An egg cracker

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Reflection 5: Big Ideas/Concepts in Geography

I performed a search online and chanced upon this website:

The Geographical Association has highlighted 5 key concepts that spans through geographical education. These concepts are:

  1. Uneven Development
  2. Interdependence
  3. Futures
  4. Sustainability
  5. Globalization

These concepts are chosen as they span through several geographical interests. These concepts are not just within the study of geography but they are multi-disciplinary in nature across history, politics, economics and science, etc.

In the teaching of geography, it is essential that we introduce these concepts at a more basic level to secondary students. These concepts are complex and multi-faceted thus it is important that students get acquainted with them at a lower, basic level. The geographical education at the secondary level also serves as a foundation course for students to study these concepts in depth at higher levels.

These concepts may seem abstract and difficult for students to understand at secondary level. Therefore, teachers should try to explain these concepts in simpler, easier to understand ways for students to grasp better.

For example for the concept of uneven development, teachers can give students two examples of countries; say a developed country and a developing country. The teacher can then lead students to describe the differences between these two countries and therefore relate the differences to uneven development. In this way, complicated concepts can be simplified and easily understood.

Reflection 4: Post Web Quest Blog

My group picked the topic of industries for the web quest package. Within the topic of industry, we specifically choose the “factors influencing location of industries” for the package. We chose this topic as industries is a very dry topic to teach thus having this lesson as a web quest lesson may excite students and make the learning of this “boring” topic more interesting and engaging.

Also, it is quite easy to come out with a scenario or case study for this topic. In our package, the student takes up a role of the project manager of an automobile company, responsible to find a suitable site to build a new manufacturing plant. The student is presented 3 sites with different characteristics and he/she needs to carefully compare the sites to decide on the most suitable site for the automobile manufacturing plant to be built. This scenario is very typical for the topic of industry as students will learn about all the factors influencing industrial location and evaluate which factors are more important for specific industries.

The use of web quest for this type of dry topics is very beneficial as learning a lesson online is still a refreshing experience for students. Students would be more interested in the topic and hopefully able to achieve all of the lesson objectives.

However, on the part of the teachers, it is not an easy task to design these web quest packages. It requires some a bit of time, effort and technicalities to complete each package. Nonetheless, this is the first time that I try my hands on creating one such package and it is a good learning experience.

Reflection 3: Post Fieldwork Package Blog

Designing this field study package is tough work. The topic for the field study package is a tough decision to make. We begin the planning of the package with a lot of zest and topics in mind: landforms, rivers, coasts, vegetation, agriculture, tourism, industries etc.

The first question we have: Local or Overseas? We wanted to venture out of Singapore initially. The reasons: 1) we want to take a break from all those stifling NIE assignments; 2) to tap into the abundant resources that our neighboring countries have to offer; 3) we think Singapore is a boring place to conduct fieldwork. However, time is not on our side and many of us are working on huge assignments within tight datelines, thus we decided to abandon our overseas field study plans.

The second question: Natural or Human? We feel that a field study package on physical geography is more challenging. Firstly, we are generally weak in Physical geography. Secondly, given the limited resources that Singapore has, it would be more meaningful to show students the remarkable natural landscapes that we have here. I would find myself more competent to conduct fieldwork on topics in Human geography. There are also more aspects of human geography to be explored within Singapore. I feel that the time we have in NIE is very limited therefore we should stretch it as far as we could to gather as much resources as possible. And I feel that for the sake of resource collection, a physical geography package is more precious than a human one.

The third question: Which physical geography topic to choose? Initially, we are interested in doing rivers and drainage system and coasts. However, due to constraint in Singapore, we decide to do with what we have coasts and vegetation (rainforest and mangroves).

A well thought out and well designed field work package is a very demanding job to do. Since the lesson is carried out outside the classroom, it is outside of a controlled environment. Therefore, the teacher has more responsibilities to carefully plan things to the very detail. The package spans through 3 phases: pre-fieldwork, fieldwork and post fieldwork. Each of the phases requires very specific and careful planning. And these do not even include the recee sessions that need to be carried out.

