Saturday, August 11, 2012

Prawns to be respected

Pek Kio Market (a.k.a. Cambridge Hawker Centre) is up and running again after a couple of week's sprucing up. This fact is not lost on the crowd of people gathered  around the more popular stalls, like this one: Farrer Road prawn noodles.

These blushing beauties and an accompanying bowl of noodles weigh in at $8. Three big prawns in a soup give up a firm, meaty bite; and taste fresh and clean without the bitterness usually associated with the juices leaking out of the head. Here the uncle splits the heads open and the juices are probably boiled into the soup as a very rich stock. That plus the garlic sauce amounts to quite a kick in the head early in the morning.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Beau Geste

So, that's why we went picking apple snails from the river. We were getting it nice and clean for the PM to give his National Day address in front of.

Anyway, 3:27 in the video (above) raised an eyebrow: "Let us prepare every child for the test of life and not just a life of tests." Apart from the trite cliche, the man is referring to an aspiration, though the reality is proving to be quite the stumbling block.

It is true that we all want our students to do well.  But for many of us, "doing well" means passing the next exam, and we don't quite see much further than that. Qualifying the kids for University IS our stretch goal because we have no control over what happens after that. Once they're undergrads, we've done our jobs. Good luck, kids, you're on your own now!

Secondary schools say the same thing about preparing kids for JC; primary schools say the same thing about secondary schools. When kids pass their tests, we pat ourselves on the back and it's on to the next test, ad infinitum. As long as the paradigm that preparing kids for tests is preparing them for life, I think the big boss and we the bottom-feeders are going to have a little conflict of expectations.

Which is why I like teaching GP. Unlike the other so-called 'content subjects', GP presumes zero knowledge when it comes to taking our tests. Ours really is a test of life. We present a problem no one's really considered before -- the more surprising, the better -- and what we evaluate is the student's ability to go from "whuuuttt??" to figuring out a process that brings whatever little knowledge he has on the issue to bear on the problem and reasoning out a conclusion.

Just like real life, no one can claim perfect knowledge. What we have to go on are the little we do know, the little more we can acquire (Paper 2, the compre paper) and enough common sense to make a reasonable decision. It helps that the student is well-read because the bigger the initial pool of knowledge, the more options are open, but of greater advantage is a well-trained brain that can deconstruct the problem, filter out the relevant knowledge-components and synthesize a conclusion. In our test, knowledge is always secondary to the process.

The other aspect of GP that is so different from the other content subjects which neatly categorize and compartmentalize knowledge into arbitrary 'topics', is that in GP we recognize that true learning is chaotic. There is a reason why we do not subscribe to a textbook: our knowledge currency is everywhere; updates itself on a daily even minute-to-minute basis sometimes; and is virtually limitless. Our job is not to package up finite knowledge in a neat bundle for memorization and later regurgitation, but to train our students in skills of knowledge management, communication and initiative, if not leadership.

Some snide person once asked dNYel how we can squeeze out more A graders in GP. The answer to that is to reduce our kids' dependence on us -- especially at this late stage when the students should be needing our guidance less and less while increasing confidence in themselves, their training and their abilities more and more. Also, there is a growing pool of students who are already well-trained and at this time, we should be putting their abilities to use by helping their fellow students to improve, and not taking the full burden on ourselves.

If we're really going to help our students to take the test of life, we shouldn't be doing more for them, which will only increase their dependence on us further. We should be doing a lot less. We focus, we target, we customize. We do not blanket cover everybody with a one-size-fits-all programme catered to the lowest common denominator and make it compulsory. That proposal sounds like a recipe for disaster.

GP is not one of the content subjects. We are the last department standing that is keeping the Industry of Education from becoming the Industry of Indoctrination. For the sake of the future that the PM himself is envisioning, we must hold out!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

End of the line for film unit

Glad to be at (The Last) Film Fest on campus, not because it's really the last, but because as a supporter of campus arts I should show sympathy for an activity that could not sustain membership interest beyond its five or so years of existence. The same could happen to any one of us and if was the end, I'd like a few friends to be there to say goodbye.

I'm also glad that at the end, the quality of production has seen significant improvement since its inception. Back then their short films were more artsy mucking about with a camera than actual film narratives, but their latest efforts do indeed have stories to tell.

"Highlight" and "No Ordinary Girl" delivered one-liner punchlines that relied on a patient build-up of repetitive time passage clips. Despite the repetition, there were sufficient variations on the theme and pacing to avoid the haven't-we-seen-this-before syndrome.

Short, "Pranked" likewise relied on passage of time, but with a reveal at the end showing the victim somehow turning the tables on the prankster. I didn't quite follow the logic of this vignette, but it had some funny moments nonetheless.

The two main features, "Home Movie" and "Clockwise" were equally commendable. "Home Movie" experimented with the family drama crossed with horror genre and concluded with a Scooby-Doo inspired farce with a little implied violence on the side. Tension was built around a few peekaboo moments, a couple of which were quite effective; but because the resolution was played for laughs and the conclusion was slightly preachy, I felt that the narrative could have made up its mind first what it wanted to be instead of going schizophrenic on us partway through.

Finally, "Clockwise" was something of a "Groundhog Day" setup in which a whole week of misadventure was undone by a magic device that turned back time to where the trouble all started. A romantic comedy with a wish-fulfillment theme about the wisdom of hindsight -- if only we knew to make the right choices at the right time our lives would be so sweet. Maybe it's a subconscious message to the audience to get cracking on their final exams. Since not everyone can be so lucky to get a time-turner, we just have to get it right the first time.

I could talk further about awkward and unnatural camera-angles, uncertain and occasionally pointless establishing shots and the wisdom of investing in a tripod, but let's just call the overall effort a learning process via a work in progress. Sadly, no one's left to pick up the mantle and continue making improvements next year.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Talking politics

The kids got me busy working on another essay. Based on the 2011 Paper 1 question, "Consider the view that efficient government is more important than democracy", I decided to craft an essay I could use as material for a politics content lecture. Again went over-the-top with verbage, so weighing in at over 1700 words -- more than twice the size of a normal JC level essay -- this minor monstrosity isn't very useful as a 'model' of such.

But writing it gave me some insight into how S'pore positions itself on the political scale and how our political aspirations conflict with our bread-and-butter concerns as a people. Simply put, although we have taken our fledgling steps in the right direction, we are still far from ready to accept democratic rule.

Essay here (the usual disclaimers apply).

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Family outing (at least smile a little)!

Criminal mastermind behind bars, at least, that's what he looks like. No reason to pull such a long face, right? Today's our annual family outing. Granted, it's to get everybody their shots all together, so all the pets of two households are gathered in my car and headed for the vet.

Usually, it's quite traumatic to round everybody up and stuff them all in their travel crates. But we got smart and prepped the crates out of sight in the store room. Then we picked up the most easily spooked of the cats first and before he knew it, he was secured. The next two followed in quick succession. We got perforated, nonetheless, but at least it was over quickly.

As usual, we drove to the strains of Momo yowling a dirge all the way there and all the way back.