Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wishing upon a wall...

I'm now in an experimentation mode of sorts! No, not the sort who would want to create anything that can explode in your face, but more importantly i'm in the mode for experimenting, and even 'hunting' for relevant Web 2.0 tools that I can use in both within and out of my classrooms. The first quarter have been a successful experiment for me, what with the numerous possibilities that a blogging platform has to offer! And I must say, it has been an interesting journey so far. Has it been COMPLETELY successful? Well, I think that it is not entirely successful on all fronts, but then again, the irony about this kind of experimental tinkering is the fact that we wouldn't know that something DOESN'T work, until we try it out, and then discover that it doesn't!

Well so far, the use of the relevant tools has been met with measured success (and failures). TWITTER is not as good when one wants to have a visual and more complete idea of how things are going, although it does capture the responses in a chronological manner, if that is indeed your lesson's cup of tea. And using mindmapping apps have been useful and enlightening, I think, as it does manage to capture the varied thought processes, the multiplicity of synapses that are happening in my charges' grey matter, and the sometimes almost awkward yet seemingly innocent way of looking at things. It is sometimes refreshing to see their ideas at their baseline levels being developed into something more mature, more robust, and perhaps even something more critical, with a dash of innovation and creativity thrown in for good measure.

I tried earlier today and found it to be quite an impressive tool for the collation of ideas and comments, much better than TWITTER. Here's a final screenshot of the task given to the students:

Screenshot on the 'Bird Problem'

But I think, where my area of expertise is concerned, there is still something missing, something perhaps that I can use to go beyond just the texting speciality of wallwisher, to something that can be used to collaborate even further through sketches and other means. (photos and annotation). Well I think I have found one or two of those tools, but have yet to put it in practise, and by that I mean to be used by my students. Let me have a go at them first, and maybe, just maybe, report my findings later on.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Diary of a Reformed Elitist

I got this post from an email, which was taken from the ST Forum Online, dated 8th April 2010, written by a Ms Sim Soek Tien. I thought this was one of the more thoughtful and sincere letters that touched on the topic of elitism. Reading this, I do hope that the students that I am currently teaching will remember to be humble, and to know that it is NOT their God-given right to be where they are right now. Success is hard-earned, and once its theirs, please do remember to help those that have been left behind.

"I AM as Rafflesian/Raffles Girls' School (RGS)/'elite' as they come. My father was a Raffles Institution boy; I went through Raffles Girls' Primary School (RGPS), RGS, then Raffles Junior College, then on to the National University of Singapore, boarding at Raffles Hall. My sisters went through much the same route. My little girls are in RGPS.

I recognise the syndrome Ms Sandra Leong talks about ('Scoring high in grades but not in values', last Saturday). I live it, breathe it. Most of my friends are like me, graduates. Most of us live in landed property, condominiums or minimally, executive condos or five-room flats. None of us talks about making ends meet, or how we must turn down medical treatment for our aged parents because we cannot find the money.

But I will add to her essay: that those traits, that aura is not unique to RGS girls. It resonates within a social group, and its aspirants, the well educated or well endowed. I hang out with so many, I have stories by the barrel.

- My doctor friend, non-RGS and one would even say anti-RGS, was shocked when she found out how many As I got in my A levels, since I opted to do an arts degree. In her words, 'I thought all arts people were dumb, that is why they go to arts'. Her own family boasts only doctors and lawyers - she said they would never contemplate any other profession - and by implication, all other professions are below those two.

- A church-mate who lived in a landed property in District 10 - definitely not an RGS girl, and I venture to guess, not even a graduate - once, in all sincerity and innocence, prayed for all those who had to take public transport and live in HDB flats, for God to give them strength to bear these trials.

- Another friend, also non-RGS and a non-graduate, shudders when she recounts the few months she lived in an HDB flat. And that was a five-room flat. Imagine the culture shock if she had lived in a three-room flat.

I continue to meet people who never visit hawker centres, who wonder why the poor people do not work harder to help themselves, who fret if their children do not get into the Gifted Education Programme (reserved for the top 1 per cent of nine-year-olds).

The pattern repeats itself in the next generation. When my 11-year-old had to go on a 'race' around Singapore, using only public transport, the teacher asked for a show of hands on how many had never taken public transport (bus and MRT) before. In a class of 30, five raised their hands. I think if the teacher had asked for those who had taken public transport fewer than 10 times in their young lives, the number would have more than doubled or tripled.

Many of us live in ivory towers. I know I did. I used to think Singapore was pretty much 'it' all - a fantastic meritocracy that allowed an 'HDB child' from a non-graduate family to make it. I boasted about our efficiency - 'you can emerge from your plane and be out in 10 minutes' - and so on.

