Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Hardy Boys were ahead of their time.

Well, the writing process was.  The editors and organizers invented the process of ghostwriting and it continues to this day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A free semester and Children's (parent's) dreams

One way to understand what the phrase "a different culture" really means is to look at the variety of ways the people of that culture think of health and fitness.  Coming from Canada, I am conversant with a dozen different sports games and had some mastery of one. At the same time, I am 85 kg (happily down from 95 a year or so ago and still descending) and carrying at least five extra kg and cannot sit comfortably on the floor for any duration.

Few of my students here in Korea can swim and while most can ride a bike, few own one or have actually ridden one in the past year.  Hiking is for old people (like me, so I fit in that way).  Many of my male students are as tall or taller than I and the vast majority are slimmer. Heck, the vast majority of Koreans my age are slimmer. And they are all flexible enough to sit or sleep on the floor habitually or by choice, even with a sofa next to them.

Few of my students do any exercise -or so they claim in a challenging foreign language - except for occasionally walking 100 vertical meters up the mountain our university is built on to reach their classes.

At the same time, Koreans are famous as sports stars.  Korean women are the world's best at archery and both genders typically medal in the fighting events at the Olympics (boxing, TKD, wrestling, archery, um, etc?).

What I've seen is that young Koreans and their parents make a very clear and long-term decision around the time they finish elementary school whether to bother with sports or not.  And if not, badminton, walking, jumping rope and hula hooping are the boring-but-grimly-practical ways they pretend to stay in shape.  Go hard in sports or stay home and jump rope.

The previous five paragraphs were all to introduce my thoughts on a new government initiative called the Free Semester.

Let me backtrack a little.  From the Joongang Daily.

The “free semester” program is aimed at giving middle school students an opportunity to explore their career options without heavy burdens from tests for a semester, one of the core pledges of the new administration’s education policy.
No one would object to the idea of fostering young students’ creativity and talent by freeing them from tough competitions to enter top schools, as the program prioritizes active debate and field trips over written tests for rote learning.
From GELPonline (PDF):
The objectives of Free Semester Program (FSP) are to provide opportunities for students to explore their dream and talent, and also to develop 21st century competencies including creativity, character building, social skills and self-directive learning skills by reducing burden of written examination (18th PTC, 2013; MOE, 2013). In order to achieve such objectives, every middle school in Korea is supposed to implement the free semester program' by 2016. During the free semester, students will be exempted from regular mid-term and end of the term examination and instead, the school curriculum will operate flexibly where students can enjoy various activities including career exploration.
...
First, the program aims to expand opportunities for students to nurture their talents and to experience ‘flow’ by engaging in their own interest. Second, the program also aims to introduce innovative teaching and assessment method in schools by allowing more teacher autonomy and encourage further development on students' creative thinking skills and cooperative learning culture. Third, the program encourages schools to play proactive roles in educational reform by forming flexible learning community. Fourth, voluntary participation from the parents as well as local community will be encouraged in order to build strong infrastructures for career exploration activities.
 Also from the GELP link:


Okay, so why did I start with a discussion of health and fitness?  Well, aside from writing this in a stream-of-consciousness format and not planning the essay before blogging, because the first link discusses athletes and how they fit in. Here is that link again (to the Hani) and an excerpt:

“We need education that teaches skating to Kim Yu-na and swimming to Park Tae-hwan.”

This was the message from Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Hwang Woo-yea during a May 7 visit to his alma mater. Hwang mentioned the two sports stars repeatedly while advertising the “free semester” system as a way of harnessing the “dreams and gifts” of middle school students young enough to be his grandchildren. His heart seems to have been in the right place, and his words weren’t exactly wrong. But the reaction from students’ parent was sharp to say the least.

“He wants me to ‘teach skating to Kim Yu-na’ without offering to buy a single pair of skates.”
...
Parents today are now channeling too much of their resources and efforts into finding “dreams and gifts” for their children. The problem, in a nutshell, is an acute shortage of education facilities and programs with public school support. And in a society where even dreams and gifts become stratified, there is little chance of developing the competitive talent of a Kim Yu-na or Park Tae-hwan. In a society where 80-to-20 odds are less a concern than 1-to-99, families that chase impossible dreams of skill end up without food on the table. This also explains why so many children, when asked for their “dream,” give a stable job like civil servant.
I have considered writing a Gladwellian book with the  title,"Slack: how life is tightening its bound and reducing wiggle-room and flexibility".  The title and conceit are satirical but the concept is not.  In Canada, children can have free time or go to camps that teach everything or nothing.  In Korea, children are sent to academic camps where they can study a few of the same subjects as their regular classes but in more detail and for longer hours.  I must admit I profit thereby as I often work at such camps and earn more at them than at my regular work.  There isn't a lot of slack time here for self reflection.

