Saturday, July 17, 2004

Busy, busy day. If Cikgu Ibrahim hadn't reminded me about today's Racial Harmony Day celebration/forum at SMU I would have slept this morning away in the midst of a fine thunderstorm. The celebration might have been more fun for the crowd of primary school kids who were taken on a discovery tour of the Botanic Gardens by their assigned student leaders; but for me it was like been there, done that. Literally speaking, because our college had exactly (well, almost exactly) the same programme two years ago to celebrate Teachers' Day. A good idea is worth recycling on an ever increasing scale.
I took a greater interest in the forum, especially with what the 2nd speaker had to say about her CDC's NE Youth Ambassadors. Ms Phua seems like a very passionate, bubbly personality who genuinely loves working with youth. What I liked about her presentation was that she emphasized very strongly about what our youth can do once we give them enough trust to have a free rein to do their "thang." Her approach to NE is so simple and yet so real -- provide an environment where youth can mix it up and form strong and lasting friendships. That's all the NE that our youth need; and I believe her. Our "system" suffers from too much micromanagement and it turns out lots of kids who are crippled in imagination, motivation, and confidence, so it's great to see that there are civil servants like Ms Phua who has her head screwed on right.
Already the forum has got some ideas sizzlin' on the backburner, but now isn't the time to discuss them. I need to do a little further research before I can verbalize what's going on in there.
A number of issues from this morning resonated in Mean Girls, which I managed to catch this evening. Cady's observation that schools are places where adults don't trust youth to do the right thing applies in our context as well as in hers. This lack of trust is truly a terrible thing. Within her school is a society in microcosm, fragmented along racial, linguistic, fashion, intelligence, cultural and lack-of-cultural faultlines. The obvious distrust between the different groups rests on such a hair-trigger that it takes a single malicious event to cause the whole society to erupt into violence and chaos. It's funny to watch in the movie, but it's not half so funny as we apply the same model to different parts of our world where people are fighting, killing and dying for the exact same reasons.
Ha! Only the NE coordinator could turn a high school chick flick into an NE lesson for Racial Harmony Day. Hope I haven't spoiled it for you!

Friday, July 16, 2004

Looky that! WYSIWYG editing in Blogger! About time too. Maybe now uploading pix won't be such a pain. Coloured text too. Wonder when I'll ever use that? I run a serious blog, I do.
I think I'll give poor old King Arthur a skip. Everyone's been saying how disappointed they are with the movie. Straits Times, MSN, even Yee said that it was dreary and tiresome to watch. Then again, it seems Yee didn't like Spider-Man 2 either, so go figure. Maybe it'll show up on HBO one of these days. I can wait. But people are saying that Mean Girls was funny (in a mean sort of way, of course) and while I hadn't had any intention of watching another High School flick for a while, this one might be worth consideration.
Couldn't go watch KA today, anyway. Someone's going to get some serious frequent visitor mileage at our house from tonight. Yep, Mimi's visiting again and this visit could be a trial to see if she can put up in our house permanently. The poor old girl is becoming marginalized at Mom-in-law's house, what with the 2 young grand kids who are learning from their mom to keep Mimi at arms length [Don't they know that kids who play with dogs grow up to be well-adjusted adults? No, I didn't have a dog to play with as a kid. Explains a lot, don't it?]. The only one who has time for Mimi is June's sister, but as she flies out of country so often, Mimi is usually left alone. That's why she is always happy to come visit us; she gets so much attention from us she finds it hard to say goodbye when she has to go home.
This won't be an easy decision for us to make, though. Mimi is adorable and is a lot more of the dog that Q-tip isn't. Mimi is affectionate and loves company, but she scares Momo. On her last visit, Momo spent 2 days behind the washing machine, occupying her time by chewing on the washer's drainage pipe. It has so many holes in it now, the kitchen floor floods whenever we do the laundry. I was also quite mad with Q-tip this evening for ignoring the nice new newspaper I laid down for her, and took a leak in the kitchen instead. Our kitchen is a tiled one, so her pee got into all the gaps between the tiles so there was a liquid waste grid stretching all the way to the kitchen drainage hole for me to clean up. *faints*
Mimi isn't the most disciplined of house trained dogs either, so...
Well, if June really wants to keep Mimi, I won't object. In this case of "love me, love my dog," I really do love the dog too. As far as I can tell, I'm the only non-member of the family that she has welcomed and accepted so wholeheartedly. Everyone else she barks violently at. She's family to me too, and I can't turn her away. Momo will just have to learn to cope.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Congratulations to Joanna who's delivered her second daughter, Judith. I think Vince and a few others went to visit her to deliver their well-wishes in person. I couldn't make it today, so I might have to deliver a small token through her Mom who lives only a few doors away from my Mom. Funny that we have been growing up on the same street for years, never knowing each other, then suddenly ending up as colleagues in the same college. Well, I guess it's not such a coincidence after all. Singapore isn't that big a place, and we don't have that many people.

