Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Google Classroom

This is still ongoing. Friend and I have been at this for 4 months. Right at the end of last year, we were asked to go for a meeting regarding our school portal. I jumped at the opportunity as I have been trying to start my Google Classroom since it was launched. I even bought a domain name thinking that it would be sufficient. A few tens ringgit poorer later, I discovered that I could not carry it out as I did not have an education website. I did try it for a while though, learned my way around it a bit. And that was that! I left it as it was for a whole year...

At the meeting, I asked that the portal admin password be reset. And there in our hands were the keys to our Classrooms! School was already about to start by then and as soon as it did, both of us went into a frenzy of creating email ids for our students. There were hundreds to be created. But we did it in a record time, on top of other things that we had to do... new lessons for the new year, new classes, a new digital signage in the works and the usual paperwork.

It's been 4 months of running a digital classroom alongside the school prescribed one. And I have this to say... It is a great tool.

The thing I like most about Google Classroom is it has made me even more efficient. I measure efficiency by the amount of time saved in class for what I consider as 'time-wasting but necessary activities' such as copying from the board. Consider this... I was able to finish my Form 3 literature component in slightly over 2 months. And students did plenty of work on it too. Every chapter was accompanied by a video. The novel went digital and the Classroom is where I placed my digital copy for download. Questions were put up there... and I have figured out ways around the work/homework. Where Flubaroo can't work its magic, I have resorted to manoeuvring my way around with the help of the Google Form and Google Spreadsheet. I started using Doctopus together with Goobric last year and so, they made their appearance in some of my class work. Have not had much time to reacquaint myself with Socrative or Kahoot, though my friend occasionally still uses Socrative.

Sometime last month, I attended a Google Educator Group seminar, organised by the JPN. After attending it, I kinda got the impression that my friend and I are perhaps make up a very small number of teachers in country using the Classroom. And I think the reason is simple, many schools don't have their own domain on the web.

I like the Classroom for its simplicity to use. The learning curve for it is relatively manageable, as long as one has an understanding of the digital learning environment structure. Some tenacity and persistence go a long way too. And of course, having at least one other teacher who is just passionate as you about embracing change goes a very long way too!

So what do I do in my digital classroom? This is where I put most of my school work for the kids. They no longer use exercise books for their work. Some work is done in the digital realm. Other work still gets done the traditional way, with a pen and paper. So, they keep a file to keep the 'paperwork'. I have been able to cut down paper usage quite substantially. And there will be no exercise book wasted at the end of this academic year. The management files can be recycled next year. So, yeah, my classes have gone at least a third digital. Comprehension passages are printed on paper but questions are put up in Classroom. Time is saved when Flubaroo does the work for me for the objective questions.

I scanned the Sejarah textbooks for all forms 2 years ago and the Classroom is now a very good platform for me to put them up for my students to download into their phones.

Accessibility is the next problem which many will point out. My friend and I are fortunate. We are in a school where almost 100 percent of our students have at least a smartphone. And that is all we need for them to do their work and read stuff which we put up or asked. Almost all of them have access to internet connections too.

And this year too, I can claim my Nilam project to be quite authentic. All my students read the same books. And they write their own reviews. I have used materials from different sites and put up my own ebooks for them to read. And so, this year, from simple readers like those from Reading A to Z, my students read 'I Am Malala'. Next will be one of my favourite comics from childhood... Asterix!!! And all these can be put up in Classroom.

What are some of the surprises.... Somedays I would still be at school after the bell rings for dismissal. And I have had many pleasant surprises when I see work completed not even 45 minutes after the students leave the school compound. This is Gen Z. They are the social media generation. Their communicative devices are like an extension of themselves. Put your work there and it is bound to get response from most of them. Of course, the usual 'threats' of fines for work not done have something to do as well.

