Monday, 31 December 2007

Only God Gets Things Right First Time

I really like the title.

Whether there is god or not, it is OK for us to make mistakes - not only the first time, but many times, again and again ... until it works!

Small successes generate fulfillment and encourage more try and error.

Small failures build experience and resilience.

"R & D" is "Repeat and Duplicate". Only after successfully repeat previous experiments and duplicated results that we can start making small change which may or may not lead to improvement.

Aha moment is the sudden connection between seemingly unrelated concepts which give insight (or a different angle) to the solution of a problem. Again that means the concepts have been in our mind for a long time and the problem has persisted enough to recognise the significant of the sudden connection. Experience, experience!

Coverage Equity - Part 1

Are teachers obliged to cover every part of a syllabus?

When I was teaching in Hong Kong, I used to tell my students that "I teach things that won't be examined and I set questions which I have not taught" (教不考,考不教.) Of course, in an examination oriented system, I got lots of protests.

BUT, I can explain. I told my students that there is no way I can predict what will be set in a public examination (even for those serving as question setters, they should not let their students know the question in advance, right?) The only way I can teach them (my students) to be well prepared is not by teaching them how to answer "a" question. The best way is to teach them how to answer "any" question. So those that I used as examples in my lessons, I promise them that they will not appear in the papers that I set for their examination. (This explains the first half.) For those questions that I set for their examination, I won't discuss in class! That's the other half.

It is better to teach how to fish rather than just give them fish!

But the same proclamation has also protected me from not covering every part of a syllabus.

I always asked my students to come to my lesson "unprepared". They need to bring no textbook (unless I explicitly asked them to do so in the next lesson). They only need to bring a working brain, a rough sketch book, pen and ruler to my class. I emphasis on a working brain, explaining that "day-dreaming" brain is NOT a working brain in my class!

I believe science is a journey, a process of exploration and discovery, a joy in discovering something new about nature and the things surrounding us. I ask questions, get them focus on the issue at hand and ask them to find the answer.

Discovery and innovation are slow and expensive (compared to duplication or copying, - just simple transfer of information). Hence it is often the case that I can only cover that much of material in the allocated time.

It was over 15 years ago. My role as a teacher was still very much an information age keeper. Obviously some students would/should hate me. But in real life, I found that I was one of the most favorite teacher. When I walked into a class empty-handed, students would love the class. When I walked into the room with a textbook, they knew that I was forced to cover material, in a quick hurry!

Today, information is widely and freely available. Many a time, students could be more knowledgeable in a special area than the teacher. Teacher no longer is the information gate-keeper. What should be our role? Should we insist on covering every aspect of a syllabus (to give the students a more "balanced" perspective on the subject area)? Should we allow students to specialise into parts of a syllabus? How should an evaluation system be designed to meet the new reality?

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Problem-based : Role Play Simulation

Is role play simulation (RPS) a form of problem-based learning (PBL)?

Both starts with considering a problem situation and try to provide an authentic learning experience to the players/students.

PBL typically has ONE problem (although it may be complex and involve several steps) to solve and it is also typical that there is ONE best solution. ALL learners are expected to solve the same problem.

RPS presents a complex situation, with multiple (conflicting) stakeholder interests. There is typically NO single correct solution. Students play our the situation in the sole of the roles (each role may represent one or more stakeholder interests). The game goal can change as the simulation progress (indicating either the result of the learning experience or the need to adapt to different strategy).

PBL does not finish until a solution is found. RPS focuses more on the process and it is normal to end a RPS without reaching a solution. (For example, Andrew Vincent's Middle East Political Simulation can have an end as it reflects the real life. History will not stop!)

Some RPS do NOT have any embedded problem. While the simulation designer may create a scenario with a compelling kick-start episode, the kick-start episode not necessarily represents the actual problem/issue that the RPS has been designed to 'teach'. Mary Noggle's "Scarlet Letter Simulation' for American Literature is designed to give the students a "stage' to experience the life at the Puritan era. The kick-start episode is just a start and there is no obvious problem for the players to solve.

