Friday, December 30, 2011

Enough about Pirates Already

Isn't it time that children's books and cartoon shows about pirates were stopped? Why does the world continue to romanticize murderers and plunderers?

Talk of a pirate to a child, and her eyes twinkle with delight. Most kids think a pirate's costume is fun. Kids' TV channels have shows about pirates singing and dancing about their treasures.

How do you reconcile that with the stories of people held hostage by Somali pirates for months? Or that of the old French lady who was kidnapped by pirates from her holiday home in Kenya, who later died? Or that of the four sailors killed by pirates at sea recently? How can we see stories of such horror on one TV channel and cartoon shows glorifying pirates on another and feel everything is fine?
If I never see a pirate-related show on TV or merchandise in stores, it will be too soon. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Birds of Orchard

Yesterday, after a very long time, I found myself at Orchard Road. I was alone, walking from Center Point to Orchard MRT, taking in the sights and sounds of Singapore's main shopping street, decked up like a bride for the festive season. The main street had blue and white lights strung overhead every few meters and the shopping malls had their own golden colored lights. Though it was drizzling, there were people everywhere, some families with kids posing for pictures, some teens laughing loudly as only teens do for reasons known only to them, and some old couples trudging along. Traffic was heavy and as usual noisy.

Amid all this, I became aware of a noise rising above all the human-made noises -literally. Above my head, on the tall trees lining the street, were thousands (had to be thousands) of birds chirping away, calling in the end of their day. The noise was deafening, drowning even the sound of traffic. Hear for yourself.

Who were they calling? Their partners? Kids? Or their friends? What were they saying? Goodnight friends goodnight friends? Or come here come here I have a good spot here? Why was Singapore's brightest and busiest high- (and low-) fashion street their home and not the nearby Botanic Gardens? Why do these birds continue to bless us preoccupied and indifferent creatures with their presence, adapting kindly to the pollution, lights and noise we can't stop making?

I really would like to know.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Preschool ARCS

Being a second-time mom after a gap of 14 years has made me pay attention to many things I missed the first time. For example, I don't recall much of how Atreya learned to read and write as a young child, primarily because I was quite a hands-off mom the first time around.

This time with Aloka, I am totally involved, so much so that I get quite anxious when I think of all that she has to learn. Just a few weeks back, I was quite cross that English language had to have lowercase and uppercase letters (unlike Hindi), something that had never occurred to me in all these years. It's another matter that she picked up the uppercase symbols with no help from me by just playing some spelling games on the iPad.

Another difference in me as a second-time mom is that I have been immersed in Instructional Design for several years and can't help but look at every thing through the lens of ID. This article is a result of a day filled with writing about ARCS in a proposal and an evening spent working with Aloka on numbers and words.

Keller described three strategies of gaining attention: perceptual arousal, inquiry arousal and variability.

To get Aloka's attention, I use variability of media the most. A session on numbers typically involves number magnets that she can move around and paper/pencil to practice writing. I also have a few number matching games downloaded on the iPad, but she outgrew them pretty fast. For reading and writing, we have puzzles, iPad games, activity books and the good old paper and pencil. If I see her losing interest, I often just change the medium.

Another technique that works very well for both of us is humor. It's a sure shot way to get back her flagging attention. So, if she writes a letter or number that is not as straight as it should be, I ask her if it's about to fall because another naughty number tripped it. Or when she had trouble distinguishing between 13 and 30, I told her that thirty has the "tea" sound and when she serves tea to her guests, she must remember to put the saucer under the cup- the saucer being the number 0. Now every time she writes 20 or 30, we make slurping sounds and have a laugh.

According to Keller, there are three strategies of making content relevant to learners: goal orientation, motive matching and familiarity.

Fortunately for me, Aloka is driven in many areas of her life by competitiveness towards a particular friend called Medha. The way she dresses, prefers her hair tied, eats her food, plays games- it's all done with the sole intent of doing them better than Medha. Now, her goals and motives for learning are also aligned to that goal- do better than Medha! The best part of it all, I didn't have to devise this strategy- she came up with it herself.


The three strategies described by Keller to make learners confident are learning requirements, success opportunities and personal control.  

The strategy I use frequently with Aloka is opportunity for success. Giving her stuff she is good at every now and then, and not just at the beginning, works wonders. When she is struggling with her d's and b's, I switch to her favorites like t's and f's for a while. Reminding her of her past success also works very well- so I often show her old worksheets she had done and talk about how well she had done yesterday.

Keller described three strategies of increasing the element of satisfaction. These are intrinsic reinforcement, extrinsic rewards and equity.

No rocket science here- extrinsic rewards are what work with Aloka. Of course, the type of rewards I use are based on my understanding of her. She craves for my approval, so simple words of appreciation and a hand shake after each victory is all that is needed most of the time. Sometimes, I call Atreya or Mallika to show how well Aloka has written something. And the age old "stars" never fail- she is a sucker for stars.

An aside: One would think that everyone would know that kids need approval/rewards but its not so. I recently downloaded a spelling app on my iPad, in which a picture of an object is shown and you drag and drop appropriate letters to spell the object's name. To my surprise, all that happens after you have correctly spelled a word is that the next arrow gets enabled. No music, no sound, no visual change! Aloka played that game twice before ignoring it completely, although it seemed to be of the right level of difficulty for her. On the other hand, a much simpler game, in which she had to click on a letter that was being pronounced, had her attention for a long time and she still gets back to it every now and then. The difference? The letters in the second game had little arms and feet that danced and moved if she got it right- the reward you see! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Queen-Sized Spa Experience

The year was August 2007. I was just done with National Day Parade- exhausted after months of hard work compounded by weakness from a very low hemoglobin count. Vasanta, Shalini and I, three BFFs at that time, had planned a short trip to Chiang Mai starting August 10, the day after the National Day.

The first thing we did upon reaching the hotel in Chiang Mai was to look for a spa. We chose a beautiful place within walking distance from the hotel. Inside, I went for what they called a Queen Spa, a three-hour extravaganza- after all, I deserved a treat after working so hard for the last six months. It was the most expensive offering they had, but quite reasonable as compared to Singapore.

The room I was taken to was breathtaking- fragrant and royal. Soft music was playing. There were tropical flowers in several vases around the room. And the best part was an attached outdoor bath area, which was private but gave the sense of openness. As I lay down on the soft bed, wider than the usual narrow spa bed, I let out a sigh- it was time for a relaxing 3-hour experience. I couldn't wait for the masseuse to knead away the fatigue from my tired body.

The masseuse started talking softly, asking me about Singapore. She then asked me in her soft voice if the pressure of her hands was OK. I said it was perfect. Suddenly, she wasn't speaking so softly. Her voice sounded loud and somewhat demanding. I turned back to look at her and was quite surprised to hear her say "Time for a shower"! I looked at the clock on the wall and was shocked to see that three hours were up! I had slept through the entire period!

Mind you, I didn't just doze off as many people do during a massage. I was knocked out as if unconscious and have no recollection of anything at all, not even turning over, in that 3-hour period.

So that was my first and only Queen Spa experience...more like queen-size experience since the only thing I remember is lying down on the large comfortable bed! I sometimes wonder if the masseuse realized I was fast asleep and decided to take a snooze herself. If she did, who would blame her?