Friday, July 07, 2006


Go Team Peggy! Today was the college Sports Carnival, after a hiatus of a year. This bunch of my fellow flying horsies unexpectedly won me a new trophy to weigh down my desk. "Unexpectedly," because JY said yesterday that the team was already full, then today she recruited me at the last minute for the staff novelty race. A 6 x 50m relay but instead of passing a baton, we had to dress and accessorize ourselves with more and more stuff with each completed lap. Shirt... sarong... handbag... clip-on "earring"... umbrella (open)... silly hat, I think that was the order. Clix for more pix.

Edit 01

Larger than expected party at Tomoko, Casuarina Road, for lunch. First time experience for Belinda, Lucy and Aggie, packing out a table for 10.

Smaller than expected party at Wild Rocket for dinner. For various reasons, our table for 10 became a table for just Vince, Amy and me. Has a sort of right ambience for a date with soft lighting, light jazz on the stereo. Fusion menu, but we chose the basic stuff. Rib-eye, rare and juicy for me, and a chocolate gateau with flambe banana to follow. Just-right portions, filling without being uncomfortably so. How did it taste? Let me put it this way: Rib-eye. Steak. Bloody. You can't go wrong!

We adjourned to cheap kopitiam in Siglap to join Anthony and Wendy for kopi (what else?) and catch-up. Sort of to make up for not being able to attend his birthday dinner last week. Happy belated!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Since we've been talking about chemistry and physics and the problems we have in applying the subjects to "real life," why don't we all watch the following video clip (you've probably seen it before anyway) and see how these 2 nutters interpret "applied science":

Now then, is this experiment a demonstration of a chemical or physical reaction? or magic? How would you explain what we've just seen? A gold star for anyone who attempts some kind of plausible, rational explanation!

Thanks to Taily for the link.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Got interviewed by ZB about KI. Last week, boss-lady informed me they wanted to interview 2 KIds, but I didn't expect to talk to the reporter as well. I picked 'deep and Que 'cos they're the most media-friendly of the bunch and after prepping them a bit, I left them to have their private chat with the press. Soon after, P called me down to the office to share the interview with him, so they got staff and admin's perspectives as well. A bit unnerving 'cos the photog kept taking pix during our interview. Hope he got my best side!

Jo and I went to the beach in the afternoon to continue marking. Nice spot along ECP's car park 'G' next to the Sailing Federation. It was practically deserted when I went there yesterday (where I was at my most productive) but today the sailors were having some kind of event and the picnic table I was eyeing was occupied. We had to walk a little further down the beach to find another picnic table near the breakwater. So nice, being there with the warm sun, the cool breeze, the mass of sailboats superimposed against the horizon line, the waves lapping so close by. It's quiet and no distractions; just mark, mark, mark the afternoon away.

Monday, July 03, 2006

In response to 'deep's long comment from yesterday:

Funny you should mention 'incentives.' Been reading 'Freakonomics,' have you? I'm not sure what you mean by that but, especially for GP, essay questions clearly do not reward unthinking regurgitaion of material. The nature of the exam itself encourages "understanding and interpretation" of the materials pertaining to the subject, so the problem isn't the exam per se.

I think a lot of it is the way we're brought up to study. Memorizing from a book actually looks like you're studying -- giving assurance to your ever-watchful parents that you aren't wasting your time socializing with friends, watching TV, or whatever other thing you would rather be doing than reading and re-reading a bunch of nonsense words. The incentive is that your parents won't nag at you. The disincentive is having to participate in a family drama.

Why do people forget what they "studied" immediately after their paper? Memorization is baby food: a melange of pre-chewed, pre-digested thoughts we have no claim of ownership to. It's essential for a baby to get started on solid food, but not very substantial for grown people like ourselves. Memorizing stuff is much easier to swallow than having to acquire, think about, analyze, verify and apply it, which is what you're required to do at your level. If you've done the work in hunting, preparing and chewing the food for yourself, you're more likely to remember what it was. If you're given mush to eat, what it actually was will forever be a mystery to you.

