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Saturday, May 20, 2017

P6 SA1 Testimonials

These testimonials are from parents of the originally poorer students. 

This child was failing in early P5. I thought he would be hard to help but he made it!

This child has special needs.

This one was quite poor too, at the start. Extremely careless!

Last year, his school teacher said that he was CMI (cannot make it).

This love note made my day! From client to friend... it makes all the frustrations that go along with being a Teacher so worth it!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Kawai K800

I have a preference for the rounded mellow tones of the German pianos. Years ago, I explored buying one. The difference between a German piano and a Japanese piano was stark. The German pianos sounded silky smooth with every note full and rich. Back in those days, the Japanese pianos sounded bright and sharp.

I much preferred the deep, rich and complex tones of the German pianos, but I could not afford one.  So, I settled for the electronic keyboard pianos just to have something to bang tunes out on.

If I had the money, I would buy the $35,000 August Forster piano or even the Steinway. These sound even better. However, I really am not a very good piano player so I decided to buy something I could afford and still sounded nice enough for me to feel good playing it.

The Kawai K800 was a surprising find. It is an upright grand. This means that its strings are longer than a normal upright piano. Thus, the sounds it makes are larger, richer and silkier than a normal upright. I liked that it uses ABS carbon (a synthetic material) in its piano action. Most pianos use wood which makes maintenance in our high humidity more problematic. With its ABS carbon parts, I expect the Kawai K800 would be easier to maintain over the years.

The Yamaha upright grand equivalent of the Kawai K800 is the Yamaha YUS5. I much preferred the sound of the Kawai K800. It was nearer the quality of sound I was hearing from the German makes. I don't know if I am dreaming it but 10 years ago, the German makes sounded better. I remember thinking they sounded like creamy soft serve vanilla ice cream. The Yamahas 10 years ago sounded like lemon sorbet back then. - sharp and crisp sounds.

I just prefer the creamier sounds. Possibly, others prefer the sorbet-like sounds. That is still very much what the Yamaha YUS5 sounds like - sorbet. These days, German pianos seem to sound less creamy and the Kawai K800 sounds MORE creamy. So, I guess I found something creamy enough but not as creamy as I would like.

Still nice... and far more affordable.

The design is ever so cute too. The piano sheet holder can be pulled forwards, towards the pianist and underneath it are 2 sound escapes. So, the sound not only emanates from the back and the top of the Kawai K800, it also emanates from the front panel as well. This makes for a lot of resonance.

I do think I bought a piano that is way too good for my lousy piano playing skills. So, I am trying to practise and practise and practise so that I can deserve the piano I bought. I dread to think what my neighbours think because I literally play it all day. After every compo I mark, I play for 5 minutes just to refresh my senses and help me regain focus enough to mark the next compo well.

It also means that this poor blog has been sorely neglected. For someone who has no real job, I really am quite a busy person, you know. What with my piano and my Le Creuset pots...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Parent Seminars 2017

HOT Skills Parent Workshop and Positive Teaching Parent Seminar are open for registration.

(1) HOT Skills HERE.
(2) Positive Teaching HERE.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dr Tay Kai Xian, Dentist

Last year, I had a wisdom tooth taken out. It was growing on its side and impacting a good tooth. At the point of impaction, a cavity had begun to form because my toothbrush could not reach that spot. I knew about the impacted tooth but somehow, I missed out on the fact that there was a small cavity there.

When I went for my yearly scaling and cleaning at the Woodlands Polyclinic, the dentist sent me to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital to get my cavity looked at.

A specialist dentist looked at it and spent a looooong time telling me how DIFFICULT it was to fill that cavity. He went on and on about the challenging case. It was right at the side of the mouth. It was growing into the side of the tooth and getting perilously near the tooth nerve. If they tried to fill it, it might touch the nerve or there might be a nerve infection. Then, there would need to be a root canal operation OR an extraction.

Then he said, "This case is so difficult that I need to get someone else to look at it."

Within 10 minutes, the other doctor was ready for me. You see, I really don't understand why people complain about our healthcare. I was referred from the Polyclinic and yet I experienced very prompt intervention. Undoubtedly, I had to wait 3 months for my scaling appointment and then another 2, to see the specialist... but once they saw how urgent my tooth was, I waited 10 minutes.

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

I hopped over to the next aisle and opened the door into Dr Tay Kai Xian's consultation room. I came face to face with a man that looked not a day older than 17 years. He talked fast and made small jerky motions with his hands. I thought to myself, "Huh? This is the guy who can do the challenging thing that the other older dentist cannot do?"

I was stunned. I stared at this 17 year old male in a dentist scrubs and I asked a few questions, meanwhile, churning in my mind my next course of action. Do I allow this 17 year old to lay hands on me? Do I kick up a fuss and tell the hospital that I object to being operated on by a student? Do I take a leap of faith and submit to the ministrations of this young boy who looked not a day older than my son.

I took the leap of faith.

And Dr Tay Kai Xian was WONDERFUL! His entire demeanour changed from the moment his dentist's mask went on. He spoke slowly and gently, carefully explaining each thing he was about to do to me... "This will sting a bit. I am injecting local anaesthetic. Now that the area is numb, I will do this, so you will feel a lot of pulling on your cheek. I am going to shave off the side of your tooth, so you will next feel some vibration.... and so on."

He had steady hands and he was unfailingly polite to his nurse when he asked for this and that... or gave instructions to prepare the next step. It was so lovely to be treated by a genuinely nice person, who was so quietly confident at every part of the process (except for the start when I asked him if he could really do this challenging op and he started to talk too fast and gesture jerkily). He had such STEADY hands!

