Melly's

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Webquest

The journey through producing a webquest has been smoother than I expected, given that I am such an IT idiot. The second biggest issue (the first is of course the IT part of it) I had may seem trivial but it really bothered me a lot. That is, a lot of information in the webquest are factual information, meaning that the information can also be found in the web! When I did the webquest I felt as if I was simply transporting the facts that could already be found in websites into my webquest, and this is not plagarism either because facts are facts, for example, the Nile river is 4187 miles long and it is the longest river in the world etc. Just felt silly and disturbed whilst dealing with the informative part of the webquest.

What I liked about the webquest though was that it is personalized. The process taught me skills that I would never have learnt if not for the webquest. Now I know how to design the very basics of a webquest which I will probably use for my teaching in future and add in other useful elements that stem from my relationship with my class, for example, the class’s theme or their favourite geographical feature, and other intangibles like that.

At the end of it all, students who participate in the webquest should be able to gain many learning points from it. Other than extracting knowledge, they will learn to work together as a group, take responsibility for group learning in their assigned roles, manage time together, think creatively and produce creative work.

Many tutors in NIE portray the idea that a lesson is better if there are a variety of resources used. They seem to like IT more than the other resources, as it will spruce up the lesson plan especially during practicum. To me, it sounds as if using IT will give the teacher bonus marks during observation. While I agree that IT can be a very useful tool, it must first of all be relevant, at the right time and at the right place. I will definitely use IT in my lessons, because I think my students will appreciate it and enjoy the lesson better.

Big Ideas

Coming to the topic on Geographical Big Ideas, the one that considerably impacted me more than any of the other big ideas like sustainable development, globalisation and the like, is invariably environmental determinism. Somehow, when I first came across the term in my university days, I felt very much disturbed, critical and indignant perhaps towards my basic understanding of the theory, which is that the environment or place in which Man lives will determine how Man will turn out. What was troubling about this idea was that it pointed fundamentally to the internalization that certain ‘types’ of human beings can essentially be viewed as lesser beings in a hierarchy of genus, and yet those ‘highest in the hierarchy’ viewed it imperative as a human process to attempt a raison d'être for this phenomenon.

Linked to environmental determinism is the more pertinent and relevant ideas of Social Darwinism and Colonialism in the 20th Century. The first time these terms were ingrained to my mind was when I took a history module in my university entitled “Why History? The Turbulent Twentieth Century 1914-1989”. I remember reading about the torrential rains of cruelty and brutality that the Europeans, particularly the Jews, were subjected to. Here is a simple definition and understanding of Social Darwinism in Duiker’s book, “Twentieth-Century World History” in 2005. It says, “according to Social Darwinists, human societies, like living organisms, must adapt to survive. Hence, the advanced nations of the West were obliged to assist the backward nations of Asia and Africa so that they, too, could adjust to the challenges of the modern world”. Through the quote, I feel that (Social) Darwinism is simply a quick fix analogy to justify colonialism. The assumptions wrought in the quote are many:

Asia and Africa are backwards because they are non-white.
Asia and Africa are backwards because they are not found in the west.
The West is advanced because they are already adjusted to the challenges of the modern world.
The West is responsible for the well being of the world.
Asia and Africa are useless and needs help.

Right now, I’m not sure how I got to this point, but it seem pretty exciting to deconstruct an understanding and lay out the assumptions in order to sort out thoughts. I had wanted to talk about my experiences I had with regards to racial discrimination in Australia. So here goes: In the year 2000, my family was walking along Victoria Avenue towards the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Perth. I was in front because I was excited to see what was in front while the rest were strolling and enjoying the sights behind. Right after I crossed Goderich Street adjacent to Victoria Avenue, a car whizzed by. In the car were two young men and the window of the right seat facing my family was opened. They hurled out discriminatory remarks out of that window towards my family such as “you are dirty” and “go back to where you belong”. Here is a range of possible assumptions gathered from their statements:

The men do not know that we are all living in an age of globalisation.
The men do not accept that we are all living in an age of globalisation.
The men are drunk.


