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Lesson Structure

Mr Khemistry

Recently i implemented a new lesson structure for the J2 classes, inspired by my Harvard teaching and learning course.

It’s easily remembered by the acronyms ABCDE, inspired by my son’s fascination with alphabets.

A for Aim – What’s the learning objective we’re trying to master today?

B for Big Idea – What’s the underlying concept behind this learning objective?

C for Culling – Which are the important information in the question stem?

D for Doing – In the prescribed time limit for the marks allocated.

E for Evaluation – Reflecting on the gaps in understanding, or careless mistakes.

In having this structure, students knew what is expected of them every single lesson, to go through the lesson knowing there is one main concept we need to learn. Some people might be worried that such structure will crimp creativity, actually i think the reverse is true. Having a well-defined lesson structure allows students the mental space and boundaries to explore, either with their discussions or with their questions and answers.

In the last lesson when i taught energy cycles, i was amazed at the variety of answers i got when they presented on the whiteboard after the D stage.

At the E stage, the different ways which they drew the energy cycle was really unexpected. Even the incorrect answers led us to identify new misconceptions.

I used to think lesson plans were unnecessary, but now i’m starting to see the value in having a broad structure for the lesson 🙂

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Posture for Learning

Mr Khemistry

Did you know that there’s a posture for learning? I didn’t until quite someone pointed out the link between posture and our physiological state of mind. 

A couple of examples:

You get angry and your nostrils flare, face turns red and your fists clench. 

Watching a scary movie and your heart beats faster, palms get sweaty and your breathing becomes shallow.

These are our bodies’ physical response to our state of mind, it works the other way too i.e. adjusting your body’s posture will alter your state of mind.

E.g. Before you step up the stage to give a presentation, you breathe deeply to calm your nerves.

Breathing deeply also works to cool down anger.

So what IS the posture for learning?

As teachers, we know that our enthusiasm and passion for what we are teaching will rub off on the students we are teaching. We learn how to engage students and keep their attention. 

How about students? What should you do to ensure that you are in the best frame of mind for learning? First, take note of what NOT to do.

  1. Passive listening 
  2. Folding of arms
  3. Leaning back on your chair or slouching/sleeping on your desk
  4. Staring into space
  5. Constantly checking your handphone

What kind of posture encourages learning?

  1. Relevant notes on your desk with pen and highlighter ready
  2. Sitting up and leaning slightly forward
  3. Engaging with what the teacher is saying, ask questions when in doubt

Happy Learning! 🙂

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Thinking about the “M” word

Mr Khemistry

No, not money…Memory! 🙂

Many have argued that our system of education is antiquated because a good grade is usually dependent on memorizing large chunks of information. 

Why do we need to remember so much information when we have unprecedented access to huge amounts of data to literally anything at our fingertips?

I would say that without knowing the basic knowledge, there’s no way we can critically think about higher order questions. For example, in organic chemistry, we cannot begin to think about synthesis and deductive questions if we do not have basic knowledge of reagent and conditions involved in various reactions. 

So how do we improve our memory?

Firstly, it’s important to recognize our memory works in three steps, Encoding, Storage and Retrieval. 

Encoding – In the context of school/tuition, it is mostly via visual and sound encoding. Semantic (what something means) encoding is the most effective as the information will likely be stored under our Long Term memory.

Storage – Information is either stored in the Short Term Memory (STM) or Long Term Memory (LTM). Research have shown that students who simply read through their notes and tutorials tend to store the information in their STM. Constant reviewing, practicing and reflecting upon their mistakes helps move the information into the LTM.

Retrieval – Some methods of improving retrieval of information: State dependent learning, being in the environment you are in when you first learn helps you recall better. Schemas/acronyms, mental shortcuts that help you organize and understand new information. Chunking/mindmaps – grouping similar information together allows easier recall. Frequent short tests/quiz helps retention as well. 

Lastly, remember our brain is a muscle and it gets stronger when it is used more. Conversely, if you don’t like to think and enjoy being a passive consumer….it atrophies. Our brains can be filled with junk or it can be filled with all kinds of valuable knowledge. It can also get malnutrition from lack of “brain food” and burdened by negative emotions/stress hormones. Treat it well.

Share this with someone if you found it useful! 🙂

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Reading and learning

Mr Khemistry

Reading and Learning

Recently i had a revelation on why students struggled with paper 3 i.e. free response questions, as compared with structured questions in paper 2.

It has to do with the ability to read and glean useful information from words. This problem is especially stark for science students, because they tend to fall back on formulas and calculations, that when they are asked to READ, they flounder.