Seriously, the moment I sat back in the dentist's chair, Dr Tay morphed into a father figure.

I came home and told my family about him. The Husband asked, "Is he handsome?" Then I kicked myself! Whyyyyyyyyyyy didn't I ask if he was married/attached? Whyyyyyyy didn't I tell him about my pretty daughter with her 8 A level distinctions, gymnastics medals, Dean's lister, good job and a temperament so sweet that 4 kids sit on her legs at Sunday school, with more fighting to do so.


See photo of Dr. Tay Kai Xian HERE. I highly recommend him!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Son: Reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci

I really am not supposed to blog about this. The Son has given me a gag order. I am not allowed to blog about him very much, which is such a bummer because blogging about him is so entertaining for me. And so entertaining for my readers. No?

Anyway, it all started with a BBC broadcast on the way to school. A voice with an Italian accent read out excerpts from Machiavelli. Apparently, the excerpts were shockingly evil in their content. So I questioned why they were listening to them at all. So began an amusing exchange between father and son.

Daddy: My son is so intellectual that he refuses to listen to pop music on the way to school, preferring meatier fare from BBC.

The Son: Noooooo... it is because your selection of pop music is so repetitive. Anything is better than that.

Daddy: **with a perfectly straight face** My son is a renaissance man. He can fight and write.

The Son: **roll eyes** Splutter!

Me: Ohhhhh! My son is like Leonardo da Vinci. He is the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci.

Daddy: Ahhhhh! My son is better. Leonardo da Vinci cannot code computer programmes. My son can code.

Me: Trudat! Our son is better than Leonardo da Vinci.

The Son: **glowering at me**

Me: Heyyyy... how come you don't glower at your Daddy? He was the one who started with "renaissance man". How come when I praise you, you get all mad?

For some strange reason, The Son has evolved to be like his sister. He keeps downplaying his triumphs and saying that he is not good enough. Every time I tell him I am proud of him, he gets peeved... and I am not allowed to blog about his triumphs either! Then, when I play along with his I-am-not-good-enough line, I get knocked on the head for not having faith in him. The conversation unfurled as follows.

The Son: **to change the subject** Oh, by the way, we got into Finals.

Me: Oh! You did!? You got into Finals!?

The Son: **looking peeved again** Mom! I ALWAYS get into Finals! How come you even doubt that I can get into Finals!?

Me: **speechless**

Now, you tell me. Is it fair?! Sheesh! A mother cannot do anything right! You know what... teenaged sons are idiots!! Certainly nothing like Leonardo da Vinci, who, I am certain, was much nicer to his Mom.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Will You Make the World? Or Are You Made For It?

See HERE for the full article.

See HERE for the full article.

Daniel Yap wrote in the article HERE. "I can feel the massive ship turning ever so slightly."

I oso say!

I read the above 2 articles in the past 2 days that gave me much to be excited about. Since 2010, I wondered why our educational system had evolved into the huge mess that it pretty much still is, at the moment, with its over emphasis on academic excellence to the detriment of other developmental areas.

In the end, I concluded that the MOE had forgotten about first principles and allowed itself to be seduced by the fads in education emanating from the USA... standardised testing... PISA and what not. For 7 years I wondered why the MOE was not preparing our children for life. 

Since Ong Ye Kung and Ng Chee Meng took over, it does appear that we have come to our senses.

What is the use of topping the PISA scores and having a world class testing methodology if our children are poorly equipped for life at work? So finally, the MOE, helmed by 2 men with WISDOM if not actual educator experience, is working from first principles.

What is this first principle? 

To know what the education system needs, we need to work backwards from the future ready children we want to have, 20 years from today. Certainly, the future is hard to predict and nobody expects the MOE to be entirely clairvoyant. However, certain things are perennial in a useful and productive adult.

- Emotional intelligence
- Social networks
- Literacy and numeracy
- Knowing how to learn and unlearn
- Respect for high standards

Throughout The Son and The Daughter's education, their schools focused largely on literacy and numeracy. It was up to me to teach them emotional intelligence (the old people will simply say 做人道理  for emotional intelligence). It was up to me to nudge the development of their social networks along. It was up to me to teach them how to learn independently, and how to identify stuff to unlearn. It was up to me to insist on high quality work with the mantra - If you're not going to do it properly, please don't even do it at all.

Every week, I do battle with parents and students who want to do a lot HW but give me junk to mark. This attitude is endemic and it takes all of my strength and determination to stand firm and say, "Your junk will end up in my bin. It will not be marked. It will not even be returned to you. You will not learn anything new from me until you learn this properly."

At least learn something small, but don't learn nothing at all.

In truth... right up until today, with Ong Ye Kung and Ng Chee Meng at the helm of the MOE, the strategic direction of our education was still very much what Goh Keng Swee had set down in the 1960s when he had to MAKE people fit the staffing needs of the global MNCs which invested in Singapore. 

Singaporeans learnt to be compliant do-ers. Our best students were compliant do-ers. Never break the rules. Work hard. Work very hard. Work very very hard. So, not surprisingly, our top entrepreneurs seemed to have a less than stellar academic history. Think Sim Wong Hoo and Eldwin Chua. These are people that the MNCs would vomit out from their ranks and told that they were un-employable.

And yet... what wouldn't I give today to BE Sim Wong Hoo and Eldwin Chua, my Phd notwithstanding?

With so much disruptive change on the horizon and in front of us - Grabtaxi, Uber, AirBnB, Facebook, Kickstarter, Redmart... the world is very different today than what it was when I grew up. The MOE can no longer make people to fit something. Why? Because the MOE (and everyone else) does not know what the world our children grow into, will be like.

