Friday, November 22, 2013
And I think it's quite clear to see why. The writing is on the wall already actually....
I think we are still not quite up to the BYOD or BYOT stage yet. Most of us feel that our students are not quite yet ready for that. That BYOD would probably be more distracting than enabling. However, I feel that this is one area which we should be exploring in earnest. I find it strange that our kids cannot bring their own smartphones to school to use as a reference tool. This is an age of information at 'Google-tip'.
Our text books remain stuck to the date of its publications. So as the world moves forward... even as kids in other countries learn that states of matter consist of solid, liquid, gas, plasma and Bose-Einstein condensate, our kids learn that there are only 3 states. And our teachers say this is good so that they get a good solid basic. I fail to see how. I find it sad that our kids are not encouraged to use the vast resources on the Net as their learning fields. We are still trying to micro manage an environment that seems to moving beyond the macro. And we continue to drill for A(s) because we believe that those with the most A(s) will be good enough for the vocations of their choice. This despite numerous and repeated reports from those in the field that our graduates are simply just not meeting market needs.
Tablets... since I am an iPad person... should be a feature in the classrooms. And kids should be encouraged to bring their own. Perhaps we should allow schools to dicate their own platforms.
Recently I attended a course for the deployment of Chromebook in schools. A new mobile lab concept came with this latest offering from the Ministry of Education.
This mobile lab which is actually a cart complete with its own internet source and cache storage. They even thoughfully added the access points so that 40 units of computer can access the net in class. All these Chromebooks sit in the cart, ready to be carted to the class for use. But someone seems to have forgotten that our classrooms sit not only on one floor. Our 80kg mobile cart apparently can only be mobile on one floor. It's crazy trying to move a cart up or down two flight of classrooms.
And even as we participants of the course tried to access the net via the modem given.... it was obvious too that having 40 online at the same time might prove a tricky feat. And not forgetting too... the Chromebooks in the mobile carts needed to be extracted for use. Imagine the time needed to retrieve and keep these computers. Putting them back is apparently trickier as it involves plugging their charging wires back so that they could be charged. A class of 30 would spend probably a total of 15 minutes for these activities. Kids might as well just learn without them. Some schools run on 35 minutes... with only 20 minutes left... and countless other possibilities, a teacher might just be better off with just chalk and talk...
A mobile lab which actually isn't that mobile. That's how I see the latest ministry offering. And I haven't even started on suitability. 7 year olds tapping away on keyboards. I just can't see that happening unless the 7-10 year olds attend typing classes.. So mobile labs in primary schools... I wonder if they are only meant for those in Primary 5 and 6. These kids will definitely be better off with an intuitive screen for their little fingers to tap and explore.
The government spent billions to buy computer hardware and software for the PPSMI. It later went on to 'give' deserving students a netbook each... But just do a check around and you will find kids with professional parents given a netbook too! And now this mobile lab thing. I wonder too how much benefits this will bring. Maybe it's time to give BYOD a consideration. Tax breaks for such purchases will be a better alternative perhaps... But whatever it is... our students are being left further behind.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
My bros and I used to be able to keep ourselves occupied during long hols doing the sort of things that kids would do... climb trees, catch spiders, play hide and seek, games and even an occasional roof climbing sessions. My childhood was fun. But sad to say, if we don't plan stuff for our kids, most of them would be stuck at home, in front of the TV or iPad, worse still the computer, playing computer games.
Our first stop for the hols... the Menara Telekom. Used to bring Son and other kids here too when he was my girl's age. But that seems to feel like a lifetime ago.
Anyway, the day was cloudy. It's monsoon season now... and a time when some of us worry about flooding. We piled all the kids into the car and headed for the Tower. The ground was wet, the floor kinda slippery. I thought it would be quite empty.
