Fun facts about the lunar calendar and its naming conventions:
The Chinese built a 12-year cycle represented by twelve animals into a larger cycle of five elements: metal, water, wood, fire, earth. The animal changes every year, but the element changes every two years. We are presently in the year of the Metal Rat – the first element paired with the first animal! After this will come the year of the Metal Ox, followed by the Water Tiger, then the Water Rabbit, and so on. The year of the Water Rat will arrive in 12 years.
12 animals x 5 elements = 60 years.
A person has to live through one complete cycle in order to acquire wisdom – the reason why the Chinese celebrate their 60th birthdays. This means that the other surviving “metal rats” are either turning 60 or 120 years old. Think about that!
“Teach us to number our days that we may acquire a heart of wisdom.” ~ ancient proverb.
By the way, did you notice the use of the quinary (base 5), duodecimal (base 12) and sexagesimal (base 60) number systems here? Just because the schools teach only the decimal (base 10) system doesn’t mean that other systems don’t exist. It’s good for your children to know that.
Grandma taught me to recite the list of animals in Hokkien, together with its rhyme and rhythm. If you are Chinese and know of elderly dialect speaking Chinese, get them to recite the list and record their voices. Learn it because it’s fun, then teach it to your children and grandchildren. That’s how we pass down the valuable tradition of counting without using numbers.
I remember March 10, 1982. I was 14 years old, sitting in class and waiting to die. A periodical I had read some days earlier informed me that the world was ending THAT day. I didn’t want to go to school because facing termination with my family was much more comforting than facing termination alone, but I went to school anyway. In class, my attention drifted between the teachers, who appeared clueless that the world was about to end, and the anticipation of a loud bang, a dimming sun or quaking floor. No excitement happened, the end didn’t arrive. I was a little disappointed that the day was boring as ever, but mostly relieved that every person who mattered to me was still alive! I now know that the ending of the world on March 10, 1982 was prophecised in a book titled The Jupiter Effect.
Back then, my idea of an apocalyse was simple. I knew exactly how The End Of The World would take place because Skeeta Davis had presented it to me in a song that had been playing in my home since my parents bought her album: the sun would stop shining and the sea would stop rushing to shore. Star Wars was barely in its second installment and sophisticated visual effects of movies had only begun to mess with my imagination. Watch the original Star Wars movies before they were digitally remastered and you’ll get an idea of how far the movie industry has come.
18 year after my first apocalypse came Y2K, the idea that the world would be in chaos when the date changed from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000. Because computer dating systems might not recognise the year rolling over from ’99 to ’00, planes might crash, bank accounts might disappear and factories might explode. I must admit that I wasn’t completely at ease on December 31, 1999 because the cases proposed by the apocalypticists sounded legitimate. Was I relieved when I heard the news that some nations had crossed over safely to January 1, 2000? Yes.
Next came 2012, the doomsday that was anecdotally written about in an ancient calendar. The prophesied event was even dramatised in a Hollywood blockbuster movie and presented as a far more frightening catastrophe than the 14-year-old me had imagined in 1982. I didn’t have time to follow much of this story, but before I knew it, 2013 arrived.
Then came doomsday 23 September 2017, a date calculated from another ancient source. You can guess the outcome of that prophecy too.
Which brings us to the important question: Is the world coming to an end? If so, when will that happen and how will we know? Once again, somebody somewhere appears to knows exactly how and approximately when this will take place because children these days are taught that the earth is getting warmer and that its end is imminent if no action is taken to put a halt to its rising temperature! According to them, although nothing can be done to stop the warming, many things can be done to slow it down. The idea even has a name which isn’t worth mentioning here because the experts haven’t made up their minds about what to call it.
As a reformed doomsday junkie with the benefit of hindsight, I can identify many differences between the apocalyptic message I read about in 1982 and that which many children are taught in this generation. Here are some:
The source of the message in 1982 was in the free market. I consumed the information at my free will. It wasn’t fed to me by my school curriculum or class discussion.
I wasn’t made to feel guilty or bad for my view if it differed with the position held by the majority. If I had to defend my view, I would have crumbled for the lack of maturity and the necessary vocabulary and confidence to articulate, and since my thoughts on the subject were planted in me by the media and spiced up by my teenaged hormones, my defence would not have been worth much.
