31 May, 2008

Leading by example.

It might have nothing to do with chess. Or has it?

Last year I wrote a post of a former schoolteacher colleague, Lambis Englezos, an amateur historian who claimed to know the whereabouts of 173 Australian soldiers unaccounted for from WW1. They were in a paddock somewhere in France.

For 6 years Lambis’ investigations received ridicule from both the highest ranks of Government Departments, and journalists he’d harangue about his theory.

But with dignity, and patience, Lambis persisted.

During the week he was vindicated. Human remains from that paddock in France indicate the site is in fact a mass burial site from WW1- the largest grave uncovered since WW1.

Perhaps it was Nine News correspondent James Talia’s humble pie, or Dr Peter Stanleys, director of the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia, admission of ‘egg on face’ that puts into perspective what a remarkable story this is.

Lambis persued his project, not for fame, or recognition, or money, but because, deep down he thought it was just the right thing to do. He had a moral purpose. And when human remains were discovered last week, he remained humble and decent when others would have shouted “I told you so”.

Persistence, resilience, planning, strategy, dignity, patience: sound familiar?

There's probably a lot you could write about this story. And no doubt others will. The most important thing to say is : Well done, Lambis.

28 May, 2008

This Learning Life 2- University of Bristol 19-21 June 2008

This Learning Life 2 Conference, held in Bristol UK, is for everyone who wishes education to provide all young people with a more powerful preparation for life in the 21st century.

The presumption is that current 'schooling' often develops a rather arcane and anachronistic set of learning skills and attitudes; and if education is in part a preparation for lifelong learning, richer models of learning might prove fruitful.

Jonathan Rowson is presenting a paper titled: Belonging to a Community that Loves to Think: Chess, Intellectual Character, and Social Capital and has kindly sent us the abstract of his presentation.

For those who know chess from the inside, there is little doubt that the game helps you educationally, but we seem to lack a compelling theory to explain why what is learned from chess might be transferable to other domains, and consequently we struggle to convince policy makers that chess might have an important role to play in improving formal education.

The conventional arguments are principally cognitive and largely intuitive, for instance chess improves your capacity to make informed decisions, shows you the rewards of planning ahead and reveals the importance of thinking about the opponent's intentions. While this may all be true, it fails to capture the uniqueness of chess (perceived difficulty, perpetual decision-making, absence of luck, responsibility, benign competitive context, established etiquette, clear rules etc)and the exclusively cognitive emphasis reinforces the stereotype of chess as something abstract and antisocial.

In my own experience, from learning the game as a five year old, to taking time off school to compete in competitions, to becoming British Champion in three consecutive years, the biggest benefit of chess has been the impact it has had on my attitude to thinking and learning, formed partly through the demands of the game, but also through diverse experiences of people, clubs, tournaments and travel opportunities that I would not otherwise have been exposed to.

This paper will examine chess from the perspective of what Harvard Educationalist Ron Ritchart calls Intellectual Character. The educational value of chess, I argue, is not that it gives you skills that may or may not transfer, or abilities that one may have to a greater or lesser degree, but that it helps to create and sustain intellectual character. Chess has to potential to slowly transform one's attitude, understanding and approach to one's own intellect, and thereby foster deep enduring dispositions about learning and thinking that can gradually become part of one's character. For instance, in my experience chess players, for all their faults and idiosyncrasies, are typically highly curious, enjoy working things out, reflexively think of perspectives other than their own, and deeply value the experience of concentration.

This kind of intellectual character is by no means exclusive to chess players, and can develop in various supportive and challenging contexts. However, I will argue that chess is a good example of how subcultures for tacit and informal learning are created, and will build on existing research on chess as a tool for building social capital (positive networks beyond the family and school) in deprived communities (Chess Development in Aberdeen Primary Schools: A Study of Literacy and Social Capital, A Scottish Executive Education Department Sponsored Research Project,Forest
et al, 2005).

The overarching aim of the paper is to use chess as an example of real-life learning that illuminates the relevance of intellectual character and social capital and highlights the importance of their relationship. I hope my paper will thereby help to illustrate the theme of the conference and not only show that many of our most formative learning experiences take place outside of the classroom, but use my experience with chess to explain why.

