29 May, 2007

Meeting the tutors(3): Greg Smith

My name is Greg Smith and I’m a chess tutor. Thanks Harry and Steve for asking me to join the team.

Unlike Harry I came late to Chess. I played a few games as a child and luckily remembered the moves when I first attended the Castlemaine Chess Club. There I enjoyed the company, wisdom, humour and coaching of the astute.

I became a father in 2002 (I now have a boy and a girl) and a teacher in 2003. I had taught SOSE, ICT and Art, previously to tackling Chess. The student’s enthusiasm and engagement with chess overwhelmed me. Truly amazing! Chess works.

I distinctly remember a point when 30 children all pondered studiously silent, each brain computing at the speed of light. This despite my preferred method of encouraging banter, conversation and discussion. I have derived happiness reaffirming that children enjoy thinking.

I have been privileged to attend 5 schools in Mt Alexander Shire and I enjoy the diverse challenges available. All teachers have been warm and supportive and speak of positive results. Large, small and mixed age classes all require different approaches. I am often asked about gender bias and I haven’t observed any. Students love to count up the pieces. Whether it is shown that chess improves maths or not I remain convinced that chess in schools, particularly at upper Primary level, is eminently beneficial.

Harry sums up chess so perfectly I will simply quote him here.
“Research, experience and observation have led me to believe that chess is an excellent pedagogical tool which improves concentration, impulse control and accountability, cultivates good sportspersonship and social interaction.”

With chess, a novice can play an experienced player, beautifully expressed by an Indian proverb, "Chess is a lake in which a gnat may sip and an elephant may bathe."

(Meet our other tutors here and here- scroll down a bit!

20 May, 2007

Dancing with Data- Part 1

The graph above of Pat Maths results across the cluster provides a snapshot of what has happened with numeracy Mt. Alexander schools in 2005 and 2006. It is difficult to draw conclusions from the line graph.

But when we combine stanines into low(1+2+3), medium(4+5+6), and high (7+8+9), and plot a column graph clearer and interesting trends begin to emerge.

So, what can we say?
It appears there has been some improvement in numeracy across the cluster. Although, we have to be careful here. We’re comparing two different groups, and there are no isolated or control variables. On their own we can’t be too confident of these results meaning anything definate.
Harry and I have enrolled in the Graduate Certificate for Educational Research Methods and are understanding the fascinating complexities of educational research- a unique blend of scientific(quantitative) and humanistic(qualitative) approaches.
But, here is the strength of the humanistic approach: these graphs have ‘shone a torch’ on an area for further investigation.
By conducting interviews, compiling vignettes, recording teacher observation, parent comments, & tutor observations we might begin to draw a picture about what specifically in our program is happening with student learning. It’s often through qualitative approaches we find the unexpected, discover both subtleties and complexitites within education.
And from that, ascertain what contribution regular chess playing has on learning outcomes.
The moral to the story: its not always the graph that tells us entirely what’s happening, but understanding what’s happening in classrooms that gave us the graph in the first place.

08 May, 2007

Rhonda Galbally(AO) says........

A recent editorial from Rhonda Galbally AO,(CEO of Our Community) discussed a new report by Professor Tony Vinson claiming Australia’s economic boom has failed to improve the lives of tens of thousands of Australians leaving them locked into communities of deep disadvantage.

Galbally writes: 'A confluence of research from around the world has found that the greatest risk factor for virtually all illnesses – not only the old-fashioned communicable diseases, but also mental illness and non-communicable illnesses such as stroke, heart disease and cancer – is social and economic inequity. A community’s resistance to these challenges, however – its resilience – depends on what Professor Vinson measures as “social cohesion”.

Professor Lisa Berkman (Harvard School of Public Health) and Emeritus Professor Len Syme (School of Public Health, University of California Berkeley) trace this social cohesion to such human factors as a sense of belonging and hope. Important, too, is a feeling that one is able to control one’s life and participate socially in a meaningful way. All these factors are boosted by engagement in community activities, and community activities thrive where there is a rich culture of voluntary associations.

The lack of community infrastructure in disadvantaged areas results in a lack of opportunity to build ‘social cohesion’ and a sense of belonging by participating in community groups. So lack of community infrastructure is a significant risk factor for destroying resilience in individuals.

Strengthening local community infrastructure is vital because, according to Vinson,

“Building a sense of belonging to one's locality and increasing neighbours' interaction with one another can go a long way to shielding children and families from the full impact of social disadvantage.”

Research from around the world shows that belonging to community groups reduces crime and violence, increases respect for diversity, reduces youth suicide, and improves health. A doubling of the rate of membership in community organisations has the potential to reduce violent crime by up to a third and property crime by up to 10%.

To improve health, wellbeing and resilience these disadvantaged areas need more sports groups, more parent groups, more environmental groups, more disability groups, more older people’s groups, more car clubs, more associations of all kinds, addressing all interests and needs. In disadvantaged areas the quantity and quality of this infrastructure is significantly weaker.

As well, research in the new field of social epidemiology shows that communities that have a sense of control over the design, development and governance of that part of the community sector that delivers their services (e.g. emergency relief, disability services, aged care) are socially and medically healthier than communities where services are imposed through a top-down approach.

While the emphasis on building of community infrastructure is unquestionably necessary, by itself it won’t, of course, be sufficient – as Vinson says, “Such building of connections between the residents of disadvantaged areas needs to be accompanied by the creation of new opportunities in education, training and employment that open up life opportunities.”

There are a number of interesting issues in this abstract in relation to our chess program. What started as a simple classroom activity is providing an opportunity to improve childrens health across a rural community by providing access to volunteer programs, adult mentors & participation activities for young children and strengthening links with community organisations all, as Vinson desires, within a framework of education.


(Reprinted with permission from Our Community Matters. The full article can be found here.)