As a 3rd world country, Goh Keng Swee could look at the 1st world countries and project our manpower to fit those needs. We are now a 1st world country. We have been a 1st world country for a long time now. This change in strategic direction is long overdue.

Yes... help our children find their passion. Give them the following set of skills...
- Emotional intelligence
- Social networks
- Literacy and numeracy
- Knowing how to learn and unlearn
- Respect for high standards
... and then watch them make their world.

The young all have that capacity for change. It is in the adolescent's natural psychological evolution to challenge the status quo and to question if things can be done differently. We spent so much effort in the past 2 decades trying to prepare them... to groom them... to mould them... for a future that you and I do not know. Adolescents are programmed to re-make their world.

However, in this new direction, where we actively look to bolster strengths and grow diversity of skills and encourage passion, we will have a whole field of colourful wildflowers ready to take their chances with the new world.

Their world. Not ours.

Gone are the days where the government can predict the world and protect us with their clairvoyance. It will be uncertain days ahead and only diversity can give Singapore the resilience to make it through.

We must educate our children to make (or re-make) their world so that they can shape their future. We should not make them to fit it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

925 Chicken Rice

This eatery is opposite the Sembawang Shopping Centre. It is new, good and reasonably priced. In my humble opinion, it is better than Sum's Kitchen (its neighbour). Strangely though, the queues at Sum's Kitchen are longer.

Ohm Shimono Cyclone Vacuum Cleaner

I wasn't even looking for a vacuum cleaner. 

I passed by Home Fix and stopped to see the demo. It was such a light machine that I decided that my mother-in-law might like it. So, I told the man that I would bring her back to take look. He urged me to try it for myself on the tiled floor (that looked clean to me). He shook out all the dust from the dust container and handed the machine to me. To be polite, I dragged the machine up and down a bit. Then, I became REALLY intrigued. In no time at all, a dust bunny had built up inside the transparent dust receptacle.

I looked the floor and it did look clean. Then, I looked at the dust bunny and I knew that the floor was clearly not clean. So, I decided to buy it. If mother-in-law did not want it, I would keep it for me.

The mother-in-law LOVED it. She tried it out on the floor that she had mopped just that morning. She was surprised that a dust bunny had formed in no time inside the vacuum cleaner. She loved it so much that for a few days after, she would bring it over to show me how much dirt she had collected in the mornings. MY helper also loved it. She would go over and borrow the thing.

So, I decided to buy my helper her own machine. It wasn't easy to find you know. Online, it retailed for $300. I bought it at $168 at Home Fix. However, Home Fix had no more in stock. They still have no more in stock. In the end, I found it retailing at $168 at the 2nd floor of Thomson Plaza.

There are 2 models. One model is wireless. The one with wire was more powerful and cheaper.

Nice Day Today!

I woke up feeling rather low. The Husband has been working late nights frequently. The Son... well... I never see him because he is so busy trying to win this or that. Believe it or not, the twit has 5 CCAs. The Daughter has started working and sometimes works up to 3 am. You know, life in Singapore is crazy. There are people who work so hard they don't go home for 3 nights!!

How does that happen? Won't they die?

Me... I thought it would be another boring day of marking assignments. And then, I received 3 emails today that sent me over the moon.

I am not keen on the idea of working the children hard up to the PSLE. This burns them out. So, I try to crack the whip much earlier, through P4 and P5. Then, in P6, I close the P6 class in end-May. Parents and children who have worked with me closely in P4 and P5 enjoy this respite. If all goes well, the children are much less stressed too.

Then, it is time to say goodbye. 

Now, this is the email that really caught me by surprise. This is a P5 parent. She is caught right at the moment when I am at my most pressurising... and yet... I don't think many parents agree with her but her email still made me glad in my heart.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Another Bird Nest

We found another bird nest in the garden. This time, it is an even tinier bird with a nest not larger than my finger. So thrilled! Now I have 5 pet birds.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Our Zebra Doves

There was a Papa Bird and a Mama Bird. Two zebra doves had staked out my 2nd floor balcony as their territory. They foraged for food in my garden and then, they built a nest (the size of my palm). Then, they laid eggs (the size of my thumb's first phalange). 

Shortly after the chicks hatched, one of the parents died. It had flown into one of our large glass doors and knocked itself out. Milo picked it up and tried to revive it. His way of doing so was to hold the poor bird in his mouth and shake it. Not surprisingly, it died. I came home to a living room littered with feathers and a puzzled Milo.

We were all devastated. I even cried. Seeing me in tears, The Husband googled material for me to read and learn about how to feed nestlings and squabs. That is his way of comforting me. You know, not take me in his arms and wipe away the tears gently with a soft silk handkerchief... like in the movies. The Hub points to the computer screen and says, "Nah! Here, read this pdf file and watch this youtube. You will feel better when you know how to help the birds."

I guess it worked because I wiped away my tears, got in touch with a bird expert friend and figured out how to keep the birds alive. Fortunately, one of the parents is still alive and so all I had to do was to rig up a bird feeder next to the nest. The parent did the rest.

We are not sure if it is a Mama or a Papa bird. The literature says that the males are more likely to incubate in the day and the females incubate at night. Now that one is dead, there is no parent at the nest at night. So the one left must be a Papa bird? I can't tell because I can't see any ahems dangling anywhere.

2 eggs.

Papa and Mama Bird.

Dead Mama bird.

We took out the babies to clean the nest.

Nice clean nest.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

PE Tuition Teacher

I wish I could tell you that I engaged Tracy Tay to be my personal trainer because I wanted to get stronger and healthier. Unfortunately, the real reason why I engaged her was that I really wanted to lose weight. 