Thought of going to catch King Arthur on opening night, so I made it home early to meet June, have dinner and go. But June said the movie only rated 2 stars in the papers, so she wasn't in a hurry to go see it. Maybe tomorrow, then.

And for those of you who want to be thoroughly disturbed about human life and our role on this planet, and that everything you ever believed is a (benign) lie, then have a read of "The Science of Discworld II: The Globe," by Terry Pratchett,et. al. If you have a Renaissance enough of a mind, you will be treated to a tongue-in-cheek disseration critiquing (not criticizing, mind you) all the disciplines of the Western world. Nothing is scared; from religion (if you are sensitive about people critiquing your religion, the authors ask you to just think of it as a critique of someone else's religion, not yours), the Arts (visual, literary and dramatic), science (theoretical and applied) including quantum physics, some philosophy, some economics, and lots of history, all wrapped up within the framework of a rib-tickling story involving wizards and elves. This book is a little gem of an eye-opener and I would love to recommend it to all GP students. A lot of issues we usually discuss in GP are discussed in this book too, but in a very readable presentation. However there are only 2 copies in the Drum so, first come first served.

This book may have been the only thing keeping me sane (ok, I'm being dramatic) through the MY marking period. I needed to touch base with good, analytical but humorous writing quite frequently or I would have lost all objectivity reading nothing but barely legible exam scripts over that extended period of time. I only read Pratchett in small chunks during transit between locations, and during other more discreet personal operations, and that's probably why it took me exactly 14 days to read it from cover to cover.

Read it and pause to think about the implications Pratchett, et. al. postulate about life on Earth as we know it. Go on, I dare you!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Tried something silly with Mei's blog. I had no idea this would happen:

The Potion Maker
hoshi_no_koemium is a translucent, dusty brown powder obtained from the heart of a shrew.
quid est veritasium is a translucent, grainy scarlet powder drained from the eyeballs of a mountain goat.
Mixing hoshi_no_koemium with quid est veritasium causes a violent chemical reaction, producing a milky sky blue potion which gives the user protection from angry glares.
Yet another fun meme brought to you by rfreebern

Whoa... that just sounds about right!

Oh well... here's my formula:

The Potion Maker
quid est veritasium is a translucent, grainy scarlet powder drained from the eyeballs of a mountain goat.
Mix with quid est veritas! Username:
Yet another fun meme brought to you by rfreebern
Boy, the last two entries were a pair of downers. Well, I didn't promise "happy happy joy joy" all the time. I am pursuing the truth and that's my way of getting my thoughts out in the open else I'll always be wondering why I am feeling the way I do. This is a teacher's blog after all, and occasionally I am going to talk about my job. Today, though, I'm much happier.

Had another great session with the Drama Club. The seniors organized a teamwork building event for the juniors. The usual stuff: "crossing the river" on pieces of cardboard planks and building the tallest free-standing structure using unlikely building materials. Fun activities which everybody got involved in, no one was left out. Proud of the fact that everyone made it across the river together despite losing a few valuable planks; and that the chaos of the two drinking straw structures suddenly gelled and became two visually arresting, sturdy 3-D objects that did stand on their own. The structres were supposed to stand for just four seconds, but both would still remain standing right now if we hadn't had to trash them as we cleaned up after ourselves.