On hindsight, this event as well as many others I’ve experienced and heard about pointed back to the sad fact that many people still perceive themselves as those ‘highest in the hierarchy’ and act the way they do with the internalization of the assumptions laid out in the theory of Social Darwinism. I’m glad that in our world today, the extent of these ideas has been significantly reduced on the micro scale. In lieu (our class was told not to use this term by our communications skills tutor because it “doesn’t mean anything” but I’ll use it anyway) of my future teaching career, I will extent my hope for peace in my micro space called the classroom, since it is important to be reminded about the potential lashes of acts of racism in the light of how human beings seem to internalize the concept of ‘others’ throughout our existence.

Field based lesson

At first, a group of us wanted to go overseas to and construct a field based lesson based on the stuff we could find there. Options were, if I remember correctly, Sarawak, Sabah, Desaru and others. However, nearing the deadline amidst out tight schedules, we decided to cancel the trip and do a local field based lesson. On hindsight, there were really a lot of administrative matter to clear before heading overseas – consent, budget, transport, accommodation, prior recce, relevance, availability of resources, risk assessments, teacher student ratio, wet weather plans, finding contacts to bring you around, seamless mobility, permits, itinerary etc. Well, that’s all I can think about at the back of my mind, but I’m sure there’s more. Another point that was brought out by Pearlyn and well summed up by Prof Wong Poh Poh is we should discover out own backyard first before discovering other people’s. And so we settled on the local.

My group’s field based lesson is on natural vegetation, covering Sungei Buloh’s Mangrove and Bukit Timah’s tropical rainforest. Going to Sungei Buloh was a first for me. In fact, there were many places we went for this module that were a first for many others in the class too. We wanted students to learn about and compare the features and adaptations of the mangrove and the rainforest in the local context through observation and hands-on activities. This is very much different from other subjects like history or social studies, where it is mainly observation and reflection, or science, where hand-on activities are carried out in the school compound. In the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, one the activities was to carry our quadrat sampling. Despite the unrealistic area that students can carry out quadrat sampling, our group still felt that it was a useful activity for students to learn about plant biodiversity. In addition, this activity provides students with an experience different from that of the non-geography students.

One of the issues was whether to look through the syllabus and derive important points we wanted to find at field sites, or recce the field sites first and then adapt what we wants students to learn to what can be found. After much discussion, we decided to go with the latter approach. This is partly because many of us were not exactly very familiar with the field sites and had to see and recall what resources could be found there. On hindsight, it is more beneficial to base the field lesson on what can be found in the field site rather than what is found in the book. In this way, students will be able to be curious over the new things they see yet at the same time reinforce the things they have learnt.

The other issue is how to create relevant and meaningful yet creative activities for the students to work on based on the resources available in the field site. For example, in Sungei Buloh, we had a boardwalk featuring the different types of roots in the mangrove system, characteristics of leaves, biodiversity of the mangroves etc repeatedly throughout the boardwalk itself. We therefore had to decide to divide the boardwalk into sections and focus on one feature at one section. Similarly in Bukit Timah, we needed to decide how long the route should be given the constraints of relevant resources available as well as time. I have learnt that sectioning of a field site is extremely useful particularly if the teacher to student ratio is big.

This brings us to the next issue of how to sequence the mobility of student groups. In our report, we included a section on sequencing, which was a really big headache. Imagine a class of 40 under one geography teacher going to two field sites in two days. It will be rather difficult to manage the mobility of the students, not just in terms of management, but also in terms of exposition and audibility. Hence, we mentioned that there will be another teacher, but can be a non-geography teacher, to assist the geography teacher. This is so as to widen the range of teachers the main geography teacher can call on for help in the field trip since in reality, not every school has a united and team spirited geography department.

