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Failure Management: Learning Goal Orientation

Mr Khemistry

Failure Management: Learning Goal Orientation

Hi all, here it is, strategy #7 Failure Management: Learning Goal Orientation, from Dr Lee’s ‘Internal Drive Theory’ book. If you have not read the first six strategies, click here.

In this chapter, Dr Lee shares three kinds of goal orientation or mindset (paraphrased) :

  1. Results orientated.
  2. Risk orientated.
  3. Growth orientated.

Kids or even adults with results orientation focus only on the results. Once they meet with failure, they give up. Because the results tell them that they cannot do it.

Those who are risk orientated, looks at all the possible risks and never attempts to do anything. Another way to describe this condition is the fear of failure. This is very prevalent in our society, especially in the public sector. The mindset is one that says, ‘I don’t want to take risks at all, i want to be safe and comfortable. Nevermind if i never accomplish anything significant.’

The growth orientated mindset is the one we want to cultivate in our student/child. So that they view failures as a chance to learn from the experience. To grow in wisdom, knowledge and everything else. 

Challenges in cultivating the growth orientation mindset

  • Emotional impact
  • Wrong person adopting the attitude i.e. teachers and parents

Think about it, in Life, most of us learn from trial and error. When did we stop learning from errors and mistakes? When did we start getting frustrated and giving up on doing something worthwhile? 

To quote my favorite speaker, Mr Jim Rohn, ‘Don’t say i’ve got to do it. Say i get to do it.’ The first part has the victim mentality, of being forced and not having a choice. A simple shift in the verb brings us from being the victim to being a enthusiastic person who is privileged to do it.

Another quote, ‘Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.’ Shift in perspective, it’s not about the challenge, it’s about YOU!

Lastly, another quote from Mr Rohn, “I’d tell you how risky Life is, you’re not going to get out alive~. The Englishman says, ‘if that’s how it’s going to be, let’s give it a GO!’ Right~, give it a go!”

Remember to IMPART the growth attitude. Ask them what did they learn from the failure. Because most will. Get them to scrutinize their study strategies. 

Many people have remarked that A level H2 Chemistry is one of the hardest subjects to study for. But because some students did well for O level Chemistry with last minute work, they are lulled into complacency.

Prime them right from the start, get them to write down what do they expect to score for tests/exams. Then remind them AFTER they get back their results. Inculcate the growth mentality into them. When they can persist on their own conviction when faced with challenges, the battle is half-won.

That’s all for Strategy #7, hope you’ve found it useful 🙂 Go to strategy #8!

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2019 Mr Khemistry Chemistry A level results

Mr Khemistry

Congratulations to all students for successfully completing this challenging journey! I am glad to have been part of your A level Chemistry journey 🙂

whatsapp from student









Our Centre’s results for 2019 A level H2 Chemistry:

53{8445fa0408f68c331c03e03f10d6a7bff33fb7168cc52e9b2191ddf5ec3671a6} – A

88{8445fa0408f68c331c03e03f10d6a7bff33fb7168cc52e9b2191ddf5ec3671a6} – A and B

100{8445fa0408f68c331c03e03f10d6a7bff33fb7168cc52e9b2191ddf5ec3671a6} pass

Very glad for those who did well. Proud of all of you who put in your best effort.

Those who didn’t do as well as expected, dust yourself off and learn from this experience. We are not patronizing you when we say this is a small setback in the grand scheme of Life, it really is.

Those who did well got a headstart but nothing is stopping you from catching up later right? Remember Life is a marathon, every day is a gift, don’t live in regret. 

All the best!!!!

By the way, if you are interested in joining us for H2 Chemistry Tuition, click on the whatsapp icon or call icon and get in touch!

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Strengthen Self-Efficacy: Difficult Victories

Mr Khemistry

Strengthen Self-Efficacy: Difficult Victories

This is strategy #6 from Dr Lee’s book, ‘Internal Drive Theory’. If you haven’t read the first five strategies, start here.

First of all, Dr Lee defines self-efficacy as a belief one has about one’s capability to perform. Not to be confused with self-esteem, which is a sense of self-worth.