No prescribed response accompanied that piece of news in 1982, thus no one was under social pressure to take, or not take, any action. In that sense, it was merely a harmless spook for most people. However, the apocalyptic narrative that is told to the present generation of children requires nations to take real actions to mitigate an imaginary calamity made up of the collective imagination of movie producers and fiction writers. Since it has never happened before, experts have to build mathematical models to predict the magnitude of imaginary repurcussions. Then comes the real thing! Other experts have to be engaged to draw up plans for real actions to prevent this imaginary problem. Real actions cost real money. Given that the people who believe the present apocalyptic prophecies are matured high ranking politicians (instead of a gullible 14-year-old) possessing spending power to purchase hope, hope has become a lucrative industry. Let’s not talk about who’s money they are spending. I invite you to read this comic piece I wrote explaining this agenda-problem-solution triad. https://funfilledconversations.com/blog/2019/05/12/the-bounty/
Unlike previous poorly funded apocalyptic messages that bore definite termination dates, this modern message is timeless and rich with funding. It is timeless because the prophets haven’t made up their minds regarding when the earth would get so warm that we would all perish by roasting, either at the same time or in turns by geographic location. There were also suggestions that some people would freeze while others roast. Extending that logic to the tiny sea-level island of Singapore, I suppose we would likely drown, boil or steam. Ha!
Apocalyptic prophecies are not new. Ancient Mayan and Jewish writings reveal that people centuries ago thought the earth would reset in their generation as well. Many modern day Christians still believe in the impending Day when they will stand before their Judge to give an account of their lives on earth. The Chinese, on the other hand, do not have such ideas embeded in their traditions, at least not to my knowledge.
What are your thoughts about apocalyptic prophecies? Do you think the earth is getting warmer? Will it come to an end? Does your child believe that the earth will end in his lifetime? Is he afraid or confused? If the end was happening tomorrow, would he live wrecklessly or meaningfully today?
Have a conversation with your child about this subject. If your child is 5-year or older, he would have been sufficiently bombarded by commercials, school and passing conversations to have a rough idea of this topic. Kids are clever. Address his concerns, share your opinion and offer hope. It’s fine to say that you don’t have an answer. Help him see that even smart adults don’t know it all. If you fail to engage your child in this conversation and provide necessary filters, the media is happy to educate your child with their propaganda and he will have to derive sense out of possible nonsense on his own. A gentle nudge to you that the apocalyptic message is usually depressing and hopeless, not a healthy thought for a child to ponder over.
So, do I believe that the earth is warming? Of course not! How can the earth be warming if hot air rises, heat gain equals heat loss, and if we lived in an enclosed dome? Yes, a closed terrarium, a geocentric earth or whatever you wish to call it! Ha! You’ll have to figure my logic out for yourself, and you don’t have to agree with me. My 17-year-old son and I are still debating this after many years. We are allowed to change our minds and positions anytime we like, no one is required to be locked into a single position. Challenging the status quo does exercise our thinking and observation skills. Some people call it nonsense talk, but I prefer to call it a continuous fun-filled conversation!
How do you like this page in my son’s jotter book? It was a doodle produced during a continuous conversation about Length, a story I wrote about in Chapter 10 of Fun-filled Math Conversations With Your Child. You can see how much I enjoyed doodling and how much he disliked colouring. It was important that I taught him to translate the information floating inside his head into a readable and writable form on paper so that others can understand him. This is called literacy. Exams are paper-based after all.
The process went like this:
1. He measured the objects with his personal measuring tape and read the measurements aloud. Reading aloud is important because if he couldn’t read it, then he wasn’t ready to write it. I scribbled his readings down somewhere.
2. I turned to a blank page on his jotter book and drew some of the things he measured, after which he filled up the the blanks with his readings. He knew perfectly well that my drawings were perfect misrepresentations of the actual objects he handled. Despite the 17cm pencil being drawn longer than the 25cm jotter book on the page, he wasn’t bothered because he understood 17cm and 25cm in context of the actual lengths.
So here’s a teaser question for you: What would he have learnt if I had skipped the measuring activity and given him the following worksheets instead?