Upon reflection, I feel that I lack the skills in conducting fieldtrip. I remember my first attachment to a mainstream school where I was involved in constructing a field trip package to Labrador Park. During my attachment, I was a complete stranger to the education system as a teacher and had a lot of difficulty finding resources or understanding the processes at the field site. Plus, it was only the 2nd time to Labrador Park, and the 1st time was a recce for this fieldtrip. I asked for help minimally because I did not want to appear dependent. So, unfamiliar to the field site, unfamiliar to the system and unfamiliar with the students, I went ahead with two other experienced geography teachers. We were tasked to take care of different sections and there were worksheets available. My section was the coastal area dealing with rock and grain size. At the beginning of the main field trip, I really had no idea how I was going to do my section. But as the trip progressed, I forced myself to think on the spot to answer the questions that the students asked. I found that I was able to explain most of the things they asked based on common sense but I did not feel comfortable at all, knowing that I could possibly be struck down anytime. From this experience, I learnt a few lessons. First, it is important to be extremely familiar with the field site - the features in it and the processes that develop the features in it. Second, dare to ask for help. This is really hard for me, but at the end of it all, I am responsible for my student’s learning and so I will ask for help if necessary in future. One way to (subtly) do this is to develop a close bond with my colleagues. Anyway, it helps in other areas as well to be comfortable with my colleagues and it makes working life a whole lot easier. Thirdly, the only way to be comfortable during fieldtrip is to be familiar with teaching outdoors. Of course the development of these kinds of skills comes only with practice, not only skills in terms of lesson delivery outdoors, but familiarity with the features in the field site. Therefore, with regards to the overseas fieldtrip, I think I will attempt it only when I am confident enough in my own backyard and when an opportunity knocks!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Post Micro-teaching Reflection

Since my micro teaching, I have been thinking and rethinking to myself what it means to be a teacher. My thoughts expressed here have already taken into consideration that whatever happened in micro teaching is exaggerated and therefore a lose-lose situation for whoever is up there. Plus, it is simulated. These are not here to defend myself, but rather to reflect on my experience with reality in check.

Firstly, with regards to the fainting incident, I was really stunned. However, I did feel that I did a very logical thing to ask if anyone knew first aid. Cuz I think at that point of time, the first aider will be able to know what to do health wise. No point pretending I know if I didn't anyway. My mom said that I should have made sure that no one crowded around Sam so she had enough air to breath. She also said I should have called the office AND the ambulance. It is quite tricky, because Sam did wake up a little (which indicated that the fainting was not so serious), so I decided to change plan and ask Pearlyn to bring her to the sick bay. I think, linked to this is the decision of whether to leave the class or to stay behind and teach. Actually it didn't occur to me that I should have left the class. It is hard to deconstruct what happened so I'll not attempt to do that. Instead, if I could turn back time, I would have called the office to send help to being Sam to the sick bay, and then asked the office to call the parents up so that they could be notified of the situation and bring Sam to the doctor. Afterwhich, I would continue my lesson assuring the class that Sam would be alright because her parents will be coming. Just curious, what would you guys have done?

On my views of whether to leave the class or to stay behind, I would choose to stay behind anyhow, especially with regards to truancy. This is because as a teacher I believe I have the basic responsibility to teach my students, not just academically. If a student leaves my class without permission thinking that he can get away with it or show a teacher disrespect, I will just report his absence as truancy and warn the class using his example. In my microteaching, I seemed unempathetic. In the example of YB's peeing in class, it is a fact that it is the class's fault that YB cannot go toilet. I would still have done the same thing, to tell the students that if they hadn't stolen the pass from me, their classmate wouldn't have to suffer. I think even if it were portayed as a lack of empathy I will still do it because students need to be aware of their own actions and the consequences it brings to them. I feel this is of more value to the students than to give in to students all the time.