Field work is an important aspect for the study of geography. However, I can understand why is it that our own teachers do not bring us to many fieldtrips. There are simply too much work involved and too many risks to be taken. While writing this blog entry, I thought about the karimun trip that my geog teacher brought us when I was in secondary 3. All I could remember from the trip is the hotel stay, the times I had with my friends in our hotel room, the dirty food we eat, the prostitutes that we saw in the morning outside the hotel and perhaps some rocks. But I had forgotten all the geographical stuff that I am brought to see in the first place. I remembered that my petite female geography teacher can’t really handle us therefore our P.E. teacher came along. And during the night, they are both busy checking on us to make sure that we did not sneak out on our own. Well, all teenagers are like that.

The main issue I have in mind is manpower. MOE states that the ratio of teacher to students should be 1:20 for all trips. However in reality, it is often hard to get help from other teachers to help out in a field trip. Like what we illustrate in our vegetation field package, it is very difficult to lead 40 students and explain things to them during the trip. Therefore, a geography teacher needs to make a few trips to bring different groups of students and explain the concepts to them over and over again.

It’s really not easy to be a teacher.. And it’s even harder to be a geography teacher…

Reflection 2: Post Microteaching Blog

I went to class that morning (6th Nov, Monday 830am) with great enthusiasm and passion about the topic (Pollution). Having to deliver a lesson early on a Monday morning is a difficult task. Firstly, I got to get the lesson plans and worksheets ready on Sunday!!! (And the photocopy girl made a mistake and wastes a lot of paper!) Secondly, my brain is not functioning well so early in the morning and thirdly, the "students" look as sleepy as me. Handling sleepy students can really kill my enthusiasm by a great deal!

Lucky for me, my dear classmates did not simulate much problems for me. The most prominent and persisting problem I get is a slow learner in the class (acted very well by Mel). During the lesson, Mel interrupted many times to ask me to slow down and repeat myself or ask me to re-explain the things I’ve said. During the first few interruptions, I was patient enough to slow down and repeat my words for her. Subsequently, I really got quite impatient and sort of ignore her and ask her to just copy and understand as much as she could.

After the micro lesson, I reflected upon the way I handle Melissa and feel that I was indeed a little un-empathetic towards her. However, I was also thinking, how realistic is it that I will get a student with learning disabilities in my classroom.

This again link back to the whole discussion of inclusively we had in the other module (Individual differences). Should we include students with learning disabilities into mainstream schools? In the microteaching class, it is evident that Melissa is the only one with mild learning disability and the rest of the classmates are not empathetic to her special needs. There are many instances where the class asks me to move on and leave her alone.

I feel that the inclusion of students with learning disabilities into mainstream schools may not be in the best interests of these students. The success of the inclusion will depends heavily on the type of disability, the knowledge of the teachers and peers on the disability, the infrastructure of the school and the tolerance level of the teachers and peers.

Having a single student with learning disability in the class will create more stress for the teacher and more tension between that classmate with the rest of the class. However, it is my fault that I overlooked an important “teachable moment” in the microteaching class. Instead of focusing the lesson on pollution, I could have given a pep talk to the class discussing about the way they treat Melissa. I could have made use of the opportunity to teach students about inclusion, empathy and care for their classmate as well as for others. Character building is what makes the core business of education, isn’t it?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Reflection1: Pre-Microteaching Blog

