Sunday, 22 September 2013

Goodbye Cempaka Damansara

Goodbye Cempaka Damansara

Had I known on Friday the 9th of September, I would be teaching for the last time in Damansara Campus for the year, I don't know what would have gone through my mind. Of course now, in hindsight, many memories have come flooding back from my own school days at Damansara Campus. But then, my mind was elsewhere. Like probably many other Cempakans I was thinking about the coming weekend, although United wasn't playing, it would be a nice time to rest and get to grading my IGCSE Trial papers. I was also thinking about the week ahead, like most teachers are wired, looking forward to the class activities, the discussions and the lessons I would be delivering.

That all obviously changed very quickly on Friday night. I was relaxing after dinner, enjoying some Splinter Cell(great game!), when I received a call from En Raphael. He sounded worried and confused at the same time, asking me if Damansara campus was on fire. The immediate image that appeared in my mind was a small fire, something trivial that wasn't a cause for concern. I looked out the window of my house which, I think a lot of Cempakans realise from many of Dato Freida's tweets, has a perfect view of the campus.

The image I saw will stay with me forever. Bright and blazing. From my point of view it looked like the entire wing was engulfed in flames. The next few minutes was a blur as I ran to get the keys, into the car and sped to the school. The rest has already been well documented on Twitter, Facebook and our own Schoology.

Probably sometime later that night, I realised that there was a strong possibility I may not be able to set foot in that building for a very long time. That hit me quite hard, and I don't get emotional over many things.

As you know, a few days after the fire, myself, along with your other teachers were in Cempaka Damansara Campus helping to move equipment. Moving from class to class, seeing them empty and bare left a bittersweet feeling in me. I walked the corridors I have always walked since 1990, then as an incredibly cute and fat 5 year old. My tadika days at the canteen level of the primary wing. Std 2 taught by Ms Choo at the office level. Std 6 with Mrs Goh at the IT level (was an old fashioned library back then). Form 1 with Puan Rahimah at the hall level secondary wing. Form 3 with the all star team of Puan Aimi, Puan Sapura and Puan Jamaliah at the link bridge classrooms (no link bridge then either). Form 5 with Cik Zainab, Ms Sandra and of course Mr Sheat next to the IT Centre. Not forgetting my principal then at Form 5, as yours is now, Puan Farah.

Everyone was involved including the cleaners, gardeners, volunteer students, teachers, principals and even Dato Freida herself. A truly family affair. Certain media reported it as "teachers forced to do manual labour". They don't understand us, they don't know us, they are not one of us. They don't subscribe to our values, being of service to others. Yes it was tough, and I am quite sore and have cuts in some places but it was absolutely worth it. How can I justify not helping? My job as a teacher is to ensure you have your education, with everything within my power. Right now, besides our Cempaka@Home, I can do that with my two bare hands. And every desk we moved from Cempaka Damansara, meant one more student's education continues. I am truly proud and honoured to be with your other teachers, shoulder to shoulder, working together to ensure your continued education.

I felt the pain of saying a slow goodbye to a very dear friend.

But then it wasn't so slow. We were already planning to move anyway in 2014. This was sudden and unexpected. Of course the move had to be hastened to get school up and running again, but maybe I wasn't ready to say goodbye yet? Damansara Campus, I've learnt over the last few days, means more to me than I ever realised.

This is where I grew up, in every sense of the phrase. Always quite early to school and staying back late most of the time (I walked to and from school). School holidays spent working in the school bookmart, family dinners listening to my parents discussing school matters and more recently during my summer holidays from university, interning in various departments of the school. That is my childhood. Perhaps some other teens may grumble at the lack of attention(or too much attention?) or show their angst at the loss of freedom. I never saw it that way.

Yes my parents were extremely busy running the school and, except during the later years of my school life, my older brother were at university. I never ever begrudge them that, how could I? A whole school raised me! The school created for myself and my brothers that then evolved into serving other children. That is perhaps the most important lesson I learnt from my parents, that it is not right to sit and demand what is "rightfully yours" or what you think you are entitled to. Your place on this Earth is to be of service to others. Make others' lives better. These values are absolutely core to being a Cempakan. Being of service to others, making a difference in the lives of others.

I love Cempaka. I care for the school. I hurt when it hurts. I know some will think it is ridiculous, how can you love a building or an organisation. Of course you can't. I love the teachers that taught and raised me like I love my own parents. I love all of you students like my younger siblings (not my children okay...I am not that old ...). It may not always seem very obvious with me and my prickly nature sometimes, but it is true!

Furthermore, lets not forget Cempaka Cheras, who greeted Cempaka Damansara's call for help with open arms. As a proud alumni of both campuses, I was incredibly touched by the teachers and students of Cheras Campus helping to unload equipment from Damansara without complaint but with warm smiles and open hearts. Again embodying the values of Cempaka, being of service to others.