It was not that I thought little of the rest of the world or other people; it was that I was so ensconced in my cocoon, I just thought little of anything outside my own zone. 'Snow? Yes, nice.' 'Starvation in Ethiopia? Donate $50.' The wonders of the world we lived in, the sufferings and joys of those who shared this earth were just academic knowledge to me, voraciously devoured for my essays or to hold intelligent conversations at dinner parties.

Then I lived in China for seven years. I looked on in amazement as the skinny tree trunk in front of my yard blossomed and bore pomegranates when spring thawed the ground. And marvelled at the lands that spread east, west, north and south of me as we drove and drove and drove, and never ended. I became friends and fans of colleagues and other Chinese nationals, whom so many Singapore friends had warned me to be wary of.

I realised it was not the world and other people who were limited in their intellect, in their determination, in their resourcefulness; it was me and my world views which were limited. I also know full well that if I had stayed in Singapore, in my cushy job, comfortable in my Bukit Timah home, I would have remained the same - self-sufficient. I had always believed that if I put my mind to it, I could achieve anything. For example, I used to look at sick people and root: 'Fight with all your willpower, and you will recover. 'And when they did not, I'd think they had failed themselves. I, like Ms Leong, believed 'mental dexterity equated strength of character and virtue'.

But those years in China taught me terrible lessons on loneliness. I learnt that money (an expatriate pay package) and brains (suitcases of books) did not make me happier than my maid who cycled home to her family every night in minus 20 deg C on icy roads to a dinner of rice and vegetables. The past few years, I have known devastating loss and grief so deep I woke up in the morning and wondered how the sun could still shine and people could go on with their lives.

And so perhaps I have learnt the humility I lacked. Humility about how small I am in the whole schema of things. About how helpless I truly stand, with my intellect in my hands, with my million-dollar roof over my head. To remember, in the darkest valleys of my journey, it was not Ayn Rand or other Booker list authors who lifted me, but the phone calls, the kindness of strangers, that made each day a little less bleak.

And perhaps finally, to really see other people, and understand - not deflect, nor reflect their anger and viewpoints, but see their shyness, pain, struggles, joys. Just because I was 'fortunate enough' to have trawled the bottom levels. And perhaps that is the antidote to the oft unwitting elitism so many of us carry with us."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

‘Don’t get the SCHOOLING get in the way of the LEARNING’

The trip to Prague that I made about a fortnight ago has indeed been a fruitful one, for both the professional and personal side of me. It was an inspiring and enriching experience to see what are the possibilities that lay out before me as both a teacher/educator, and as a man who believes in the underlying value of education as the great connector of any social chasms. It was a uniquely satisfying experience, to see fellow educators in action, and to see how they have managed to change the lives of tens, hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, by the mere believe in the education of the child, rather than of a subject...and in the belief that technology is just a mere tool, as a means to an end, and as a great leveragor (for lack of a better term) of making the classroom experience that much more engaging and enriching.

‘Don’t get the schooling get in the way of the Learning’

The mantra above has somehow just got stuck to my head from the time that it was uttered during the seminar. Upon reflection, I guess it was one of those moment of revelation that perhaps we as teachers and educators would regularly need so that we may not lose sight of our bearings! Of how sometimes we as educators, tend to ‘lose’ the notion of what learning is all about, and perhaps even of embracing the belief that it is something that happens beyond just the mere confines of the four walls of a classroom too. And I personally believe that here at my current institution, we have been doing something right so far, it is perhaps novel, new and innovative, but it is definitely something right! And I guess in doing all things that are of such a nature, there would be critics, both positive and negative.

And as we trod along a path that has never been trodden, we do need to muster a lot of courage in doing things that have not been done before. And perhaps also, of believing and embracing that the way to go forward is to believe that we are, and should be just as curious as our students...perhaps even enough to say that in a class of 20 students that we are usually teaching in, there are actually 21 learners!

An interesting facet that I realise is how the convergence of technology has merely hasten the transition between one of digital immigrants to digital natives, and how 'DIGITAL' is now THE natural environment that our students are growing up in! For us educators, we must realise that by leveraging on our unique teaching and learning experience in a 1-to-1 platform, what we are doing is actually ‘disrupting’ the status quo, the very same modus operandi of how teaching (and perhaps learning at times) have been conducted for the last 1 to 2 generations. History have shown how these ‘disruption’ and 'disruptors' are both revolutionary and evolutionary in nature, and how these have turn out to be the ones who have stood the test of time as THE way to go forward! And perhaps, what we are doing here @SST right now could just perhaps be that, THE great disruptor, to both revolutionise teaching, and perhaps to evolutionise learning!