Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sports Carny 2013

Here I am traversing one of the high elements structures on campus during Sports Carny 2013. This station was one of my more successful attempts, being that it was the easiest of the four stations I signed up to try.

Abseiling was an abject failure as I lost my footing on the wall and couldn't get back, resulting in an ignominious lowering back to ground level like a rag doll on a harness.

The Huggies is a tightrope along which are suspended grab ropes and, well, things to hug for stability. My initial attempt at this station caused a near unstoppable wobble along the cable until I was advised to cross sideways and I learned to grab my supports using alternating hands rather than rely on just one with the other holding on for dear life to the belay rope.

My final station was the Confidence Leap: launching myself off a platform to smack a target ball suspended a couple of meters ahead, all the while trusting that the three belayers below could support 80kg of flying meat.

Closest thing to bungee jumping 'cos what appears to be a free-fall isn't. It's only the moment when you dive off the platform that you're truly airborne, the rest of the way down you're just being lowered gently and slowly till touchdown.

In case you're wondering, that's not me in the pix (Left). One does not take a self-portrait in mid-air -- too much shake for the shot to turn out well.

In other news: dNYel won the staff race for once! The gold medal winning effort was an historic moment for us. Very proud of BLoh, Gerald C, WR, the new Josh, and JoLee for proving that English teachers can run too.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bobs up... again

In the aftermath of Drama Night, we did a stock take and found Bob, whom we thought we had lost over the years. He is in serious need of a bath, but the wear and tear that he's exhibiting tells me he won't survive another spin cycle. We also have a new exco -- all female, which I suppose is compensation for the all male exco of last year. And we've decided to grant honorary NYeDC membership to all cast and crew of Drama Night 2013 to thank them for their contributions. That means that if they are already involved in one CCA, they can consider us their second CCA in their testimonials.

Mo' money

The secret to being rich is to convince a lot of people to give you a little money. A thousand people won't miss the dollar they spend on your cause, but you will be a thousand dollars richer.

Maybe the reason why the income divide we have here is growing is because our national aspiration is to attain the cushy, air-conditioned job with the stable pay for life. With such an assurance, we don't mind spending a little here and there to make our lives cushier because there's always more money -- even if it is a mere pittance -- coming in next month.

In the meantime, somebody's gratefully receiving the money we are thoughtlessly frittering away. Those guys are the rich and are getting richer because there aren't too many of them while the mass of us fork over our hard-earned cash over to them because we think we deserve what they are offering to us in exchange: mostly disposable luxuries which we know we can live without, but are nice to have anyway.

So the poor, that's us, are those who spend money at every opportunity we get. The rich, on the other hand, are those who make (or take) money every opportunity they get. Seen in this light, it isn't so much the system that's exacerbating our income disparities as it is our frugality or lack thereof in managing our own incomes and impulses.

This would also explain why we are a great place for foreign multimillionaires to park their wealth. I'm assuming 'foreign' because... well look around; how many locals do you know who are millionaires compared to those who aren't? Our local people are neither ambitious nor dishonest. We know our place and would do nothing to jeopardize our ricebowl by stepping out of line and doing stupid things with other people's money. We are a nation of nose-to-the-grindstone employees, happy with a fixed wage, but at the same time hopelessly vulnerable because we are both easily replaceable and disposable. It's ironic, but our desire for job-for-life has made us this way. But we are trained from young to be a redundancy of cogs in the machine, after all.

I'm not knocking the system. I like the system, in fact. It's an open system that allows those who have seen through the facade to exploit it and make themselves rich as long as they have a plan to do something different, and are willing to risk it all, possibly more times than once.

I have seen through the facade... now if only I had a plan... and some guts...! And if I didn't already buy [insert random disposable luxury item here] to make me believe I've already made it, and therefore don't need to work any harder for any more money.

Monday, May 13, 2013

It is Finnished (actually, it's barely begun)

It's a misconception that Finnish schools don't conduct tests until the kids are 16 or whatever. There is no learning if there are no tests. We always test knowledge for veracity, accuracy, adequacy and applicability to the contextual environment we are learning in or for. To do otherwise is to accept teaching wholesale and without question -- which is indoctrination rather than education.

Every experiment conducted is a test, every problem to solve is likewise a test. The difference is that in the land of the Finns, it is the process of knowledge acquisition that is being constantly tested, while back in the rest-of-the-world it is the competence of the child that is periodically tested. Failure in the former means back to the drawing board, try another approach, do more research, ask more questions; whereas in the latter, failure means the kid is not fit for a higher band, so off you go to join the other dregs of society 'cos that's where you belong. After all, it can't be helped... scarce resources and all that.

