Saturday, August 11, 2007

NDP was fun -- a great show and an awesome spectacle, but it isn't a patriotism-inducing event and it wasn't meant to be. All the excitement, the flag-waving, the sharing of common space with fellow citizens plus the state leadership all in smelling proximity to each other counts for nothing as far as nation-building goes. But as a birthday party, now there's reason for a rollicking good time if ever there was an excuse for one. There's no need to over-politicize the event, so when the Brown dude got all morose over it, it was such a wet blanket entry, I thought.

Since the nazis and the communists, we've become quite suspicious of large-scale nationalistic parades that we now view as brainwashing propaganda. We're now a lot more sophisticated, never again to be swayed like a brainless herd of sheep enforcing mob legitimacy for some bemedalled banana republic dictator. Never again, no, no, no!

C'mon, lighten up! Sure we have problems and other things to worry about. People don't have enough money to counter rising costs, transport sucks, there's no respect for the elderly (ahem), education is a high stress mess, our art and culture scene is a farce, a million and twenty-four things to fret over 364 days of the year. Is just one day a year to be thankful for what we do have too much to ask for?

Patriotism isn't about flag-waving, or banner hanging, or wearing the colours, or any of that outward nonsense. Patriotism is engendered by only 3 things in life: family, friends, and a roof over our heads. Family is the springboard, home base and supply depot from which we launch our adventures in life. Friends support the load, share the work, infect each other with motivation and drive, and fuel us with enough ha-has and :)s to keep us pushing forward when things get tough. And damned if I'm gonna give up any piece of that crappy roof over my head, especially when it's costing me 30 years of my working life to own it, friends notwithstanding.

So what does Nat Day ultimately remind us? That despite our troubles, our less-than perfect existance, and the overwhelming urge to point out that someone should do something about it, this rock is home to no one else but us, and the gaudy, cliched red-and-white bunting that waves above our heads is no one else's but ours. So there.

Friday, August 10, 2007

M-i-L scored tix to NDP@Marina Bay which June and I gratefully accepted. It was another spectacular performance of military hardware, dazzling pyrotechnics and mass talent. But dunno why this year, the crowd we sat among was listless and boring. There were quite a few uncles and aunties who weren't energetic and some better off Chinese families (judging by their awesome photographic equipment). I felt like an idiot clapping and going, "whoo!" At one point, I was the only one "Stand[ing] up for Singapore", but I didn't care. I'm used to being an idiot anyway, and I was there to have fun, stuffy, boring people be damned.

The only other exceptional crowd member got up to bhangra

A freefaller makes a perfect touchdown

A stately flypast accompanies the National Anthem

The madatory pageantry

The Pres gets obscured by a flurry of mad flag-waving

Sheares Bridge set alight

Nasty things. Glad they're on our side.

The party gets started in earnest

We have great seats! The firework display is smack in front of us.

Happy 42nd, S'pore!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The secret to academic success depends as much on our ability to forget as it does on our ability to remember. In our department, we do everything we can to help our kids remember: we provide lecture notes the kids can follow along while we lecture, like a monotone karaoke session; we insist they copy points we flash off our so-carefully prepared PowerPoint slides; we lace our lectures with facts galore because we worry that the kids don't know anything so it's up to us to fill their empty jars, ignite their unlighted candles or whatever turns us on. I wonder if all that effort we put in is actually counter-productive to what we want the kids to do at their exams?

The way we put so much importance on our lectures and the supporting materials therein presupposes that there is only one way to view an issue -- our way. So the kids get the impression that if they can recall what they have heard in lecture, or study their notes, essay outlines and compre answers we so conveniently upload for them online, that's all they'll need to get by in GP (or any other subject they take, actually).

Wrong. If that's their study strategy, all the kids are doing is taking in particular answers for particular questions, and heaven help them if during the exam the questions they prepared for don't appear; or worse, if they identify a question as similar to what they have prepared for but isn't actually asking for the same thing.

That's why the kids need to learn how to forget. Forgetting doesn't mean the information gets irretrievably lost. It's more of a coping mechanism to deal with information overload. It's a skill that allows us to distill the relevant through filtering out the irrelevant. It's an ability to take in what is taught, but break it all down to differently-shaped, differently-sized, multi-coloured Lego bricks. Of course, the more pieces, the more options, the more flexible their design structures can be, the more questions they can answer, hence the need to read beyond the lecture as well. So instead of memorizing a single monolithic structure per topic, they're amassing a pile of random playing pieces that they can put together in different combinations, forming different structures as necessitated by the different questions they have to solve.

