Friday, November 22, 2013

Just A Little Bit More on iPad

More schools jumping onto the bandwagon of using the interactive whiteboard (IWB) and visualizer to compliment the existing use of projection via the computer. I think the iPad (or tablets) will be a better choice. A market report convinces me that. Apparently companies making the IWB have been posting lower profits lately. I am no economist but the little economics that I know tells me that companies make lower profits when their products don't sell that well... And if a product is not selling well, that means it either has a replacement or is reaching the end of its shelf life...

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

One more trip to the Menara Alor Setar

It's hols... and this was after our 'lessons' with our kids.... reading, writing, thinking... and play.

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.
 photo 93799fad-03b3-4d26-b112-462319ab45b9.jpg
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

Year Gone By

Well, technically the year is not yet over. There's still a month more before 2013 closes. But for me, the year is as good as over. School break is on... and the first week is almost over. Before long, the new year will be knocking and everything starts all over again...

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

iPad in Class

I started using the iPad as a teaching tool sometime this year. I have actually been using it off and on in my classes ever since I first bought the iPadto show stuff or copy exercises onto the chalkboard from the many ebooks that I carry in my iPad. And that was about 2 years back, if memory seves me right.

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 can do stuff on it which one could only dream of a decade ago on my iPad. Back then, they would require a certain amount of knowledge in animation and sound softwares. And that was daunting enough for many. With Doceri, the animation that I made below took a mere half an hour.... Could have finished it earlier if I had not been that fussy.

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)