We are a family together. We triumph together, we hurt together, and we persevere together.

I know of course its not goodbye for good to Cempaka Damansara, but perhaps its more "see you soon". We will be back, stronger than ever. #cempakaboleh

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Why don't you Game?

Apparently there are 1 billion gamers worldwide, according to Jane Mcgonigal. Being a gamer here defined as someone who spends at least an hour a day playing a video game of some sort. It could be a highly complex, immersive and sophisticated game such as MGS or Starcraft 2 or something simple yet fun like Angry Birds or Candy Crush.

1 billion of us. Gamers. That is a lot of people.

What does it mean? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well according to Jane Mcgonigal it does cut both ways, games like Call of Duty are highly addictive, a recent study claiming that the number of gaming hours devoted to CoD a year roughly equals a month's full time work. Well CoD: Black Ops 2 was launched, employers and teachers noted abnormally high rates of absenteeism on launch day.
Not to mention the stories we hear, particularly in Asian countries of highly addicted gamers playing till they literally drop dead (link)

So maybe I should rename this posting, "Why haven't you stopped gaming, are you insane????"

Well, I am a gamer, and I love games, so for a little bit I am going to explore why that is, and I invite fellow gamers to do the same thing, ask yourself "why do you love games?". Well the obvious answer is it is fun. Definitely true, but lets take a closer look, lets dive a little deeper, "what makes it fun for us?". After all, there are so many different types and genres of games out there, they might give different people something different to think about.

I love primarily strategy and RPG games. This is because I find great satisfaction in creating something unique and wholly from my own intellect and skill. The gaming experience for me is entirely unique and non-repetitive. For example, an RPG typically involves a character you control that starts out as pretty weak and basic, but as the game progress, it gets stronger and more powerful depending on maybe experience points, items or other factors that could or could not be within your control. Strategy games work similarly where you employ your own tactics to beat your enemy. Winning or losing is up to you and the learning curve is usually quite steep, that means that you can get better and learn from your mistakes. I love that aspect, as the saying goes in Starcraft 2, "more gg, more skill". They more you lose, the more you learn, the beter you get.

Yes that learning aspect. Gaming is an amazing way to learn without actually realising you are learning.   For the non-gamers, you would say "learn what? how to blast zombies?? (either with plants or rocket launchers depending what you're into, how amazing is that?)" So lets look at other media and see where, and if, learning takes place. Ask yourself, do you learn watching movies/tv shows, reading, listening to music? If you answer, "hmm maybe, depends on what it is". The same thing applies to gaming!

The gaming industry is huge and expanding extremely fast, overlapping itself other entertainment medias even. USD5 billion revenue alone from North America in 2011. Simply put, there are a lot of games out there from different genres, platforms etc. So if its perfectly normal in this day and age to assume someone watches movies/tv shows and listens to some music, why not game as well?

Where does gaming and learning come together? I'm going to look at some of the games I play or used to play and see if figure this out.

Starcraft 2. Easily the game I most likely have spent the most hours playing. A few reasons why that is its a family thing with my brothers and I. We have been into the game since I was in high school. Another strong reason is that I haven't mastered the game yet. No one has.  Average win rates are between 40-60%. That is the great thing about it, it is so well designed that the journey to mastering the game is the fun part in itself.

The basic idea of the game is you collect resources, build and army with those resources and destroy your enemy's base with that army. It is quite straightforward. With 3 different races to choose from, that have their own strengths and weaknesses, that adds another layer of complexity. You play on different maps that offer varied tactical scenarios depending on your own army's deployment and your opponents, also the strength and composition of armies, which is another layer of complexity. Questions players have to deal with are like: 
What units do I build? 
Where do I attack?
What is my opponent doing and how can I turn that to my advantage?
Should I obtain more resources or should I make more fighting units?
What strategy are my allies employing, how can I align our strategies for maximum effect?

Through answering these types of questions as the game is being played it  develops  decision-making, teamwork, communication skills, analytical skills and critical thinking. 

Another game I loved to play when i was younger is Caesar 3. Its a pretty old game, released in the 90s but still very playable. I am in the midst of trying to find a copy, digital or physical, just to give it another go? In this game you play the role of a City Governor during the Roman times and your job is to manage the city's economy, trade, resources, jobs, living standards, security etc, like a real actual Mayor. Tons of games follow this formula, the most popular being the Sim City series, but I love this game in particular because I'm quite a history buff as well.

So where is the learning in this game? Lets take a look.

Following a keynote by Steven Johnson, best selling author of books such as Where Good Ideas Come From, I realised these types of games teach not just 21st Century skills like in Starcraft 2, but teaches actual content and reveals real-world realities.