For me, an ideal lecture would entail full engagement between lecturer and kids. No notes, nothing to copy, but everyone listening and asking questions as the need arises. Give the kids lecture notes, they don't have to listen to the lecturer since they already have the notes. Make them copy and they will neither be listening nor engaging 'cos they'll be too busy scribbling. We just need to expose the kids to information (structure is more important for the lecturer than for the audience), allow them to interact with or otherwise use the information to generate new knowledge, but as soon as the lecture is over, forget everything. That is, break up the impressive Lego structure that the lecture has constructed, rendering the information back into its component pieces, then throwing all the pieces onto the pile ready for use in the near future. Recalling that one has seen a Lego elephant someone else has built doesn't mean being able to build it for oneself as the need arises.

When it comes to the exam, the kids need to pull various pieces from the pile as appropriate to the question, and construct their answers accordingly. Doing it this way means the kid has to consider which Lego pieces go best together in what combination in order to present the best answer.That's exercising thinking and creativity, and taking personal responsibility for the choices they make as they construct an answer to their question -- and that's the point of the exam. And that's the kind of thinking individuals we want our kids to be when they graduate.

Ultimately, we want to hear the kids' own voices come through the answers they construct. We would like to see some passion for the topic and that they are writing about an issue they personally care about. Last thing we want is to hear our voices echoed (more often than not, badly) back at ourselves. So don't. Forget what we lecturers tell you because that's just one very limited perspective from just one angle of just one issue relevant to just one question. Lectures are only the packaging that we use to dress up the information we're giving to you.

Any kid can tell you, nobody plays with an unwrapped Christmas pressie. That's dumb 'cos what's inside is a whole lot more fun to play with. As beautiful as the wrap may be, the joy of Christmas is ripping into the package, discarding the tattered remains and extracting the toy inside for yourself. Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of yet another bunch of Lego fragments to add to your collection. Have fun at the exams!

There's a Psych paper on this idea of selective remembering and forgetting (which I've bastardized and oversimplified above). Just skip to the conclusions on page 7 if the reading gets too heavy! Or read Psychology Today's Camille Chatterjee for her comments on the same paper.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Nat Day concert was a failure of coordination, highlighting the real but often overlooked need for a stage manager and at least one full rehearsal involving all performers and support crew. We had very basic technical glitches that kept the stage empty while confusion reigned backstage. The MCs eventually threw out their scripts and winged it while decisions and instructions flew in all directions as various personnel tried to sort out the mess.

Still, as Paul observed, the audience very patiently bore with the start-stop show, and offered their encouragement to each item regardless. But just because the audience is a tolerant one doesn't mean that we can get away with an onstage fiasco. Yes, everyone's busy; everyone has no time for a full coordinated rehearsal; but we have to look at the bigger picture beyond our own individual items or duties -- everyone pulling together for a great show. After all, isn't that the message behind every Nat Day celebration?

Anyway, I'm glad our mad piece of silliness got a warm reception. It wasn't entirely intelligible -- some of my directorial decisions could have been better -- but it was fun working with these guys: Mel, Wayne, Alvin, Lynette, Gilbert, JY and Loke. They run high on spontaneity, low on inhibition. Sigh. If only there was time, I'd like to see if we could pull some of these guys together to form an improv comedy club with some form of long-term sustainability. Hmmm...

It was nice to go back to lunch at Friends after so long. Since we discovered Aston's across the road went much easier on the wallet, the latter has become our Gardens refueling station of choice. Today, we had both time and money to spend, so Friends it was. Air-conditioned comfort, proper chef-prepared cuisine served in orderly courses affording time in between for polite and not-so-polite yak with Amy, Baggy, HP and Mel. Leisurely lunches are such a rare occurrence these days.

And our little houseguest, Mimi (L), has been staying with us over the weekend while M-i-L's been getting her new digs in order.

This latest sleepover, Mimi has been such a great influence on our usually antisocial Q-tip (R). Q-tip's habit is to spend every evening alone under our bed, popping out every now and then to see if we're doing anything exciting, like sneaking out of the house without her, or eating fruit or whatever.

But with Mimi providing competition for human affection, Q-tip spent this entire evening faithfully by my side in the living room while I watched TV, just like a normal dog for once. Guess we shouldn't underestimate Q-tip. She may look like a dumb blonde, but she can still learn new tricks.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Listening to: Corrine May's Beautiful Seed :)

I have a great job. There are mad seasons that spring up all of a sudden that drive me to exhaustion, but thankfully they are usually relatively short-lived. Then there are periods of... well, not quite rest, but a much reduced pace that I can use to catch myself up to speed and operate on cruise mode for a while.

This week, for instance, is Nat Day week. That means tomorrow's concert at which we'll debut our hastily choreographed piece of nonsense, then that's it for scheduled work until next Monday! That's a great opportunity to put a major dent in my mountain of marking, and squeeze in a life on the side. Breathe... breathe...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Still alternating between marking and moving, and squeezing a little personal downtime in between. The latter usually means taking a couple of hours past midnight to indulge in reading "Deathly Hallows".

Meantime, I'm quite proud of my marking speed: nearly completed 1 set of full assignments, only another 998 more to go... hur. And moving M-i-L's hoard of personal possessions has been an almost Sisyphian effort...