deadly is an aboriginal word meaning smart.

The RAMR acronym stands for Reality, Abstraction, Mathematics, Reflection as illustrated by this graphic:


Teach maths the way it is created or invented. Start with a problem. The problem I posed to the class was how do you add one half and two thirds.

The elements recommended in this Reality phase of the cycle are start with a real life problem, draw on local knowledge and construct kinesthenic activities.
PIZZA DIAGRAMS half and two-thirds

Present this problem as a real life exercise. John eats half a pizza. Jermain eats two thirds of a pizza. How much pizza have they eaten altogether?

Bring real pizza into the room and cut it up. It is a recommended part of the RAMR cycle that the teacher constructs such an activity, preferably kinaesthetic.

Prerequisites: The teacher needs to be aware of prerequisite knowledge required for the problem. In this case the denominator (bottom number) tells us how many equal parts the pizza is divided into. The numerator (top number) tells us how many part of each pizza are being eaten. This had been covered in a previous lesson.


Abstraction means moving from the real world (a pizza cut into various pieces) to a representation of that reality in words, pictures and / or symbols.

We have already begun this above by using the words, symbols and pictures for half and two-thirds. In practice the various phases of the RAMR cycle overlap as well as having some distinctiveness.

One aspect I need to improve on is that of adding in creativity by inviting students to create their own representations of fractions. I didn't do this in the class but later when running the session for trainee teachers it did energise the session with some imagination.

Can you develop your own representation of fractions?


In this phase of the cycle we stress the formal language and symbols of mathematics, practice the concepts a lot (most students need lots of practice) and connect to other maths ideas that have been taught earlier.

When asked how to add ½ plus 2/3 many students will add the numerators and denominators to get the answer 3/5ths. Explain why this is wrong. You don't add denominators because they don't represent something that ought to be added to solve this problem. Rather they represent how many pieces each pizza has been cut into.

The trick to solving this problem is to cut both pizzas in such a way that the parts are equal. This can be solved either
(a) visually or
(b) arithmetically by multiplying the denominators or
(c) by finding the lowest common number in the two times (2, 4, 6 ...) and three times tables (3, 6 …)

So, we divide both pizzas into 6 equal parts

Now we can add the fractions 3/6 + 4/6 = 7/6 = 1 and 1/6

The denominators are not added since they represent how many pieces the pizza was cut into. The numerators are added since they represent the parts of the pizza which are eaten.

Transforming ½ into 3/6

How do we get 6 from 2? Multiply by 3.

Now if we multiply the denominator by 3 we then have to multiply the numerator by 3. ½ x 3/3 = 3/6

This doesn't change the value of the fraction since 3/3 = 1 and multiplying by 1 doesn't change the value of the number. The technical name for this is compensation, the numerator 3 compensates for the denominator 3, etc. This technique is really valuable and can be used over and over again in the future, so it needs to be reinforced. Multiplying by 1 doesn't change the value of a number.

Repeat this process to transform 2/3 into 4/6 by multiplying by 2/2

More Prerequisites: (which were covered in earlier lessons) Equivalent fractions: ½ = 2/4 = 3/6 etc.

Improper fractions (7/6) and mixed numbers 1 and 1/6


The goals here are to:
  • set problems that apply the new idea back to reality
  • enable students to validate and justify their own knowledge
The concepts being covered can be extended at any point throughout the cycle. It doesn't have to be confined to the end.
Extension: Represent 7/6 or 1 and 1/6 on a clock? Answer: 70 minutes or 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Inverse: How else could the pizza have been divided b/w John and Jermain to get the same answer? ie. What other two numbers (fractions) would add up to 7/6 or 1 and 1/6?

Generalise: How could you add any two fractions? Looking for answer here about achieving a common denominator.

For the class I was teaching I found that they struggled to understand what was required for the inverse section but with prompting they got it. Overall, I was happy about the response to the challenge posed by the Reflection section.


Maths textbooks are notoriously dull. Direct Instruction as developed by Rhonda Farkota (link to her PhD thesis) is very useful. But how do we further develop maths curriculum in a rich way once the basics are established?

I found that the RAMR cycle challenged me as a teacher to develop my delivery further. There were some elements in the cycle which made me think hard before I could deliver them. I did find that students responded well to those elements of the cycle in which I harboured a hidden belief that they may not cope with. The cycle integrates real world, creative elements and traditional elements of maths in a manner which I found very satisfactory. I think it is a very good model.

Is this maths which incorporates indigenous culture or simply good maths teaching? Good question! I think both but mainly I lean to the latter view. But really good teaching adjusts itself to take the individual needs of all the current students in the class into account. This requires more analysis and thinking. LINKS
Tom Cooper explains the RAMR cycle here: Professor Tom Cooper - YuMi Deadly Maths

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Some books I am reading in 2017

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2007)
Dennett, Daniel. Intuition Pumps and other Tools for Thinking (2013)
Dixon, Bob. Searching for Aboriginal Languages: Memoirs of a Field Worker (1984)
Engelmann, Siegfried and Carnine, Douglas. Could John Stuart Mill have saved our schools? (2011)
Farrington, Benjamin. The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (1964)
Hofstadter, Douglas R. Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern (1985)
Kenny, Robert. The Lamb Enters the Dreaming: Nathanael Pepper and the Ruptured World (2007)
McIntosh, Dennis. Beaten by a Blow (2008)
Minsky, Marvin. The Society of Mind (1985)
Osborne, Barry (Editor). Teaching Diversity and Democracy (2001)
Monk, Ray and Raphael, Frederic (editors). The Great Philosophers (2000)
Putnam, Hilary. Ethics without Ontology (2004)
Putnam, Hilary. Words and Life (1994)
Roughsey, Dick (Goobalathaldin). Moon and Rainbow: the autobiography of an aboriginal (1971)
Sarra Chris. Good Morning, Mr. Sarra: My life working for a stronger, smarter future for our children (2012)
Shapin, Steven and Schaffer, Simon. Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (1985)
Van Fraassen, Bas. The Empirical Stance (2002)
Widdowson, Frances and Howard, Albert. Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation (2008)
Willingham, Daniel T. Why Students don't like School: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom (2009)

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Donald Trump's twitter feed

I guess one of my new goals in life is to try to understand Donald Trump's twitter feed.

I think this guy gets it: Staking Out The Far Edge and he predicts that President Trump will continue to twitter.
As to the tweeting of the Donald, there’s little chance that his style will become more “Presidential”. He used that style to defeat 16 Republican candidates for the nomination and to defeat Hillary Clinton. Yes, his tone may change, the Presidency has changed the tone of every man I’ve seen take on the job.

But the tweet is far too useful to Trump to ever give up. It is his direct connection to the American people, one which cannot be changed, misquoted, or slanted by the media whether favorably or unfavorably. In addition, he employs it as a most potent negotiating tool, using it to good advantage in a number of ways including staking out the far side of a discussion. So I expect little change in his use of Twitter.