Now imagine yourself as a kid who is struggling to read, write and count, while figuring out how real objects are represented on paper. How would you fill Worksheet 1? Would the jotter book be 4cm long, pencil be 5cm, and eraser be 2cm (because you measured the picture on the book with a ruler)? What if the ruler was drawn in for you (as in Worksheet 2)? Would you cease knowing what 1cm actually is? Would you be confused? I write this post to bring humour and caution because I have found plenty of such material in the bookstores, the expensive ones are printed in full colour.
If you are shopping for a workbook to help your children improve in math, make it your duty to check the material before buying them. Be very protective of your children’s cognition. Handing them materials that confuse them can be disastrous. The damage will not be noticeable immediately, but its effects will show up later, making the problem hard to diagnose and expensive to undo.
Empowering your child with real life math skill should never start with worksheets. It has to start with reading, in this case, reading a measuring tape. In a class of many students, who will your child read his measurements to? Will guidance be available immediately if he read it wrongly?
Why don’t you provide that guidance instead? The cost to you would be $5 for a measuring tape and multiple fragments of time when both of you are in a queue together, or waiting for your bus, or just waiting. There are so many things to measure while you are waiting – a blade of grass, a strand of hair, a $2 note,… Convert those unproductive moments into useful fun-filled conversations. Remember, if he can’t read it, then he’s not ready to write it.
I like to keep things simple. Our happy moments with full freedom of expression, have been captured and collected in the blank pages of cheap jotter books that are flavoured with noodle and milo stains. Precious.
Surely you won’t want to miss out on our first ever Fun-filled Camp for the school holidays?! We wanted to do holiday programmes the Fun-filled way. Read on and grab your spots if your kids are 9-11yo!
Find The Pirate’s Treasure!
Can you find the pirate’s treasure before the clock runs out? This Fun-Filled Conversations Math Day Camp is all about hunting down a buried treasure using MOE’s Math Syllabus, geography and history. Along the way, you have to escape out of the puzzles to find the next clue. Can you handle the pressure?
Dates : 28 Nov 2019, Thursday Venue : Qiren Organisation, 9 Tampines Grande, #02-11 to 22, Singapore 528735 Time : 3pm-6pm (snacks are provided. Our snacks may contain peanuts, meat sourced ingredients.) Ages : 9-11 yo Price : $90/child if you register before 15 Nov 2019. Usual rate is $98/child. Max : 12 pax (no walk ins)
Educated Illiterate! That’s what my mum called the people who frustrated her, people who were obviously able to read and write, but clearly stupid in her eyes. She was entitled to her freedom of speech and I made no judgment of her or of those people. It was Singapore in the 1970s. The ideas of education and literacy were catching on while intelligence was being defined and redefined. Anyway, I was too young to even know what an “educated illiterate” was.
Literacy. The dictionary defines this as the ability to read and write. If we think about reading as the ability to convert symbols and visual shapes to audible sounds, and writing as the reverse process, then it is possible for a person to be literate in English and illiterate in Chinese, or for a computer literate to be a music illiterate. In other words, it is fair to say that everyone is literate in some ways and illiterate in many ways, and it is wise to consider a person who claims to know everything deluded, arrogant and dangerous.
Education is the process of receiving or giving systematic instructions. By this definition, the Chinese butcher at our market who had received many years of systematic instructions in the art of cutting meat and learning the meat trade, should be considered an educated person. And since he didn’t read or write English, it would be fair to describe him as educated, but illiterate in English, but no, we were in the 70s and the devaluation of education in a trade or craft had begun. The good natured Chinese butcher accepted his fate with a smile and labelled himself boh tak chek (roughly translated as uneducated). He also ensured that his children didn’t follow his footsteps. Protesters of national initiatives that favoured the British form of education were considered troublesome citizens, and the Chinese butcher didn’t want to cause trouble during those turbulent times. He knew what was going on because he read the Chinese newspapers and discussed politics with the other boh tak chek stallowners beside him, activities which didn’t quite match self-declared uneduated folks. And he certainly knew his math because he could measure out meat on the weighing scale and was very good at counting money!
Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. This is tricky because the idea of intelligence has been sliced and spliced in many ways, starting with Intelligence Quotient, then Emotional Intelligence, and quickly followed by Multiple Intelligence. With the broadened definitions of intelligence, we should expect less unintelligent people in society, and stupid people should be almost extinct. I suppose that’s the reason why people take offence at being called stupid.
