Friday, April 11, 2014

Knowledge is useless...

Knowledge is useless if we don't know how to apply it... That's what I see happening in many of our students these days. They go to school, learn things... we call it knowledge but seem too see very little application of the knowledge that they learn into their every day lives. School loses its meaning....

I just taught my girl geography... about landforms, rivers, highlands, flatlands. She had actually learned them in school but it seemed not to have registered. Well, either she has not been listening in class or like what I have been seeing in many, our students just don't feel that learning is fun. And perhaps too they are not challenged in their classrooms to think, see the bigger picture, apply what they have learned and make knowledge meaningful.

Knowledge to many is basically a meaningless memorized set of information only to be regurgitated to score A(s). I recently gave a topic on GMO to a group of 17 year olds. I drew mostly blank. Maybe if I had given more time for them to think... But generally, I see mostly students who don't seem to be making sense of what they are learning. Many are doing well, but seems to lack that passion. Or maybe we have failed to ignite the passion to learn.

Geography is a fun subject. I showed her on Google Earth how where the Kenyir Dam was placed and how they built the dam. She was surprised to see the Nile Delta as the only green patch of life in what is an arid landscape of Northern Africa. I talked to her about it being one of the places for early civilizations and I could see flicker of understanding and interest as it dawned on her the importance of rivers in early civilizations. I explained to her why rapids are found at the source of rivers and how the flow tapers off as it heads to the sea. I told her about the importance of geography and linked it to the how a good understanding of Geography and Science helped the traders from China and India sailed to Malacca.

Lessons should be fun because it helps us understand our surrounding And we have technology to help us these days. Maps can be called up in an instant. Google Earth enables the learner to see the actual place... some in 3D! I wanted my girl to see the tectonic plates and a simple search got me the graphic I wanted. It made it easier to get the point across.

Anyway, why do we learn? Is it to pass exams only? To hone our skills?? To fill our time? I think knowledge that cannot be applied is like data that is just numbers without any real world associations. Knowledge that is not shared is useless too, cos it sits in our heads for our own consumption only. It's kinda like some of us who sit around and lament about the state of our surrounding but do not do anything about it. I think for knowledge to be useful, we need to be able to associate it with its context or relate it to other contexts. Or perhaps use it to improve ourselves.

Which brings me to this... If teachers cannot ignite the passion for learning in students, then we have failed to pass the torch. Learning if not ignited, dies???? I don't know but it feels like it's quite dead in many of our young.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Teaching Teachers

I ventured into 'teaching' adults sometime last year. Addressing an adult group has never been something which I relish. But I guess my passion the subject was compelling enough to make me do it. It started last year when I met an old friend at a meeting. I was sharing with her how useful the iPad can be as a teaching tool. Before we parted ways, she told me that I should share what I know with the teachers. And if she may, she'd like to have me over at her school to share my experiences. And that started this whole thing on teaching teachers....

My iPad has now replaced the chalkboard. I find it a most beneficial tool in class. Classrooms should discard the dusty chalkboard. It is outdated. It's way too tiring to use it too. Our classrooms should evolve with the changing environment.

The iPad is my main teaching tool. It is my interactive white board. It enables me to use mind maps in class. I play movie clips to reinforce literature in class. Video clips make my lessons more interesting. I 'invite' guest speakers like David Gallo into my classes via apps like TEDTalks. I have special apps to illustrate certain points. In short, the iPad has enabled me to do so much more with the same amount of time. I feel less tired too... has to do with not having to write on the chalkboard. More work gets done now. And I think too learning is more fun.

During the hols, I went down south to give a training session for teachers in an international school.... a first for me. The response from the teachers were very encouraging... It was the first for everyone of them too, to see the iPad and AppleTV in action. Many were wowed by what the iPad could do. At the end of the session, a few asked if I would be going back to teach them again. I am taking that as a compliment as that, for me is their acknowledgement that my 'lesson' was effective.

Teaching adults is different. It is more difficult to move them from their comfort zones. Many give up too because they find technology daunting. And like the students in our system, many have also been dulled down by the years of slow rot. Vietnamese school kids are now ahead of our own in some subjects. And that's kinda depressing.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


This was one of those days when I was in a more reflective mode. I was sitting on the floor of the back room of the house I grew up in. Mom was busy pottering in the kitchen. Memories of yesteryears came back.... though some now, hazy and many now tucked and hidden in the recesses of the brain. I read somewhere that we forget many details of our past but sometimes being in a certain place, we get flashbacks. The same goes for meeting people too. I was back in the room of my childhood... Could almost hear our own voices and imagine my younger self with my siblings... And of all things we were fighting... Some other memories included my bro and I playing...

Mom was always an early riser, still is. She is in her mid 70s now. The morning I was home, I heard her pottering in the kitchen at 4 something. She was trying to minimize the noise but still it woke me up. And so I lay in the room listening to the water running, clothes being rinsed, the sound of the mug landing on the marble table..... Familiar sounds in any home. Mom is bent now... her L5 and L4 crushed because of osteoporosis. She walks with difficulty most of the time but she still plods on. That's mom... Dad walks with a shuffle now. He has just come out of an eye op to replace his lens.

