Saturday, March 05, 2005

Emotionally and physically drained. Today's distribution of the 2004 'A' results is my final farewell to 3A2 whom I have grown much attached to. The next stage beckons and it's good to know that most of my former civics tutorial can move on in higher education having cleared this last hurdle. Kudos to 'rah, Farisa and Lynn for producing the best results for our CT, and to the rest who worked hard and did well as a result.

From my other tutorials of last year, it was quite astounding for me that some of the students who were having major problems with GP finally cleared the mark AND achieved multiple distinctions in their other subjects as well. I had no idea they were such swots, but there you go. To the others who ambushed me, hounded me and besieged me during the run-up to the exam, it was very gratifying to see how much they progressed and learned in just the short, concentrated private sessions we had together. From D grades to B grades, their effort and determination really paid off for them. Good show, people!

Back in the staff room we're all pleased with our over 90% GP passes. As soon as we found out, there was a flurry to contact our friends in the other colleges to see how well they fared. Somehow, rankings still matter to us, even though the Ministry doesn't publish these stats any more. We just have the need to find out where we stand in relation to things. Guess we didn't do too badly then. Yes.

From distributing results I immediately proceeded to drama club where we held our final casting exercise. We have a cast now and can move on to the publicity photoshoot next week. MJ let us hear 2 songs which she composed for our musical. She also introduced us to her friend who is keen to be our 'live' improv keyboardist for the musical. Both songs are deliciously bluesy so perhaps the rest of our music should follow a similar sound. We had some guests drop in from last year's crew: I saw Adam, Gid, 'sif, Sam, Reina, Liu Yin and Shariffa. Great to see y'all again!

The evening still found me on campus attending the annual Chinese Drama presentation. It's clear that the Chinese Drama team has put in much effort into the 3 short plays. The storylines were quite interesting, focusing on the most mentally unsound characters therein. Chinese Drama still has a problem with being overly-dependent on blackout for scene changes or identifying passage of time. The stories could have been told smoother, snappier and more efficiently; and that would have raised the interest level significantly. Hmm... now we English Drama have a mark to surpass. 'Can we do it? Yes, we can!'

Tired and incoherent now. Just look at the time...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The hardest thing about being endowed with super-strength is trying to live a normal life amongst normal folk. Agnes remarked last Wednesday that I reminded her of Mr Incredible, dressed as I was in regulation Wednesday attire -- long sleeves and tie --and trying to squeeze into the tiniest of spaces at the overcrowded breakfast table. Oh, it was all haha fun and games then, but tonight Mr Incredible did something incredibly stupid.

The one thing he is most incompetent at is housework. June reminds me of the time I made the vacuum cleaner topple over just dragging it across the floor. It's a water-based thing so dirty water slopped over the nicely cleaned floor which had to be cleaned again. The water may also have got into part of the electronics because from then on activating it became a trial and error affair. There was the time I cleaned the marble flooring of the bedroom but I didn't check the detergent I was using. It foamed beautifully on the floor but not because it was a soapy sudsy reaction but because the floor was being dissolved by the acid in the detergent. That patch of bedroom floor no longer shines as brightly as the rest of it.

This evening, I took on my old nemesis the vacuum cleaner once again. This was the one with the punctured hose I recently bought a replacement for. The same one that had fallen over, c.f. the above. I vacuumed the guest room, the bedroom and the study, no problem. Then came the living room. As I was vacuuming I felt that the power cable needed some more slack so I gave it a couple of pulls. I wasn't using strength (honest!) but there came a spark from the machine and my apartment suddenly went dark and silent. A faint smell of burnt electric coil hung in the air. The power cable refused to retract back into its housing and I knew the old thing had reached the end of its tether.

My first reaction: go unplug the faulty appliance then go to the fusebox and reconnect the tripped fuse to restore power. I did just that -- and nothing happened. My second reaction: panic!!! I called my dad, June called hers. They offered some advice that didn't work. We decided to come out of our shells and asked our bus-driver neighbour for help. His son came over but couldn't help. The bus-driver's wife suggested we ask our taxi-driver neighbour for help because he used to be an electrician before. Taxi-driver's wife said that he would be home soon, but in the meantime she'd come over to see what the problem was. As we were looking at our main fusebox in the common corridor we attracted the attention of our immediate neighbours, a retired couple and family.