But generally, my experience with Classroom has been quite good. I did try Edmodo but it was too much hassle. I read up other LMS platforms. We have the VLE Frog programme too, but when the issuance of user id is not efficiently managed, very often you are left with students who cannot remember their id or not have one. And that is when, even with one left out, you cannot have that everyone in the 'same room' rule working. And it spells failure as some will be left out. With Classroom, the teacher has full control as long as he/she is made a user with some administrative rights in the school website. That is the beauty of Google Classroom.... well, at least for me.

With my iPads and AppleTVs still my main tools for instruction in class (this is the third year that I have not used the chalk board), having Google Classroom is a super added plus point. The education field is still changing. The last few years have been very exciting for me. From iPad and its many amazing apps to AppleTV for ease of projection and Google Classroom for that complete experience.... I have been more fortunate than many to be able to experiment and use them extensively in my classes.

More to come.... I hope.




Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tired

I think that is the most apt word to sum up most days now. A woman wears many hats these days... too many, I think. In the morning, I am at work. At work, well... everything runs like what a work place should. Classes to teach, papers to grade, students to see, things to look into... basically a typical work schedule that comes with the scope of a job.

After school hours means another new hat... no... it feels more like donning a few hats. I was having a conversation with my students just recently and I told them that being a student is fun. Cos that's all you need to be...A STUDENT. Everything else, there are parents to see to. I'd trade places with them if I could. 8)

A mother, housekeeper, cook, handywoman.... there are just so many things to see to. The mind is in a constant whir. In between classes would be spend grading, planning and in between those things, menu planning, chores-to-do list, etc.

And that is where I think social conditioning must change. Everything we do, think, assume and even perceive... they are the products of our social conditioning. I guess nothing is really ours. And that is where I think things should change.

Conversations with others in my generation and those in the same boat. The same issues seem to be cropping up. Partnerships built on equality... they are hard to come by. Husbands and menfolk who throw in their equal weight in child rearing and housekeeping. While there are probably more men who are more involved, I think in our Asian society, it is still dismally low. Unless the womenfolk push for more involvement, most men would prefer to have their own time, either in their dens or out with their friends. The bottom line seems to remain this... much of the family work continues to fall on the shoulder of the women.

It's Qing Ming season now. It is not uncommon to see the women making preparations; folding the hell money (beats me why they call it that. It's like an admission that everyone goes to hell), getting the food ready for the prayers at the grave... they all seem to fall on the women too. And the irony is, the souls of the departed are not even from the same bloodline. They are only relatives by marriage! And so you have this... the one who lead the prayers for the deceased sharing the same name with the deceased. Needless to say, the ones who toil to prepare the stuff needed... well, they are the womenfolk who are 'outside family'.

Ancestral worship is a Confucian teaching. Confucius teaches filial piety. So, shouldn't the filial sons do all the preparations? Yet many husbands would expect (or even demand) that their wives be filial to the people who played no part in raising them! And so we go back to this same merry-go-round... Everything we do, think, assume and even perceive... they are the products of our social conditioning. A couple of thousand years worth of social conditioning here, I guess.

These are thoughts gathered from a rambling session with a friend of mine. We belong to the same generation although the age gap is quite significant. The same is heard most of the time... The menfolks continue to refuse to acknowledge the need for them to put in their weight in everything that makes a house run.

Son recently started to manage a house. After barely 2 months... in one of our conversations. He passed this remark that a house is a lot of work. Yup! and Yup! A house is a lot of work. But I think many men will just brush it as mere complaints... Ah! After all most things to them can wait. They are more important things to do, they feel.

Bringing in the dough... the days of the man being the sole breadwinner is over. Women do that too these days. But the balance is not struck in the home. Social conditioning over what is perceived as men's domain remains entrenched.

Ramblings on a day when the mind is clouded by a blur of haze...

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

And in the animal kingdom...

.... mothers love their babies to a fault too.

This is a story of the past 3 weeks plus. And it all began with this.... a nest with 2 eggs. On 14th February, much to our pleasant surprise we discovered these 2 eggs in the forgotten basket that my colleague and I hung outside the computer lab.

