Friday, November 25

Pen-Pals for Mixed Proficiency Classes

I've always had an affinity towards handwritten words.
I esp love hand-written letters.
It is personal. It is finite. It is unique.
There is a distinct romance there that really moves & captivates me.

By forgoing the ease of more modern means, it really communicates the heart of the person for actually arching uncomfortably over a table & torturing their hands in creation of the letter.
I feel as if someone is giving a small amount of his/her life to me on a piece of paper.

I believe that a deep connection via letters would really benefit my students & motivate them to learn the English language.
Last year, I played around with this idea by connecting my Form 1 students with a class of average-proficiency Primary 6 pupils in a SJK(T) Primary School in KL through their English teacher.
This year, I connected the same class (now in Form 2) with a class of high-proficiency Form 4 students in SMK Puteri Titiwangsa, KL, I taught during my practical. This time it was through a student rep & not a teacher.

My students really enjoyed writing, reading & esp receiving those letters.
They would always ask me when the new batch of letters would arrive & watch with glee every time I opened a package.
They'd give their pen-pals simple gifts like cute pens, key-chains & handicraft.
I believe they had a very meaningful experience.

However, there were some drawbacks:
1. Some pen-pals did not reply or did so half-heartedly.
Without the imposition of a teacher, some of the pen-pals did not bother to reply or write a good reply. Several of my students would often get extremely short replies informing them that their pen-pals were busy. Some would not get replies at all!
Are these KL students so caught up in their own worlds that they do not have just 1 hour to spare on an extremely meaningful letter to a less-fortunate child?
Next time I do this, I must involve a teacher.

2. Replies were very late.
I was able to force my students to reply within a week of receiving replies. However, the replies would only be received after 2 or more months.
Imagine the wait of my students & the lost time. Sometimes I told my students to write letters even when there was no reply.
Again, a teacher would increase the frequency of the letters.

3. Students copied/adapted from each other.
As should be expected from weaker students, some of them adapted the work of other students which was fine by me.
However, one student copied an exact letter of a classmate TWICE! I made him redo both letters.
The teacher must read students' work to avoid such instances as well as to avoid any inappropriate content.

I think this pen-pal idea was a resounding success. My students enjoyed it & it got them to use the target language in a meaningful manner.
Some of the pen-pals (those who really put their hearts into their letters) expressed their delight too.

I shall do this again next year with a school closer to mine.
I'm thinking SMK St. Elizabeth, Sibu, or one of the top schools in Miri.
Any teachers want to offer their classes?
Anyone have a suggestion for improvement?

Here are some students I would like to appreciate for playing a role in the Pen-Pal Project this year:
Stephanie Khor (Student Rep), SinYan, Violacea, Fatin Nadhirah, Natasha Eliyana, TzeYen, JiaYi, XinRo, JoeLynn, ManDee, SukKei, KarKee, Angela Tan, XingYi, Evelyn Lee, Faten Amira, Hazatul, EeMing, ZiShin, Neng Daris, Nor Maslina, Norasfarizan, Nur Hazimah, Nurizani Edora, Razrina Nazira, Shabrina, Syafiqah Rosli & Syarifah Jamiamirah.
You made a difference! =)

Friday, November 18

The Lytro Camera - Taking Living Pictures

Chech this video out it's a demo & introduction to the Lytro camera.

I've pretty much lost my patience in carrying a bulky DSLR around with me wherever I go & tired of getting suspicious looks from people.
For a while, I have been looking for a compact camera (since I don't have a phone camera & may not be getting a smartphone in 1-2 years). That's when I discovered the Lytro camera.

Don't like the shape. Don't like the colours.
It's a bloody ugly camera, I know. Bulkier than a phone in the pocket (but I guess it's made for school girls who carry handbags & update FB like every second).
But for RM1600 (US$499) or RM1300 (US$399), I can take pictures without the hassle of focusing or worrying about blurred/overexposed/underexposed/noisy images.
Image capturing is instant & I can focus AFTER taking the picture.

This is how the camera works: Instead of merely capturing the light that touches the sensor, this camera also captures the direction this light comes from. This allows calculation of where the light will be if the sensor is moved forwards or backwards: thus, the post-shot focusing.
Fascinating, isn't it?

Here are the drawbacks.
The picture resolution might be low: meaning smaller pictures only worthy of FB/personal viewing.
Apple like business model: meaning everything is centralised. Lytro pictures are edited & shared through the Lytro website via flash. No mention of whether the pictures can be edited locally on a computer.
It is currently only available for MAC users & only in the US but such a revolutionary piece of technology will pretty soon be available all across the world. They're also working on a windows version.

