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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.