Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Projectors Epson EBW-18 and Epson EB-1776w

I finally bought my own projector... A slim and sleek Epson EB-1776w. It's the one on the right in the picture below. The one on the right is it's bigger sistah.. The Epson EBW-18. A friend bought it not too long after mine. Just so happened that the projector she was using at school went on its last legs. And she didn't want to be without a projector to use in class and so she dug into her own pocket and bought her own.
As to why she did not ask her school to buy her a new one... It's supposed to be difficult for schools to purchase such things. In a supposedly technologically dependent world today, schools are still not allowed to buy gadgets or electronic tools with the funds. She could repair the old projector that was on its last legs but we were told by the technician that it was not worth it. Anyway, teachers like her who dig into their own pockets to buy a projector for use in school are rare... People usually will buy if it gives them a tangible return.... like so many other things in life.
I am going to start with my EB-1776w. I am more fortunate. I have a boss who has been very supportive of my foray into the use of technology to aid teaching in class. I recently requested a new projector and was given a EBX-18. The main difference between EBX-18 and EBW-18 is of course the native resolution. EBX-18 has an XGA, 1024 x 768. Both the EBW-18 and EB-1776w come with a WXGA, 1280 x 768. Basically it means that you get a wider screen. Both projectors come with a 3000 ANSI lumens bulb, which means you get a bright projection.
One of the thing I like about the EB-1776w is its size. This is an ultra portable projector with many cool features. It auto corrects the projection you put up, meaning, if once you press the Screen Fit function, it would automatically adjust the projection. No need to fiddle with the buttons. I find that quite cool.
Apart from that, another feature which I like is the Split Screen function. Basically this means that I can use 2 devices at the same time on the projector. I have tried my iPad, connected via the VGA cable and MacBook via the USB cable simultaneously. My iPad would be on the other projector. What this means basically is I can have up to 3 different inputs running at the same time. Nice.
I am still in my early stages of exploring with the use of multiple inputs in class. This is has just been made possible recently after my boss allowed me to convert an unused computer lab into a class. In the coming months, I hope to incorporate the use of Chromebooks in the my classes. I am still reading up, thinking thorugh, hatching ideas of how to go about it as this is something which has not been attempted in my school. My students seem excited too.
Tools like projectors, tablets, computers are great tools to use in class. They make lessons come alive. They tickle the senses and cater to those who need more than just printed words to get moving. However, they are still just tools, I believe. What makes a lesson come alive, or inspire a student to move in certain directions... I think is the teacher. Teaching is an art which also requires constant rejuvanation, resupplying, resourcefulness and so on. And I think that is something which many of us have failed to realize in our quest to churn out students who can score the A(s). Learning is a process. And like many processes, it needs time.
And I think it's a shame that schools have not upgraded all their old projectors to the newer generation ones. I think it's a shame that there is so much control over what can be or cannot be bought using school funds. I think it is a shame that the budget is not decentralisd. I think it is a shame that we still think education is like a production line. I think it is a shame that we have so much bureaucracy. I think it's a shame that many of our Principals feel that they are the smartest people around, the way they force it on the teachers.
I attended a Taklimat (briefing) on PISA recently. And even before the briefing began, this authoritative lady from the Ministry told the teachers sitting at the back to fill up the front places. And that started an 'standoff' in the minds. What these education officers who is in their lofty office chairs failed to take note is.... If their presentation is interesting enough, if they are able to ignite the fire and passion in the audience about the subject matter, by the next session I am sure everyone of us would be clamouring to sit in front. That is what is lacking in our schools too....
Instead, we had to sit through a most boring round of what sounded to me like babbling... The stats could have just been printed out and given to us.... Sigh! This is just an example of what is happening at school too.... Relevance. Being given relevance and providing relevance.... The state of education system... We hear lots of barking but actually very little progress is made because at many points, too many things are crumbling... And sometimes I feel some quarters seem to want it that way. Ignorant and dependent fools are way easier to manipulate. Thinking fools tend to burn themselves and others along with themselves...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Getting It Right...

So what makes a good learner? Been teaching for over 20 years and good learners are elusive as can be.

It's exam season now. Mid year exam to be exact. We have our own version of 'common core standards' here. I am located in a state that is positioned third bottom in terms of achievement in the SPM, bettering only states like Sabah and Sarawak. Basically it means we are the last state in the Peninsular. And the Education Department has been breathing down our necks basically for the last few years because of this. Even Kelantan which is a poorer state has fared better.

Program after programs, detailed analysis, making calculated predictions, common exams set by a central committee... the list is long. Yet we fare no better.

My two sen of experience... I have just had the best round of grades from my students for their Form 5 History Paper 2. One student after another and scores over 80 greeted me again and again. I even have a few 98s. I should be ecstatic cos the results indicate that I must have done something right. Yet, it is now an open secret that every single paper in this mid year exam which came from the Department has leaked! So much for that momentary ecstasy that I had managed to inspire students into liking a subject which many label as boring and dead as those dead civilizations or people they depict.

Getting it right... Grades are all that seem to matter to majority of the kids. Good grades used to imply that a student is good. And a good student in turn indicates a good learner in the making. Well, that is a myth. It is also a open secret that straight A(s) students don't have good thinking or communicative skills, let alone creative thinking or problem solving skills. Prospective employers have complained enough about the quality of our graduates to give us an idea of what our schools are churning out.

