Saturday, April 27, 2013

Getting into the flow with education

The current challenge for schools in staying relevant to our changing times is that instead of locking down information, they should free it up. It seems the memorization by rote thing isn't endemic to the Asian approach to education but a common malady, judging by the rising problems of student engagement and dropout rates everywhere in the world.

Old school functioned by parcelling information out in dribs and drabs according to a prescribed dosage based on the age of the recipient. It categorized information into subjects and topics and kept the disciplines apart from one another, each developing a unique jargon and "accepted" approach so as to discourage cross-contamination between their disparate spheres. It designed exams that rewarded those who accumulated and hoarded information, keeping it to themselves, while declaring those that didn't incompetent and unworthy. Has there ever been a more unnatural environment in which we expected learning to flourish?

Until today, school still generally functions along those lines with the packaging of pre-digested information in textbooks, reading kits, handouts and notes. We teach answers to questions, then test them on the same questions, and award As to those who best reproduce those same answers back to us. The kids themselves can't answer questions they don't already feel they know the answers to, so it's a vicious cycle. And because we spend most of our time 'spotting' questions that are 'most likely' to come out in the finals and teaching the kids to answer only from a specific range of 'safe' questions, we are bored, the kids are bored, and it sucks to be us.

What we have forgotten, or perhaps failed to observe, is that information is more like a stream or river than a block of ice. Schools freeze information and expect the kids to hold on to it. At the next level, the school rewards the kid with another ice cube and so on up the chain. But the kids' hands are hot and ice melts. It's such a frustration to hold on to melting ice with liquid water dripping all over the place, or it's just so cold, hands turn blue and freeze over themselves. Neither is a good outcome for a learning experience, but that's how we still do it.

But information is a stream or a river, constantly flowing, always bringing something interesting and new along with its current. A fish, a leaf, a branch, an insect... every one of us immersed in the river sees different things at different times, approaches and interprets the experience differently, and is enriched by just being where they are, in their spot in the river. And as we learn from our own immediate circle of reach, we're sharing our own experience with others, just as they are sharing theirs with us. So instead of trying to hoard the same frozen piece of water (which is physically impossible, anyway) in the hope of keeping it from others in order to just enrich ourselves, what we learn from sharing is a myriad different perspectives from different aspects of the same river we have immersed ourselves in. And that's a lot more learning than we ever can get from a lump of ice in our hands.

If we want more of our kids to aim for better (and more meaningful) grades, telling them to cut themselves off from the river and just focus on their set texts will be, as usual, counterproductive. They have to get comfortable navigating the currents in the river at this stage, because when they complete their undergraduate studies, that river would have turned into the ocean... and if they have been well-prepared before, they will marvel at the transition. Else, they'll just drown like so many others before them.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A day with no car

M2's in the shop diagnosed with a faulty brake switch. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, other than that it's put me out of a car for a day, thus having to rely on public transport for a change.

Which is to say I took the MRT to work in the morning. Left at the same time as I would have if I were driving -- and arrived earlier too! Not just a little bit earlier, but I-can-eat-breakfast earlier. Impressive.

Because I left home early, the crowd situation at the station was not too bad and the trains arrived well within five minutes of wait time. And it was pretty much the same when I finally decided to come home at the end of the day.

Of course, if this keeps up and eventually deprives me of my own wheels, it is not as inconceivable to take public transport as I had imagined. I get a brief workout walking to and from the stations. The journey is quite fast and not unpleasant. At least, it would be until people start taking advantage of the harebrained free MRT ride before 0745 hrs scheme. (Note that it's 'harebrained' because if I were an early commuter, at some point the idea is bound to inconvenience me somehow).

Regardless, I'll be glad to collect M2 from the shop in the morning.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Abandon car

Had to abandon M2 on campus. It's nothing, really... I hope. Just being paranoid. The 'Check Engine' dashboard warning light lit up and refused to go away like it usually does.

I was imagining horrid scenarios of my engine block falling out onto the street, or exploding in a shower of impressive pyrotechnics, or worse.

As it was already dark, I couldn't perform the routine checks on the engine to see what was wrong. I'll be back to check on him in the morning -- in bright sunlight. If I still can't see the problem, it's back to the workshop with him.

I may be paranoid, but going by how expensive even tiny little cars like M2 are these days, I'd rather be careful than sorry.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Thank God for Monday

All I ever wanted from my weekend was to catch GI Joe: Retaliation and a great deal more than a mere 40 winks. And maybe some time to memorize my script for Drama Night.

What I got was shopping for flowers for the parentals' wedding anniversary, dropping off said flowers at the ancestral abode, dropping in at the hospice to look in on Jen's dad (who's seriously ill) and attempting to comfort him with our mutual akwardness, shopping for discounted unmentionables at Northpoint, taking Tasha to class and having a fantastic dinner to close off Saturday.

Today, took Tasha for her first grooming (paid for by voucher), shopped for more discounted unmentionables at AMK Hub, joined Jen in a celebratory tea to celebrate her dad's 80th at the hospice, joined the parentals for their anniversary dinner along with the sibs, et. al, and made Tasha do her homework -- somehow, the trainer made it look a lot easier in class yesterday.

No G.I. Joe: Retaliation and I'll be lucky to catch even 10 winks in total over the weekend. Since when did I ever become such a social animal?

Training and some good eats

Tasha's Saturday classes are more for us to learn how to behave like Alpha dog so that she will follow our lead with no hesitation. Through today's exercises, we learned to walk like we knew where we were going, vocalize commands with authority, and perform 'corrective' actions in a way that brooked no argument. Big dog or small, all behave in the same way when such intent is made clear.

What we expect of a trained dog does not come naturally to either dog or handler. There are signals that we habituate our dog to respond to even without the verbal command. The dog doesn't understand language, anyway, so movement is what cues the dog as to what's next.

While Tasha followed me just fine, I was worried she wouldn't 'sit' as we didn't train her for that in our daily practices. I shouldn't have worried. None of her classmates could either. It turns out that there is a Vulcan neck-pinch that you apply to the dog's waist. The initial pressure from the pinch and the quick release somehow makes the dog sit. Do it often enough (c.f., next week's training schedule) and it will become a habit... eventually.

So while we face more of the same boring daily exercises this week, we also stumbled upon the Sun Ray Cafe. A pet-friendly joint, it's been just under our noses and we hadn't known it. Look:

My striploin, ordered rare and served just so on a thick slab of potato gratin in a mushroom sauce. That's a gorgeous hunk of meat that's bursting with juice; tender but every mouthful serving up a delicious chew that we'd expect from a decent chunk of cow.

The pork rack was another substantial slab of meat, though given a choice, I'd still go with the steak, anyway. Likewise tender and flavourful, and served on a bed of mashed sweet potato, this has to count as one of the best pork chops I've ever had.

And Tasha would agree that her baked lamb balls were awesome, but she's not allowed to talk with her mouth full. Anyway, she polished off the plate and then very nearly polished the plate if it hadn't been removed by a very attentive and polite wait staff.

With a 10% UOB credit card discount, just under $75 covered our three dinners, and a side of soup, salad and drink for the two sets and Tashs's own dish of goodness.