My thyroid issues predisposed me to weight gain. Losing weight was next to impossible. I would cycle 2 hours a day and see no improvement on the weighing scales nor in my girth.

I engaged Tracy with some amount of trepidation. The stereotype of a personal trainer is this hard driving and yelling fitness freak who will inflict pain on the unsuspecting in ways the unsuspecting do not suspect but very much fear.

Tracy is not like that at all. "My oldest client is 79," said she. I looked down at my fat figure and silently jubilated. I was quite confident I could keep up with a 79 year old. Tracy has a degree in Sports Science and she knows my body better than I do. She knows the names of all the muscles and she knows what exercises I should do to target which group of muscles. She is adept at modifying exercises to fit my fitness level. When I started with her, I could barely manage 2 push-ups. With some modifications and a lot of patience, I can now do 20.

My backaches are gone because she has helped me to strengthen my core muscles. I feel much more energetic than before, more flexible and a lot more agile. I can climb up and down stairs without breaking a sweat.

Best of all, I lost 4 inches around the hips, 2 inches around the waist but only 1 kg off the weighing scales.

WMF Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers have been around for umpteen years. The only problem was that I was deathly afraid of them. The old pressure cookers had no safety mechanisms and were quite capable of exploding. Then, I came across rave reviews of the Instant Pot. 

The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker which has built-in sensors and automated cooking programmes. See HERE for a demo. This thing will not explode (at least, if it were functioning well, it shouldn't) because it will reduce pressure automatically before explosion. This thing does a beef pot roast in 45 minutes. Such a roast normally requires 3 hours in the oven.

The oven is not exactly the most energy efficient piece of kitchen equipment. 3 hours in it sends the electricity bills sky high.

There is no local retailer for the Instant Pot. Locally, the only electric pressure cooker available, is the Philips. I refused to buy it because it has non stick coating on the cooking pot. Non stick coatings slough off after some time and it is not good for health if ingested.

So, I started to look around a little more. I finally settled for the WMF stove top pressure cooker. I liked the stainless steel. I liked the fact that I needed to learn to control time and pressure for each recipe. Best of all, I liked that this pot will wail loudly when pressure gets too high. It is so loud that I can hear it from anywhere in the house.

No danger of explosion then. See HERE for demo.

This pressure cooker brings down my electricity bills considerably and I can turn around meals a lot faster too. It cooks carrots in 2 minutes. It does my pot roasts in 30 minutes. The best thing is the risotto. That gets done in 7 minutes and it comes out perfect, with creamy starch and al dente rice grains.

Normally, risottos require 45 minutes of patience at the stove, adding soup stock ladle by ladle and stirring. Even then I often don't get it right. Too soft, too hard, too dry. In the pressure cooker, it comes out PERFECTLY each time.

After I bought the WMF Pressure Cooker, I found the Tefal Clipso Plus HERE. It is ever so pretty and has a detachable timer. By that time, I had already bought my 2nd WMF pressure cooker. Else, I would have got me the Tefal Clipso Plus.

I used to make rice in the thermal pot without realising that higher heat is required to release the oils in rice responsible for its fragrance. My mother-in-law used to complain that my rice (from the thermal pot) was not fragrant. I ignored her simply because that is what daughters-in-law tend to do, right? 

Now though, I know what she means. Rice done in a pressure cooker is amazingly al dente and fragrant. 

I wish I had found these new style pressure cookers before I had bought my Le Creuset pots. They are so practical and cook so fast that I now use them every day. The Le Creuset pots are good when guests come and I want to take time to cook things low and slow. Taste wise, one cannot beat the Le Creuset pots but for daily convenience... man... I love my 2 WMF pressure cookers.

I love them so much that I bought 2!

Perfect risotto in 7 minutes.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Landing Point, The Fullerton Bay Hotel

This gluten free high tea can be booked 2 days in advance. No one can believe it is gluten free but it is. I ate it and nothing happened to my tummy.

Huge sofas to drown in.

Huge selection of teas.

The high tea.

My coffee.

My favourite bite.

The other favourite bite.

Half of the 3rd favourite bite. Haha!

Pim Pam by FOC

It is very hard to get safe Western food for celiacs in Singapore. So, when you find one, you spread the word to all other people who get sick from eating gluten. No fear! Pim Pam is here!

Egg, iberico ham and some sort of potato millefeuille which was like a cross between a croissant and a potato chip.

Galician octopus on a bed of mashed potato.

Scallop and pork rib paella.

Gluten free "kit kat" dessert. Crispy from the peanut bar, chocolatey from the white chocolate and creamy from the vanilla ice cream.

The service staff are extraordinary too. Friendly and helpful. I mean truly friendly. They interacted with me like I was a friend and truly cared about my dining experience. Not all pricey places do that. I tried to book La Brasserie at The Fullerton Bay (after I tried out the wonderful High Tea at The Landing Point) and they made me feel like I probably could not afford to eat there.

Oh well... I could afford it if I wanted to, but now I cannot afford it anymore. They would have to pay me to eat there.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Nesting Mama Bird

Yay! A mama pigeon has laid eggs in our garden!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Home Made Solar Oven

My helper thinks I am a genius (which is just as good, because the feeling is mutual). I actually cooked an egg using an old cardboard box. It worked so well that I shall be using my cardboard box to braise meat on sunny days. I will post more when I have done it.

It is the box left over from the purchase of a Brother printer.

It needs a black cooking utensil to absorb heat.

It needs a black cover and a glass heat trap, to trap heat.