Both PBL and RPS are not designed for transfer of information, they act as motivator for students to seek out and understand information necessary for solving the problem (PBL) or handling the situation/issue (RPS). The design motivation is the same.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Science Project for the holiday

What you will need:
a plate
full cream milk
food colours

An improved procedure [source]

1. Pour some full cream milk into a dinner plate
2. Squeeze some drops of food dye into the milk (one colour on one side, other colour on other side)
3. Add a drop of detergent onto the edge of the plate so it runs down into the milk
4. The colours begin swirling like a psychadelic pattern
5. You can add more detergent if the motion stops

Explanation [The explanation in the above video is incorrect]
Like milk itself, this classic experiment is actually quite complicated. Milk is a suspension of tiny fat globules (about 4% by volume) in water, plus a whole range of proteins, sugar (lactose) and nutrients like calcium. Detergent is a form of surfactant (short for surface active agent) - individual detergent molecules can bind with both water and oil.

The swirling effect in milk is probably driven by the detergent molecules racing around and coating the fat globules. As the detergent molecules are "consumed" by the fat, they create currents. You'll notice colours from the opposite edge of the plate appearing near the detergent and then shooting across the surface.

Friday, 14 December 2007

9-yr Old Review of XO laptop

BBC reporter brought back an XO laptop and gave it to his 9-year old son for a review.

With no help from his Dad, he has learned far more about computers than he knew a couple of weeks ago, and the XO appears to be a more creative tool than the games consoles which occupy rather too much of his time.

Frankly, at the price of a game console (for 2, one is denoted to the needy), everyone should consider buying XO laptop to give to their children - as christmas present perhaps while helping the kids in the under-developed countries.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Season Greeting

To all my readers and friends:

Wishing you all an

Awesome Lively Brilliant Entertaining Rewarding Terrific


Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Yahoo! Answers: Teachers' Nightmare or Blessing?

From Slate:

The blockbuster success of Yahoo! Answers is all the more surprising once you spend a few days using the site. While Answers is a valuable window into how people look for information online, it looks like a complete disaster as a traditional reference tool. It encourages bad research habits, rewards people who post things that aren't true, and frequently labels factual errors as correct information. It's every middle-school teacher's worst nightmare about the Web.

This highlight the need to enable our students to be able to distinguish between correct and accurate information from false, incorrect or deceptive information. Teachers are no longer the gate-keeper of information. Instead, teachers should aim to help students develop critical analytical skill to handle the vast amount of information available.

Instead of asking students to provide information to some traditional essay type paper, why can't we ask the students to identify incorrect or misleading information from sources such as Yahoo!Answers. Is it a much more valid exercise?

Yahoo!Answers may be a nightmare for the librarians, for the creative teachers, it may be a blessing - a prefect opportunity to let students exercise their critical and analytical skills in processing information.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Review of XO laptop

XO laptop, aka $100 laptop which is now costing some $180, is reviewed by David Pogue at The New York Times.

Hey, XO may be a potential ebook reader killer!

Monday, 3 December 2007

EnRoLE network members at ASCILITE Singapore 2007

Congratulations and thanks to EnRoLE network members representing the online role play community at  ASCILITE Singapore 2007

Workshop: Online role play: What it means for learners, developers and educators Ann Davenport and Judi Baron The University of Adelaide

Papers presented in Online Role Play Symposium :

Davenport, A. & Baron, J. Meeting the 21st century challenge: The situational learning initiative at U Adelaide

Lambert, S. & Macdonald, D. Reuse of a role play for new university teachers

Devonshire, E. Peer review: A process of EnRoLE(ing) as a reuser

Roberts, A.G. Beyond a participation focus

Leigh, E., Meyers, W. & Rosser, E. Learning design discussions: A conversation tool

Cross posted to EnRoLE

Sunday, 2 December 2007

How does Richard Dawkins gain the respect of John Grahm-Cumming

In John Grahm-Cumming's post title Double-checking Dawkins, John double-checked one sentence written by Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker. After some research, John found out that in 1986 when Richard was busy writing the book on an Apple ][, Richard has actually spent time to poke around inside his computer's ROM.

This is a respect well-deserved. If Richard has been so careful to make sure a minor fact in his book is correct, I have faith that the rest of the facts would have been more than double-checked. My salute to Richard Dawkins!