Self-efficacy is very specific and we would be talking about self-efficacy in school, specifically towards academic studies like Chemistry. E.g. i have low self-efficacy about my ability to bake a cake. But i have high self-efficacy about my ability to teach ‘A’ level JC H2 Chemistry. I feel confident that i can help students to overcome their challenges in studying Chemistry.

A quote from motivation researcher, Prof Gary P. Latham, “Given the same low level of performance, people with high self-efficacy exert effort and persist until they have mastered the task, whereas those with low self-efficacy view their poor performance as a reason to abandon their goal.”

Learning new things is always tough, so we need to inculcate high self-efficacy in our students/child to press on. There are three ways to develop high self-efficacy:

  1. When others believe you can (Tutors can fill this role)
  2. You observe a role model who could (One of the more diligent classmates could fill this role)
  3. Experience your own Difficult Victories (most effective way, personal breakthough. One example is the fire-walk done during Tony Robbin’s seminars)

Challenges in providing Difficult Victories

  1. Parents/Teachers rush in to help – As a parent and teacher, i know that it’s sometimes better to let the child/student struggle with the problem. To wait for them to answer the question rather than giving them the answer. But we are impatient.
  2. Parents/Teachers fear failure will cause the child/student to give up. So we set our expectation too low, set the test to easy.
  3. Parents/Teacher live vicariously through their child/students. Naturally we want to see them succeed, not fail. We need to allow them to taste failures (where there is no serious consequence). So that they will experience the exhilaration of overcoming a difficult task.

How to provide Difficult Victories 

  1. Set the difficulty to be a stretch for them. More than what they can comfortably achieve. (Difficult as Schools will need to answer if the failure rate is high)
  2. Help just enough, so that they own the success process. (Try not to spoon feed them too much)
  3. Scaffold the process and set them up to succeed. (One of my teaching strategy is to tell them what i will test them later on)
  4. Prevent them from giving up, by using the previous five strategies. (Emotional Connection and Rapport is vital here)

It is particularly difficult if i may add, at A level Chemistry. The student fails every SINGLE tests and exams even after working diligently. This is very different from O level Chemistry where drilling will get you across. Drilling at A level H2 Chemistry will only work for basic questions, not so much for application questions. So tutors will have to make sure that they actually understand the concept rather than memorizing the model answers.

That’s all for Strategy #6 Strengthen Self-Efficacy: Difficult Victories. Hope you learned something from this article 🙂

Go to strategy #7!

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RIVR for Learning Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Random, Intermittent and Variable Reinforcement (RIVR)

This is Strategy #5 RIVR from Dr Lee’s book ‘Internal Drive Theory’, if you haven’t read the first four strategies, click here.

In this strategy, we look at using rewards to help influence the child/student’s behavior. 

Firstly, we have to distinguish between ‘approval’ and ‘reinforcement’. Approval for the right behavior should be constant, however, the reward should be RIV (random, intermittent and variable). An example she uses is the Jackpot machine. Since the rewards is RIV, the person is motivated to keep on pulling the lever in the hope of getting the intense pleasure of hitting the jackpot. This is why some are addicted to gambling. A chemical released in our bodies called dopamine helps to reinforce this addiction. 

What to Look Out for When Using RIVR for Learning Chemistry

  1. Use a reward that is viewed by the child/student as highly positive. 
  2. Rewards needs to be given immediately after the desired behavior for there to be a tight link.

How to use RIVR for Learning Chemistry

  1. When there’s a spontaneous RIVR in class, celebrate it together with them. This elevates their happiness to exhilaration.
  2. Make it memorable so that they will want more.
  3. Avoid bribes or any physical things/toys/gadgets that is tangible. It may cause the child/student to associate the happiness with the bribe rather than the joy of achievement. (Example: Economic tuition teacher gives plane tickets and ipads for test prizes)
  4. If you’re a parent, use hugs and lots of verbal encouragements. Even more play-time than usual will cause a positive reaction.

