Friday, October 17, 2014

Volleyball 2014

I supposed volleyball is a game which can be considered a game I picked up seriously in adulthood. I have always enjoyed games. Over the years, I actually became quite good in the game. Being a badminton player and also endowed with good arm strength gave me an advantage of powerful serves. It used to be the only thing I could contribute to the team. I would go in for the service and be promptly replaced after that. But even then, service was more of brute strength without the finesse of control.

But over the years too, due to the encouragement and support of friends I improved. My friends put up with my very basic skills and tolerated the mistakes I made in the game. Not wanting to disappoint them, I bought a ball and dug against the wall. And there was one year when guidance from a young friend honed my digging skills. I continued to improve.

The teachers have their own sporting event and that became my bench mark. I took part as and when I could. There were some years when we participated and other years when we would just not. One thing though, coming together was always nice. Over the years too, I learned many lessons of life from there. Some of us have been playing together for a long time. Friendships grew.

I think it is probable that many find it hard to imagine why a bunch of ladies, ranging from 24 to 50 plus; in this age where we seem to do everything we can to keep our skin blemish free, go under the hot 3.30 afternoon sun, disregarding the tan which will definitely occur to play an outdoor game of volleyball. The same group too would brave the evening thunderstorm and resume play after the rain had stopped. Or dealing with the bruises, cuts and muscular pains during and after the game. Many of our spouses just cannot understand why we 'torture' ourselves too.

Yet for the many of us who are reaching our 50s, we have been pleasantly surprised by what we still find ourselves able to do. And that is why I believe sports is good. It builds resilience. It teaches a thing or two about life. It enables us to allow the kid in us to come out and play. In a game like volleyball, it is about being a team player too. No one player should be jaded. We cover and bear each other's mistakes. We encourage and pick each other up. We play the roles assigned to our best ability. And learn to grit our teeth and plod on when the going gets tough.... together. And we learn to take the mistakes one member makes as a team.

I think many of us, as we grow older, we tend to have a mindset how we should 'behave', that we should behave our age.... We should not. Mindsets should not be static. Retesting old limits, setting new ones and testing them... All these are good for us, regardless of our age. It keeps us young in the mind and heart. It teaches us a thing or two about being flexible and malleable. It is actually lifelong learning at its best.

One week being out of school has its merits too. I think schools should encourage teachers to continue to be involved in 'co-curricular' activities too. It makes us better teachers cos staying just within the walls of a classroom sometimes is sterile too. Academic prowess is mainly theory with no practice. It puts ideas into our heads with no practice. And sometimes it makes us behave as though as we know everything. We don't.

I am glad I still can play. I am playing my best volleyball. I am learning new skills which I never imagined possible. My friend says the same too. Ageing is no excuse for not learning.... There will no doubt be physical limitations which only the young can break but there are always new things for each of us too.

We won but the highlights of this season... I met up with a young lady I used to carry when she was a toddler. Her mother was one of the people who watched out for me as a rookie teacher. She is my equal now. Leya, as she is fondly known to us.... Without volleyball, it would not have been possible to reconnect. Another highlight... I can still pack power in my serve. I served a couple of aces which made a difference to the outcome. Plus, I can finally feel the game. My team mates no longer need to cover my mistakes. I can hold my own.... and cover my team mates too. But the best of it all remain this... the people I met. The stories and struggles that some have gone through, of grit and resilience, they remain the most priceless.

 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Google Drive vs Apps from Apple in the Classroom

This is probably long overdue, two months overdue, as I have been meaning to blog about my experience of using Google Drive as a teaching tool... mainly for writing.

I have tried using Google Drive in all my language classes, mainly for writing purposes. I went in without anyone to guide me and it has been a journey of sorts for me.

Week 1. In my first attempt I merely asked my students to share their files with me, meaning they were owners of their documents and I was given the right to edit their documents. But it soon became clear to me that it was no way to do things as it was very difficult to keep track of all the essays which were coming in. I blogged about my first week's experience here...

Week 2... in my reading, I came across an add-on, Doctopus which was actually a script written as an add-on for Google Sheet (Google's twin to Microsoft's Excel). What Doctopus does is it enables the students to work on their assignments on my drive. This means I am the owner of their assignments until a time when I relinquish ownership into their respective Drives. Doctopus is rather like an automated assignment mailer. Everyone gets the same assignment and I can embargo the whole class's assignments for grading. Embargo is like locking their files so that no editing can be done by the students. This is great for me to set deadlines.

What I like about Google Sheet with Doctopus as an add-on is Goobric. Goobric is an Chrome Extension which adds rubric functionality to Doctopus. It is a great tool because it enables the rubric to appear as you grade the essay. I have taken a new interest in rubrics lately because of that too. You can type the marks on each section of the rubric. And with a little work added to Sheet like formulas to calculate the total and grading it, it gives a very good feedback to students (once they understand how it helps them) and me as a teacher. My only grouse is the waiting time for the rubric to appear as if you click other tabs, the rubric will disappear. That wastes quite a bit of time for me.