For example, from Caesar 3, a governor needs to ensure his citizens are well fed. To do that he needs farms planting crops and a granary. Agriculture. He will also need a market in which to distribute the foods, different foods are demanded by different neighbourhoods based on income and affluence. Commerce. He needs to ensure that there is good transport available from the farms all the way to the homes of the citizens, but not like next door to each other that would harm the desirability of the area. Urban Planning. Some foods that are demanded may not be locally available, he has to trade for them. International Trade Lastly, all of these different components, the farms, markets etc need workers for them to function. Economics.

This is just a fraction of the game. Other aspects such as taxes, military expenditure, diplomacy etc just add more complexity and sophistication, which then offer more learning opportunities over a wide range of subjects.

So from my two favourite games, I've developed 21st century skills and expanded my knowledge as well. I didn't step into a classroom, I didn't open a textbook and I certainly didn't sit for a test.

So to those non-gamers out there, why don't you game?


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

I Hate Exams Pt 2

I Hate Exams Pt 2

Following up on my previous post about exam-centric education that I posted last year, I would like to expand upon what would or should happen in place of the exam orientated methods of teaching and assessment we are so used to.
Previously, I blogged about the problems of learning for exams, and why in fact, it wasn't really learning at all, but an exercise in memorisation and regugitation of information. So what the product of standardised testing are standardised students, which is not what we should be aiming for.
What then should we aim for and why is that good? So lets look at what the 21st Century is about. Undoubtedly technology drives everything we do, and it is moving faster than ever before, this we already know, but do we really appreciate it fully? With technology we have found the amount of knowledge and information at our fingertips has expanded enormously. Before, a prescribed textbook for a subject is supposed to tell you all you need to know, for the entire year. Now, the possibilities are limitless.
But this, we already know. 
What we need to consider as the next step, is looking at the way we learn. The way we absorb all this information and knowledge. How do we make sense of it and make us want to ask more questions. This may not involve too much technology, but of course new ideas that may sometimes utlises new technology. New ideas that not only expose us to more content, but makes us more curious about discovering even more and connects us to other eager learners. Put the hands of learning in the student's. True self-directed learning.
 Okay, so you can learn what you want, when you want and in the way you want. Now what? What is the point? Our knee-jerk reaction maybe: "how does this help me get an A?". Well, to be honest, I don't know if it does, and I don't know if I, as your teacher, care if it does even. Should you be caring? You will say your parents do I suppose. Or this is what colleges want, to get the degree you want to get the job you want. That is what you were possible told(brainwashed). 
Lets think of another possible reaction, "How does this help me be the person I want to be". Lets work with this notion, that you are learning to be the person you want to be, instead of the grades.  Okay, that whole idea of university places and jobs is still on your mind, and with good reason. Lets alter our question then to "How does this help me be the person that colleges/universities want", following the logic that this of course then would be the person we are aiming to be. The better the educational institution, the more they want from you, the more they expect from you. Everyone has a strong academic background, they want more. What else can you do? What else have you done? What kind of person are you? What are you interests/hobbies/passions? Are you a leader or a follower? Can you solve complex problems? None of which can be demostated through grades or exams. None of which is seriously developed or obtained by studying for grades or exams. To be honest I am not really sure what exams demonstrate.
So what now?
We need to break our mindset away from the incessant chase for higher grades and better exams. We need to start looking at "What kind of person do I want to be" again, or we can translate it to "What skills do I want to have that will help me get into college/university". The 21st Century Skills. Creativity. Innovation. Leadership. Collabaration. Global Awareness. Strong Communication. These are just a few. 
And how do we develop these skills? To a certain extent we have, in CempakaConnect, RAG Day and CBL, but those are just glimpses into a world which we must explore further. Ask yourself do you have a favourite subject? Do you have a least favourite(most hated?) subject? Why do you dislike some subjects over others? I ask myself, why do we have subjects??
The old idea is that subjects break up teaching to more easily digestable or categorised content, which is easier for students to absorb. Also it helps students specialise into certain areas that develop into degrees, that in turn lead into professional jobs. For example, high school biology leads to a degree in biology which leads to a career as a biologist. Its all quite nice and neat. But is the 21st Century nice and neat? The career of biologist itself hardly exists anymore, after being merged and combined with other fields. The most successful in those fields aren't merely scientists anymore, but are entreprenuers.
Yes, that word again. You've heard it many times. An entreprenuer has many definitions, mine is a person who utilises technology and 21st century skills to make a difference. Tell me which subject teaches that. You have no choice about it, in the 21st Century, whatever degree you do, whatever career or field you enter, you will be an entreprenuer. Subjects are a way of you being told what to learn. Lets change that, lets have you students, tell us teachers what you want to learn. No, better yet show us what you want to learn, or even better direct us to where you want to take your learning! Lets have our class time be about you achieving objectives you set for yourself. 
Its difficult to think of learning without formal subjects and formal exams, but that is really what learning is, at its core. You actually learn best without being taught. Cempakans that are involved in gaming like me can relate to this, have you had to learn and master a game all by yourself without any direct formal instruction? Maybe it wasn't easy but it definitely was a lot of fun and you certainly loved reaching the end right?
Imagine that feeling in school, everyday. Learning that is across subjects, without too much formal assessment. Learning that is continuous, worldwide and actually matters to your future. Interested?