Dr Lee went on to talk about the use of punishments to deter undesirable behaviors. It is mostly the reverse of RIVR, we need to choose a punishment that is intensely painful (thus memorable) to the child. It does not have to be a physical punishment, it can be a verbal one. However,  we need to be careful that the child/student does not link the punishment to studying. The child/student need to link the punishment to the undesirable behavior.

An important point was that parents should not use RIVP when they are not in full control of themselves, i.e. when they are very angry. This may cause the parent to inflict more pain than necessary. 

Linking results to effort

Sometimes, the punishment might simply be inflicted by Life itself naturally. In that case, parents and teachers just need to help link it back to the undesirable behavior. We need to avoid adding salt to their wounds when Life inflicts punishment. Remember to keep our Emotional Connection (strategy #2) strong. We could keep a private record of what the students have not done throughout the term and show them the correlation when results are out.

Alright, that’s it for strategy #5, RIVR for learning chemistry.

Go on to strategy #6.

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ps: A classical experiment done by Pavlov on dogs was one of the pioneers in conditioning studies. 



Informational Feedback to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Informational Feedback to Learn Chemistry

We’ve come to strategy #4 from Dr Lee’s book, Internal Drive Theory, Motivate Your Child to Want to Study. If you haven’t read the previous three strategies, start here.

This ranking of feedback is based on my own personal opinion, not from the book. The idea is, we need to get a good balance between giving detailed feedback and time spent doing it. When i was a school teacher, i fluctuate between level 1 and 2, depending on how much time i had to mark the scripts. Not surprisingly, students were unable to improve much based on level 1 marking. With level 2 marking, they only know that some keywords are missing. Hardly actionable. When i observe the teachers who took time to give detailed feedback, most of the time, their students were able to realise their misconceptions and improve. 

Level 0 – No feedback 
Level 1 – Right or Wrong. Tick or Cross. Ok or Not Ok. (Good enough for some calculation questions)
Level 2 – Tick or Cross with some comments. “Missing key words”, “Wrong Spelling” etc.
Level 3 – Tick or Cross with detailed feedback. “Dipole moment on wrong atoms, missing hydrogen bond label”

People tend to get discouraged if no feedback was given over a long period of time. We need to shorten the feedback loop since children tend to get discouraged easily.  In short, we give our child/students a little dose of emotional boost to keep them going. 

What to Watch Out For

  1. The right difficulty level. Need to be careful to give them tasks which is attainable but requires a stretch of their abilities. We all have a circle of competence, learning takes place just outside of this circle. We muster our available resources and wits to tackle the problem. And in the process of solving the challenge, we enlarge our circle. The problem comes if the task is WAY out of our league, more so for children/students. When they see no way to tackle the task, they get discouraged and give up immediately without trying.
  2. Language feedback. In qualitative answers for ‘A’ Level JC H2 Chemistry, students are expected to use scientific terms to explain chemical phenomenon. Something which they could skim over in ‘O’ Level Chemistry. They could still get some credits for using layman’s terms to describe chemical processes. However, at ‘A’ Level Chemistry, they will be penalized quite a bit. I would give them weekly mini-quiz on standard ‘A’ Level descriptive questions and mark their work. This allows me to quickly see if they are able to use scientific terms correctly.

Dr Lee also demonstrates the use of a marking scheme (like a rubrics/scoring guide) in increasing detail as the child/student gets more advanced. Rubrics would have to be customized to the child/student’s level. Sometimes, a negative rubric could be used to call attention to and weed out some undesirable traits.

That’s all for Information Feedback to Learn Chemistry! Go to Strategy #5 RIVR and RIVP!

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Study Process to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Study Processes to Learn Chemistry

The next strategy listed by Dr Lee is called “Study Process”, if you haven’t read the prior two posts on the first two strategies, click here to start.

It’s basically forming good study habits together with your child/students. I see it as an extension to the first strategy, ‘Structured Choices’. The only difference is that ‘Study Process’ involves the results as part of the cycle. She argues that focusing on results will set the child/student up for frequent disappointments. However, focusing on the process is rewarding as the child/student is competing against themselves only. The sense of progression will also be very motivating.