What is really absent from Finnish schools that we have in abundance is not tests but competition between the learners. This is not to say that there is no competition at all, but that within the Finnish education system, the emphasis is not on individuals competitively scrabbling about for limited university places, but on cooperative and collaborative learning where success is a total team effort involving teachers and kids working together to make it happen.

Over here, we marvel at the Finns but we make a lot of excuses as to why we are unable to replicate their system in our own schools. After 40 over years of succeeding through competitive education, there's too much inertia to make drastic changes at the national level. However, the nature of systems is that they're infinitely scalable, hence if too big for the entire organization, I can reduce it down to encompass a class or three.

Today was my test case. Last week, I did my set-up: an in-class timed compre assignment under exam conditions. Individual effort, closed off from any external sources, although I did give them the concession of additional time to complete the assignment. This exercise was to make it clear to everyone that there were no free riders, and that everyone was putting their own individual effort to come up with their own answers to the questions therein. But I did not collect their scripts at the end.

Today, I reminded them that although their individual effort was evident, the result distribution could hardly be expected to be equitable. Some bright sparks would do better, the others could only look forward to more dismal prospects. In order to level the playing field, I told them to identify those who probably had the best answers and let the rest 'copy' from them. I didn't tell them who had the best answers, and I didn't tell them how to identify them. I did tell them not to get superglued to their furniture and that they could move around to find the answers they wanted.

As expected, they gravitated around their own immediate social groupings, but it was the first time I heard everyone focused on listening to each other and reading out their answers to one another while they collectively and critically discussed the merits (and demerits) of the answers they were sharing. There were even instances of intellectual promiscuity as information was traded and evaluated across discussion nodes, though that was far and few between. But still, a promising start.

And so begins a new adventure in turning the end of year 'A' levels from an impossible solo slogfest into a massively multiplayer co-op game. If I can create and sustain this kind of collaborative learning environment for my classes, the benefits are twofold: at the end of year consultation period, the kids will be first consulting each other before consulting me, leaving me free to concentrate on the most desperate cases or to deal with common group problems, making consultations more effective, directed and focused. Second, the kids would have built for themselves a network of telepathically interlinked brains which they can tap on through the ether as they are working on their final exams without feeling the need for me to be there with them telling them what to do. At that point, they will be independent just when they need to be.

Success in the education game in S'pore has a lot to do with correctly identifying friend from foe. In the classroom, their are no foes, only friends. Remember our campus motto? It's time to make it real.

Source: How do Finnish kids excel...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Imperfections 2013

Because I was performing in a play for Drama Night 2013, I have precious few production stills; and not for all six, either. This is one of the best from a tiny collection of stills culled from the video camera I was using to shoot the performances on both nights.

6 10-minute plays, a mixture of dramatic moments and absurd comedy in a performance we called 'Imperfections' because of the flawed nature of the relationships and situations our characters found themselves in.

Tickets were a hard sell this year. Our publicity engine was definitely not running at full steam and not being very imaginative either. The poster-ticket booth campaign is so last century, but we stuck with tradition, resulting in a lukewarm box -office response. Fortunately, we didn't incur too much cost, so we should at least break even.

As usual, what audience we had was supportive and generous with their cheers and applause, which is always nice.

Most gratifying for me was the fact that most of our cast and crew were no members of NYeDC but a mixture of kids from a variety of other CCAs who were interested in theatre and wanted a go at it... without the investment of too much time and energy, of which they already have so little.

My own little cast and crew (mine was the only ensemble piece) was no less enthusiastic, though they, like everybody else, had so many other commitments to juggle. Green like anything, yet recruited so close to curtain, I had to resort to mainly tableaux set-ups, sacrificing movement and comedy for clarity of intent. If only I had even just one more week...! Oh, well.

I was also fortunate to have Sirius as my Director-in-chief again. She is so dedicated to the show and worked like mad behind the scenes. She was good for costuming and blocking advice; stagecraft training; and most memorably jumping in wholeheartedly with a crazy, unreasonable request of mine: get every single cast and crew member made up like a zombie as soon as they were done with their piece. The closing zombie onslaught would last only seconds in real-time, but she did everything she could to make as many as possible look truly horrific.

Drama Night 2013 is now officially over and I can sleep again. At least until PUS prods me back into action all too soon. Bleh.

PS: I'd like to post the video of the finale night's performance, but my licence agreements forbid me to do so. Yes, we do things legally at NYeDC. Darn it all.