The children come home so rarely these days. And when we do, it's only for a short while.... which makes me think. Are families supposed to stay together? The wandering spirits that led my fore fathers from a distant land still plague my generation. Somehow the urge to seek for a better life... it never ends. And I see the cycle being repeated. The hope that the settling in another land will mean a better life for the next generation... The wandering spirit never stops wandering... And so, the old are left behind.... on their own. Sometimes I wonder...

Pictures are painted into our minds. I label this picture painting social conditioning. Of late, I have been contemplating more. We are all products of social conditioning. In the grand scheme of things, actually none of us can claim to know much. We are taught to claim in faith, to believe.... yet as life continue to evolve, I see many things which were held true by the generations before coming apart. Sometimes I wonder too... whether life is a series of matrices?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Changing Classrooms...

I've just realised that I have been 'in' school for almost 40 years! And in almost 39 of the 40 years, the classroom has not changed much. You have 40 odd desks and chairs and the chalkboard. Students sit in rows and teachers come in and go out according to the periods. Each period is between 35-40 minutes. Students go to various rooms or labs for certain subjects like Science or Living Skills. The latter used to be known as either Home Science or Industrial Arts.

Over the years, special media rooms came about. These are rooms with projectors. I was one of the earliest in the district to start such a media room. I started with a digital projection panel. Power Point was used in class. But I wasn't such a keen user myself because lesson preparations were just too much work. But over the years like everyone else I was a big fan of word processors and spreadsheets. And so, I became quite an adept user.

Last year I started using the iPad in class. Back then my classes would be held in the normal classrooms and the media room. But after a while all my classes were held in the media room. The reason was, the iPad had become my board, mind map tool.... There was just so much that I could do with it. There would be new discoveries every week. The only limiting factor seemed to be my imagination. The more I used it, the more I extended my horizon. I bought many apps too. Some of the apps are just amazing. I have been able to acieve so much more. The best part is I feel less tired too. Being in an air-condition room helps too, I supposed. But not having to write on the chalkboard is one major energy saver.

Classroom should have such facilities. We have an interactive whiteboard at school too but I think the iPad wins hands down. We have this other We Present WiPG 1000, a wireless interactive presentation gateway which I tried once. I gave up because I couldn't run anything from its mobile app. The iPad is easy. It's mobile and preparing lessons on it is a breeze. With an Air Print enabled printer, preparing handouts is a breeze.

I have been able to use timelines and mindmaps in my history classes. I have been able to interspersed lessons with different media. Editing movies on the iMovie app is a breeze. I downloaded the movie 'The Railway Children' and edited them into 5-6 minutes clips for each chapter. My students can remember the story line so much better. With my MacBook as a standby, I have two 'assistants' with me in my class. Well, it's 3, and maybe 4 if you count my iPhone and iPod Touch.

I have brought TED speakers as my guests in class and a host of other contributors. I can do many of this with the laptop but none of them is as mobile as my iPad cos even 20 minutes of wait to pay my bills means I can prepare a couple of worksheets or part of a lesson. Teachers should embrace such technology. School heads must make an effort to equip classrooms with such tools.

The time has come for us to seriously consider BYOT or BYOD. Some schools have been supplied with Chromebooks in the mobile cart but I suspect many schools have yet to be able to use it in the manner it should. Lack of know how, rush to finish a still very exam and content based syllabus, a rigid curriculum.... these all play a role.

We keep talking about the need to keep up with times. Blended, Flipped, Personalized, Project Based Learning concepts... We are still slow to adopt and adapt to them. The field of education is changing at a very amazing speed... But we are still not able to unlearn the things that we have learned or learn what is new. That, makes us the new illiterate generation.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

And we call it What's App-ing....

One of the marvels of technology is how it connects us...

CNY, and this year my 'oldest' friend, as usual, in her spontaneous way asked if we could meet... even though at the time of the request, she was still around 100km away from our hometown. This old friend... We went to the same kindy, primary and secondary school and even same the university. And we managed to stay in touch all these years.

A few hurried messages and we discovered 4 of us were available... So she picked everyone and we ended up in a packed mall. On our way home, we thought it'd be nice to try to rope in our childhood friends and form a group. And that gave rise to our What's App group. Within 2 days we managed to round up around 10 of our old friends... mostly friends from the time we were 6 or 7. We are now in 5 countries.

What this has turned into is a group or place for us to chatter about our days, share our stories. And it can go on throughout the day. We've had hillarious moments like when the group first started and how one after another would say their phone was out of juice... something which has never happened to many of them. Some will say women like to chatter...