Who then is a stupid person? He is one showing a lack of intelligence or common sense, a person who is dazed and unable to think clearly, one who lacks sound judgement in practical matters. I didn’t define that, the dictionary did. In this generation where pursuing education and literacy is the default and being a student is considered an occupation, not much has been discussed about how students can develop sound judgment and gain common sense. This isn’t anyone’s fault. How can common sense can be taught if stupidity cannot be discussed, especially with those who need it the most – the stupid people?
Whether educated or not, literate or not, intelligent or not, a person can be stupid by simply lacking common sense. Until we come up with a non-offensive word to describe very bright people who need to turn on the light yet refuse to learn to change a light bulb, there is really no room for an honest discussion about true education and true intelligence.
In the meantime, while we pursue education, literacy and work on raising the intelligence of our children, let’s not forget to engage them in conversation about common sense and its antithesis, stupidity. Talk about the bus driver and the gardener, and the things they need to know in order to be competent at their jobs. Discuss how an individual pedestrian lacking common sense can do something stupid and endanger the lives of other people. You’ll be surprised at how much laugh you can get out of your children’s observations of the happenings around them. It is during these moments when you show your interest in their thoughts, that they would be interested in yours too…. making them the best time for you to impart wisdom and common sense.
The last Friday of each September is like D-Day for most Singaporeans turning 12 that year, and their parents. It is the day they sit for the 2.5hr PSLE Math paper (65 minute break in between). This question was reportedly featured in this year’s paper!
But… this questions looks more like a puzzle. What is it doing in an exam paper?
Here’s a possible explanation (Snipped off from Page 31 of MOE’s Math Syllabus*):
At primary level, students …learn to…reason inductively by observing patterns, similarities and differences.
Ah hah, the ability to see patterns! So that’s what the examination board is possibly testing for.
But… in puzzle books, puzzles are laid out in increasing levels of difficulty, and this one should sit at the back of the book, shouldn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. My son bagged his A* in PSLE math some years ago, so I’m not a casualty here.
I love puzzles, so did my little son. In Fun-filled Math Conversations With Your Child, I wrote about how he and I would spend an entire day solving ONE puzzle. There were many of those days because chilling and bonding over puzzles was our thing. We solved puzzles when we waited to board our plane, or for our food to arrive, or just waiting for the clock to tick until it was bedtime. We were unhurried. If the pressure of time was added to our experience, we would not have enjoyed solving the puzzles the way we did.
I agree with what’s written on Page 17 of MOE’s Math Syllabus*:
Students’ attitudes towards mathematics are shaped by their learning experiences. Making the learning of mathematics fun, meaningful and relevant goes a long way to inculcating positive attitudes towards the subject. Care and attention should be given to the design of the learning activities to build confidence in and develop appreciation for the subject. Above all, students’ beliefs can influence their attitudes in learning, especially in student-centred learning where students are encouraged to take on more responsibility for their own learning.
I cannot reconcile what I read here, with an exam question that appears to have, from anecdotal reports, crushed many of the very same 12-year-olds that MOE desires to encourage. I understand and appreciate that the Ministry Of Education (MOE) is trying to prepare our youths for a bright future (Page 2 of MOE’s Math Syllabus*):
A good understanding of basic mathematics is essential wherever calculations, measurements, graphical interpretations and statistical analysis are necessary. The learning of mathematics also provides an excellent vehicle to train the mind, and to develop the capacity to think logically, abstractly, critically and creatively. These are important 21st century competencies that we must imbue in our students, so that they can lead a productive life and be life-long learners.
But… are there better ways of achieving this objective without traumatising a significant number of 12 year olds who are gifted in areas other than math?
Not all learning outcomes can be or should be tested in a national exam. Education can go very wrong if we try to measure every skill, especially if it involves the allocation of time and money.
Is it possible to keep PLSE math exams simple, and stick to testing for basic mathematics that enables its graduates to function confidently in the real world, and not too much more? Can the nice and fun puzzles created by the examination board (such as the one I featured in this essay) be used as a fun-filled classroom discussion instead? I’m sure the question will garner more mileage in real learning that way.
I have a piece of advice for parents with children who are heading to PSLE in the near and distant future. Do not overreact. Resolve to have fun solving PSLE puzzles together with your children. If you need tips and strategies on how you can engage your children on this subject, get in touch with me for a parent coaching session, either one-to-one or in groups. It’s my way of helping you save and redirect your money and time towards having fun with your children.
