Thursday, May 28, 2009

Schools First - The Castlemaine success

Schools First is a fantastic new initiative that is about improving outcomes for young people.

At its heart, Schools First is about bringing together students, teachers, parents and community members, to support each other and help improve student outcomes.

With a prize pool of $5 million every year for three years, Schools First is a national awards program that provides:

  • Financial recognition of success in establishing effective school-community partnerships; and
  • Financial support to build stronger school-community partnerships.

In support of the awards and their objective, Schools First will also:

  • Provide regional workshops to support schools and communities to form or strengthen partnerships and prepare submissions for an award;
  • Showcase successful partnerships as a means of inspiring other school communities; and
  • Assist in developing a "knowledge bank" of resources on which school communities can draw.

And it's open to all Australian primary and secondary schools, whether they're public or private, special needs, religious or independent.

The awards include up to 60 local awards of $50,000 each and up to eight state awards of $100,000 each. One outstanding national award recipient will receive between $500,000 - $1 million.

Schools First is brought to life by NAB in partnerships with Foundation for Young Australians and Australian Council for Educational Research.

Partnership proves chess is more than a board game.

The ancient game of chess is leading to real outcomes for students in the Castlemaine region of central Victoria, and provides another fine example of school-community partnerships that Schools First aims to support.

About four years ago, Castlemaine Secondary College junior campus welfare co-ordinator Steve Carroll was becoming concerned about the negative attitude displayed towards students who were part of the weekly lunchtime chess program run by Castlemaine Chess Club volunteer Harry Poulton.

“Harry and I decided that this wasn’t an ideal culture within the school, so we hatched a plan to try to change that,” said Mr Carroll. “We thought that if we could get chess into all the feeder primary schools at grade 6 and build a program around that, then when the kids came to the secondary college chess wouldn’t be seen as any big deal.”

Mr Carroll is also a maths teacher, so he and Mr Poulton decided to build their program around maths and numeracy. “When we started, we spent six months planning it,” said Mr Carroll. “That was a really critical part of why it worked so well.”

They researched national numeracy policy and identified about 30 benchmarks that could be directly related to chess. “It gave us a policy link that leveraged us into the curriculum,” said Mr Carroll.

Mr Carroll and Mr Poulton then presented proposals to the Mount Alexander cluster of primary schools and before long the Chess-Squared program was part of the curriculum in 12 local schools.

Once a fortnight, during terms two and three, a tutor from the Castlemaine Chess Club runs a one-hour session for grade 6 students, and the schools are encouraged to run more chess activities during the other weeks.

The program is now in its fourth year and continues to have many benefits for students, and teachers too.

For students, there are real curriculum outcomes in terms of improved numeracy, problem solving, strategic thinking and so on. Mr Carroll said there are also other benefits, such as learning about sportsmanship, teaching students how to stop and think before acting, development of planning and strategy skills and more.

“Chess teaches kids that they have to live with the consequences of their actions,” said Mr Carroll. “That’s a powerful thing embedded in the program.”

And importantly, it’s helping a wide cross-section of children with their learning. “Kids who were underachieving or not performing are finding success and building confidence,” he said.

There are also benefits for teachers, with Mr Carroll and Mr Poulton pursuing further education through James Cook University based on research to do with the program. This helps them to improve the program, along with deepening their knowledge base and skills so they can then offer assistance to other schools and teachers.

Mr Carroll said that parents are very positive about the Chess-Squared program. “Some of the research is showing that kids want to play chess at home,” he said. “They’ve seen that it’s something really positive and that their kids are quite excited about it and like chess. They can see that something productive and real is happening at school.”

Castlemaine Secondary College has no curriculum-based chess program, but students who move from the primary schools into the secondary college are more likely to be part of the lunchtime chess clubs, and tournaments around the state.

Mr Carroll said it’s hard to know exactly how many students have participated in the Chess-Squared program, but the yearly tournaments give an indication.

“At the end of the year we run a tournament at the old Castlemaine jail, and we’ve had about, on average, 250 kids a year,” he said.

These tournaments are also starting to draw in schools from other regional Victorian towns, taking the benefits of the program even further.

Mr Carroll set up a blog that was intended to be a communication tool for 12 primary schools, but it has now become a site of global interest, spreading the impact of the program around the world.

“The blog has 57 articles about a range of issues related to chess and education, and findings and insights into the Chess-Squared program,” said Mr Carroll. “It has had more than 2400 visitors from around the world.”

To visit the Chess-Squared blog, click here.


Anonymous said...

Very nicely done. Congratulations mate!

Spelling Nazi said...

"Schoos" First ?

Schoo! Schoo! Go away, Schoo!

bill said...

Amazing to see this level of corporate sponsorship in education. Well done NAB !