But when I opened the door leading into the foyer, a group of really young kids were hanging around with a few adults. We proceeded to the counter and I asked the lady there whe,ther we had to wait long to go up. Turned out, we could proceed immediately to the lift.. only one lift was working though, I noticed. Tickets are priced at RM8 for adults and RM4 for kids.
It was already quite cold when we got there but the gust of wind which greeted us up there almost knocked the breath out of me. It was freezing! And it was really windy up there. Alor Setar can be quite cold I realised. 8) There was quite a crowd there even though it was the middle of the week.
I pointed the kids to the 'telescopes' or binoculars which were all around and they busied themselves to spying with their eyes the landmarks down below. And what kind of landmarks caught their eyes??? McDonald's, a swimming pool, hawker centres... I just realized that they didn't fancy historical places, geographical landmarks... We used to be wowed by the sight of two rivers meeting... the winding rivers as it snakes inland or into the sea, depending on which direction you were looking... those natural stuff didn't excite them. McDonald's did! Such is the current generation... probably a reflection of how our education system and we parents have failed to plant in them a sense of the past and wonderment for their surroundings.
Like any kids... they ran to their hearts content on the observation deck. We got them some snacks..... and an hour went by rather quickly. I made them read the posters plastered to the railing all around the deck... information about different historical landmarks in the city and the surrounding area.. If I had not asked them to, they'd have given them a miss. The reading habit is sadly missing these days...
Everyone was quite cold by the time we got down to solid ground... we decided to have a quick dinner at Hai Tau Kee.. a hawker centre near the junction after Pekan Cina.
The first outing for the hols... Squash, tennis and swimming sessions to follow... and I wonder how long their enthusiasms will last. Either that or this creaky body gives way first...
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
New sets of students await but the same sets of challenges. Changing times might require some tweaking but generally the challeges remain similar. Teenagers, those about to enter the threshold of secondary school life... I've come to realize that time generally stands still for them. Some might say that this gen has more sophistication, more of everything perhaps... but I have noticed that the challenges of growing up remain. Every generation will have different variants but they are challenges nevertheless.
Changes... they are inevitable. Yet those changes are actually the same too. It's just that cos we're experiencing them for the first time in our lives that they might feel different. But essentially, I guess every generation before probably feels the same way how many of us might feel. Living once.. well, that more or less ensures that they feel new. So sometimes I feel it's not a bad idea to heed the words of the wise ones before us. But that too poses it's own challenge.
Social order... sometimes I wonder if all of what we have is conditioned. Social conditioning for the greater good. Gender roles, societal structures... etc, etc... I have been thinking a lot lately about the roles that each of us is to play and how social conditioning has played its role in shaping roles.
I still do the things I do. I still believe in some of my ideals. I think life is better for them. But I'd like to think that I am a little wiser... maybe wiser should not be the word... a little more discerning perhaps?? But I am painfully aware that every step that I make into my future is a step of discovery... cos they will all be first steps. I don't have the privilege of foreknowledge. And I have realised that ideals are just that -- ideals. They are only as good as you make of them.
Age is something that none of us can escape. No amount of make-up will be able to hide the lines that will appear on our faces. The body will fail. It should. Steve Jobs said something about death being one of life's greatest inventions. I see his logic. The old must make way for the new. When the old digs in and tries to stay put, the final picture is usually not very pretty. We are corrupted creatures...
Finding meaning... I realise too that many are searching for meaning. Everyone wants to be heard but few want to listen. The art of listening is a dying art. It took this new work environment to make me see that clearer too. Maybe having too many choices has something to do with it too. Noises, inability to listen... these are the hallmarks of my (not so) new work environment. Kids today do not stay very focus. I tend to think that delivery has a lot to do with it too. The old refuses or finds it hard to change with changing demands.
And one final thing... There is nothing new under the sun. The Philosopher's word. Indeed true. It only feels new to us cos every step we make into time is a first step to us. Yet millions before us have trodden on the same path.... there are variables but the constants have remained the same I think. Hence, nothing new under the sun. How we choose to live... I think that's what makes the difference.
