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Rosita brings linguistics to Pathways to Dreaming program

Learning, Processing, Western Sydney University

Date: 23 October 2017

A coded note from Professor Rosita Stone became an introduction to linguistics for over 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who visited Western Sydney University (WSU) last week.

CoEDL’s Rachel Hendery, HDR students Valeria Peretokina, Gloria Pino Escobar, and CI Caroline Jones led the ‘Rosita Stone’ workshops as part of the Pathways to Dreaming program which is run by WSU's Schools Engagement Unit in partnership with 26 south-western and western Sydney high schools, and is designed to link the students with university options 

The students had to imagine they were visiting their professor’s office, but that Prof Rosita Stone wasn't there. Instead she had left them a mysterious note, which once decoded, led to a series of further puzzles which if in turn they could solve, would lead to them being allowed the rest of the semester off and a high distinction!

The students participated in the workshop in a room set up to look like an academic’s office, with clues and puzzles hidden in books, printed emails, on business cards, under the table and among clothes on a coat rack.

Students participating in the Rosita Stone workshop.

One of the puzzles began with an email from Professor Stone’s Danish friend written in Danish. Another email was also sent in English and the students had to compare the emails to learn Danish words for 'coat', 'gloves' and 'scarf', which of course led to the clothes on the rack and further clues.

Another puzzle saw the students examining Etruscan dice. These dice had dots on three of the sides, and Etruscan words for the numbers represented by the dots on the other side. They had to match words to numbers to unlock the Etruscan combination lock with ‘hath, zal, thu’.

Rachel Hendery said she felt the students were intrigued by the linguistic puzzles. “No one had even heard of linguistics before the event, and they certainly all had by the end of it, and had an idea that it might be something they could have fun doing.” She said it was also a great way of getting some students interested in computational thinking even if they didn’t think much of maths or science. “For example, in one group of eight students who put their hands up when I asked who had had fun solving the puzzles, only one kept their hand up when I asked who also enjoyed maths. Yet all of them had enjoyed solving practical puzzles that actually involved logical and computational thinking of the kind that maths and linguistics both involve,” she said.

The WSU CoEDL team hope to bring Rosita Stone to more school groups. They will also offer some training workshops in 2018 to NSW teachers about how to use linguistics puzzles to promote computational thinking in the classroom, and will talk about Rosita Stone escape rooms as an example of creative ways to do this.

CoEDL is a proud sponsor of the Rosita Stone program.

Top image: Rachel Hendery and Rosita Stone

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