The eggs were tiny... not the regular chicken egg size that we are all so used to. They looked so pristine, white. The shell looked soft. It 'hardened' over the next two days.

I had my doubts whether the eggs were a mistake. I felt the mother bird had picked the wrong place to lay her eggs. The basket hung from the metal grille. We put it there for students to throw in the announcements they wanted to make last year. After a couple of months, the announcement papers became a trickle as students warmed up to email as a means of getting the information to us. And so, the basket was left there, forgotten mostly. Once or twice, my friend and I talked about removing it, but basically, we just left it there. Then, came the 2 eggs, all so cute and pretty, yet quite exposed to all the elements and dangers of sorts.

The thing with the possibility of tiny lives is, they have this great ability to tug at your heart strings. We watched with apprehension if the mother bird would come back. She did, much to our relief. And this started our daily routine of checking on the eggs every morning. The first thing I would do every morning is to see if the eggs were there. They were! Every morning until the eggs hatched, the mother bird would be sitting on them. Both my friend and I arrive early every morning.


This time of the year is terribly hot and I began to worry for the mother bird and her eggs. So, one day before going back, together with the kids, we plucked some small branches with leaves all still attached and tried to create some shade for the mother bird. I was worried that it might be scared of me. Much to my surprise, she just 'glared' (am not sure whether she actually did cos you can't really tell what the birds are thinking through their eyes) at me. Her eyes never left me and I made sure I stood within her sight as we tried to rearrange the leaves. The mother bird was always there whenever I came out.


It was though she realised that there were many dangers around and she was guarding her precious eggs. I did not see her away from her eggs. I guess maybe she did all her food hunting while we were not around.

This went on for days. My friend and I talked about bringing food for her. I even left her some bread crumbs but she didn't seem to like it cos they were left uneaten for a few days.

I was thinking that the eggs might not hatch at all until end of last week. The mother was not around but in the tiny nest, there were these 2 littlest birds I had ever seen. Their fur (it didn't look like feathers yet) had this tangled look. It's as though they had just recently emerged from the egg shells. We put more leaves around the basket. The sun was rather merciless and the heat, quite unbearable.

Baby birds grow fast. Within the last few days, they have doubled in size. And today, after I walked past the school pavilion, the worker who cleans the lab every week called out to me and told me they birds will leave soon.

I hurried back to the lab.
And this greeted me. Perched at the edge of the basket, was this grown baby bird. It was flapping its wings. I thought it was going to fly but on closer look, I realised it was not quite ready yet. I approached it. It didn't move. But I could see that it was clinging on for dear life to the basket. I patted its head... and said a goodbye to him. It could he a her. Its siblings was still sitting in the nest, contented not to try anything today. Tomorrow, (or day after), both might probably make their maiden flights and take to the sky. I hope they will be successful and don't falter. There are cats around, always looking for a meal. And this bird would make a good one if it does not take flight. The mother bird was no where around. My girl tells me she has seen how the mommy bird feeds her babies. They eat from her beak.

It's been an amazing experience. Two, three hundred people walk past the birds every school day.
The door to the lab often slam shut with a very loud bang in this windy weather. Any one of the kids could have developed itchy finger and did something to the birds. Yet, none of those stood in the way of the journey of the eggs to these two birds.

If one takes a look at the actual location of the basket that plays host to the nest and its two precious content, the fact that they made it this far is an amazing thing. And for us who have had the opportunity to share these past weeks with the mother bird, it has been a humbling time too. The birds have provided us opportunities for lessons of sorts with students. They have also consolidated a couple of things in me too. 

The mother bird never wavered in her 'love' for her brood. She stayed on, even though, it must have been a very scary time for her, seeing all the two-legged creatures walking past, peering and talking on top of their voices. 