If I continue using Google Drive as part of my teaching tools, I will definitely be looking into making class work (essays) as part of the overall grades. There are other add-ons like autoCrat and Flubaroo which I have tried on my own but not with the class yet because I am also trying out other apps.

Now the snags... For this to work, the teacher has to be rather competent on the computer. A good understanding of how the filing system works is very important. I think for many teachers at the moment, this issue alone would probably be deterrent enough. The next thing is typing skills. Speed typing not just helps but makes a world of difference. If you are one of those two-finger typists, it is going to an uphill task to clear 40 essays on Drive.....

....which brings me to the note taking apps on the iPad. As you can see from the picture, I have quite a few of those apps. My current favourites are Notability and Inkflow. The latest addition is Notes Plus which I just bought because they had a one day sale which knocked off 90% of the price. I could't resist it and I have just spend the whole weekend trying it out.

And of course, my girl as usual became my first 'student'. The fact that the iPad is based on finger gestures is alone to make it 'superior' over Google Sheet/Doc, I feel. Hand gesture means most people should be able to use it minus the requirements like the ability to type fast or of having a good understanding of how the filing system in a drive should be organised or even the inner workings of all these mumbo-jumbo techie terms. The add-ons require more understanding too as locating certain files can be quite a challenge.

Notes Plus... I am very pleased with this app. It is a note taking app. And it does precisely that. With either your finger or stylus, you can type, write, doodle, draw... basically, you can do just about anything you can do with a paper/pencil and a pen and more. And you can keep all your work in neat little digital notebooks which you can carry with you or store them in the Cloud. Notes Plus has a built-in browser, which means you can directly capture or import PDF files into your notebooks. It also is capable of this little neat trick of transforming your handwriting into typewritten words. This is a good feature to make your work searchable. And you can always print your work of art out too if you feel the need to touch paper or hear the scratching, scribbling, swishing or rustling paper sounds.

These apps also serve as a teaching board... much better than the traditional boards. You can draw, annotate, highlight and switch among materials with great ease. And for me who run a class with two projectors, I am beginning to learn that the possibilities are actually quite endless.

The only thing I wish for now if I can have something like Doctopus/Goobric functionalities with these note taking apps. Because somehow I feel, Google Drive is still basically doing things the old way with a new twist... We are still stuck in that MSOffice way of doing work. It's an efficient way of doing things but feels a bit sterile very often.

On the iPad, the experience is dynamic. You can be more creative. You can see more colours, curvy lines... stuff which don't make your work feels like a mechanical piece. There is order but there is chaos too, which I think can be a good thing in a learning process. Cos your work has this machine feel yet at the same time, the human touch.

Gesture as opposed to the keyboard. We have the Android tablets too now... and they are catching up with the iPad... but for now, though I like what I can do with Google Doc/Sheet, I still feel apps developed for iPad (or Android based tablets) are more versatile, dynamic which allows creativity to flow more.

And how I wish our classrooms can be equipped with iPads. That will be a beginning to a paperless school.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In The Name of Progress

The water pressure to my house was so low that water cannot go up to the tank upstairs during the day and the it comes out in a trickle from the garden tap at any given time of the day. The problem started about 4 years back, if memory serves me right... I wrote about it here. Back then we refused to install a pump because we felt it was not right.... And those old pipes... their diameter becomes smaller over time. Ours is more than 10 years old and the quality of water which we have been getting of late has deteriorated even more. These days, my garden water container always have sediments at the bottom. I supposed that too contribute to the pipe getting smaller.... faster. My own home's pipes only was change after 30 years!

Well, we have had to do a rethink. A couple of days back,  the water treatment plant in Bukit Pinang experienced a breakdown. After one particular heavy use on Monday, my house ran out of water. It was after I called the Helpline the next day that I realised water had not been going up for a while due to the problem at the water treatment plant. SADA has a website. While they do put up water disruption notices there, how many people make it a point to check SADA websites everyday... Schools, town halls, kopitiams... I think they have to be more resourceful in getting information to the consumers.

Anyway, after that 'dry spell', we decided it was enough and time to fix a pump to draw from the mains like everyone else. Much to my chagrin, water was still not coming in after that. Bear in mind that 4 years ago, SADA officials came to my house after I complained about low pressure. They told us to fix a pump. They didn't send anyone to check the pipe from the mains to our house this time around. This time around, toilets without water.... I finally caved in and fixed the pump.

