27 July, 2007

If first you dont succeed, try, try..................and try some more.

When we here that cliché in education, ‘lifelong learning’, what does it really mean? I’m sure it means different things to different people.

For me, it has something to do with finding things that are interesting, meaningful, and give a personal sense of joy and satisfaction, and persuing those things with a sense of passion.

The recent story of Melbourne schoolteacher, and former colleague, Lambis Englezos (pictured above) fits my definition of what lifelong learning is really about. Lambis had a penchant for war history, and in particular the little known WW1 Battle of Fromelles in France.

Without going into detail, Lambis suspected there were some unaccounted Australian soldiers, known as ‘The Missing’, buried in a pit on the fields of Fromelles.

Lambis came into work one day with an aerial photo a week after the 1916 battle. In a small corner were 8 small marks in row. They could have been anything.
That’s were they are! Lambis exclaimed.I pointed out the evidence was hardly scientific. But Lambis persisted.

6 months later he came in with another ariel photo, from different source, taken days before the battle- and sure enough the pits weren’t there.

Lambis and group of supporters put their case to the Federal Government War Historians, only to be dismissed. But Lambis persisited. Years later, he unearthed a German Red-cross account of Australian soldiers being buried at a place known as Pheasant Wood- the exact location of his aerial photos. The evidence was almost irrefutable.

Finally, he unearthed family diaries that once again made mention the mass burial at Pheasant Wood. The government assured Lambis that the bodies had been recovered in later reconnaisence to reclaim bodies from European battlefields. However, after spending 12 months searching official records, War History Unit concluded that such a recovery had never taken place.

Eventually, the Australian Government relented and in May this year hired an expert panel from Glasgow University to study the site. Their finding, released last week, suggest the site has not been disturbed since 1916, and is highly likely to be the burial place of a 162 Australian soldiers, and up to 300 British soldiers.

If so, it is the largest unmarked mass grave unearthed since WW2.

Persistence, resilience, planning, strategy, self-control………sound familiar? The very attributes we are trying to teach with chess? These are the skills young people need to be equipped with from any education, that will set the foundations for lifelong learning. And something Lambis has modelled brilliantly.

The full story can be found here.

22 July, 2007


Ethnography is an qualitative educational research method developed by anthropologists, where culture is the central construct: it is literally the description of a social group. As a process, it is the science of cultural description and represents a dynamic ‘picture’ of the way of life of some interacting social group.

A famous anthropologist observed by way of analogy, “The last thing a fish will see is water’. What may seem remarkable to a visitor from another culture may seem matter of fact to the local person.

A caricature of an ethnographer is a middle-aged anglo-saxon sitting in front of their tent diligently writing in their notebook the events of the day.

Harry has been getting students to write about their chess experiences and has collected over 100 vignettes, when compiled are building a snapshot of what’s happening with the chess program, in ways that may not at first seem obvious.
Two stories below give a really rich, or ‘thick’ description about some of the ways our chess program is impacting on students.

It would be interesting to hear people’s comments about how they interpret different aspects of the comments below.

Grade 6-girl Age 11 years old, Chewton Primary School, Mt Alexander School Cluster, Central Victoria. Came running up to when I arrived to tutor at Chewton Primary School, and she was overjoyed and bursting to tell about her victory over her step dad

(In her own words).
I play chess at home with my step dad and we played for three hours like a footy game. I beat him! It was a long tough game. After I won my mum said you were beaten by an 11 year old girl and my stepdad said, “I want a re-match!!!” I think he was embarrassed. Chess teaches me to build strategy. When I played my step dad he like pretended he had a plan but he didn’t. So I was able to take his queen.
I like playing chess in school it is fun. It has made me think about what can happen if I make a wrong move and a right move. I think about where I am going to move and if I move there what will happen. I play chess with my brother and sister.

Grade 6-boy Age 12 years old, Chewton Primary School, Mt Alexander School Cluster, Central Victoria. Has a history of low performance and has started to shine with the advent of the chess program.