Even in the animal kingdom, the love of a mother for the young takes on a sacrificial dimension, and what more is this reminder too of how, ever so often, our mothers would go through great lengths for their children. The food that they set aside for their children, the comfort that they choose to do without so that their children are more comfortable, the things that they don't get for themselves so that their children can have some of the little luxuries in life, the clothes they iron so that the kids look neat and cared for.... the list goes on. That is perhaps the greatest reminder these past few weeks has been for me. Every single time, I took a peek into the nest, and see the mother bird, I see a bird willing to die because of her babies. She gave all she had, even though she knew that her babies will grow up and leave the nest. 

It's been a while since I visited this blog... Life has been quite rushed and hurried. There so many things to do and so little time every day. So many things to see to, so many students to deal with sometimes and my own one too. But this just needs to be written, so that I can be reminded of the things that my mom used to do for me.

Update 1: One of the babies tried to fly today. It managed to fly all the way upstairs before running out of gas. The workers watched over it, mindful that there is a cat prowling around. Finally one of them picked it up and put it back into the basket. I wonder too whether we should have done that.... But it's nice to see the two little flers safe and sound still.

Update 2: The nest was empty this morning. We thought the birds had left. But when we got upstairs Mother and one baby was perched on the signboard. The second and weaker bird was nestled close to its Mother. The grown baby was snuggling up to its mother. Both were facing the rising sun. To those who do not know they probably just pay a perfunctory glance, and think nothing of them.  I supposed both knew that it was time to go their own ways. And yet the mother gave all, knowing that there was nothing in it for her....

Throughout the remaining day, I took many peeks at the basket. It was decidedly quiet. The nest is empty. Its occupants have flown....

This has been a lesson of many sorts. Of selfless giving and greater sacrifices... and LIFE. That's life. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Of Being Trapped, Born Privileged and Education

If you are locked away in a cell forcefully, you will be trapped for as long that incarceration remains. But, what if you are trapped in the cells that you wittingly or unwittingly got yourself in?

Was in Genting recently for the a Music Art Festival with my students. It was a relatively huge affair, if you count 3000 plus participants as many. There were some international invitees... and scores of teams from schools all over the country. Three days of continuous feeds of music, from recorders to Chinese traditional instruments; the halls were filled with sounds of musical instruments, playing all kinds of music. The exposure was good for the students. They could measure themselves up against the really good teams as well as the struggling ones. In a massive hall like the Grand Ballroom, it was hard for the musicians to hear each other and so, some teams actually had a hard time keeping up with each other. So, to be able to listen to them play in harmony was a great experience too, more for the participants, I guess.

Three days of being locked up on a hill resort under renovation. The outdoor theme park is no more there cos it is making way for a new 20th Century Fox Theme Park. Genting is now limited to just that small space of hotels... and casinos. Everything else is being rebuilt.
 
The rooms we stayed in were really small. The bathrooms were so tiny that you can't even turn when you bathe. In that kind of space, you have no space to avoid the the scalding hot water. That means you actually have to stand outside the bathroom and let the shower run while checking the temperature.
Yet the place was crowded. This is the hotel lobby and I felt like I was in the train station. Everywhere was jammed pack with people. Yet this lobby was not like any other hotel lobby that I knew cos it did not lead to the outside clear sky directly. Instead the lobby led to this dimly lighted tunnel which brings in buses, cabs and vans. As a result, the lobby and the corridor adjacent had this odour of fumes hanging around all the time. By the second day, each time I went down, I was quite easily agitated. By the third day, it felt like I was perpetually drugged. This has to be one of the more toxic hotel lobbies I have ever been. Yet everyone wandered around, nonchalantly, unperturbed by the fumes or the noise.

Apart from the 3000 odd participants for the Second Malaysia International Music Art Festival plus their whole host of supportive Ah Kong, Ah Mah, Daddy, Mummy, Aunties, Uncles, Brothers, Sisters and other extended family members, the usual casino visitors were all there. The whole place was brimming with people. It rained in torrents on the first evening and I think most of the visitors in this. I had to walk to the adjacent hotel through a series of walkalators/escalators over a rather long distance before getting to an exit. The mist was thick and it was chillingly cold. I was cold to the bones.