Soon our corner of the 6th floor was a buzzing hive of activity, with fragments of questions, answers and more advice being thrown all over the place. Dad called and said he had managed to track down a qualified electrician who would arrive at our doorstep shortly. Meantime, our taxi-driver/electrician neighbour returned home and took a personal look at our fusebox. A quick fiddle and -- everything's back to normal! Power's restored and life as we know it can go on!

And then dad's qualified electrician arrived to find there's nothing left for him to do apart from reexamine the fusebox, declare one trip-switch faulty, make a correction with his test-pen, explain to me in Mandarin what to do next time a trip occurs (though he spoke to dad on the phone in perfect English) and collect $50 for his trouble.

After he left we drove to MIL's in Sembawang to collect her spare vacuum cleaner. There's still the rest of the house to be sucked and mopped. Sigh.

Mr Incredible declares housework an abhorrence.
Having a car means having freedom of mobility, going places where one would never have thought of before when one relied on public transport to get around. It also means taking time away from one's previous preoccupations, e.g., the PC and the 'net, that once kept one occupied and homebound. June is happy beause now she's moved up my list of priorities whereas Watson has moved down a notch. After all, what's the big deal about owning a car if one doesn't have a date to drive around in it? So the both of us are out and about at night, Watson sits on his table neglected and, the pets basically take care of themselves. So it was last night.

Flirt's injured son is still living with us and we had intended to take him to Dr Ling's for a 2nd opinion. But his limp seems to be getting better and it doesn't seem to hurt when we test press his paw. He is such a complainer that he would yowl if it caused even a minor discomfort but there's a just a contented purring from him and that's it. We decided to cancel his appointment and observe him some more before we hit the panic button. Instead, we took the time to revisit the Colbar on Portsdown Road for a bite and a drink. And to see if it is still as dog-friendly as it was in it's previous location.

It's unusual for us to have dinner with company but last night we joined Anthony, Wendy and Amy. The menu has a selection of English pub food and local food, the specialities of a Colonial Hainanese kitchen. I ordered a sirloin with chips and 'shrooms; and June had the fish & chips. The dishes are rough and ready, reasonably sized and priced. There is quite a mix of exotic imported beers and other liquor products so oddly-shaped bottles appeared on our table for a few of us. Weng, Lu and a certain artistically-inclined judoka who is anxious about her 'A' results on Friday joined us later for drinks and lots of yak, friendly jibing and round-the-table gossip till past midnight.

Good company, good ambiance, palatable food and patrons' dogs happily sitting at the tables. Definitely a place to bring Q-tip to next time we come.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Alternative methods of assessing GP. What does GP test? The ability to read a range of texts for information that is processed through the reader's own set of flexible meaning filters and less flexible value filters (Paper 2 - comprehension) then synthesized and re-expressed as a cogent unified thought in written form preferably in fluent language (Paper 1 - Essay). So Essay and Compre are both part of a whole sequence of mental activity operating within a particular social context, and not separate skills in themselves.

Adding in the Application Question into the syllabus was therefore a step in the right direction, though the other types of compre questions are problematic in that marking them can be quite arbitrary and highly dependent on individual interpretation. A pass or fail depends on how the marker interprets the answer scheme, not necessarily on the written answers to the questions themselves. Interpretation and application of the marking scheme is easier and fairer when the answers are written in a language form that is easy for the marker to understand, but is very difficult to apply when the marker has to simultaneously interpret the written answer as well. Thus students who are facile with English (the agreed upon language medium of the paper) have a massive advantage over students who are not. So marking the General Paper can be a problem if students don't take proper language usage seriously.

The purpose of the General Paper? To equip students with the methodology, skills and ethics of research and essay writing so that the student learns how to speak sensibly with the authority of a learned person. These skills are essential at University level, but are not taught at Secondary level, hence GP is meant to bridge the gulf separating basic education from tertiary.

Does the current assessment of GP match up to it's purpose?
Paper 2: Awarding marks for paraphrasing text teaches the student to avoid plagiarism but coming up with a marking scheme that covers all possibilities can be quite anal. Vocab can be quite juvenile as meanings are forced from and within unnecessarily tight contexts and does not encourage interpreting the text from the wider perspective.