(In his own words)
I like to play chess. It is the best strategy game I have played. It is challenging playing Harry and my Dad. My Great Grand Dad was a good chess player. He died three months after I was born.
Chess has improved my mind in my football with the strategies with the ball. It has improved the way I work out how to tackle, and the position of people and things. I like to set up the footy team like a chess game when I am captain.
My Dad and I play chess a lot. We play about six games a week. He beats me all the time. That is annoying. I don’t play any other games except kicking the football. Chess and football are my main interests.
I like chess better than maths but chess is pretty much maths. Chess is maths with the points and strategies. Chess has improved my thinking skills in pretty much every way. My concentration has improved. With maths chess helped me a lot. My grades were down before I started playing chess and now they are a lot higher- puzzles, numbers.
When I lose I feel I need to get better. I think this person is better than me I had better train and get better. I set goals. My goal is to be one of the worlds best chess players. Chess is the best subject I do at school. Maths, science and sport are my other favourite subjects. I like chess better than computer games because computer games tell you what to do but chess doesn’t which makes it more challenging.

18 July, 2007

PERFORMANCE versus MASTERY: a preview of our presentation in Scotland

One of our assumptions is that a key determinate of the apparent lack of engagement is the motivation of the students. In this study we sought to gain some insights into factors that might influence the nature of the needs, goals and ultimately the decisions the students make about their participation in the learning of chess and subsequently mathematics.

The underlying model was derived from the work of Dweck (2000) who identified two perspectives on intelligence. One is a fixed perspective of intelligence entitled entity theory in which people believe that their intelligence is predetermined at birth and remains fixed through life.

Dweck suggested that students who believe in the entity view require easy successes to maintain motivation, and see challenges as threats. The alternate perspective is where students see intelligence as malleable or incremental and they can change their intelligence and/or achievement by manipulating factors over which they have some control. Students with such incremental beliefs often choose to sacrifice opportunities to look smart in favour of learning something new. Not only their goals but also their needs regulate particular outcomes.

Directly connected to these views of intelligence are the ways that students describe their own needs and goals. Dweck suggested that entity “theorists” have performance related goals, and rely for success on tasks that offer limited challenge. When experiencing difficulties, the model suggests that such students lose confidence in themselves, tend to denigrate their own intelligence, exhibit plunging expectations, develop negative approaches, have lower persistence, and deteriorating performance. Such students particularly seek positive judgments from others and avoid negative ones.

Incremental “theorists”, according to Dweck, have mastery oriented goals and tend to have a hardy response to failure and remain focused on mastering skills and knowledge even when experiencing challenge. Mastery oriented people do not blame others for threats, do not see failure as an indictment on themselves, rather they hold learning goals which are to increase their competence when confronted with difficulty. Confidence in their own ability does not make a difference to students who see intelligence as incremental and success is not needed to build mastery oriented objectives.

Dweck argued that an entity view of intelligence leads students to focus mainly on performance goals whereas an incremental perspective allows students to focus on mastery oriented goals. In other words, the students’ regulation of their decisions and actions is a response to how they define their needs and how these define their goals.

It is interesting to consider the implications of this for teaching. Students who have performance goals could be a direct result of significant adults such as parents and teachers who tended to exaggerate the positives and protect them from negative information.

Dweck claimed that, by their actions, some teachers teach students that they are entitled to a life of easy low effort successes, and argued that this is a recipe for anger, bitterness and self doubt. Dweck suggested that some teachers respond to students experiencing difficulty by providing easier tasks, the net effect of which is to create a climate in which challenges are feared rather than addressed.

Dweck (2000) argued that teachers can teach self regulatory behaviours such as decoding tasks, perseverance, seeing difficulties as opportunities, and learning from mistakes. This capacity for teachers to enhance positive self-regulatory responses is evident in quite separate research strands on self fulfilling prophecy (e.g., Brophy, 1983), and motivation (e.g., Middleton, 1995).

11 July, 2007

More to maths than IQ

A recent study published in Scientific America has found that intelligence, measured by IQ scores, may not be an indicator of students ability to learn maths.

The study identifies a concept called executive functioning- made up of two skills, ‘working memory’ and ‘inhibitory control’ that when combined have shown students perform better in maths results, rather than students who just have a high IQ.

Working memory is the ability to keep information or rules in mind while performing tasks, while inhibitory control is the ability to control impulses and focus on a task at hand.

It seems to us that regular chess play combines both of these skills, working memory and inhibitory control, and may in fact provide a hint to the links between maths and chess we are interested in investigating.

The notion of impulse control is also of interest to us and has application for boys in education, who often struggle to control impulses in traditional classroom environments and can present as behaviour problems.

A full abstract of the article can be found here.