Tada! Hard egg!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Redmart Shopping

Again, I am a late adopter. It took months after my friends started telling me about Redmart before I even tried surfing the site. 4 weeks ago, I took the plunge and made my first order. It was a new experience but not unpleasant except for the constant peering into the computer screen.

But, I liked the experience of having the groceries sent right to my door. The prices of some items were cheaper than the brick and mortar supermarkets too. Then, I found that the week after, I did not need to peer as much into the computer screen. Redmart remembers what I have bought before and henceforth, I just need to go down the list and click what has run out in my pantry.

I felt some loyalty to NTUC Fairprice. So, I decided to shop at NTUC Online. It was a frustrating experience because many things that I usually buy aren't online. Redmart had everything I needed from organic vegetables to parma ham and a HUGE range of gluten free products. In the past, I used to have to run to 2 places (Cold Storage and NTUC Finest) to get my gluten free products and my organic milk. Now, Redmart has it all. Delivery is free too.

I particularly like that Redmart sets it up such that I can examine the ingredients in close up. Then, I can immediately google what each ingredient is to see if natural or processed. If processed, then how was it processed. That way, I don't put junk into my mouth.

I haven't tried Honest Bee yet. I did try Open Taste but they only have organic vegetables so I cannot collate everything into a single delivery time slot.

Very happy with Redmart. This is an unpaid review. Redmart did not ask me to write it. I wrote it because it has made a big difference in my life. If this goes on, I don't need my car anymore.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Device Addiction

I have written about electronic games HERE and HERE.

I feel compelled to write about it again for 2 reasons.

(1) I observed over the Chinese New Year. Everywhere I went, and I do mean everywhere... I saw children holding phones and tablets, watching youtube or playing device games. If you don't know what is happening to these poor children as they stare into their precious devices, click HERE and understand that it is like a cocaine addiction.

(2) In the past 1.5 months, I observed a marked deterioration in 3 boys' ability to focus and retain material pre and post Dec holidays. The difference was marked enough that I had to stop and troubleshoot each case before I connected the dots into a pattern. I asked all 3 parents, "How many hours of device games did your boy get over the Dec holidays?"

Th answers were between 1 to 4 hours.

Wow! You might as well feed your child cocaine from a straw daily? Why don't you do that?

Why Do Device Games Compromise Focus and Learning Retention?
It really does not matter what games they are playing. My 3 students played Minecraft, Chess, Scrabble. Yet, when they returned to my classes, the drop in focus and retention abilities was obvious to me.

It DOES NOT matter what "educational" game the child is playing. The fact that the child is drawn to the game to the extent where he spends 4 hours a day glued to it and will not stop unless asked to, means that certain biological processes are taking place.

No matter the apparent "educational value" of the game, the biology does not change. It is all about dopamine and dopamine receptors.

Brain Needs Dopamine To Retain Learning
When dopamine (the happy hormone) and dopamine receptors connect at the moment you are learning new material or skills, the brain retains that material or those skills. If you don't believe me, click HERE. That is why happy children learn better.

Device Games Flood The Brain With Dopamine 
Device games flood the brain with dopamine in the same way cocaine or heroine do. If you don't believe me, click HERE.

If device games flood the brain with dopamine, and dopamine helps the brain retain learning, then isn't it good to expose children to as much device games as possible?

No, it is not.

How Do Device Games Change the Brain?
The problem arises when dopamine floods the brain. After that first moment of joy, the brain responds "by (1) producing less dopamine or  (2) eliminating dopamine receptors—an adaptation similar to turning the volume down on a loudspeaker when noise becomes too loud" (Source HERE).

With fewer dopamine receptors, the same high levels of dopamine from a computer game will produce LESS joy. You need higher and higher levels of dopamine to bind to fewer and fewer receptors, to produce the same degree of happiness. This is how an addiction forms. If the addiction continues unabated, you crave the stimulation above all else.

However, way way waaaaaaaay before your child gets to that stage of full blown addiction, his brain is already eliminating dopamine receptors in response to an hour of daily device games. At this stage, your child does not don't crave device games to the point where he loses control, but his brain's ability to retain material and skills learnt, is already compromised.

Way before he becomes really addicted, he already has fewer dopamine receptors for dopamine to bind to. Away from device games, his brain is already producing less dopamine than before he started playing device games. The net effect of this is 2-fold...

(1) With less dopamine produced binding to fewer dopamine receptors, his ability to retain material and skills learnt won't be as good as before he started playing device games.

(2) He doesn't have enough dopamine to synthesize into norepinephrine to help him focus attention.

What is Norepinephrine?
In the brain, norepinephrine increases arousal and alertness, promotes vigilance, enhances formation and retrieval of memory, and focuses attention (Source HERE). Children with Attention Deficit Disorder are often given Ritalin, which elevates norepinephrine levels in their brains and helps them to focus (Source HERE).

Dopamine is required for the production of norepinephrine. If the child is low on dopamine, he will be low on norepinephrine. If he is low on norepinephrine, his ability to focus will be compromised.

Practical Symptoms
So how does Dr. Pet know a child has been gaming?

(1) I know when I track back multiple weeks of HW and find that simple mistakes are repeated. See picture herein below of an intelligent child who makes simple mistakes repeatedly.

(2) I know when I compare the weekly facilitator behavioural report on each individual child and note a deterioration in attentional focus. I also know because I am in class to observe for myself the spaced out look and the drifting eyes.

We do not bother to collect nor archive quantitative data on marks. We do collect a vast amount of individual data on HW quality and in-class social behaviours because that is what allows me to know each child and to troubleshoot each child intimately.

The One Thing To Be Grateful For
Gaming does not seem to impair a child's ability to figure things out. That capability stays intact. However, the gamers have intermittent attentional focus and it is this intermittent focus that makes the child seem slow at figuring things out. At the point of time where he can focus, the ability to figure things out still seems intact.