In fact, collectively, teachers notice a decreasing trend in the students’ capabilities to read critically. Their language ability seemed to have deteriorated quite significantly through the years. Certainly we’ve postulated several theories on why this has happened but since it does us no good to spend too much time speculating on the cause of this decline in reading ability, we shall instead turn our focus to how we can guide our students to read effectively.

How to read and glean important information from questions

  1. Get a teacher or someone who’s an expert on the subject matter to listen to how you interpret free response questions. Read aloud and write down any information you can extract from the question context. Proceed to write down your answer in response to the question.
  2. Likewise, ask the teacher to pen down his/her response to the question.
  3. Compare what is the difference and what is missing from your answer. Critically think about why these interpretations are missing from your answer and how you can implement this “disciplinary reading culture” into your future question analysis.
  4. It is important to recognize that every discipline has their own “reading culture” which allows for the experienced practitioner to derive richer contextual meaning (compared to a lay-person) from the materials given.

Try out the above exercise and let me know if it’s useful to you 🙂

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Meta Learning Part 2

Mr Khemistry

Meta Learning Part 2

This post is a follow-up to Meta Learning post.

Recently one of my students did not complete her homework, citing “no stamina”. I told her most likely it is due to mental fatigue, as she is using a lot of her mental energy to do the organic questions. This is commonly why some students do very well at the start of the paper but flounder towards the end. To maximize mental energy, i advised her to delegate her daily schedule to a predictable routine. 

Why is it important to plan out your schedule during holidays? The main reason is because your daily routines are disrupted and precious mental energy is used for mundane decisions. Like what to study/revise, what to eat, what to wear etc. If you planned your holiday schedule and keep to a daily routine, you would save mental energy for the time that you are actually revising and clarifying concepts.

Next is to optimize the time that you spent studying. Have you observed whether you learn faster very early in the morning or late in the evening? When you learn is just as important as how you learn. 

The two most important commodities in studying is time and mental energy. Spending lots of time staring at your notes isn’t going to help if you are not focused. If you are not mentally sharp while revising, what you learnt today will be easily forgotten tomorrow. “Strike while the iron is hot” can be translated to “Study while you are alert”. 

Take a step back and study your own physiology and psychology. It might be the secret to a much improved performance 🙂

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Book published!

Mr Khemistry

H2 Chemistry Practical Guide book

 

This is one item on my bucket list i thought wouldn’t be fulfilled so soon. Hopefully this book will be of help to private candidates as they prepare for their practical paper.

Current students might also like to get a copy to get more practices of the various topics.

Please share if you know of anyone who might benefit from this book, thanks in advance!

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Meta Learning

Mr Khemistry

Meta Learning

I’ve recently completed my reading challenge for 2018, twelve book, in four months and a week.
Realised that i’ve set too low a bar for myself. Walked right over it. Will be doubling the number of books to read for the rest of the year.

Reading and learning are intricately linked, but reading doesn’t automatically mean that you are learning. This shocked a new student when i meet him earlier this month.

I asked him, “How do you learn?” He replied, “I look through my notes, but after that i cannot remember the reactions”

*Sigh*

“You read and you forget. You write and you remember. You teach and you understand.”

Shared with him the analogy of learning how to ride a bicycle. “When you want to learn how to ride a bicycle, how do you do it?”

“I get on the bicycle and try to ride it…”

*Raised eyebrows*

“Oh….so i do, then i will remember”

“Yes, practise makes progress. Then when you have practised, try teaching it to someone who might be struggling with it. Then you hear it for the second time and learn better.”

“Oh….”

This brings me to a point about what i’ve learned from a webinar conducted  by Jim Kwik on meta learning, science of learning HOW to learn.

Schools mostly teach us what to learn, some may teach why we learn and the history of the theory. But not many actually teaches us HOW to learn, which arguably is THE skill to have in this day and age. Most of the information we are learning can simply be obtained from google online, so it makes little sense to memorise such big chunks of information…in so short a time…which stresses out many students, parents and teachers!

The way we teach the next generation is the same way that we learn from the previous, unless WE change as educators and parents. We need to teach them HOW to learn. Because formal education can make them a living but continuing self education will fulfill their highest potential. 

It is easy to do well in school because everything is tried and tested. You just have to observe the past papers and do them well, chances are you will do pretty well too. However, in the real world, things are changing rapidly. How do we best prepare our students to thrive in this rapidly evolving world?

The solution lies in teaching them how to learn and then letting them do the learning. But the bottleneck is time. Either we teach them how to learn, then they go home to do their learning/studying OR we do the learning/studying on their behalf and THEN tell them what to learn. No prizes for guessing which route we are taking.