My topic for microteaching is environmental issues. I chose to focus specifically on the causes and effects of air and water pollution in my lesson. This sub-topic is situated as the 2nd period within the topic of pollution. I chose this topic because I genuinely "feel" for this topic. The environment is undergoing great degradation as societies modernize. In the pursuit of economic benefits and development, the "health" of the environment is compromised. Although scientists and environmentalists have researched and raise numerous alarms on the state of our environment, efforts are insufficient to compensate the degradation that human had brought upon it. As years goes on, the environment is undergoing much serious problems at a much faster rates, the younger generations are to suffer the consequences that the earlier generations have planted. Therefore, it is of greater significance that the younger generations (i.e. our secondary school students) to be informed about these problems and participate in the measures to reduce these problems.
I believe strongly that the inculcating of right values and attitudes are more important in the attainment of academic achievement in education itself. This topic of environmental problems and pollution in particular is excellent to cultivate attitudes like accountability, social responsibility, civic-mindedness and care and concern for the environment. Students can also explore greater social issues like the uneven utilization of resources (developing Vs developed countries), power relations between countries etc.
The study of environmental issues is very dynamic and multidisciplinary in nature. The study of it goes beyond academic to include character building. There are very few topics to include moral development and this is one of the rare topics.
The approach I took to deliver the lesson is to relate pollution to current issues happening around us. Thus, my resources are drawn mainly from newspaper articles. For air pollution, the latest issue is the haze problem from forests burning in Indonesia. I choose to look into this case as singapore is affected by it and students can better relate the effects of pollution to their experiences. For water pollution, a current article reported that if the current pollution level continues, all ocean species will be extinct in 42years. It is an alarming report, hopefully to grasp the attention of the students. (Personally, I am quite affected by the news. So depressing!)
In the preparation of the lesson, I bought "The Blue Marble 2" textbook to better follow the new geography syllabus. However, I'm quite disappointed with the textbook. The most ridiculous thing is that the definitions are incorrect. The book do not define the concepts along the chapter, all the terms are defined only in a box at the end of the topic. I feel that it is taken for granted that students know what the concepts mean. The book gave wrong definitions of the concepts. For example, pollution is defined as "substances with harmful effects on life forms and structures in the environment" and water pollution is defined as "water contaminated by industrial and human waste", The definition of pollution sounds more like the definition of pollutants to me. The definition of water pollution sounds too narrow to me. The book defines air pollution as "substances with harmful effects to life forms and structures found in the air". This definition is so flawed. The substances are found in air or the life forms and structures are in the air? Some of the examples and explanations that the book provides are either inappropriate or unclear. To summarize, I'm very unhappy with the text.
Although microteaching and the lesson plan is not graded, I feel its quite a lot of work to do (I took 1 whole day to do lesson plan, worksheet and slides), especially when we have so many other assignments to do in NIE. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to my class on Monday :)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Creation of the Universe- A Chinese Mythical Legend
The geographical imagination of An Egg......
“In the beginning, an egg contained the entire universe.”

The Chinese observed nature and saw that things came into existence from eggs -birds, fishes, insects, reptiles and even mammals like humans.
After the egg is broken by Pangu (A Chinese mythical hero), the yin and yang separate from the chaotic mixture inside the egg and take their places in the universe.The lighter part (yang) rises to become the sky, ethereal and bright, like the air. The heavier part, (yin) sank to become the earth, heavy and dark, like rock and soil.
Pangu sacrifices himself to separate the earth and sky by standing on the ground and pushing upward. It is a slow process, and finally exhausts him. As the myth says, “He died in his sleep and his body gave substance and shape to the universe.”
Following Pangu’s death, his body parts became a group of mountains on which the sky rests, just as today there is a range of mountains named after Atlas. Thus, geographic features of the homeland are explained through myths.
Pangu’s hair and eyebrows formed the planets and the stars. His eyes formed the sun and the moon.
Pangu’s bones and teeth became the minerals and gems of the earth comparable to the Greek concept of the “bones of Mother Earth”
The hair on his body became grasses and plants, his sweat formed rain and dew, and the parasites on his body became animals and fishes.
The monster Gong-gong creates disasters like flooding and volcanic activity, cracks in the earth with fire coming out of them.

Welcome all to "An Egg Cracker''

Welcome to my geog teaching blog: An egg cracker.
I literally woke up one morning with this title in mind.
Why this title, I asked myself and these are the things i thought of to associate "egg cracker" with geography and the wider context of teaching in general...
1) Plate Tectonics: Mr. Yee mentioned last week that we can take a hard-boiled egg as the Earth. The crust is the egg shell. Shelving off the egg shell will reveal egg white (mantle) and within it we'll have the egg yolk (core). The geography teacher, as an egg cracker, will introduce the fundamental structure of the Earth and show the students what lies beneath.
2) An bad egg: An bad egg is someone who disappoints expectations. An rotten or bad egg looks fine on the outside until you crack it open. Let the teacher be the egg cracker and understand the student beneath the surface to avoid him/her falling short of expectations