The complex made me think of The Matrix. It is so easy for one to forget the real world once you are inside. And this is where I think they are hugely successful in getting people to come back and while there, spend. Casino entrances can be found at almost every turn.

Yet if you really observe the surroundings you find too, noticed a few things too. Casinos for the 'haves' and 'have less' exist here too. One hotel with cramp and tight spaces. Another hotel with a Lamboghirni had all these high ceilings, wide spaces and nice looking restaurants.
The Music Festival... it's quite clear that this is for the elite schools too. I don't think I saw any kampung schools here. MCKK was there and we all know how elite this school is. There were many Chinese vernacular schools too. This probably indicated that many of these schools could get outside funding for their students. Funding was necessary as there is a fee of RM100 per participant. The smallest group I saw was 8 people and that's RM800 for participation. Some bigger groups had more than 60 people. Also, the accommodation is not part of the fee. Each kid who was there had to fork out at least RM250 to take part if they are not able to find sponsorship... and that's just the minimum according to my calculation. The national schools which were there mostly belonged to the elite group - high performing, cluster. And many of the kids had a trail of family members up to this highland resort too. The parents could afford the trip and the stay up too. So, even in co-curricular activities, the line dividing the classes are very clear too. But the clear winner here I supposed would be the owners of where the competition took place.

A month or so back, I took students for the National Robotic Competition where I saw the same scenario more or less playing itself out. Lego Mindstorm is not exactly cheap. Only schools which can afford to spend tens of thousands will be able to give their students the opportunity of taking part. 
Generally rural schools will continue to lose out. Education as a great equaliser might not actually play out its role all that well. Being born in the right family, attending the right school, knowing the right people... all those play a more important role than one's IQ. Actually, many of us made it not because we are good or talented. The former play a more important role than many of us might care to admit.

As for Genting... for me, it was an artificial place. But despite all that, for a while, I too can just sit back and relax. After all, if the any of the bathroom fixture wasn't working, all I had to do was just to inform Housekeeping. If I needed a clean towel, just ring for one too. Oh ya... The same goes for cleaning the room. Put up the sign requesting for a clean-up and it's done by the time you get back to the room. At home, I have to see to all those.... The Matrix is not all that bad.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Aman Central - A Lifestyle Beckons

For many of us, an occasional trip to Penang often means going into a city with all its glitzy malls, branded goods and chic restaurants.

Aman Central opened on the 1st of this month. H&M, Chi, Sakae Sushi, Padini Concept Stores, Nando's, Starbucks... with one opening of this new upmarket mall, a new lifestyle is emerging. Coffee above RM10 a cup, gym in a mall, hawker food in a posh environment, everything shiny, bright and inviting. Where once, Alor Setar used to be a city with a town kind of lifestyle, this will surely and subtly infuse a lifestyle of branded names.

You walk into the mall and you can feel the difference. Baskin Robbins at RM10 per scoop. We used to balk at such prices for ice-creams. Yet if you look at the traffic at the ice-cream parlour, you would think that the people don't seem to be batting any eyelids where the price is concerned. Expensive clothings are flying off their racks too. The economic slowdown doesn't seem to show yet.

But perhaps that lifestyle has always been there. It was just that there were no avenues for it to be gauged. I was admiring a pair of shoes which was almost RM400. There were at least 5 pairs hanging on the rack. A few days later, they were gone, replaced by another series. Maybe the opening of this mall is good for the local economy. It is too soon to tell but already hawker centres in the viccinity are undergoing their own facelifts.

Yet there are still little tell-tale signs of small town here. Patrons who seem lost in the vast multi-tiered parking lots. One pakcik even drove against the traffic coming down the multi-tiered carpark. Toilets are smelly and wet. It feels as if those using it don't quite know how to keep the floors dry mostly. But these will surely change.... hopefully.