It was also encouraging that the envisioning exercise threw up a lot of enterprise and some far-reaching goals that are very much in-line with what the advising staff are hoping to accomplish. The fact that the club independently came up with these goals without any consultation from us means that we are on the same wavelength and I think the juniors are mentally ready to take on these new challenges.

Just think: Halloween might still go on this year; my long hoped for busking festival might see light of day at last; our travelling road-show could just hit the road; and our collaborative theatrical event is now a possibility. And there were other suggestions as well for other fun and exciting ventures. All very ambitious, but now that the vision and the spirit have coincided the groundwork can now begin. I hope the flesh, though, is ready to cooperate.

Today we also introduced Melissa, the new staff advisor to the Drama Club. Between now and next year with all these potentialities needing realisation, we sure appreciate the extra pair of hands. Welcome aboard, Mel!

We finished off our meeting with another round of Captain's Ball, though I wasn't able to join in today. Apologies, guys! Gid went crazy with his camera, and I would love to get my hands on the pix so I can u/l them into the Drama Club album for everyone to see. It's been getting a little dusty lately. How 'bout it, Gid?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Today's entry isn't flowing too good. Getting stuck in lots of places and that's a sign that I'm on the wrong topic. Have to delete everything and start again, hoping a new tack will emerge and I can write more fluently again.

Hmm... rushed to finish my CT's comments so we can get the MY results printed and signed and ready for collection by Parents' Day next week. Didn't have a lot of imagination left to draw on so pretty much everyone got similar comments. The best I could do was to word each student's comments a little differently, with one or two exceptions for various reasons. My last batch of students had a little contest comparing who had the longest comments in their reports, but I don't think it will happen this year.

A2 is in need of a success that will inspire everyone in the group to press harder. Such depressed results as occurring this MY is quite damaging to morale and I feel the discouragement. Dealing with failure especially when one knows one shouldn't be failing is horrendously tough. What went wrong? Am I really as good as I thought I was? These are some of questions we ask ourselves in these situations and we sink into self-doubt and worse still, resignation. I sincerely hope this cascade can be arrested for all our sakes.

Everyone in A2 has the intelligence and the knowledge to do really well, and enjoy doing it at the same time. So why are people not reaching their potential? I know little about other subjects, but for GP I believe what's missing is their patience and persistence especially to examine other people's ideas, and to piece together their own.

On one query, I suggested rereading the answer written in order to catch language and logic mistakes and the response to my suggestion was, "Isn't that very time consuming?" Interesting question that says a lot about the strategy adopted to answer exam questions. It tells me that in the 90 minutes given for each paper, the idea is to fill up the entire time allocated by writing 800 words or thereabouts.

Despite the advice constantly given -- that planning, proofing, editing (sometimes even rewriting) are all components that can be reasonably budgeted for within the time limit, many students feel 90 minutes is too short to write a good paper and too long to keep their attention focused on a single task. Teenagers are seldom patient. They want to get things over and done with quickly but for some tasks, the best results come with patient development, and in not being satisfied with the easy answers.

In our training, we learned that education's aim is to change behaviour by learning better ways to accomplish our tasks. Logically then, unless behaviour changes, results cannot improve. I'm not talking about classroom micro-management here. Kids will be kids, regardless, thank God for that. I'm saying that the tricks you already know can only take you so far. We are teaching you new tricks that will get you further, so start practicing them and using them and see for yourselves how far you can go.

Not quite the entry I meant to write, but I guess this must have been on my mind. I couldn't think of anything else.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Spent part of the day typing up Civics Tutor's comments into the system. Some comments came easily, others I saved until tomorrow which is the actual deadline. Comments are almost like fortune cookie slips, except that the fortunes aren't doled out at random. Each student deserves some thought and must be encouraged in the right way and reminded diplomatically where to buck up. There is, however, one common denominator and that is the lack of enthusiasm in joining in a discussion. So basically everyone got a note about that.

This reticence is not unique to A2 and it's not unique to this time period either. It has been the GP tutor's lament, probably ever since GP was introduced as a subject at the 'A' Levels, and it's a phenomenon that's likely to stay until GP is scrapped for something else. Now, THAT could be a long time away.