A student of mine recently said that if we want to serve people, be a politician. I gave him a quick retort and told him if he wanted to serve people, be like Mother Theresa!
I am in a reflective mood tonight...
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Anyway, Airplay on AppleTV made it possible for me to project whatever that is on my iPad onto the screen. And to get my school onto this bandwagon.... one day, I brought my AppleTV to school and hooked everything up. Then I asked my Principal to come and have a look. From there, I got the green light to get a set for the school. With that, I moved most of my classes to the room to have their lessons there. And the last few months have been an experience of sorts, one which also allowed me to embark on a journey of discoveries.
One of the best discoveries was this app called Doceri. Doceri is basically like the chalkboard in class. I guess I could likened it to a chalkboard on steroids! Lol! It is now one of my main teaching tools. Having it in my iPad means that I can now prepare my lessons anywhere, as long as I have my iPad with me. And I am one of those people who carry their iPads almost everywhere.
I have been able to engage students with other apps that allow me to manipulate timelines, use videos, mindmaps and images. And the best thing is lessons become clearer and I am less tired. Cos now, I don't have the write the same stuff on the chalkboards of a few different classes. I have better eye contact with students too. Lessons become easier to digest because lessons can get very visual.
I convinced a good friend of mine to give this a try. Unlike me, she had to bring her own devices. Yet she persisted and our experiences have been more or less the same in terms of student response. I was an early adopter with the use of the computer in class many years ago. But I abandoned it because it was too much hassle. This shows promise.
The last few months have been a time of discoveries. I have been able to adapt and adopt ideas and try out new stuff in my classrooms. I have also learned that with the iPad, very often our own imagination is the limiting factor. My school will be setting up more of such facilities. I have shared my experiences twice with my colleagues and once with teachers from another school (at the insistence of another friend).
There are some still with the Luddite mentality that technology does not offer much benefits. I think not. Technology is a great enabling tool. However, it's only as effective as we make it to be. To do so, we, ourselves will also have to undergo our own transformations and change of mindset. To make it relevant, we have to relearn ways of doing things.
Life is about constant rejuvenation.... a story of the old passing to make way for the new... I guess technology is one of the agents if rejuvention in the field of education.... 8)
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
I read somewhere that as educators we should be connected... It got me thinking. I recently was invited to give an inhouse training to a school. This has been a year of changes, challenges and a time of revisiting the past for me. It's been a while since I addressed a crowd of people other than students. Over a decade ago, I had the opportunity to attend some IT related courses in Universiti Tenaga and Universiti Telekom. They were short courses running for 2-3 weeks. And soon after, I was again fortunate enough to be involved in some projects. Those days, even the use of PowerPoint was something of a novelty. And I was one of the early adopters.
Yet, because I served under a visionary Principal who was visionary in every sense of the word, I was given many opportunities...... opportunities which would not have come my way if not for the way he 'fought' for me to be included in the courses I mentioned above, courses which I attended and where I would often find myself the only or if not, one of the very few teachers of other than those from the dominant race. But I have since also learned that unequal opportunities and treatments come in all forms.... and the worst sometimes come from within the same race itself.
Anyway, going out to give a course allowed me to reconnect with an old friend of mine. And it reminded me too how despite everything, there can still be opportunities. And if one continues to work and improve oneself from the opportunities that come along, we can still move forward. My early exposure to the world of Photoshop, Macromedia, sound editing planted long lasting interests in things related to IT. And over the years, it has somehow been sustained. My home became a 'hotbed' of innovations of sorts as my other half was just as interested. We scrooged and saved but IT stuff were things which we'd 'invest' in. Till today, purchasing gadgets out of curiousity remains a practise in our house. Gadgets like Raspberry Pi, the NAS have made their presence felt
The internet was a boon. Where once we had to search high and low for information. The world wide web opened up possibilities. I am a fervent believer of lifelong learning now. I might also add that the net has also enabled personalized Learning in a way not imagined a decade ago. I read about Flipped Learning some time ago. And it works for me too! Theories abound these days in the field of education. I believe that there is much to be learned still. There is no end to learning.... If we can continue learning, I guess it also points to us still being able to progress... to live.... cos life is about challenges. Learning something new is a challenge.