The Ministry Of Education writes in its Mathematics Syllabus for primary education, about their goal to raise students who understand math in real life. It is a good objective, but I wonder how they expect their teachers to carry that out when a large part of real life takes place outside the classroom. Multiply that problem across a class of 40 students, with each having his own unique “real life” experiences, and you will understand how difficult that task is. Is it possible for even the best math teacher to engage all her students in real life math within the limited periods of Math lessons? What is math in “real life” in the first place?
Real life math has to be set against real life experiences and problems. Although it can be partially engineered for discussion in the classroom, it can only be fully understood when experienced outside its walls where real life is taking place. Student who are taught math via only cropped pictures, diagrams or videos of situations, within the comfort of their classroom, have, at best, a skewed understanding of real life math. For instance, how will children ever understand a distance of 5km without ever walking it, or what 5 kg feels like without ever lifting it? In classroom math, 5 km or 5 kg is a matter of putting ink on paper without having to break a sweat. Those who think they’ve learnt the lessons that way, i.e. by solving a problems that they have no contextual understanding about, are misguided. They may achieve good grades now, gain false confidence, and create unnecessary problems in real life in later years, (which is a subject for another essay). The fact is, without the full context of real life, learning real life math simply cannot take place.
However, what is close to impossible for teachers to do, is easily doable by parents, but not without effort. Fortunate are children who have parents who are skilful, or who are learning to be skilful, in engaging them with helpful questions and timely answers to connect what they learn in class to the real world they live in, parents who take them out and make the effort to explain how the world functions. Such conversations are precious. They will raise the child’s awareness and help them navigate life. Inevitably, their IQ and EQ levels will rise to follow suit.
I wrote Fun-filled Math Conversations With Your Child for this purpose: to help parents hone that skill of finding and making useful math conversations with their children. The message is simple: IT IS POSSIBLE for you to have fun and bond with your child over math.
Please help me spread the message. The book is now available at our online store. You can also purchase it at Times Bookstore, Kinokuniya and The Health Shop at the Adelphi.
Every family has its stories. Every nation has its stories. Every era has its stories. History belongs to the victors, because only victors get to write the stories.
Not many people enjoy hearing their old grandfather’s stories, especially if they were repeated over an over again. These stories become boring, narcisistic and even suspicious, especially so when set against the present era of fast-moving action-packed movies and power-hungry people. They eventually get lost because someone failed to tell it and pass it on. How then can important life lessons from these stories survive such a gloomy fate and benefit later generations, especially if they don’t belong to the victors?
Replace the real heroes with fictional characters, exaggerate the adventure, make it exciting, add in some romance or altruism, and the old grandfather’s stories will become evergreen. Fictions are the perfect disguise for the real stories.
The classics are good examples. They are bearers of hope and lessons about good morals, courage, sacrifices, and humanity in general. Think Pinocchio, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Dream of the Red Chamber, Journey to the West, or compilations like Aesop Fables and Grimm’s. What about stories like Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, or Greek Mythology, or the Gospel of John, or the Book of Enoch, or Ramayan? Fiction or not, how will we ever know and does it matter?
First of all, we have to agree that stories with flaky content have no stamina. Thus, those that survive the passage of time must have substance worth re-telling. Secondly, we need to know that what we read have been translated and re-translated, paraphrased and re-paraphrased, from its original language. Surely some meaning must have been lost or added, thus we need read or hear them with a pinch of salt. Thirdly, context is everything. Good lessons taken out of context can have an opposite effect.
Think of it this way, our ancestors, those who were before us, have a hidden message for us. They come mostly in the form of stories of the good conquering evil. Decoding that message can make fun-filled conversations with your family and friends if no one gets defensive about a viewpoint.
It will take only a minute to teach your child that 60 seconds makes one minute.
“We’ll be there in one minute, shall we count to sixty together? One, two, three,……”
And don’t worry, he will eventually learn to tell the time out of pure necessity, even if you forget to teach him to read the clock. Just place an analogue clock in front of him, and make sure it is working properly and has a battery inside. Better still if you can draw him a clock face showing his favourite time of the day and stick it next to the real clock. Kids are clever, they get it.