Paper 1: What are we really testing? The students see this exercise as a test of how well they've memorised the material they received from their tutors, but this isn't the point of the test, is it? We want to see if they can use information from whatever source they deem relevant to the question and how well they are able to synthesize the information into a convincing argument that is both fair and sensible.

The problem here is that different tutors not just across the different colleges but also even within the campus of the same college give different students different materials to study. When the students take the test, they bring with them warped memories of what they had studied (or left to rot) and base their essays on a synthesis of what they remember, not on actual texts themselves.

Since most courses at University level are more heavily weighted on the research paper rather than the written exam, shouldn't we be testing the students on how well they use info rather than how well they've memorised info? Yes, there's PW; but why add a new subject if we can fix GP to begin with? No need to duplicate jobs then (sorry, Avril!).

Hypothetical 'new' GP exam I would like to propose: 5-6 similarly themed texts of general interest given out as passages. One essay question from a choice of a few questions to answer based on the theme of the passages. The one essay assesses the student's ability to use and interpret texts (covering vocab, context questions) from all sources (balance), construct an intelligent argument (essay structure), AND ability to handle quotations and references in standard university-accepted format (MLA, APA, etc.).

I can see the storm of controversy now!
Today the J1s collect their 'O' results. May y'all get the results you're hoping for and choose your next path wisely! Last year's J2s, soon, soon...

Not many people here can say that they had a bulgogi burger fresh from Korea for dinner. June's sister brought back a couple on her flight back from Seoul and microwaved them before June collected them in the early evening. I've never had a food delivery from such a distance before. I'm not absolutely certain the burger contained 'bulgogi' which I thought meant grilled beef. It tasted more like a chicken burger topped with lettuce and mayo, but hey, the experience of biting into such exotic food was enough of a thrill.

Earlier this morning, I found a notice from the Ministry calling for participants in the bowling league this year. Anthony's keen as is Yee, but that leaves 1 vacant spot to make up our foursome. We practiced at SAFRA in the evening, and we jokingly said we were 'trying out' Vince and Amy to see who would fit into the remaining slot. Ladies have a 12-pinfall handicap so Amy had the advantage. I wouldn't mind either of them becoming our last member; I'd rather bowl with friends than some other assigned bowler from the Ministry. Anthony competed against noone for the Captain's role. His 3-game average was in the 170s and mine was an average average 135, or thereabouts. I think we'll do ok in the league. Wish us luck!

June brought work home with her last night so after bowling I helped her to get some printing done on my quirky little printer, and created a mail merge document for the name tags she was trying to print. Mail merge is annoying in the initial stages as formatting the document can be a real pain, especially having to adjusting the size of the individual tags to fit their small plastic folders; and having to type in individual entries into the database is tedious and boring. But once the donkey work is done, the printing can be done en masse and all to the same measurements too. It's pretty brainless after that.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Drove sandwiches to church breakfast early this morning. It was so early that traffic was easy on the CTE and though we left a little later than we intended we still made it in good time. After service we met June's brother from whom we 'inherited' a quantity of car products -- shampoo, wax, washing sponges and cloths. It's car wash day!

First, we collected my parents from their service for lunch, then drove them back to their place where, after an annoying brief spell of rain (always rains when you want to wash your car) June and I got the M2 bright and shiny again. Not car groomer Eddie's standard mind you, just a quick and dirty rinse-shampoo-rinse-dry cycle. Eddie would'a just died.

Drove home for a short nap on the living room floor. In the early evening we decided to try out the pet cafe that was featured in the Sunday Times, Munchies Cafe at Sin Ming Plaza which is not too far from our place. We were a little embarrassed there when we discovered what was on the menu was meant for doggies only and not their owners. Since Q-tip had already eaten dinner we took her with us to explore what other places we humans could eat at.

Lots of options along Thomson Road ranging from simple noodles to dim sum to prata to McD's. We settled for noodles 'cos the establishment allowed us to violate the "no pets" sign as long as we sat outside, far away from everyone else. They serve a not-bad bak chor bee hoon soup and their home-made lime juice is quite a thirst quencher.

Wonder what my duty will be for JAE tomorrow?