Once it is out next year, I'll wait a while for people to try it & share about it on the net before I decide on getting one.
Besides, the technology might still be too young to be worth the hefty price.

Meanwhile, this year's expansion to my photographic repertoire will be a speedlight. I've been wanting to get one for a long time. It will probably help me take better pictures.
I complain about bulk & yet I'm going to add even more bulk to my DSLR by purchasing the Nikon SB-900 speedlight at RM1600 (US$495).
Will look for it cheap when I'm in Singapore this Christmas! =)

Friday, November 11

The Flower

Scheduled at 11:11 11/11/11.
hahahahaha~~ I'm such a nerd.

Anyway, after reading the abysmal entries into the karya section of my school magazine by my best students, I wrote this poem to show them how it's done.
I actually wanted to write an adorable & interesting story but, at this time of year, I am far too buzy.
If this year's magazine were to be produced late, I might actually have time to slot one in & you'll be the first to read it here on my blog! =D

Anyway, enjoy this simple & short poem.
What am I writing about? Share your thoughts!

The Flower
taken from
There is a flower particular as can be
Not a flower you’d commonly see
She beams just like the sunlight
She warms the world just right

There is also a busy bee
From work be so weary
She’ll look into his eyes
And she’ll tell him no lies

They danced in lovely weather
It’s short their time together
A moment to remember forever
Depart he wished he’d never

Though the busy bee must go
Oh how he’ll miss her so
In time they’ll meet again
In meadows and summer rain

- Mr Yong, 2011

Monday, November 7

Lanjak Entimau Forest Reserve

After hearing countless stories from my fishing sifu, Wesley, about super gigantic rare fish catches in the Lanjak Entimau Forest Reserve & reading about it in a magazine article he wrote, I was really hoping for a chance to experience the deep forests, inner rivers & their life-threatening rapids for myself as well as take photos to remember it as a must-do-before-you-die once-in-a-lifetime activity.
Such high hopes & expectations were doomed to be torn down & trampled on esp when travelling in a large group & following the plans of other people.

It was 6-7 hours upstream to the forest reserve resort & 4-5 hours back.
The boatride was an adventure on its own. In the 6 / 4 hours, we experienced all the seasons of a tropical heaven: super sunny sunburning hot, heavy painful liquid droppings & cool cloudy goodness.
Let's not forget the welcoming splashes from the swollen debris-ridden milo river.

The resort was a pleasant sight to behold.
3 buildings set on a hillside: 1 was the reserve office while the other 2 were lodgings for visitors.
I was informed that the paint job was new. Previously, there was no paint & the buildings had beautiful natural tones of timber hardwood.
We lodged in the 2nd floor of the building on top of the hill. There were 4 rooms, 2 large common toilets, a large living area, balcony, kitchen & back-veranda. Very clean & well-maintained.
The guestbook reveals the frequent patrons: government servants, YBs, international travellers & esp Japanese scientists (looking for Godzilla?).

We had 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches & 1 dinner of a strict Yo's canned Chicken Curry + rice, Curry flavoured Maggie Mee & crackers diet until we found other sources of sustenance.
Every mouthful was pure mental torture & painful for the tastebuds yet tired bodies & empty bellies left little to fussiness. It was either eat or starve.
However, we had plenty of Cap Apek (the #1 alcoholic beverage of the locals) to put us out of our misery.

I expected everyone to do everything together but, the next morning, one group left to explore the inner parts of the river, another to fish around our area & our group was left at the resort to play poker cards until we realised that making such a long journey into the deep jungle just to sit indoors & play cards was plain idiocy.
We decided to commandeer a boat & do some exploring of our own despite protests of not having enough fuel for the return journey from the person who was supposed to take us out.
So the 2 other boats could burn fuel all day & yet we cant? Ridiculous! Shut up & go drink Cap Apek!
That's what he did while we took a boat out to find fern & fish just before lunchtime.

We didn't manage to catch any fish but another group did & we shared what we had during lunch.
We made Ikan Semah Pansoh (Semah fish cooked in bamboo), fish sup & stir-fry Paku Pakis (ferm). A welcome change from canned chicken curry & rice.

During the late afternoon, we went out again to enjoy the clear waters & rocky shores. We made the best of our time there & although I was deeply disgruntled & dissatisfied, I was glad to be able to spend a weekend with some of the best people from work.
These guys made the trip special. Looking forward to more trips with them in the future.

Meanwhile, I am determined to return to Lanjak Entimau next year with my sifu.
There was so much in-river that I missed: the water-sculpted gigantic rock formations, superfish & the goodness of being near the heart of mother nature.
I must return. I must.
When I do, it's not going to suck. In fact, it's going to rock.

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