Anyway, the government appears to want to give students time to investigate their options and learn what they individually enjoy but for a child to study less than usually during that four month period means they could be at a disadvantage during the university entrance exam and. well, in Korea, nothing more needs to be said.  For those outside of Korea, the university entrance exam results controls what university you will go to and a job seeker with "Seoul National University" on his or her resume will be chosen first, regardless of what comes next on the resume.

In Korea, study and focus on education peaks in the months before the university entrance exam.  No Korean expects to study as single-mindedly even while at university.  Students have a chance to relax and be creative and inquisitive while at university but I feel like it is too late then.  They have already chosen a major and cut off some options by this time.  Further, a middle school student who explores options would think about dating, sports, games, the world and education while a university student in the same position looks at dating, soju, nervousness over military service, soju, and dating, then sports, games, academia...

I hope the Free Semester program takes effect and actually promotes the goals it is intended to and soon.  My son will be a middle school student two years and I want him to have these opportunities.
affg

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

preparations for this Semester's CBT video

Nearly every semester, the Little Guy and I make a new video reminding my students to take a required exam.  The exam is held outside of my classroom and I don't see their score or even if they actually took it until after the semester is over.  Every semester an average of two students per class do not take it.  It is worth twenty percent and the scoring gets tougher so ten or eleven percent is easy and nineteen or twenty a challenge.  It is a nearly free ten percent...if they remember to take the damn thing.

Anyway, we have fun making the videos and my nephew saw some and is interested in making his own Lego videos.  He's young enough that he knows he wants to make one, but doesn't know what it should be about.  He often works the CBT (the name of the exam) into his works.  So, for him and any others interested in very amateur work, here are some pictures of my preparation.

Something of a storyboard.  Enough to keep up organized but with lots of room for spontaneity.


Some of the video takes place in the real world but the Legos will act out the dream sequence.  For my nephew, note that I am trying to unclutter the background and keep it as well-lit as possible.

The figure on the bottom, in blue, is the protagonist.  He will be chased by the CBT monster in his dream.  When he decides to fight back, it shrinks and proves to not be that tough so there are three figures that will play the part of the exam.

Congratulations, Mr Scalzi!

My new favorite podcast is Surviving Creativity.  One worthwhile point that is framed by two humourous extremes is the income from their work.  While private, the bounds are clear.  They are making a satisfactory living while not making millions.  The create because they enjoy it, not because it is the path to fabulous wealth.

I think John Scalzi would say the same. He's a science fiction writer who has really put the time in and written a variety of stories in a variety of settings and seems to always be writing.

Well, I think Scalzi would have said the same.  Now, with a $3.4 million contract for thirteen books over the next ten years, he may be too busy buying diamond studded pets to have time to talk to the likes of me.  The rationale for the great deal is that while not often a bestseller at any one time, his books sell for extended periods - his back catalog remains valuable.

I've read four of Scalzi's books and have  mixed feelings about them. His Old Man's War series started great and might still be; I only read the first book.  His books Red Shirts and God Engines started with cool premises but seemed to fall apart, or at least not retain their power, at the end. Still, I've read four books; he's clearly doing something right.

The New York Times on his book contract.  Scalzi's blog.

His book You're not fooling anyone is on my to read list.
---
A book I am, yes, anxious about will be sent to my Kindle on July 14.  I am referring to the possibly senile Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman.  I want to love it as much as to Kill a Mockingbird but, ...

On the fifteenth of that month comes a less acclaimed book but one I am more certain will scratch the right itches.  Charles Stross's the Annihilation Score.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Doodlin': it's not (just) for problem students

Doodling can enhance learning and display a better understanding of the material taught.

I enjoy doodling as a teacher.  When I can explain a word or idiom with a picture, I get to work.  In nearly twenty years of teaching, my drawings have not improved so much as they have simplified; The essential elements of what I want are clear and the embellishments I wish I could add are missing.  I particularly enjoy drawing 'Yeopgi Yeong-eo" or Bizarre English.  I don't have a good example to hand but will add one to the post when the opportunity arises.