It's probably a cultural thing, though again, it's not unique to this region either. It was quite this way at York U during most of my tutorials there as well. It was a situation that I hadn't expected when I got there. While I thought the whole tutorial would be scrambling to say something, a pattern emerged that there would only be a small number of contributors and always the same people. I had classmates who were Irish (I think I caught the interest of an Irish lass, but she never made her intentions clear), Greek (I took an interest in a Greek miss, but she made her intentions quite clear), Austrian, Yugoslav, Black, Carribean, Italian, Iranian, Israeli, Korean, Indian... oh, and a couple of Anglo-Saxon whites too. Regardless, tutorials generally were quiet affairs with mainly the tutor talking and just some occasional comments from the group; that is to say one or two members of the group.

In some tutorials, it was me and a couple of others. I must have been quite an irritating Hermione Granger type, only I was never as smart nor did I try to be. Where I could, I was just trying to live up to the culture of my expectations. There were other tutorials I completely froze up in. Like that course in Women's Studies that was mostly populated with working, part-time studying mothers who were vocal and spoke from painful personal experience. You just had to respect what they said. Besides, I didn't spend too much time on my readings for this course 'cos I was in one of my lazy periods. I was in 4th year taking a 2nd year course and it was easy to underestimate.

Hmm... applying hindsight, it was usually in the tutorials that had the best looking, eligible females that I might have participated most in. It's not the best way to win dates, though, given the low desireability of the know-it-all type, but it's a male instinct to flaunt whatever is available just to gain some attention. Ah. I think I have found my problem. No one in my CT seems remotely interested in each other in that way. The males and the females go their separate ways and there isn't enough er... chemistry to sustain discussion, intelligent or otherwise. It's bad when there is only one active couple in the group because they cut themselves off from the others, but when everyone is either a potential mate or a potential rival for an eligible mate, that's when discussions just might start getting interesting. That's why heavily male populated groups don't do well -- all rivals, no potential mates -- so they are either apathetic or self-destructive. I'm not sure what happens to heavily female populated groups though. I don't know of any to form a case-study.

So that's it. The best motivation for impressive results is the interest in getting the attention of the hunks or the babes (note the plural) in the group. I'm sorry, folks, my hands are tied.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Mom has returned from Alaska and Vancouver after a whole month. She didn't say much about Alaska but then again, too many people were asking her about different things so it was hard for her to gather her thoughts for a completely coherent account of her adventures. From what I could hear, she went berry-picking a couple of times, ate a lot on the cruise ship, and caught up on old times with our relatives living there.

Her last activity before boarding the flight home was to pick a few pounds worth of blueberries for us from a berry farm. We had blueberries for dessert tonight. I think blueberries are better served as a jam or a sundae topping. They don't leave much of an impression fresh. It was a different story with the peaches. Beautiful, firm, round peaches, juicy and sweet to bite into. Mom gave one to us to take home but I knew it would never leave the dining table alive. I know what fresh fruit smell like and this peach smelled fresh. Off-the-tree fresh. All it took was a quick rinse and between June and me we tore into it like rabid piranha. It disappeared so quickly that Mom never saw it go. She was still looking for our peach as we were going home 'cos she thought we had forgotten it and had left it behind.

Coincidentally, today is also our niece, Brenda's birthday. My sister's second kid. June bought for her a pretty denim summer dress from Guess Kids. It had some floral embroidery on the bodice and once Brenda grows a little bigger, she should look real nice in it.

My sister has herself got back from Bath so Mom and Sis swapped travel stories. My brother's PC has degenerated beyond repair and has now been rendered into its component pieces. My brother is, likewise, in pieces over it. When he saves enough cash, he'll have to go shopping for new parts; but meantime, he'll have to settle for buying time at cybercafes for his 'net fix.

Me, I wanted to go mall pounding, being bored at home and slightly claustrophobic. But it poured in the afternoon and I couldn't go anywhere. Oh well.

Oh, it's a bit weird to laugh about this but I found this link in Ali's blog.