Memorizing stuff is reassuring to ourselves as well. There's a certainty to the material we memorize. It must be right, therefore we must memorize it. Conversely, we memorized it, therefore it must be right. But if we actually thought about the material, we risk doubting it and then we have to go through an ardous process of having to discover the truth for ourselves. That's a scary way to prepare for an exam, but that's what learning is.

Again, I'm not saying memorization isn't important, but it is overemphasized in our study culture much to our detriment. We lack entrepreneurs because risk aversion is so deeply ingrained in us from young, but that's the least of our problems. A people that relies on memorization without questioning and understanding the material first is a people easily "brainwashed," to use a term our students so like to use, to do the bidding of others.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Wish we could keep Abby ourselves, but we already have 2 cats. Kaiser, you know. This is Momo, our other cat. Oh, and the latest report from the shelter is that Abby's adapting well. She's out of her cage and mingling more amicably with the other cats now. Still, there's nothing like having a good home. Posted by Picasa
What's the role of memorized material in a written exam? It really depends on what skill the candidate is being examined for.

If we were still hiring civil service personnel for the dynastic Chinese court, memorized texts are all-important because they reflect the candidate's ability to be absolutely accurate in keeping records and in passing on information that, without his (not her) personal trustworthiness, would be unverifiable and thus useless in helping a superior officer trying to access the information make any intelligent decisions.

If we were still an oral culture, our whole history, mythology, culture, belief system and laws reside fully in the memory of a single archivist, usually a storyteller or bard. Candidates seeking to succeed the incumbent storyteller must faithfully memorize word for word the entire oral history of the people and in a public examination narrate the entire story tracing generations of different families and their exploits from the time of the earliest creation myths.

Some cultures are so serious about the exam that the chief examiner, the incumbent himself, is required to instantly club the candidate to death at the first error in the examination. He will then train a new candidate until one who renders a flawless narration can be found. Why so serious? It's because nothing about the people has been written down. Any error in the telling completely messes up the people's identity and beliefs, and errors compound themselves like in the game "broken telephone." And unless stringent, unforgiving standards are set, the people will never be able to know themselves with any certainty.

Life has got much more complicated since then. Information is not a problem for most of us to access. Not because of the Internet, but because practically everyone today can read and write. Today's exams aren't just about memorization skills. Especially at JC level, the skills being tested are mainly problem-solving skills. There is a series of questions through which the candidate demonstrates skills in pattern-recognition, logical reasoning, and moral awareness (especially in GP); and it is in his or her abilities in these areas that achievement is recognized.

Notice that many examinations are of the "closed-book" variety. The skills the candidate brings to play need to be practiced way beforehand. Moreover, the materials the candidate brings into the exam hall have to be stored within easily accessible locations in the brain. So yes, memorization is a crucial factor in any written exam. The more facts memorized, the more options one has in finding a solution to the problem at hand. The more toys you bring, the more different games we can play, I always say.

The problem comes when students stop at the memorization stage and think that reproducing notes, textbook pages and other copyright material as verbatim as possible is what will score them the most marks. Different skill for a different exam for a different time. Sorry.

The biggest nightmare for me is marking scripts that are obviously memorized and plonked down near vabatim without showing any understanding of the concept being referred to, or any appreciation of the question being answered, but rather using it because the topic appears similar.

We still keep reminding our students to accurately recall names, locations, events from the real-world to substantiate the solutions they are proposing on their exam scripts. That takes memory. BUT we also need to see skill in selecting the appropriate memes and in shaping them in a form relevant to the question in order to award marks.

Mei is right, and I should have made myself clearer in my previous entry. These days, memorization is still important in an exam, but it just isn't enough. The good news is, if you spend less time reading and re-reading your textbooks trying to memorize chunks of paragraphs that don't make sense, and more time inquiring into; discussing; and making observations about what you have just read with someone else (not necessarily your teacher) you tend to remember it a lot easier as you seek to understand what it's all about.

So why are y'all still wasting time reading this rubbish? Go study!