The official opening will be held in November. Not all outlets are operational. Not all business space is occupied. It is almost a month down the road. Cars still jam up the place, albeit at specific times now. Some businesses are thriving but there are those which are struggling too. But whatever it is, this mall heralds something new to this town-like city.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Parking Lot

Son started work this year. Like many of young adults entering the job market, the place to start.... the bottom. It's a place devoid of perks. And like most parents whose kid has just started work, conversations evolved around his new phase. In one of our conversations, it got to the parking issue. When you are a junior, you sometimes don't even get a parking pass. In cities like KL, everything is congested and packed. Parking costs. And so, he told me.... some day he is going to have his own parking lot.

A parking lot. Those in the senior positions often get their own parking lots. Senior managements have designated parking lots. The bigwigs get paid parking lots. Small people with limited $$$ pay for their parking lots. Ironic, huh? Somehow, doesn't it feel like it's always 'one-up' for the privileged?

The parking lot conversation made me think about leadership. Contrary to what people say about being given the opportunity to serve as a leader, I think it is more about owning the privileges than anything else. A parking lot is just one of many, a symbol of position and power.

I once parked my car in a designated shaded car park by mistake. Being new, I did not realise that some of the lots nearer to the main entrace were designated parking lots too. I only parked there for a day as the usual place I parked was undergoing some construction. I am usually very early to work. In the gray light of dawn, I missed the sign above. A few days later, as I was walking, a voice called up to me and asked whether a certain number plate was my car. I said yes. And immediately after, I was reminded that it was his parking lot. A parking lot serves too as a reminder of position. When that position is deemed to have been trespassed, there seemed to be this need to reaffirm that position.

Parking lots are symbols of power. Go anywhere and you will see designated parking lots. In olden days, the division of our social structure was very clear. The world seems to have move on but the feudal mindset has remained entrenched as ever. Leadership comes with even more privileges. In the olden days, generals and kings would lead the charge in a battle. They stand an equal (if not more) chance of dying in the battlefield. History is filled with stories of such leaders. Fast forward a few centuries, leaders these days hide behind an amazing array of defences. And they tell us we need to keep them alive to lead us.

Service.... If at all it is service that is the core of leadership... Privileges and recognitions. I think they ring truer for reasons to lead. A leader gets a private jet. Small people never get that.

Parking lots are about wealth and power. Take a walk in a condo and an apartment. The difference is clear for all to see. Designated and none designated. Shaded and road side parking. Parking lots... We need to buy them or get them designated to us. Either way, they point not to humble leadership but arrogance of power and wealth.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Seasons

When you are a kid, you tend to think that things would remain very much the same. You can't wait to grow up cos everything seems so out of reach and you can't wait to have those things you desire. Then you finish school, university (for some) and then work. Everyone around you goes through almost the same path. Most get married, have kids, move on. Time begins to whizz past. Before long, a few decades would just pass by.

We talk about kids growing up... then we feel a sense of pride when they move on too. Then they leave, just like many of us did not so long ago. We encourage them to spread their wings, fly high, reach for the stars, as our parents did so long ago. 

We set them on the path of life as we know it. That's where I sometimes wonder the wisdom of the way we perceive things should be. Kids fly high and far... I am okay with the 'fly high' but far? These days I am not very sure. Kids who are far... once in a while we pop in to see our parents. The further they are, the less often they pop in. The old adage, "out of sight, out of mind" rings true. The old ones get left behind... but that cycle plays itself over and over again, maybe pushed by the insatiable drive for a better something.

Used to think that things are set. These days, am not sure whether it's yet just another thing manufactured, invented by us. Ideals can be manufactured too, like many things. For the sake of social order, perhaps. 

Seasons come and go. But perhaps while they come and go, how we live those seasons or how we celebrate them might not need to be similar as in the ages before us.