The inhouse training my friend and I conducted was on the use if tablets (namely the iPad) in classroom teaching. It was an experience of sorts. I have carried out 2 of such courses in my own school this year. We are slow in adopting technologies which enhance our teaching as well as the students' learning experiences. We are too bogged down by too much of our own self interests very often which affect a school's abilities to make school meaningful to many of the students. The system that we're in, coupled with the political practices create a situation where sharing is somehow dampened. But I guess too, without such a climate, such things will still rear their ugly heads.
One thing I mentioned in one of my closing statements to the participants of the course though.... Technology if adopted for the 'wow' factor will not impact the learning experience very much cos the focus would be on either the tool or the 'deliverer'. At the end of the day, that which makes the greatest difference, is still the teacher. Tools such as the iPad (and the other tablets) serve to assist the teachers and students. How effective a lesson turns out....... well, it still depends on a big part on the educators.
Being connected. We were among the earliest adopters of the internet where we are many years ago. How did I know that? When we went to Telekom to sign up, they showed us this list that had names of those who had applied for the service. We were among the first 5 who signed up! We were early adopters! Lol! And oh how this connection has enabled us to learn stuff never imagined before. Most of us take the Net connection as something that is just there these days. For me, the Net connected me to a world of amazing stuff, one made possible when we decided to journey on the roads it paved for us.
Thoughts in the cold wee hours of the morning.... It's the end of the year when the northern winds are blowing. The cold woke me up and connected me to these thoughts.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
This blog has been kinda quite this year. But it's not for the lack of things to write. It's just that I've been preoccuppied..... with things, changes.... the mundane existence of life. I've been busy. Have kept myself busy too. Age is also slowly and surely catching up. The stamina takes a beating these days. Joints ache more. Tiredness sets in more easily too. And it's also a time for lots of reflection.
New work environment. Old challenges with a new face. Almost the same sets of problems too. I guess it shouldn't be surprising. After all, our lives are surrounded by people. One thing though, I try to maintain my old pace as much as I can. But bones are creaking and muscles protest quite readily these days.
Tonight I had a visit from a young lady I used to teach and mentor. She is a young lady now. I kinda miss those days when Son was schooling and I used to have kids over for lessons. They have all grown up now.... all in college and in a year or two, all of them will be graduating. Time flies. Those mad years! Yet I cherish such visits now... Young men and ladies they are now...
I still have kids over for lessons. I guess I'd probably do it for as long as I can. Working with kids... I discovered that I actually enjoy it. Each one of them is different, yet same at the same time too. It's always a nice feeling realizing that one can make a difference in another's life.
It's been a challenging year at work too. I finally got to teach history. For the first time since I started teaching, I actually got to teach it for the whole year. And it's been a learning experience for me. I have experimented with different approaches, trying to make kids understand a subject which they've not been able to make sense of the whole time they have been at school, either through the lack of interest or language. It remains that vernacular school kids continue to be at a noticeable disadvantage when it comes to language mastery. And that lack of mastery impedes learning and puts them at a disadvantage.
One nice thing though, when kids come back on their own accord for lessons.... It's one of those things I cherish. Somewhere, at some point of time, we connected. And history lessons have gone into ideological arguments of communism vs capitalism. How is that for a bunch of kids with no inkling or interest for history at the beginning of the year?
But while I have made some headway in some, in a few, the battle seems lost for some too. Sometimes all it takes is just the lack of presence to seal a kid's fate. The lack of presence can be due to so many reasons too, and some of our own making. Schools are not without blame too. Too much effort in window dressing often leads to the loss of such students.