As parents and teachers, when we focus on their study process instead of just the grades, they too will not place too much emphasis on their grades. Having said that, we can still look at their answers to get an idea of their thought process. It would be even better if they are able to articulate why they were stuck or made that particular mistake. If it was a calculation error, it is easy to rectify. But a conceptual error at Advanced Level could be a long list of misconceptions with its roots deeply embedded from lower levels.

Learning and Drilling

One point which she makes in the book i would like to elaborate on, she mentioned that doing more of the same (wrong) process will not change the results. Also we need to distinguish between the learning stage and the drilling stage. In the learning stage, they are allowed to refer to materials and search the internet for answers or explanations. But in the drilling stage, they are doing exams questions under timed constrain and marking their answers to check for mistakes.

Most parents and teachers do not distinguish the two, which works fine when they are at lower levels. However, at Advanced Level Chemistry, just drilling and checking the answers, they still wouldn’t understand. To check their understanding, all we need to do is to slightly tweak the questions. You will quickly realised they can’t solve the new (slightly tweaked) problem.

Image result for frustrated

Refining the Study Processes to Learn Chemistry

Your students/child is the best judge of whether they have understood the learning objective. Some sources call it the “Aha!” moment. It is when their understanding of the topic suddenly click in their mind. Sometimes it’s described as if our minds are in a fog, then when we finally understood the solution, the fog clears and we can see what was it that was troubling us.

So when the child/student feels that the process helps them learn better, they will be able to handle different variations of the particular question. At A levels, it is important that they are able to learn the concept rather than just memorizing the information. One of the learning outcomes is they have to apply their knowledge and make predictions for new contexts. So if they have been just drilling all the way til JC, they will find it very hard to score quality grades.

That’s it for Strategy #3! Go to Strategy #4 Informational Feedback to Learn Chemistry 🙂

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Emotional Connection to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Emotional Connection to Learn Chemistry

For her second strategy, Dr Lee spoke at length about an “Emotional Connection” between parent and child. This is what the teaching fraternity refers to as “Rapport”. (If you hadn’t read my post on the first strategy, click hereIn layman’s terms, it means that ‘if your students likes you, they will do anything (your homework, tests, assignments etc) for you. And most likely they will do it well.

Why? Because they want to be in your good books.

This is a handy tool to have in our teaching know-hows but it’s a double-edged sword. Because if students hate you…GG haha. You mean know it as mental fortitude or grit, determination. There’s a TED talk that describes it as the X-factor which differentiates the people who become successful and the people who don’t. Watch it here.

Motivation, which is the main crux of her book, depends a lot on this “emotional tank’. Learning new things is difficult, learning chemistry at advanced level

Image result for difficulty level asian meme 

So the rapport between students and teacher, child and parents, helps to see the student/child through tough periods. ‘A’ levels is one of the toughest period in a young person’s life. If the child has a strong peer group or a tutor that can guide them through, with good resources, it’s half the battle won.

As parents and Teachers, we can build this emotional connection with our child/students by not sabotaging it. How?

How NOT to Break the Emotional Connection

By not venting our frustrations at work on them, by not projecting our deepest insecurities on them. Being angry at the student/child distance them from us, causing them to activate their self-defence mechanism. And when there is a wall or divide between parent/child, teacher/students, they will choose to withdraw. As a result, they lose this emotional connection, get frustrated and give up trying.

In the Harvard Teaching and Learning course, they say that the lesson started 15 minutes before the bell. What are you learning about them in those precious minutes? (For those in the corporate world, “The sale happened (or was lost) before the customer ever stepped into your store.”)

Ok, that’s all for now. See you in strategy #3 Study Process to Learn Chemistry!

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Structured Choices to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Using Structured Choices to Learn Chemistry

I have been reading this book recently, by Dr Petunia Lee.

Image result for internal drive theory

The first strategy she mentioned is giving the child structured choices. This gives the impression that he or she is the one who made the decision, who chose to do whatever the action is. The trick here is to offer limited choices (decided by us of course) within the scope of what you want the child to achieve.