Holidays have been shared... Being able to snap a photo means you can snap flowers in your garden and everyone can see them without you having to pluck them. We've shared recipes, talked about everything under the sun and the moon.... very much like those days when we were youths. Conversations flow and ebb. Anyone is free to come and go. And because we are located on different continents, the conversations continue throughout the day. There is no obligation to be involved in every single conversation. Anyone is free to scroll up or down or none at all. Anyone is free to add or not to add to the conversation.

I think this is a wonderful thing about technology. It enables people to come together, stay connected like never before. Lives are shared.... support given and received... It's quite amazing. Oh well, we might have a few arguments perhaps too, down the road.

What's App, Tango, Line, Skype, We Chat... There are plenty of apps out there who keep the communication lines open. But whatever they may be, one thing for sure. They keep us connected in a most heartwarming way.

In the early days, I could go to sleep and wake up with 1000 messages unread... It is not that intense any more but the messages are still coming in, conversations are still running. We talk about the mundane, from the flowers in our garden, our children and their quirky behaviours, the sights along our jogging paths, our daily routine, the falling snow, our kid's bicycle ride and even mourn together the disappearance of MH370.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Can We Have It All?

I have had a couple of work related conversations lately. And in one of those conversations, this thought struck me. It's actually quite difficult for our education system to be good. And the reason is because there are too many women in the profession. And women, the married ones are a distracted lot.

A couple of days ago, I listened to this talk on TED about whether we women can have it all... career, family, personal space. And I think I agree with the speaker... No, unless there are sacrifices.

Most working women I talk to share the same thing. I have colleagues who are very keen to use the latest technology in their work. But one after another, the same reason kept popping up.... They have no time. Once they are home, they have to juggle all kinds of roles; from drivers to cooks to playmates to house rule enforcer... the list is long and I think the man's list is way shorter.

I think for many of us, reality checks in when the first kid comes. And that reality checks in even more when the kids hit schooling years. So to have it all.... I guess we still have some way to go. Women have made great strides since my mother's generation. But the sad fact remains. We are still a gender biased society. And it is still biased against the women.

If anything is to go by, I think women shoulder even more these days. Emancipated but with limitations. And so, women have ended up with more in their hands. Where once, mothers stayed at home to take care of the brood, these days, these same mothers not only have their hands full but overflowing too with career, family... There is hardly any space left for personal development or space. I think harried is an apt word to describe most married women with a family and career.

Boys are conditioned to think that housework is the woman's domain. True too, more men are lending a helping hand. But I think it's safe to say that most men still feel that making sure the house is cleaned or that there is food on the table.... those are women's domain. They don't mind helping out once in a while but it remains at that's rarely a consistent thing.

Women are sharing the burden of financially supporting a family. However, the burden of household chores have not been equally shared, nor that of child care. Much of the work in the family is shouldered by the women. It is still easier for the man than a woman to have it all.

Gender equality or inequality..... We see it in every facet of our lives.

Monday, February 17, 2014

God bless you...

'God bless you'... This was what I got when I shared something with someone not too long ago. '

Oh, you are angel sent to help me,' was another one which came my way on another occasion. The latter made me felt a little squirmish, of course, because I know I am definitely no angel.

Yet I have learned too that the same people who blessed me when I did my little part in reducing whatever load that they were facing were even quicker to 'curse' me too. One went on a tirade of lecturing me about road manners in what was an honest mistake on my part.... and this 'angel' has since then steered clear of that character. Another went running like a kid rushing to his parent(s) to solve his problem because completing a negotiation regarding a professional matter became too much even as an act of consideration, let alone kindness for a little inconvenience is too much to shoulder. The parent here refers to the boss or one of the 'bosses'. So, I mused the GBU in my email...... because it tells me too how little we actually value our own words or the people those words are directed at. But I guess I am no exception too, I supposed since, I too belong to this selfish, inconsiderate species called human beings and also contribute to this problem.

Talk is cheap, I realized... We bless and we curse in the same breath. We preach but we don't follow what we preach. It's usually in times of dire straits or needs, do gratitude, humility usually creep in. Else, Freud was right.

I teach history. In one of my lessons, we discussed about the Spaniards in the Phillipines. Gold, Glory and Gospel.... The colonialists felt that the savages of the east needed God and they came preaching the gospel. And so we are told that the gospel preaches that God is love, that we are all his children, etc, etc.... And so the savages embraced the gospel freely..... only to discover to their horror that the God preached to them and the God of their colonial masters seemed to be different.... God is love.... The natives were forced into labour and they had to pay high taxes. And when the natives asked that they be made a territory of Spain, their colonial masters balked.... So much for God is love.... or God is a just god.... Semantics, rhetorics...uh, the list never ends... As and when it suits us. God certainly wasn't the main reason for their coming....

And so back to the characters who blessed and then cursed me... Sometimes life throws such kinds of characters into our lives for a reason. I was cheesed off for sure but I have also since realised that they will not be the first nor the last and that I, too should be mindful of my own actions. I wonder too whether such people can ever understand or truly appreciate what it really means to be gracious.... An ongoing lesson which I am still grappling with myself....