Saturday, August 09, 2008

43 today

"Celebrating the S'pore spirit" in the comfort of my living room, watching the parade on my 29" TV. The sensation wasn't quite the same as being there, but it was the next best thing having failed to score tix this year.

Instead of joining in the crush of 200,000 revelers at Marina Bay, I quite happily took a break from it all and spent most of the day alone at home basking in peace and quiet. My only company was the pile of essays that I've been slowly gnawing my way through over the past week. June, on the other hand, was doing the more sociable and cosmopolitan thing, joining her colleagues at her FT boss's condo taking Korean cooking lessons.

I wonder if it's because I wasn't at the parade in person (or maybe that after last night's spectacular opening of the Beijing Olympics there wasn't much we could do to even compare), but our 43rd birthday seemed quite a bit understated. It sort of crept up on us, there was this evening's bang and whoopee, and now it's all over.

Oh well, anyway, happy 43rd, Spore!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Momentary self-consciousness

Was my previous entry as irritating as I thought it was when I re-read it? Some information should just stay in the classroom where it belongs. I have to remember that I'm a blogger who, by the way, teaches; and not a teacher who blogs. I'm sure there must be more interesting things to talk about.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

No context, no comprende

In adapting to Learning 2.0, there's bound to be a huge conflict between the holistic, customized, student-centred curriculum that we hope to develop for our next generation of learners, and the tried-and-tested assessment of the pen-and-paper nature that we're used to.

Immediately on my return from the conference, I had scheduled a practice exercise to prepare the kids for their test next week. Here's a piece of text, read it. Here are a bunch of questions about the text, answer them -- and don't copy anything from the text. How stimulating is that?

So, we want our cake and eat it too. We all agree that assessment is an essential component of the learning process. It shows the progress of the learner, the accuracy of the learning, the suitability of the pace of instruction, and lots of other important data for tracking the learning process. And yet, because we are introducing diversity, applying multiple-intelligences to bear on our students' learning, and encouraging them to take ownership and responsibility over their own learning process, when it comes to taking standardized tests it seems like allowing everyone to run free for a while and then suddenly yanking on their leashes and bringing them all back to the kennel we told them they were being released from. In this model, their learning is still about the test, whatever our intentions were.

There is a way to reap the benefits of both worlds. The one missing factor in the above model is context. The idea is to teach the kids beyond the requirements of our tests, to stretch them so far that the test is like child's play to them. We aim our sights higher, push the kids further, no so much making them grind harder for their test but rather to put them in real-life situations in which they can see how the theories they are reading in their textbooks actually do make the world function.

As for my exercise, I decided I wouldn't torture them with sit down, shut up, do your work. The topic was about the declining regard today's society has for the institution of marriage. Although the topic is a real, current concern for adults, it seemed quite remote to the kids until working together in small groups they started contextualizing the issue for themselves. Before attacking the given text, each group had to make some important decisions first. Each group had to decide which interest group it represented; it had to decide who their audience was; and it had to decide what the problem was that it had to advise on, given the interest of the group. For example, a group might decide that it was playing the role of a happily married couple advising another couple on the verge of divorce how to salvage their marriage. Now that they had a reason for looking at the text and they had a specific problem to solve, they seemed to be in a better frame of mind to begin the exercise.

I still feel they aren't quite ready to handle the pen-and-paper exercise yet though. I need one more step and that is for each group to script out a dialogue based on the characters and the problem they need to resolve, and then for fun (multiple-intelligence thing) we'll have a little drama presentation so that everyone will be able to view what initially seemed like a mundane problem from many different perspectives, some of which may be somewhat self-serving, but none absolutely right or absolutely wrong. But all relevant to answering the Application Question that is the whole point of the Paper 2 Comprehension.

I haven't even mentioned how the use of Web 2.0 could vastly enrich the kids' engagement in this exercise. As it is I can see already that I going to need a lot of time to get everything done. Which is why I have a problem: the kids' standardized test is scheduled for next week. I may not have the time to prepare them for it if I go with what I propose. Hmm... decisions, decisions.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

iCTLT: Day 2

Bernie Trilling and the spiky ball of central control

Let's take a balanced approach to Web 2.0

One final chat before bringing the festivities to a close

If yesterday was about the possibilities this whole Web 2.0 thing can open up to us, today we focused on the nuts and bolts of how it should function as we bring IT and Education closer together.

The Korean delegation presented a fun "Digital Textbook" they're developing for Elementary English. It was fully interactive and incorporated lots of multimedia surprises including sound and video clips and animations. Kids could self-check their progress, communicate in real-time with each other and with seonseng, and post work to be graded all entirely online. If I put a user-defined spin on this idea, with the proper instruction and the tools available, my 16-17 year-olds could customize their own GP textbooks, couldn't they? Let's let that idea percolate for a while...

Many speakers today talked about making learning contextual. Bernie Trilling said that "questions and problems drive learning," not content in isolation of everything else. Cheryl Lemke made a point that learning should take place at the community level so that there is an interconnectedness between the learning and its application to society. The individual needs of the learner, the skills they need to become facile in, and the talents they can develop all play a role in this new landscape. If we haven't been playing at this level before as teachers, we either will, or we have to, depending on how we choose.

Yesterday, we talked about transforming the world with technology. Today, we put people back into the equasion. Technology has only given us a means to shake more hands than our ancestors may have ever dreamed possible. But it's still going to be the needs of the people and our sense of responsibility towards each other and to the world that will determine what we do next after we say, "hello." Technology can transform and keep transforming, making us all uncertain and insecure about where we're at any point in time, but it's still going to have to be people teaching people or there's no longer any point to our learning.