Students have become very good at answering questions. Questions are hardly challenging. Grades are often adjusted. We are a nation of many straight A(s) scorers. Imagine a student with an A in English who cannot write a good composition. Or another students with an A+ who cannot solve a Primary Six (Singapore syllabus) problem solving based question. The PISA and TIMMS scores imply that our kids are around 2 years behind their counterparts. Well, I think it is probably more than that.

So, what is wrong? I think the whole way we approach learning has gone awry. Yeah! A(s) were super important during my time too. But I think we loved to learn too. I was surrounded with friends who loved all kinds of knowledge.... the sci-fi types to the lofty giddy poet wannabes. School was a place where we learned to learn. Most of the time we had to learn to find our own way, figure out the solution... in short we had time to reflect and dream. Kids today? Well, their time is jam packed with extra classes.... we have the schools to thank for that... and extra tuitions.... we have the kiasu parents to thank.

I was in my class when the History paper was collected. I had time to walk around the class before I collected the papers. I guess my students must have felt sorry for me for believing the unbelievable... that they were actually beginning to see some light in the 'dead' subject... when one of them piqued that they knew the questions beforehand. Of course I went into a tirade of sorts... But more than anything, I felt sorry for them. I felt sorry because the system has failed them. We are 'teaching' them to get the A(s) but definitely not in the way that benefits that in the longer run.

The questions leaked... We have to ask how and why. The how is obvious... probably teachers and the likelihood of tuition teachers being the culprit is high. When money is the motivator, little else needs to be said. Why? I guess it's a glimpse of the greater malaise that plagues this country too. This is a country built on sanctioned racial divide.

Getting it right. I guess we have to go back to the basics. We have to get it right at the core. We have to beat least seen doing right from the top. Walk into many schools in this state and it's not hard to see what I mean. Wrong people are sitting up there for the wrong reasons. We have to right that first. Good heads make all the difference. We have too many heads of schools who are not fit to lead. Yet they are there. I think I have served under 10 principals and countless Senior Assistants. I think I count 3, maybe 4 who made a difference. But what is probably worrying is most of them were in my early career.

It's hard to get it right. Life is hard to get right as it is too...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Boys Like Blue, Girls Like Pink

Two thirds of the year more to go... and another year would be soon over. Time has flown by and crawled in the past few months. I had a chat conversation with an old friend recently. Our conversation drifted to work... and we chatted about the things we were both doing and she said I should get a male collegue to help me.

I pondered a while over her statement and shot back a short sentence. "Why must it be a man?" Will getting a man to help enable me to move faster, achieve more? Or it could be women just don't have the time or maybe even the aptitude.... Women are just as guilty sometimes in putting their own kind into straight jackets.

Even among my most independent minded friends, their frame of mind is still carved along gender. I have been doing some thinking about gender roles. We'd like to think that boys and girls should be given equal opportunities. And I think great strides have been made towards that end. But what we have, how we live out our societal norms..... gender roles are still apparent.

Blue-pink, engineer-nurse, leader-follower, housework-yardwork, boss-secretary.... I wonder how much of it is hardwired and how much is conditioned. In 2007 a study came out claiming that colour preference was hardwired. Recently another study said colour preference is conditioned. Actually, we do not know much...

We like to think there is equality. But is there real equality? There are religions which teach its believers that women are not meant to lead. There are social norms which lay down gender roles. Men must be the bread winner. He goes out to work, she keeps the house clean. He makes sure that food can be put on the table. She makes sure that it gets to the table. Well, unless you come from the remote Lugu Lake in China where things are somewhat different. There, the gender roles are a little different in this little known community. There are still exceptions....

Yet, as society evolved, we see changes in the gender roles too. Women are in the work force now. Some men are house husbands. I read sometime ago this theory called the Malthusian Trap. Apparently data now shows that we have broken out from the trap for the first time in 3000 years. Big corporations can no longer dictate everything. Governments too. Free flow of information is apparently good for the little people. Once upon a time one needs capital to start any ventures. You need to depend on banks for loans. You pay interest for that service. These days, there are the little people in the crowd you can holler over the net... for your banking needs. Cool?

And because of that, anyone can start anything. Crowdfunding made possible by the net has enabled many wonderful products to reach the masses and turned many into entrepreneurs. Other Half has bought stuff from Kickstarter. A friend of mind recently jumped onto the crowd funder group too. More are becoming aware of such a thing. I was told that now we have peer banking too... supposedly will free us from being at the mercy of the banks. Something more tolerable than the Ah Longs.

And tecnology has something to do with it. So, I wonder too whether gender roles too are experiencing that sort of breaking out from its own version of 'Malthusian Trap'? When it happens, I think there is probably going to be another social revolution. I think too that we have to change the way we raise our sons. We have to teach them what equality really means. We have to teach our daughters the same too. So maybe boys like pink or maybe pink and blue??? Or maybe still continue to like just blue? But it will just be because it's a personal preference and not a gender one.

The world that we live in is full of surprises and unknowns. And because a human life does not exceed a century for most of us, a lot of what we think or hold to be true sometimes may not be the simple truth because we actually do not know. Each of us try to make sense or perhaps even create sense within the finite constraints that we each have. When I was a kid, I learned that the highest peak was Mt. Everest. I recently learned that the highest peak is somewhere along the fault line under the ocean, somewhere between the Americas and Europe. I recently learned from the same explorer that there are rivers under the oceans too.... There are many surprises..... many unknowns even in the world we think we know.

Thoughts on Labour Day... a day I labour more around the house doing what is perceived a woman's domain.... Lol!