Monday, April 28, 2014

Busy

My time is kinda filled up these days. There seem more things to do with the same amount of time. Co-curricular activities... they're not just for students. Lol! They have been taking up quite a bit of my time these past few weeks. Getting my students ready for debate, followed by the FLL robotic competition, with coaching volleyball in between were my extra-curricular activities. I've basically been functioning as if on steroids.

And oh yes.. SPM results were released in between too. Am quite pleased with my students' results. For the last one year, the iPad has enabled me to use mind maps and engage students in a more meaningful and interesting way. Overall, there was marked improvement for my History classes. There were one or two moments which will always be etched in my memory. There was this boy who had been flunking his History until I started teaching him. He got an A... And I was overjoyed with him. He came to see me after he got his results and before he left, he muttered a word of thanks in a tone that only both of us understood... it was a poignant moment. I used to challenge this boy to rise above himself. He did. His BM was atrocious but somehow, simplifying things helped. And he got lucky too...

I learned one thing though. We talk a lot about modern learning concepts these days. During my days as a student, they key words were read, write, arithmetic... These days it's all about the Cs... connect, collaborate, curate, critical thinking, communicate, create... I don't know whether there are any more to add on. Anyway, no matter how we phrase or present the words, one thing stands out to me. There is a need for guidance. Maybe guidance is hardly the right description since we are very into all these high powered words. Mentoring... Mentors make a difference. There is only so much a person can know. Somehow the length of one's life on earth still makes a difference in how we act or think. Experience still very much play an important role in shaping character and forming habits. And this is where teachers step in.

But I think what makes a good teacher good is a good teacher inspires. Everyone of us needs to be inspired one way or another. I think there is way too much emphasis on results that we fail to focus of character building. In other words, we teach but I think teaching is mainly skewed towards getting the A(s). We rush through the syllabus and focus on answering techniques. All these come with a price and that price is often indicative of the sacrifice of the soul.

Anyway, I am currently embarking on another project, one that will hopefully enable me to try out all these learning concepts... Flipped, flexed, blended and what have you not... And am fortunate that my current boss is very supportive.

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.