I had a fabulous time at this conference. Lots of ideas to steal from an array of inspiring, sensible, practical people keeping an eye on the future, yet working to realize it in the here and now.

Hope John Connell doesn't mind my links to his blog, but he's got such succinct notes from the keynote speakers:

iCTLT '08: "Mind_shift, Culture_shift" by Cheryl Lemke

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Talk to my lawyer

Got an inside look into the legal proceedings behind our real estate transactions. In typical blur fashion, we arrived at our lawyer's office with no documents whatsoever. So she had to sign the legal documents with us in good faith, trusting we'll fax over everything we need in our portfolio in the morning.

Linda worked out our cash balance, our individual CPF contributions, and all legal and stamp duties we were liable for. Satisfied that we were still living within our means (a bit late anyway, now that we've got pretty much done deals), we signed on several dotted lines... and now we can proudly say we have engaged a lawyer to represent us on issues concerning our physical estate.

As long as we fax over the stuff tomorrow.

International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology: Day 1

The unveiling of IT Masterplan 3

Sir Ken describes a holistic learning matrix

Mitch Resnick on technology, education and creativity

Can't help gushing, but what a rush Day 1 has been. Apart from watching our new Boss unveil our industry's latest IT Masterplan, we also had two illustrious keynote speakers, Sir Ken Robinson, of the ouch-inducing "schools kill creativity" TED address; and Mitch Resnick of the Lifelong Kindergarten, among other things he's doing for MIT.

Inviting these two critics of education systems that have seen little change since the Industrial Revolution tells those of us at implementation level to prepare for a new revolution in education. With the technology that's available to us now, there exists the potential for a tremendous explosion of new ideas and new means of expressing them, but we have to let go of the purely economic, purely functional, assembly line approach to education in order for it to happen. We're moving into an era of teaching and managing creativity, and it's happening right here, right now.

While it might be a tool to achieve "results", we can no longer use fear to drive our kids like we used to. They've got to be happy to come to school and learn whatever it is they are learning. If we say they can only be happy when they receive their Certificates, it's too late because by then they have become "set for life", literally. Learning in this way is only a means to an end, but paradoxically it also puts an end to their means. I'm just saying.

Personally, I've never been so turned on by events like this one; but today I'm accumulated half a small notebook of scribbled thoughts and ideas. I need some quiet to reflect and figure out possible implementation strategies and I'd love for some sensible person to help harness my wild imagination and make it real and workable. Dunno who yet, so I'll just leave it open and see what (or who) Providence turns up.

Anyway, for my personal reference, the following links are John Connell's informal transcripts of some of the key proceedings from yesterday and today:

iCTLT '08: Education 2.0
iCTLT '08: Sir Ken's Keynote

Monday, August 04, 2008

International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology: Day 0

The Seminar title was promising enough, "Web 2.0: The Power of Learning in a Networked World". But it looks like even Web 1.0 has yet to kick off in this region. Here's an analogy straight from this afternoon's experience: When I walked into the conference this afternoon, there were already some people seated, waiting for the event to begin. We were all individually scattered, keeping as much physical distance from each other as possible.

In a "networked world", the idea is that we'd walk into an environment that we'd find information about each other very quickly, establish common grounds with each other and begin trashing out ideas and opinions almost the instant we met each other. That wasn't happening. Instead, we sat apart, kept doing our own things trying not to attract attention to ourselves until a familiar face walked through the door, and only then to cluster into a node of discussion. Turned out that me, Kev and Wan became the noisiest node (imagine that!) simply because three of us came from the same institution, whereas everyone else came either alone or in a pair at the most.

Because physically we weren't networking as a whole, it was obvious that no one was networking online either. With the exception of yours truly and his little blog, I suppose. And even then, I'm not much of a networker, either. So instead of me learning from more experienced Web 2.0 users, it became more of a session where our speaker, J Connell, tried to convince the rest of his audience to at least get started with a personal blog, and see what happens from there.

Connell also showed us some other useful tools as well, such as RSS aggregators and other means of sharing information amongst a smaller, personally defined audience rather than jumping straight into the wild and wooly world wide web itself. So at least out of this afternoon, I got a clue about some new toys I could start playing with.

Don't know what the situation will be over the next couple of days at the Conference, but I gather so far that I am one of the pioneers in the transformation education is about to undergo now that human knowledge is shifting to occupy an increasingly electronic space. I still have a lot to learn about this promising medium, but because we already have the infrastructure, we might as well figure out how to use it to its best advantage.

To me, that best advantage is to let each learner create his (or her) own "learning environment", sourcing their own materials, experiences, and mentors for whatever it is they want to learn. From the diversity of experiences, a class -- whether physical or online -- becomes a home node for a group of learners who teach and learn from each other. That of course means that the teacher can no longer be the "source" (and we'd be deluding ourselves if we think we still are in this day and age), but an orchestrator of the learning that goes on in the class. That'll be a major task for us, in keeping flexible enough to work all that cacophony into some kind of music that everyone can make sense of.

With the web, there is no more need for content, just relevance and coherence, tempered with strong values. We're rewriting the entire book of pedagogy, and for me, it's cool to be starting on page one.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Q-tip attends the Singapore Dog Walk 2008

Took Q-tip to socialize with her fellow genus at the annual Singapore Dog Walk, West Coast Park.

Despite the day being so hot, Q-tip turned her nose up at the water we brought for her from home. What she's drinking is cold Ice Mountain mineral water we bought from a vendor here.

For Q-tip, it was sort of a partial walk and a partial carry. Poor thing had no stamina to complete the full course.