One Hour A Day of Computer Games Is NOT Benign
Rules must be different for children than adults. An adult liver can process alcohol more effectively. There is legal age for alcohol consumption, no?  An adult's skin is more resilient to the sun. Adults can do things that children should not do.

An adult brain is NOT as sensitive as a child's. Children are supposed to learn like sponges. This means that their brains CHANGE FAST in response to stimulus. Their brains are way more sensitive than ours. Even an hour a day of device games is damaging. Even 30 minutes a day is damaging. Even 5 minutes a day is damaging.

Go ahead, give your 3 year old or 10 year old a tablespoon of vodka every day, or a cigarette every day. If you won't do that, why would you give them device games every day?

If you want to see the research on this, click HERE and read all the research papers. If you have time to only read ONE research paper, then click HERE for research that was done with Singaporean students. I have drawn out the following path model from this research done in Singapore. Note that gaming negatively affects school grades.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 Parent Seminars

The last time I ran these seminars was in 2015. Many people have been asking for them. If you wish to sign up for...

Positive Teaching Seminar: Click HERE.

HOT Skills Workshop: Click HERE.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dog Fashion

Our helper, M, has so much energy and so much initiative that she has turned our dog, Milo into her own person Barbie Dog. She picks out clothes from the pile of spring cleaning we recently did, and hand sews modifications so that they fit him.

She cuts a small hole and sews up the borders of the cut so that Milo's tail can freely wag. The waist lines are taken in and there is even a way to ensure that Milo can pee without wetting his clothes. I tell you, my darling M is wasted as a domestic helper. If she had been given a good education, this woman could be a CEO.

At first, we dressed him in my old modified night gowns but M complained that it he is a boy dog and should get to wear boy clothes. Lately, my dog has been wearing shorts. I have no idea where she scrounged those boy shorts from because they are certainly not stuff I have seen any of us wear.

So here goes... please enjoy the following fashion parade.

This is casual beach wear from Woofo Boss.

This one is a summer frock from Chiennelle. Chien = dog, in French.

This cute little 2 piece is from Oscar de la Doga.

Finally, a lovely ensemble for sleeping, from Woofagammo.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

DSA and My Kids

In the education of my children, I had certain core values that I held onto no matter what form the education system took. These core values were...

- Independent learning (i.e., no tuition)
- Extra-curricular interests
- Work smart not hard
- Character building

Parents Can Push Back at the System
If the education system pushed against my values, I simply pushed back. Back then, I did not realise that my values were that strong and that I had it in me to be such a badass. I just took one step at time and at every step, I looked to God for guidance.

If I thought that schools were testing more than they were teaching, I simply procured materials and made The Son study up on his own. Many people say it is easy for me because I can teach. The truth is, I am illiterate in Chinese and clueless in Science. Yet, my son had no tuition in Chinese nor Science. He really studied the materials on his own.

If I thought my son was given too much rote-learning HW, I pushed back and wrote excuse letters to protect his time. School HW was only done if it was worth doing. Heck! The Son skipped months of primary school at a time because school attendance did not help him learn.

Pushing Back At the Then System for The Daughter
More than a decade ago, in the days when academic results got you everywhere, and many parents considered CCA a waste of time, I jumped enthusiastically at the CCAs offered by The Daughter's school. I had always wanted to learn ballet so I made my little girl take ballet. She hated it with a vengeance. She hated everything about it from the frilly tutu to the leotard and the "hopping around like an idiot". That was my short-lived career in forcing things down my children's throats.

I asked The Daughter to pick a CCA, any CCA.

She picked gymnastics. Forgive me, but seriously? What is the difference between gymnastics and ballet? To my untrained eye, there was no difference at all except that gymnastics leotards were brighter and more colourful and I did not have to buy ballet shoes. The "hopping around like an idiot" looked pretty similar to me.

As the years went by, she looked less and less like an idiotic bunny in gymnastics class. Meanwhile, she scored in the bottom 25% of her cohort in the school exams. Yet, it never occurred to me to stop her 3 times a week gymnastics classes. When we left to stay in the USA, I searched out a local gymnastics club for her. The club sent her out of state for competitions. I didn't mind driving her out of state or out of town. It was her love and her passion. I supported it because it made her happy.

The last thing on my mind was DSA. I had no clue that there was even such a thing. Simply, I believed that children should develop in a CCA because it was fun and it developed them in ways that the 4 PSLE subjects did not. I also thought that since she was so dumb (scoring in the bottom 25% of her cohort) she might grow up and be a gymnastics teacher. That would be an honest livelihood.

Then, lo and behold, her coach gave me a DSA form to fill. That was how she got into one of those schools with the impossibly high cut off points.

Pushing Back At the System for The Son
Years later, when The Son got into primary school, the education system had become over geared academically. I pushed back at that system by deleting low value add HW and by helping him to skip school.

Clearly, since he did not go to school for months at a time, he could not take part in school CCAs. My belief in the educational value of a CCA was so strong that I searched for something he could do outside school. We tried many things from gymnastics (too inflexible and clumsy), wushu (too blur to remember the steps), swimming (not fun), horse riding (just a plain no)... and one day, I signed him up for a holiday class in shooting.

It was love at first shot.

I also looked askance at his choice of CCA. Shooting as a sport is nothing like Chow Yuen Fatt appearing at the doorway, a gun in each hand. Shooting is a very boring sport. Spectators are not allowed to cheer. The Son trained for hours at dry firing. This means you face the wall and hold up a gun and pull the trigger. Nothing comes out of the gun because it isn't even loaded. Pellets are costly and you spend more time practising without the pellets than with. Basically, you're just an idiot pressing on a trigger for 2 hours at a stretch.