After the pump was fixed, the problem persisted. This time around, due to my insistence and repeated calls, somebody from SADA called up. And this was what I was told... that I had to get a licensed plumber to lay a new pipe from the main to my house. And I have to pay for the laying of the new pipe. The plumber we called has yet to come. I think including online complaints, I made a total of probably 5-6 complaints over a period of 5 days, thereabout. 

This morning when I called their Helpline again, I was told that they deal with 60-70 complaints a day. And that they could not be sure when they will look into my complaints. I think back in those old days when JKR was in charge, the response time was way faster. So much for privatisation. Can't say we have better service. Can't say I am getting better advice too. 

As for licensed plumber.... I think most people don't even know where to find one. There is no online list on SADA's website. I think most of us just have to depend on the SADA people to recommend or point us to someone. There is always room for abuse when not everything is efficient or transparent.

Water is a basic necessity. And we have privatised that. Question is, when the water company does not deliver the service that is expected, who do we bring the matter to? Privatisation is supposed to mean better everything. But it feels like we are paying more .... for less?? Water metres get stolen and the onus is on the owners to pay for the replacements... for something not totally their fault. Metal water metres are an attraction as they fetch some value.

Progress ... it's subject to interpretation like everything else. In my line of work, better sets of results equals to progress. Winning more competitions means progress too... Owning a big car, living in an even bigger house... we call it progress. Progress is when we have things to show... the more, the more progress.

Progress for water delivery?? Well, I guess inside, outside... we have to pay to ensure delivery. That is the price for progress. We need to pay more for everything...

That water crisis cost me more than just $$$. The eventual cleanup that I had to do after the 'renovation' caused my old injury to revisit with a small vengeance. Sigh.... 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Brief History ...by Stephen Hawking

This was a short read.  All the hype about the Ice Bucket Challenge reminded me of Stephen Hawking. FaceBook was full of articles about ALS and of course its most famous victim, Stephen Hawking. And who wouldn't know him.

I had read about Stephen Hawking as young girl, in a Reader's Digest article about 3 decades ago. I learned it was called Lou Gehrig's Disease. That name got stuck in my head somehow over the years and I always remembered. I remembered too flipping through my Encyclopaedia Britannica to read more about Lou Gehrig and that info about him being a famous baseball player got etched into my mind too.

And that struck me as funny cos I have discovered that many of my students don't seem to share that sort of penchant or interest to learn something which sometimes may not seem related to our lives at that moment.

Anyway, coming back to the book. The first part was easy enough to read as it mainly detailed Hawking's early life. There wasn't much difference from the biography that I had read about Hawking. The last chapter however, took a little more effort as he went into the discussion about the black hole and the cosmos. But the brevity of his narrative made the reading a very pleasurable activity.

I started reading the book at around 10 p.m. and got up at 4.00 ++ a.m. the next morning to continue reading. I finished before 6 and got ready to go to work.

It's been a while since I read any books. Most of my reading these days are mainly articles and magazines. It is quite nice to 'hold' a book and read one for a change.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Two Years On... Still On CPT

Two years ago, I wrote about having to sit for the Cambridge Placement Test (CPT). And the results were finally released to the teachers. I happened to walk into the Staff Room a couple of days ago and my KP congratulated me and passed me a set of forms to be filled in. Apparently there was a one off incentive given to the teachers who passed the CPT with a C1 or C2. I had no inkling of what she was talking about as I had forgotten about the exam. I wasn't even sure whether I sat for it.

Anyway, a colleague sent me the website to check my status, which I did. And my name appeared. It is strange that we needed 2 years to process a set of results. And during those 2 years, many teachers had already been asked to attend the APTIS course which is kinda like a remedial... they have a nicer sounding term. They call it upskilling.

The MOE took away our Critical Allowance last year. The PPSMI was supposed to continue till 2018... (I might have the year wrong) and the Critical Allowance was supposed to be till then. But I supposed, with most schools teaching Maths and Science in BM, it was only logical that the allowance be taken away. One of the reasons for the failure of PPSMI I still believe is the lack of teachers skilled enough in English... If a teacher cannot convey a lesson across effectively due to the lack of language, that is already problem enough.

If the CPT results are anything to go by, they point too, to (in)competency problems among the English teachers. Results were dismal, I read. And where I am, I think it's a real problem too. Grades for CPT are C2 (Mastery; 90-100), C1 (Effective Proficiency; 75-89), B2 (Vantage; 60-74),  B1 (Threshold; 40-59), A2 (Waystage, 20-39), A1 (Breakthrough; 10-19) and Pre A1 (0-9).

From among those I know, there were some C1(s) and fewer C2(s). And from the C2 group, many of them had retired. We keep saying that our education system is world class... if it is so, then there should be a big group of C2(s) and even bigger group of C1(s). Yet it is heavily skewed towards the B(s) and A(s). But like the proverbial frog under the coconut shell who has only a narrow view of one spot of blue sky, we believe that all is well.