Thursday, 4 October 2012

First Post

Wow, I've read a lot of blogs. Quite a lot, spanning many different types from the intellectual, deep issues blogs, to the minute by minute teen "emo" angst blogs. They have all impacted me in some way, making me think about some stuff and then led me to want to create my own blog. I still don't know why though.

Well, this blog will be about me, obviously, and that in itself is very not me. I am an intensely private person, to those few that know me well. So this blog won't be about my personal life too much. It would be about my interests, my views and my opinions on things. Of course, as I learnt, not everyone agrees with you, I hope those who do read will feel free to voice their own opinions, because the only thing I value more than my right to freedom of thought and expression is everyone else's right to the same thing.

Well just a rough list of what I would most probably cover in this blog.
1. My view on Education/Politics
2. My personal reviews of Ps3/PC games and maybe some movies
3. Football results/games, ok ok honestly, only United results la ....
4. Random other stuff that I cannot think off right now.. see la how..

First of all, I'm gonna attempt to review FIFA 13, still in the middle of my first season with United, already looking quite promising.. and Borderlands 2, an FPS/RPG co-op game, really really good... so far at least.

So stay tuned!


I Hate Exams

Like today's student, I've probably said this myself when I was their age. I hate exams. And now that the exam season is upon us, twitter, FB and blogs are alight with such sentiments and comments.

But now, as a teacher, shouldn't I love/like exams? After all, when I was a student that was what I thought. The teachers must love exams! Why wouldn't they if they are always giving so much emphasis on it?

But the truth is I do hate exams, but for different reasons. I don't hate setting papers and grading them, those are pretty straight forward tasks although a tad tedious at times. I don't find them a useful assessment tool.

I tweeted a few days ago "A few pages of questions doesn't give me a clear idea of whether you are smart or not, whether you get it or not". As I set papers for testing, I have to make choices from which part of the syllabus should I pick from, because I obviously cannot test every single chapter/topic/concept. The "logic" is that, since the student doesn't know what would be tested, the student should study EVERYTHING in order to have a chance at passing the paper. So from here, the exam itself is suppose to "force" learning.

To me, that is the weakness right there, how can you force learning?

Learning must stem from curiosity, a thirst to find out more and more, and that must originate from the student. My struggle is to find as many ways as I can to bring out that curiosity in every single one of my students. I don't think I have succeeded completely, and I'm constantly making mistakes but I have a strong feeling that this is a struggle that I am suppose to go through as a teacher, and there are far greater teachers at Cempaka who have gone through this struggle, year after year, with amazing stamina, dedication and commitment. I cannot bring myself to consider them colleagues, they will forever be my teachers.

At this point I must comment on how I felt when my first class graduated last year, and the feeling I had. It dawned on me, my former teachers who are still going strong in Cempaka have had this feeling every year since my time. People ask why be a teacher... hell... why not! It is addictive. I kind of get it when the younger players at United say they want to emulate the careers of Scholes and Giggs now.

Returning to the topic of this post, why I hate exams, I feel that it puts huge pressure on students that does not proportionally reflect the student's true capability, intellect and most important, curiosity.

Of course, to simply disband traditional examinations might be greeted with huge outcry. There is no standardised way of assessment, a benchmark to compare our students to, which can be used for entry to higher learning institutions. Well, to that I respond, why would you want standardised testing if it only produces standardised products(students) that would be completely useless in a future economy that will thrive on innovation, creativity and, yes, curiosity.

Solutions then? What can we do? How can we have an assessment based system that challenges our students much like the real world would? Is that not the true assessment we should be aspiring for? Instead of dumping students into the real world, we need to slowly expose them to its challenges and demands, develop skills of thinking critically, expanding their creative capabilities and starting that thirst for new knowledge, that curiosity, that will drive their own learning.

But firstly we must understand one thing, failure is inevitable, we will not get it right the first time. But we need to be open to new things, we need to have the resources to pursue new ideas and innovations, utilize new technology, reach others on a global scale, and we must be allowed to fail while doing so. Without failure, there is no success.