Nonetheless, I was happy that he had found a CCA he was passionate about. I did not have to like it. He did. Diligently, I drove him to the shooting range 3 times a week and also drove him to his mini competitions.  I was completely clueless that his coach was actually THE coach of a school with impossibly high cut off points.

All through those years, The Son and I obsessed about the PSLE. To me, it was important to work towards a good t-score NOT because he needed to go to a good school. We had other contingency plans in case he did badly. I wanted him to do his best because it was a challenge. If he could face the challenge and win through to a good t-score then the PSLE years would be the crucible where fire would burn through The Son's dross to get to the gold within him. It would mould his character to go through that hell. Plus... literacy and numeracy are important skills in a holistic education.

No matter the stress of the PSLE, we still invested time in shooting 3 times a week because I did not want a son who could only study and do nothing else.

Then, lo and behold, his coach (also the coach of That School) gave me a DSA form to fill. I did not like That School because I did not like the ethos I had observed at the open house. So, I sat on that form and did not fill it out. Character development was also a core value I had in mind for my son's education. That School did not impress in this area.

Imagine that! I declined to DSA into a school with a far higher cut-off point than the Desired School. I had no guarantee that The Son would make the PSLE t-score to get into the Desired School. It looks like stupidity. However, again, I was pushing back against the system. This time, in the opposite direction. I could feel that the system was gearing up on the DSA front. I pushed back. I did not want my son to go through secondary school forced to compete tooth and nail in a CCA, to the detriment of his academics.

Why? Because I believe that academics are important too! He cannot be forced to dedicate the better part of 4 years of secondary school to winning medals for his school. There are so many other things to explore in secondary school. So, I challenged him to make it into the Desired School on the strength of his PSLE t-score. Then, he would have the flexibility to decide what other activities he wanted to do in secondary school.

Lessons Learnt
Looking back, what did I learn? I learnt that it is possible for parents to push back against the system. Don't allow the system to define what kind of childhood your kids have. Go with what YOU believe is a good education.

Like little boats on the sea, it is up to parents to steer their children and keep them afloat. The sea will have storms. The system may buffet you strongly one way or another. Parents have choices. Of course, if you decide to leave it all to the system, that is a choice too.

Unknowingly and without really planning it, I focused on bringing up my children according to the core values of education I deeply held. If the system pushed one way, I pushed back. If the system pushed another way, I pushed back the opposite way. I wanted a balanced and holistic education for my kids and I would not allow the system to force my hand. 

When CCA was not important in the system, I made my kids do it anyway. When schoolwork became too much, I faced his Teachers and said, "No, he will not do those pieces of HW," or "No, he is not going to school." When I was tempted with a DSA into a top boys' school, I chose to insist that my son make it into the Desired School through academics.

If parents focus less on top schools and elite programmes and just focus on raising their children...
- by respecting their non-academic passions
- by inculcating a good work ethic
- by requiring high standards in academic pursuit
- by requiring good character
... then it doesn't matter how the system changes around you, your children will still be considered top talent.

In future, if the system becomes over-geared towards the DSA, I can well imagine myself pushing back by refusing to drive my kids hard on CCA (enough is enough... no need too much) but instead, stressing more on what the system would be neglecting by then - literacy and numeracy.

By that time, when every other kid is a great sports person and few can write well and count well, then those who are more literate and numerate will be top talent. Rare skills are rewarded by real life.

CCA, character, numeracy and literacy are all important. The system can be over geared one way or other but it is my choices that will give my children an all round education. The sea can buffet my little boat one way or other, but it is my choices that will keep my boat straight. At the end of that journey, the straightest and the best maintained boat will get to shore.

I focused on giving my kids a holistic education, pushing back against the system courageously and rebelliously, when I had to. And then, what happened? They are both sought after talent in their cohorts despite going through multiple system changes.

It takes 21 years to grow a human. What kind of human do you want to grow? Focus on that and then hang on tight no matter what the educational system throws at you.

This post is a continuation from HERE.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The DSA Game

Now that the PSLE t-score is taken away, in favour of letter grades and some degree of randomness in the selection into secondary school, parents are pushing the boundaries of DSA.

DSA is the new frontier for kiasu-ism.

Primary School Pipeline
Already, coaches in the top IP schools have started a primary school pipeline, where they train children from families willing to pay.

You can't really blame the coaches because they have pressure to deliver medals. If everyone picked from a pool of untrained talent in Sec 1, then everyone is on a level playing field. However, with the DSA scheme in place, if one top school cherrypicks primary school talent then the other top school that just sits back to see what talent comes through the door... will lose out. It is not surprising then, that responsible coaches who care about winning, start primary school pipelines that they personally train. The advantages are many...

(1) the coaches already know the temperament of the child and whether the child is motivated and easy to coach,

(2) the coaches don't have to un-train bad habits in Sec 1 because they can personally make sure that each child develops the exact habits the coaches want,

(3) and the coaches gain a lucrative stream of side income.

Yet again, money talks. Parents with the means to fund primary school sports training, give their children a good chance at DSA-ing into the top schools.

There are merits to this system.

(a) It encourages parents to invest in areas of development outside of simply literacy and numeracy. Hence, we are no longer a nation of academic zombies.

(b) It ensures that we will have a pool of talent with highly competitive skills over and above their straight distinctions when they apply to Ivy League universities and other top universities around the world. Provided they don't blindly copy American or British practices, these people bring back to Singapore  a level of sophistication and know how that will help keep Singapore competitive.