Another point that was brought up was my body language, which translated into a lack of empathy and urgency. I have to say that I find my own body language ironic and strange. The way I think I behave is always different from the way I behave. It always happens to me. For example, if I feel perky, my friends will ask me why I look so tired. I've tried to be more conscious of my voice and my body language though the years, but I really do think I need to work more on that by being more conscious, but hopefully not to the extend of being fake.
The other thing I want to talk about is professionalism vs your own beliefs and values. Adding on to Jacq's comment that she disagrees with the statement that good actors are good teachers, I feel that students learn from the teacher not because of her content knowledge or how professional she behaves, but by being taught the right values. I'm saying that while a teacher should be professional (and therefore an actor in some ways), there is a limit to it. I personally will not give up my own values just to be professional. In a real situation where the student misbehaves, I will make sure the student learns that if he has the guts to misbehave, he must first have the guts to own up to his mistake, even if it requires the student to suffer. To give an example, I once had a friend who cheated on her test in Secondary school. The teacher handed our papers to us and we were supposed to read the marks out so that she could record it down. My friend read a different mark from what was written on the paper so that she could pass. I knew that it was wrong and told her to own up. But she refused. I told her that I would give her a day to own up or I will tell the teacher. What happened was that she didn't own up still so I told the teacher. She failed her CA for that semester and suffered the wrath of her teachers and parents, but in the end, she learnt never to cheat again. It didn't matter to me if she didn't want to be my friend anymore (anyway she still wanted to be my friend), but at least she learnt a valuable lesson. The same goes for my students. It will not matter to me if they hate me, because my job is to make sure they learn, not just academically.
I think at the end of it all, I hope that I can figure out a way to improve my body language, my language and perhaps tone of voice so that I can be a true teacher through example, discipline and genuine concern for my students.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pre-microteaching reflection

Alright... It has been 7 weeks since the first microteaching. It didn't seem that stressful at first when those teaching sessions under Mr. Yee were carried out. But now, looking at how things go, I think I'm gonna be in for a hard time, especially after reading about "karma" in Lat's blog. Well, I hope that my experience as a Sunday school teacher will serve me well in terms of class management, though it causes my nerves to rattle abit just thinking of the possibilities of what may happen during the half hour. Nonetheless, I shall have to try my best this wednesday.

I think one of the most, if not the most, difficult thing for a teacher to achieve in class is balance. Balance in terms of being firm vs being soft, balance between finishing the syllabus and tackling an immediate problem in class, balance between exposition and student-learning, all within the limited time and interaction in class. This has always been my fundamental objective in teaching - to always strike a balance in my lessons. If I haven't mentioned it before, I have been a Sunday School teacher for 4 years - 2 years teaching K1/K2 and 2 years teaching P1/P2. If I do soundl ike a primary sch teacher on wednesday, you know why. Even though I might have some experience in dealing with students, they are really young children and therefore easier to manage. Also, the syllabus taught is also quite simple. Balance is therefore must easier to achieve in that context. In my lessons during Sunday School, I am usually a fun, jovial teacher, quite dramatic somewhat when I do bible storytelling. I would usually avoid scolding my students and take the soft (and logical consequences haha) approach, unless they misbehave to a level where the entire class is distracted and disrupted.
However, during my ESE, when I tried to teach a class geography during a geography relief period (because it was my last day and I havent really done any teaching) - a very lofty goal, because the students perceived relief teachers as babysitters, and therefore were very reluctant to listen - I was extremely firm with them. I felt like Julia Roberts in "Mona Lisa Smile" when she was confronted by her student. In the end, I managed to get all of them to do their work, greet me reluctantly, and not get a sore throat. But from that lesson I learnt that I needed to find another way to work around defiance. So, I think I need lots of exposure to sec school students' mannerisms and behvaiour.

With regards to my lesson, I have not penned down my lesson plan as yet, but I already have in mind what to do. After all the microteachings since Kenneth's taking over, no one has been able to complete their lessons! So, I'm debating internally whether I should expel my lofty goals of imparting too much knowledge and reduce the lesson plan to a really simple one. However, Kenneth has expressed his enthusiasm in the teaching of map-reading. So... I'm starting to feel quite stressed. Anyway, I think I will just focus on what I can do and do what I can.
I'm approaching this microteaching with mixed feelings. One is fear of karma and retribution haha. The other is I'm hoping to learn what I haven't learnt or experienced. Aiyar, we'll see how it goes...
Have mercy on me!!!!!