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A visit to National Junior College

Mr Khemistry

Went for the choir performance at National JC last month. I must say i felt very proud of my student as she’s one of the four lead singers during the combined choir. Here’s a picture of her in action:

 

Choir performance

Choir performances always gives me the goosebumps…not in the bad sense. There’s something deeply moving about listening to a well-choreographed piece in a quiet hall…i can’t quite figure out why. Maybe it’s because deep down inside i’m a very atas person….(you can stop laughing now >_<) Decided that i’m going to bring my wife to a choir/musical performance at least once this year, hope she will like them too.

Had to leave at the interval as wife and son are waiting for me to fetch them home…but not before taking a picture with my other NJ student haha…

Picture before i go!

Hope i’m able to attend more of such performances in different schools 🙂 Realised i actually came to NJC for learningfest last year or the year before. That’s why it felt very familiar haha.

Kudos to all the students who put in so much effort rehearsing, job well-done!

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Thanksgiving

Mr Khemistry

Start-up phase

It has been about one year since we started Mr Khemistry. Looking back in this 12 months, there’s plenty to give thanks for.

  1. Friends who have been there, done that. Thanks Irwin, for your encouragement, advice and all those chairs. Irwin runs a renowned GP tuition centre, Irwin’s Study at Bukit Timah Shopping Centre.
  2. My ex-cellgroup leader, David and current assistant cgl Huirong, for their invaluable help with setting up this website. From designing the logo, to copywriting, SEO building blog, embedding video etc. I still owe them a proper meal to thank them for all their help. Thank you David, your friendship is a great blessing to me.
  3. Speaking of video, i want to thank my ex-colleague Gary Xie from Hancus Media, for producing an excellent promotional video clip on my shoestring budget 🙂
  4. Friends, relatives, ex-colleagues, students, other centre owners who have referred tuition assignments to me. I’m always amazed by the tremendous amount of faith they have in Mr Khemistry. It’s quite impossible to list out every single referrer here, but i hope to pay it forward by referring students to other trusted educators.
  5. My wife, who has been very supportive of my decision to start my own business. Suffice to say, without my family as my unwavering support base, i probably would not have started Mr Khemistry.

Thankful for the many life experiences that i’ve had, even for those which felt like a dark valley. It teaches me that nothing of significance comes easily and anything that’s valuable is worth fighting for. I count my blessings daily (i try to write them down) and i’m amazed at how blessed i am.

Growth phase

I am excited to plan for the next phase of Mr Khemistry, as our basic day to day administrative procedures are settled.

We’ll be looking to scale up the size of our classes and our marketing reach towards our target audience. Also aiming to cultivate deeper collaborations with our partner tuition centres and conduct more public talks.

Publishing a guide book on Practical Paper 4, look out for it at major bookstores! 🙂

Personal development

Reading at least one book per month and to take up a teaching course online to fine-tune our pedagogy at Mr Khemistry.

Looking forward to your continual support and encouragement! 🙂

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Advice for private A level candidates

Mr Khemistry

Private Candidates

Hi there, are you a private candidate looking to re-take the A levels?  If so, have you thought about the reason why you didn’t do well last year or the year before?

Whenever i see a private candidate re-taking the A levels, i would ask them if they’re aware that the odds are stacked against them doing better than when they were in college.

Firstly, you are no longer in an environment of learning. For the guys, most of them are serving NS, girls are working part-time. It’s an understatement to say you are NOT among
people in the same life-stage as you are. Meaning peer discussions and sharing studying tips are out.

Secondly, the structured learning that a school environment offers is no longer there. Instead, what you have are probably people who couldn’t care less whether you studied or not.
Without the discipline to complete assignments, the weekly practise of doing lab work and waking up early to study, the odds are that you will be lulled into inactivity most of the time.

Thirdly, resources are very thin for A level subjects outside of school. I’ve had a look at popular’s selection of A level assessment books and i do think sometimes that even Carousel might
have more useful resources. You need LOTS of practise.

What can you do?

Tuition is an option but it is probably not enough. What is crucial is that you get a complete set of materials, including revision packages, from your ex-JC. And then work out a schedule together with some friends to set a timetable for revising the syllabus. It is advisable if your finances permit, to hire an experience tutor to guide/mark your work together with a few other private candidates. If you are taking sciences, please consider registering at a private school such as BMC to practise doing lab work.

Be resourceful and change the way you approach the exam. Re-doing what you did the last time will probably yield the same or worse results.

Good Luck!

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