21 May, 2008

Chess Squared goes to Maryborough

Students at Maryborough Education Centre , 45km west of Castlemaine, are fast becoming proficient chess players.

In term 1 our program developer, Harry Poulton, worked with Well-Being Officer Marg Gallagher to adapt the Chess-Squared Program to Years 3-4-5-6 students at Maryborough Education Centre, and the results were immediate.

Gallagher said: ‘The level of interest of even the youngest students has been astonishing and their skills acquisition has been most impressive. Chess builds resilience and supports students in important learning areas such as Mathematics and Wellbeing.’

'Many students have displayed excellent organisation and planning skills in a short space of time and their enthusiasm for the game has been sustained.'

Poulton observed: “It seems the MEC has a commitment to combining innovation and pastoral care into all programs to deliver quality education to students with diverse needs.”

Poulton has noted a direct relationship with the level of support from the classroom teacher and the success of the program in all schools he has worked in. The success, it seems, isnt just having a tutor, but the subtle messages the classroom teacher gives out. Their presence, and level of involvement, give students strong messages.

With help from the parents club, the school has recently acquired two large chess sets which are in great demand as a playground activity.

07 May, 2008

Jonathan Rowson- an interesting thinker

I first came across the work of Guy Claxton reading Sam Grumonts blog and thinkings about slow-learning. Two of Claxton’s more interesting ideas are i)that the mind needs to be given time to create meaning hence the phrase slow learning, and ii) that the modern maths curriculum has lost its way.

Almost serendipidously, we met Jonathan Rowson in Aberdeen last year. Interesting fellow Rowson.

Born in Aberdeen, he’s Scotlands 3rd chess grandmaster, has completed first class degree from Oxford, and is presently studying a Doctoral thesis on wisdom with Guy Claxton as supervisor.

So when Rowson talks about education, and learning, and where chess fits into that landscape his ideas are well worth consideration.

Rowson’s presentation from Aberdeen argued we need to keep grappling with the question “What’s so special about chess”, and his answer at present is based on the premise that thinking is the skill that enables us to acquire meaning. He asserts that chess offers the opportunity for people to make meaning through the consequences of their decisions.

Rowson goes on to explore the concept of engagement within a chess context and poses the question ‘where is the educational value the greatest’ within this framework.

Rowsons presentation is certainly provocative and can be found here.

(photo above shows Jonathan Rowson (R) with the Lord Provost of Aberdeen(L) after announcing the Jonathan Rowson Award for all children of Aberdeen who pass a certain requirement.)

03 May, 2008

2008 Begins

Before we knew it, 2008 was well and truly underway. As our ‘man-on-the-ground’ Sam Grumont has taken a coaching position in other parts Loddon, our link between the 12 schools is relying solely on e-mail. This will certainly make things challenging.

Our focus this year will be ‘whats happening in the classrooms’, and 'research perpsectives', and by the end of the year we want profiles from all of the schools, all of our tutors, and some insights into our research journey.

Harry and I are developing research projects, and will provide previews about what our research is about. By engaging in this on-line learning community you are participating in developing a form of data. Comments, contributions, and reflections, are all qualitative, valid forms of rich data called extant data.

So what you might ask? If you’re a teacher in Victoria you might (or might not) have noticed teachers are now mandated to have a documented 100 hours of professional learning every five years, and 50 of those hours have to have a research base, IF THEY ARE TO MAINTAIN THEIR TEACHER REGISTRATION. That’s a pretty radical shift in our working conditions, and one I haven’t heard too much discourse about on the coalface.

May I humbly suggest, participating in this project and joining in the conversation, may go towards meeting some of those criteria. I’ll explain in more detail in a future post.

On a slightly quirkier note, Thursday the 8th May sees the R-U-MAD (r u Making A Difference Day) being held at Castlemaine Secondary College, where the whole school community will be involved in examining the question: ‘what can you do to make a difference.?’

In Sydney, it also sees the launch of Chess: The Musical, held at Sydneys THEATRE ROYAL. No, I’m not mad and if you don’t believe me look here.

Let the game begin, and remember: white goes first!