The example given by Dr Lee is letting the child have the choice of deciding what books he or she wants to read. Now behind that choice is a number of no-choice. The child HAS to read, the books are already selected, so there is no choice of genre. So once the child has decided on which book interests him/her, they are more likely to read it willingly. 

How do we use Structured Choices to Learn Chemistry? 

As parents and educators, we can use every opportunity we have to offer structured choices to the child/student. Additionally, we would need to respect the choices that they do make. This is to build trust and emotional capital that we can use later on i.e. exam period. 

A common way we prep the students in JC 2 is to give them some leeway during CCA competition periods. After which we will remind the students that since they chose to focus on their CCA in term 2, they would need to study extra hard in term 3 to catch up for Prelims.

Sometimes i would let the class decide when they wanted to take the quiz. It really doesn’t matter when they take it but it gives them autonomy and the impression of choice.


It is also important to slowly train the child/student to learn how to make choices, meaning we will have to guide them along. For example, we start by offering them very restricted choices. Then slowly increase the autonomy the child has in the choices. (Remember not to give them TOO many choices, it will lead to decision-paralysis.) Be sure to set some ground rules and check the child’s choice if they have not chosen wisely.

Patience is needed to slowly let the child build up his/her judgement in decision-making. We need to show support and encouragement if they have made a wise choice.

Caution is needed not to give false choices and then coerce the child to pick your choice.

There you have it, use Structured Choices to Learn Chemistry (or anything else)! Go to Strategy #2 Emotional Connection to Learn Chemistry!

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A trip back to Miri

Mr Khemistry
Me and Felix
Me and Mini-me

This picture was taken on Christmas day when Felix was down with fever. Incredibly proud of him for staying bubbly and cheerful despite the temperature. He is now at the age when he can interact meaningfully with us. Some of the things he says are really hilarious!

On a more serious note, taking care of a little human being who is totally dependent on you is a humbling experience. His needs and wants are many, more than our patience can accommodate. Thankful for family and friends who take turns to play with him.

Went back to the same restaurant we got married in Miri…

Wife and me

Wife and me

It’s not very clear in the picture, but behind us is the big screen on the little stage. Didn’t have time to retake as Felix was running wild in the restaurant. Time flies. It’s has been almost 3 years since we got married.

At the start of the year, let us reflect on the year that has passed and use our experiences to fashion a better 2019 ahead.

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VSEPR theory – main concept

Mr Khemistry

Understanding the underlying concept

This week as i was teaching chemical bonding to my student, i realised that she was struggling to learn VSEPR. 

I asked her why did she find it difficult and her reply was it was hard to remember all the basic shapes and bond angles. And we haven’t even got to the shapes with lone pairs!

I then proceeded to question her based on first principles. “What do you think VSEPR theory is based on?” “What is the main underlying concept how we come up with the basic shapes?” I shared a video with her which was rather useful in elucidating basic shapes which doesn’t yet involve lone pairs.

After watching the video, i asked her again what was the MAIN idea of VSEPR. 

It was to achieve minimum repulsion between electron pairs around the central atom.

From there, i extrapolated the theory to apply on novel context involving lone electrons, seven electron pairs etc. 

The point i wanted to make was, a lot of times we learn the WHAT but not the HOW or WHY. Students can definitely memorise the five basic shapes and the shapes involving lone pairs. On top of that, they can also memorise the bond angles for these shapes. But isn’t it better to understand why and how molecules arranged their electron pairs to minimize repulsion and arrived at these shapes?

An analogy would be if i told you to take the train from pasir ris to jurong, get off and take bus 30 opposite the mrt station for two stops to meet me. And the mrt service gets disrupted, you would be stranded. Why? Because you didn’t know WHERE you were going, you are just following instructions. But if you knew the name of the shopping mall where we’re meeting, you can probably just switch to a cab and still get to the destination.

So remember, ask yourself why and how, not just what is in your syllabus. You will be able to understand and retain the information much easier.

All the best!

#LearningChemistry #AskingGoodQuestions

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