Friday, September 21, 2007

Alvin confirmed his place at our breakfast table with his amazing Excel spreadsheet. It was a work of pure genius, allowing us to key in our orders for McD's breakfast meals and immediately tally our outstanding payment from our own terminals in the staffroom. With a comprehensive list of our demands, it was easy for him to place a mass order for us; a lifesaving gesture on his part, as the canteen was closed today.

Meantime, I've had my prelim marking temporarily interrupted to give my attention to shooting D NY EL's farewell messages to our JC2s. The bulk of our shoot caused quite a bit of inconvenience to the staff not involved 'cos I didn't want any incidentals popping up unexpectedly on camera and forcing an unnecessary retake. The shoot took about an hour split over two sessions today, no more, so I hope to be forgiven for the disruption to the [serious] work schedule... someday.

Still, some shots simply could not be used. I had problems with continuity, poor composition and pacing, and they basically looked weird, not quite complementary with the main storyline, if we may call it that. Have to do some quick improvisation on Mon if I'm gonna meet the Wed deadline

Dinner was at Sunset, finally, after planning to drop by for several weeks now. Amazingly, quite a number of us (and our dates) found this evening to be free. Even more amazingly, Josh and Jo couldn't, even though they were the ones most hoping to go this time around. But Sunset is beautiful, the prices are quite reasonable, and there is every reason for us to make another trip up. Better luck next time!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Have to give IJ credit for trying out a more argumentative, critical-thinking approach to GP, even if it was only for an academic study.

"The aim was to enable students to engage more effectively in critical thinking as they explored different perspectives, concretised their arguments, and analysed the strengths and weaknesses of each other's arguments and underlying assumptions - skills required in both the essay and the Application Question components of GP."

The theory appears sound enough. GP's stock-in-trade is argumentation. We look at ideas, events and phenomena from multiple perspectives, recognizing that not all these diverse views are entirely reasonable. For reasons such as experiential or cultural prejudice, lack of knowledge, or perhaps even because of a personal agenda, people perceive and interpret the things that go on around them differently from one another. It is the stronger folk that try to persuade others to see things their way in order to initiate some action in order to salvage or exploit the situation as they see fit.

These are the arguments we all get blasted with daily. Politicians, scientists, clergy, enterprise, yes, even educators and parents all communicate with us through presenting arguments -- some more formally and more skillfully than others -- but they all tell us to go do something, eat something, wear something, buy something, and so on. For a teenager, all these arguments can appear conflicting, and worse, because they are usually voiced by an authority figure, they sound more like orders and instructions rather than simply appeals for positive support.

If teens feel they have no freedom, and no choices to make, it's usually because they are unable to prioritize all these diverse arguments but instead see them all as equally important, and hence, get stretched apart running, jumping through hoops, fetching and carrying for whoever assaults them with the loudest voice first.

By teaching argumentation and critical thinking in GP, that should be the first step to our teens learning to empower themselves to sieve through their various stimuli, analyze their situation and take action based on their own decision-making processes. This, ultimately, is teaching our teens to fish for themselves, rather than us staff catching, preparing, de-boning, and offering our ungrateful children our best fish dishes all the time. We continue doing this for our kids and we shouldn't be surprised that all they do is pick at their food and all they return to us is excrement in the form of poorly thought out essays and compre papers. Garbage in, garbage out.

Ok. Easy to say. Why aren't my kids performing any better, since I seem to have all the answers? Simple. I don't have the loudest voice.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The pioneer batch of KIds have submitted their Independent Study (IS) research papers. I think there is definitely a difference in the quality of the 2500-3000 word K&I essays I've received, and the 500-800 word GP essays I'm currently marking. Odd thing is, neither I nor NBS have really hand-held the KIds through their IS -- it is an Independent Study, after all -- and they've shown quite a level of motivation, even enthusiasm in getting their task done, whereas we've been teaching our brains out at GP, but I doubt many of the GP kids could produce anything like the K&I IS even at this stage.

How our IS papers compare with other JCs', I wouldn't know. But K&I's emphasis on purposeful research and personal responsibility for knowledge acquisition seems to have pushed the KIds' writing capabilities up a notch from the usual GP standard.

Is it innate in the KIds themselves, that they are already predisposed to cope with such pressure, stress and rigour? Or could it be the nature of the subject, that by setting higher expectations the students stretch themselves further to meet those expectations?

Or could K&I really demonstrate that the industry's "teach less, learn more" guideline actually has some merit? Guess it's up to Cambridge now to put some numbers to what is right now merely speculative thinking.

Good luck with your submissions, KIds!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Today was Lorenzo's one-day-only sale. We were in the market for a new bed frame. Our current one is getting awfully rickety. For some reason, the headboard joints have been getting increasingly loose, and it feels like it'll collapse pretty soon with one more false move.

It's not our safety we're concerned about, but rather Q-tip's. She loves to sleep under the bed, and if there should be a sudden nocturnal falling apart, we're going to end up with one slightly flattened mini-maltese.

Lorenzo has very chic looking beds, all angular with clean lines, and probably great for creating a Zen ambiance. But that is also the problem. Such hard angles are a potential health hazard for people who have to walk between the light switch and their "side" of the bed. I've already stubbed my toe several times on the current bed, but the higher corners on the Lorenzo beds offer bruised shins and knees apart from the usual digit damage. And, as June pointed out, because the bed frame is covered in a leather layer, it'll become a tempting new scratching post for our cats.

So despite the sale, we gave Lorenzo a miss.

We did, however, blow a wad on a Scanteak bed frame, the design of which is surprisingly not that dissimilar to our current one. All teak, nothing to claw at, and seems stable enough so Q-tip can sleep with a little more security at night. For what we paid for it, we hope it'll last 10 years or more.
While the prelims are on, we have just been focused on marking our papers and using the time to write our comments in more detail on each script that passes through our hands.

The kids of this year have been more diligent and studious than I've ever encountered before. Most of my scripts show that the kids have been reading their notes and have been paying attention during their lectures, and quite a number have been keeping up with the news as well. At least content-wise they're showing promise.

So, they have amassed a nice pile of Lego bricks to build answers with. The difficulty for them now is fitting the pieces together as the question requires. Some concepts they have a better grasp of than others. Environmental issues they seem ok with 'cos they're mostly straightforward cause-effect principles. But the kids writing on the censorship issue have been turning in essays comprising ill-fitting bits, looking quite skeletal and grotesque in nature. I shouldn't be surprised; censorship is a pretty abstract concept, especially if the question requires them to discuss its effectiveness against unwholesome values. Let's not even talk about the question on scepticism, an even more abstract concept.

While the kids have been kuai with their input, their unquestioning acceptance of everything we've shoveled at them suggests that in the next few weeks before the 'A's, we have to work on their processing, helping them to understand their content better, and in some cases, update their content as well. Quoting case studies from the '60s and '70s just seems a little dated. But at least they know their case studies.