Suggestions from the link above - copy-n-paste wasn't working well so I printed the screen a few times (click to enlarge):


Many examples of sketchnotes are available at sketchnote army: they all look like they would have taken too long to do in real time.  Perhaps they were started in class and we are seeing clean notes derived from a rough copy done later. Rereading and rewriting your notes is a good memory aid on its own.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Surviving Creativity

I just found a podcast called Surviving Creativity and it seems to be about the process and business of creative endeavour.  The pod I listened to was an interview with Fantasy Author Sam Sykes.
Scott Kurtz, Brad Guigar, & Cory Casoni are in the comics biz and the focus of their Podcast is creativity in the New Media.
A lot of the pod was about recent controversy in Fantasy and Science Fiction's Hugo Awards.  Sykes did a great job of explaining the controversy without once revealing bias.  It seems that everyone in F&SF wants a taxidermied dead cat.  If they don't, Asimov will beat them with an oar.
The Pdocast has a twitter account and a Facebook page.  They have a Patreon page but don't seem to have a show notes or dedicated site.

The group had this to say about keeping or quitting your day job (I've put this in quotes but it is all paraphrased - I listened to the pod while driving and jogging):
Dads will always tell you to have a Plan B.  Experienced artists will tell you to never have a Plan B.
Dads have seen you fail so many times - you fell the first time you tried to walk, to ride a bike....  They want you to have a Plan B.
If you have a good Plan B, you will choose it over creative work.
Sykes had this to say about writing:
Work a little every day and you will get better.
On beating writer's block: try to have two or three active points in writing your story.  When you can't figure out how the action will progress at time A, move to time or place B and work through that.
I have only listened to one podcast but will be correcting that error quickly.  Good stuff.

--
It seems 'surviving creativity' is a bit of a meme. Cody Daigle-Orians has a workshop on the subject.  Scott Berkun has a long running series on how to avoid creative burnout.  Here are a few excerpts.

Survival tactics
Plan an escape. Take a day off and do the most dramatically easy but fun thing you can think of. Go see a matinee downtown, have a fantastic lunch, shop, browse, and walk. Be as indulgent as you can stand, and drag as many of your friends along with you. (Offer to return the favor with them when they’re burnt out.). Use a vacation day, or a sick day (Isn’t burnout a form of poor mental health?)
Laugh. Whatever it is you find funny, bring more of it into your life. Whether it’s certain people, films, tv shows, plays, books. Choose to laugh.
Beginning again


Break things into smaller pieces. What are the smallest meaningful pieces to work with? Work on a page. Can’t do a page? Work on a paragraph. Get down the smallest bit you feel you can manage, but do it. Like Guthrie said, take it easy, but take it. After you do one piece, find the strength to do the next one. If you can’t, go for a walk, call a friend, but then come back and try again. And on and on. One small piece at a time. If you’re lucky, once you’ve got a few pieces done, you’ll hit your stride and it won’t seem so bad. If not, just slug it out. At least you’ll be able to say tomorrow you did something today.
Look at the worst pieces of work you know of. The worst writing. The worst painting. The worst web design. Worst whatever. Do you feel anything when you look at the crap? Does it annoy you? Make you angry? Is there still a response there at all? Some energy somewhere in your gut? Can you redirect it?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Do we all behave as amnesiacs?

Drifting along on the status quo.  An article about memory and amnesia which describes how normal the amnesiac in the case study appears.
"But our waking life may involve less conscious reflection than we suppose. In 1999, the psychologists John Bargh and Tanya Chartrand published a paper, “The Unbearable Automaticity of Being,” arguing that our default state is reacting to the latest stimuli. We adopt the roles that our immediate environment provokes. Studies indicate that people are more attentive observers when wearing a lab coat; a taxi-driver’s surliness arouses a mirroring anger in ourselves. Because so much of our behavior is not mindful, it isn’t really stored away. After a busy workweek, we can’t recall locking the front door or what we hummed while washing our hair. Maggi told me that when she asks Lonni Sue, “How was your day today?,” she says, “I have to look at my schedule.” "
I am reminded of the phrase, "Right way, Wrong way, Army way".  We do things are we have always done them because it is intellectually easier.  I surf the Internet and waste time therein because it is comfortable.  I stuff the drawers of my dresser because I haven't bothered to sort and throw things away. Wait, when did this become about me?

Well, to continue.  I teach in a specific way because I use the textbook assigned to the class.  It makes sense because there are nearly sixty teachers leading between one and two hundred classes.   I keep meaning to dig in, find the core material and teach it my way on my own schedule. There is a written exam at the end of the semester but so long as I cover the same material in the same length of time, the route doesn't matter.  Still, that'd be a lot of work.  And for one textbook, it'd be nearly an impossible job because the book is so messed up -there currently is no way to link the material in the book coherently and not even the textbook itself tries to.  It'd be easier to coast on this.

I guess what we need to do is choose a few things that matter to us and be mindful about them.