The year has almost gone by... I thought I'd continue to try to keep this going too. More to come, I hope.... cos I have been up to quite a bit too...
Saturday, August 10, 2013
I bought a digital projection panel for the school. It was the first in the district and many schools came to have a look how it was used. The panel is placed on a regular OHP and when hooked to the computer. That of course is 'primitive' by today's standards. But we could project anything from the computer to the screen. The only setback was it was only in 3 colours. However, it was a cheaper alternative than a projector. Projectors cost a bomb those days.
In the ensuing years we went on to create a network for the school. Routers were big and cumbersome those days and a colleague's daughter donated two old sets which she brought back from the US. We bought our own crimpers and did the wiring ourselves. By then, the Internet was already a source of information. We learned as we went along, from the technology itself.
Then I had the good fortune to be involved in the planning and design of computer labs at a time when computer labs were a rarity. With about 700k funding from one of the banks, we embarked on an ambitious project which included computerized Braille gadgets for the visually impaired students. It was at this time too I got involved in web development, using HTML. I spent a many hours working on content as well as the webpages, putting in 10-14 hours at work sometimes.
The lab project was my last foray before a break from all techie stuff for about a decade. It was a good break though, looking back as it gave me time to focus on my boy. However, I continued to keep abreast with the changing trends... Those were also days of PDAs - Sony Clie, HP Jornada, Palm Vx, Palm m500, Palm 505, Tungsten T... And through it all, I found great joy in reading from them. My world had always been a connected and mobile one, even right from those early days. My first Harry Porter book was read on a Palm.
Then a couple of years ago, I switched over to the world of Apple. It started of with a MacBook. Over the years, more Apple products entered our household... Actually, the first Apple product which we bought was an iPod Mini. Anyway, ours is now a household of Apple products - iPod Shuffle, iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone, iMac, MacBook (Pro)... The tablets have become part and parcel of our lives.
And this is where I find it most amazing, of how the tablets is transforming education. Recently, I brought my own Apple TV from home and hooked it up to the old projector at school. Other Half had to go searching round town for a HDMI-VGA converter to enable it to be hooked up to the VGA projector. I showed by Principal and asked him whether I could start one at school, He gave the okay and I've had the most enjoyable and liberating time teaching these past two weeks with the iPad.... minus the trailing wires or the need to be confined to a small space.
I believe that we need to bring the world into the classrooms. Many of our textbooks are archaic. They are static too. The world we live in is evolving at a dizzying pace. Many of our students are bored at school. We are losing many kids too to this along the way. Many laments that our graduates lack many skills required at the work place.
Learning should take on new dimensions. We should focus on skills like analytical and critical thinking. We should teach our students to fish and not wait to be given the fish. Our system spoon feeds them to a point of debilitating them. We should begin to focus on personalized learning. For that to work, we need to inspire. We also need technology to assist us in monitoring individual progress.
I've had the most amazing response so far. I am beginning to see sparks of interest in some of my students' eyes. I find it amazing that some of my most laid back students are now the first to come to the room where I carry out my lessons. I find it incredible that I can move from one display to another with minimal fuss. There are so many great apps which have enabled me to bring the world into my classes. And apps like Doceri which mimics the real life interactive white board with many added plusses have increased efficiency, added educational value and made lessons interesting. It glaringly overwhelms the chalkboard. And oh... minus the chalk dust too! 8)
I have seen how technology evolves, right from those days when my alma mater bought 10 sets of XT machines. Those computers came with monochrome monitors. I learned BASIC programming on them. Then when I was in uni, bro bought his computer, an AT 286 PC with a composite monitor...
I think many of us would have not imagine that we would one day be swiping and tapping screens with such ease on tablets such as the iPad. It has indeed been an amazing journey and I think it's going to get even more amazing...