This Merdeka Day... while many adverts keep heaping praises on our diversity, yet when you go out onto the streets... the Merdeka spirit seems kinda lacking. Fewer flags seem to be flown, the air of Merdeka-ness just doesn't seem to be in the air... It feels kinda dampened. I think many are weighed down by many things... being squeezed by rising costs, GST looms ahead... But I think too, it is hard to build a Malaysian race when so many policies around us still divide us by ethnicity. What has that to do with the CPT results? Well... the CPT result is an indication too at a nation blinding itself to our skewed values which has brought us where we are.

Well, maybe that's just me feeling it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Take Time To Smell The Roses...

Growing up in an idyllic surrounding, with time in hand for so many mundane things... climbing trees, cycling through the rubber estates and stopping to collect the rubber seeds sometimes, going to the beach, sometimes on many consecutive weekends, hiking, playing games.. we seemed to have our hands filled with activities...

Most of the time, we were game enough to try any thing. We built, took things apart, made our own toys, played seasonal games... kite flying, marbles, gasing... We still had time to smell the roses...

Many kids I see do very little of those activities.... Maybe there are other pressing needs now, tuition, music and art lessons. Busy lives we lead now. The young seems to be as busy as the adults. Busy topping up knowledge..... certs. We are all on the superhighways now, zooming at prescribed speeds trying to get to our destinations ASAP. Gone are the winding roads hugging the hillside and snaking through the countryside. The terrain used to dictate how the roads traverse the country. These days, the roads bulldozed through everything.....even mountains.

Many of us seems to be in a constant rush.... I think many of us don't have time for small talk. Or time to ask each other about the mundane.. When we have no time for that, I think we don't take much interest in each other's lives too. There are more who want to talk and less who are willing to listen... We seem to thrive on the sensational or events that will elicit oohs and aahs. I don't know whether it's just social reengineering or we are more prone to the continuous effort of creating an image.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram... They have changed the way we create image too apart from the interacting part. The Ice Bucket Challenge for example. It succeeded in collecting close to USD16 million compared to just USD 2 million the previous year. ALS is a debilitating disease. But once this hype dies, ALS will be forgotten again. If it was donation sought, even a million for many of the celebrities is just small change.

Then the honours accorded to those who died in the MH17 tragedy... even the King was there! There are many who die senseless deaths in the country every day. And there were many too who gave their lives for the country who did not get the same honour. It's rather peculiar the way we operate.. we seem to have this need to show that we care or grief in a way that lets the whole world know that we are feeling that. Or maybe it's just to satisfy this need which is innate in every one of us.. the need to show. Maybe it's just we have no time..... and we need such outlets.

A 'one-off' grieving moment... or a moment to show we care. I don't know. Over the years I have learned that it takes time to build a character. It needs time to show we care. It requires effort to know. And we don't have that sort of time. No time to even smell the roses. Maybe the social structure has changed. Maybe this is the reengineering of the way we should operate as a society of the new millennium.

But perhaps in all these.. it might do us well to take time and smell the roses again. Sit down face to face, over a cuppa and sembang-sembang...


Friday, August 22, 2014

A Chinese Concert

This is a first for me, two Fridays ago. I actually attended a Chinese concert.... I guess it qualifies for a 'pop' concert. Well it was a concert by a group of singers in the 50s reminiscings the 80s and 90s. And to think, when I was my kid's age, I was looking into the 60s and 70s.... my parents' era. Another generation, the same cycle...

The venue was Keat Private Hall. Place was quite comfy enough but the chairs were hard. I think my butt feels kinda 'flattened'. And it was a little tiring.. like many 'Chinese events' this didn't start on time and as a result it ended quite late. We left before it ended.

The hall was quite filled. If my smattering Mandarin is anything to go by, I think they managed to collect a tidy sum from the school, which is not bad considering there was just another concert at the same place just 7 days ago. It was also another fund raising concert.

I could understand half of what was going on. The other other... I depended on my own deductions and translation from my two friends. It was a night of three mothers and six children.

Many of the songs were unfamiliar to me... not surprising since it in a language not very familiar to me. The songs came from the late 80s and beyond. Back in those days, the singers were still young. Most of them have passed the half century mark I think.

Some songs were nice. Mostly were slow numbers. The few which were fast and loud were too loud for my liking. The music was too loud for my comfort. But I could see too some of the oldies in the hall enjoying the show. How not to, when a piece of your childhood comes alive for that brief moment.

Totally another first.

And oh yes.. today the remains of the MH17 were finally brought home. There is so much fanfare... Sometimes I wonder whether we were caught up by the precedence in the Netherlands earlier cos not even our fallen soldiers receive such honour.