(c) As a country, we do achieve the aim of developing each cohort holistically.

There are problems too.

(i) The DSA scheme is an expensive scheme to administrate. 16,000 students applied, of which 2,800 were accepted via DSA. That is 13,200 students who went for interviews and written tests without hope of making the grade. Think of the man hours it takes to administrate this scheme. I think we should revert to the system of 2 decades ago where schools would approach the top sportsmen they wanted to offer a place. Schools would scout for talent at the interschool competitions and they pretty much know whom they want.

(ii) The academic DSA scheme is unnecessary. The PSLE already tests academic prowess. Hence, why are droves of GEP scoring in the 250s accepted into schools with cut offs above 265? IQ is only one factor of talent. There is motivation. There is work ethic. Put motivation together with work ethic and IQ, and we get students who want to do well and are able to excel. These are the kids who should make it into the top schools. Someone with brains and no drive, is not top talent. There is no longer any GEP scheme in secondary. This alone is a silent acknowledgement that by secondary school, kids with slightly lower IQ but very high drive achieve more. I think we should remove the academic DSA entirely. If we have done away with the secondary GEP, there is no need to have academic DSA into secondary school.

Approached thus, the GEP Unit, GEP schools and GEP parents would need to work harder at ensuring a good work ethic and high drive in their students. This can only be good for the development of our best and brightest. Counter intuitively, building this drive may require adults to BACK OFF. See HERE.  

This post was written from a macro (not personal) perspective. In the next post after this, I will share my personal experience on how I approached the DSA exercise twice.

This post continues HERE.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

My Experience Shopping for Jewellery

I spent days searching for a wedding anniversary gift for me that was worthy of our many years of marriage. This year is a special year.

Not knowing the prices, I told The Husband that it has always been my dream to own a set from an internationally renowned jeweller. Let us call it Ahem International Jewellery. Also not knowing the prices, The Husband said "Ok! Anything you want! You pick! I buy!"

Sooooooooo sweet hor...

We later found out that the whole set that I wanted was priced at $27,000. At that price, my calculator went into overdrive. I decided to estimate the number of grams of gold and estimate the price of the diamonds. I counted left and I counted right. I couldn't help but decide that the Ahem International Jewellery's mark up was emmmm... indecently large. I felt a bit idiotic to hanker after an Ahem International Jewellery piece.

What was I thinking?

I compared with the pieces I found at the local jewellery stores. Firstly, the ones in the local stores were 24K gold or 22K gold. The Ahem International Jewellery's piece was only 18K gold. Yet, the pieces with more gold (and more substantial pieces too) were only a FRACTION of the Ahem International Jewellery pieces. So, what am I paying for? The material used was less pure and the prices were higher. Did not make sense to me.

How do these businesses survive? Who in their right minds would buy from them? You pay a lot for a whole lotta fluff that advertisements brainwash into you and get a little bit of real gold or gems. Fluff value, a lot. Real value, a little.

Ok... perhaps one is paying for true artistic design but if I really wanted to spend that kind of money ($27,000) I would get my own design custom made for me. Bespoke design. You cannot get more chi-chi than that. $27,000 for a mass produced design sold all over the world. No way! Paying for the design still made no sense to me. Again, how do these businesses survive? Who would buy from them?

Ok... my dream to own a set of jewellery from Ahem International Jewellery shrivelled up, crumbled into dust, filled my lungs and made me gag. Even if I could afford it, I would never buy it because I would then have to look into my mirror every day and see an idiot.

I already don't look pretty (therefore requiring jewellery to improve my looks), so why make it worse by looking stupid too?

Then, I had the next bright idea!! I would buy something with precious stones. So I started reading up about diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. I first found out that diamonds are not that rare a stone. People think they are rare only because the supply is controlled by the diamond companies. Any piece of diamond jewellery depreciates by 50% the moment you pay up. Wah! Like so, I might as well burn money in honour of my wedding anniversary. Ok... so diamonds are out!

I went down to 2 jewellery stores specialising in gemstones. One sales lady kept talking about investment grade gems. I stupidly explained to my husband via messaging that good quality sapphires would appreciate in value and had resale value.

The Husband responded thus, "You take the fun out of me buying you a wedding anniversary gift when you obsess about investment. Can't you separate gift and investment? I set aside the money to buy you something you like. It is expenditure, not investment. You are not supposed to sell it."

Aiyoooooooooo... so sweet hor... sayaaaaaang my hub to bits!

I later found out that there is no such thing as investment grade when you buy gemstones retail. If one wishes to invest in gemstones, one must buy from wholesalers or miners. The best is to buy uncut stones. This means that I must know my gems and I don't know the last thing about gemstones. How to invest? The sapphire sales lady showed me a ring with a HUMONGOUS sapphire in it that cost $28,000.

I took a picture for The Husband, who promptly got upset... "It looks like costume jewellery and you don't even wear jewellery normally. So, if you wear one so big, no one will believe it is real... you with tatty shorts, t-shirts and $10 shoes. If I give you a piece of plastic and a piece of sapphire, you know how to tell them apart?"

The most intelligent thing I could think of was, "I think the plastic makes a kok kok sound and the sapphire makes a ting ting sound?" Of course, I did not tell him that. My EQ is low but not that low. He was already angry enough to note that his wife was looking at a stone which was way above his budget.

A stone.

Today, I found out that people can make synthetic rubies and sapphires that cannot be differentiated from the real thing. Wow! That really makes me afraid to do any buying of any gemstone at all.

So, no gemstones for me either. Who would have thought that shopping for jewellery would be so hard? I think I will just ask for stocks and shares but I think The Husband will get upset again.