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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lose Weight With Turmeric (and Hormone Balance)

I have just made another breakthrough in my health journey. The last breakthrough was with milk kefir (which allowed me to go off my hormone supplements). I want to take care to specify that I am NOT a physician. This post is about MY OWN body. What works for me, may not work for YOUR body.

In My Body
Stress increases oestrogen levels. See HERE. Oestrogen encourages the body to accumulate fat. See HERE. Fat cells, in turn, produce more oestrogen. See HERE. High levels of oestrogen depresses thyroid function. See HERE.

I had to keep taking thyroid meds because my oestrogen levels were so high that it knocked out all the thyroid hormones in my bloodstream. Thyroid hormones help body cells to burn sugar, converting into energy for a fulfilled and energetic lifestyle. Without these thyroid hormones, my body was not able to burn sugar. I felt tired. Without these thyroid hormones, my body stored away sugar, as fat. I grew fatter by the day.

I couldn't even exercise to burn fat without collapsing from exhaustion.

Mystery of Kefir
When milk kefir had the unexpected effects of reducing my reliance on thyroid meds, I was beyond intrigued. I asked some GP friends but received no answers. However, one ophthalmologist pointed me towards the idea that bad gut bacteria could produce toxins that would make people feel ill. Beyond that, no one was able to clearly explain WHY kefir enabled me to live a higher quality of life without resorting to hormone supplements.

Then, I found a study that elucidated the relationship between gut bacteria and levels of oestrogen. The more types of beneficial gut bacteria you have, the less oestrogen you have. See HERE. Once I started taking kefir, my weight gain stopped. I was able to exercise more.

I cycled 3 hours a day 4 times a week. I experienced no weight loss.

Enter Turmeric
I noted however, that during the last 2 weeks of my menstrual cycle, I would start to get tired again. If I took a dose of thyroid supplement, I obtained relief. This made me wonder if (during the last 2 weeks of my menstrual period) I had such high levels of oestrogen that even kefir failed to metabolise.

Working on that assumption, I searched for anti-oestrogenic foods. I found many testimonials on turmeric... usually on bodybuilding sites where men discussed how to get rid of man-boobs. I found a few things that were easily available...
- apple cider vinegar
- citrus fruits
- turmeric
- pomegranate

I decided to try turmeric alone. The PMS water retention had started. Headaches and night sweats were starting. I was beginning to look tired. I took a teaspoon of turmeric morning and night. Within 3 days, the water retention melted off. The headaches and night sweats disappeared.

In the last 2 weeks, I lost 2 kgs.

How Does Turmeric Work?
I am guessing it reduces oestrogen levels. See HERE.

How To Eat Turmeric
Turmeric is best absorbed along with fat (coconut oil or olive oil). Curcumin (the main bio-active substance in turmeric) dissolves in fat, and then can be better absorbed by the human body. Piperidine from black pepper also facilitates the absorption of curcumin. Hence, my recipe to prepare the daily dose of turmeric tea is as follows. Of course, you can eat it in curries but there is only so much curry I can eat.

1 teaspoon pure turmeric powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 turns of the the black pepper mill

1. Stir the powder into the olive oil till a smooth paste ensues.
2. Heat the paste VERY gently till it is streaked with yellow when you stir. Very gentle heat.
3. Put in pepper.
4. Add 200ml of water.
5. Simmer till only 70 ml is left.
6. Just drink (it tastes horrible... but hey... I can get used to anything that helps me lose weight and gets rid of all those horrible PMS symptoms)

Now, I am able to lose weight when I cycle 3 hours a day 4 times a week. Also, I will check out everything I put in my mouth to see if it is oestrogenic. This means I stay away from...
- durians
- avocado
- chocolate
- tea
- coffee

I bring along a glass bottle of filtered water everywhere I eat out too.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Qualitative VS Quantitative Assessment/Research

This post is just some random musings about Ong Ye Kung's call for a higher degree of qualitative assessment by the government. I am just so happy that Ong Ye Kung stuck around after his 2011 failure to get voted in. It seems to me that he is clear what he believes in and much of what he says he believes in, resonates with me.

When Quantitative Research Was King
When Francis Galton devised the first intelligence tests, he single-handedly invented the branch of psychology called Psychometrics. That was in the late 1800s.

Alfred Binet (who developed the Binet-Simon scale), Wilhelm Stern (who developed the first formula to calculate the Intelligence Quotient) and Lewis Terman (who further advanced the quantitative wok of Dalton, Binet and Stern in the Unites States from whence it spread to all over the world) all studied psychology using numbers. The study of psychology is inserted within the wider domain of social science research. In effect, ever since the late 1800s, social science research has been enamoured of the quantitative approach.

Historically, social science research itself has never had the same kind of prestige as research in hard sciences. For a long time, in order to prove themselves scientists, people who studied social phenomenon adapted hard science methods of study to social phenomenon. These were quantitative methods of the sort most people are familiar with - control groups and statistical significance.

Not surprisingly then, qualitative research was considered second class (by the larger proportion of social scientists themselves). It would appear now that social science research has now come of age. Indeed, Singapore has set up a Social Science Research Council after all these years of focusing on the hard sciences.

The Rise of Qualitative Research
By coming of age, the social sciences have taken on the confidence to be themselves and to develop methods consistent with the material being studied. Hence, along with this newfound confidence came the rising star of Qualitative Research.

I have observed that since the early 1990s, the voices of qualitative approach researchers have become ever louder in top tier social science research journals. Myself, I am only familiar with the top tier business research journals (such as The Academy of Management Journal, The Journal of Applied Psychology and Administrative Science Quarterly) but I would imagine that the spirit of Qualitative Research has grown in stature amongst researchers in every social science.

The Advantages of Qualitative Research
Proponents of Qualitative Research developed these qualitative research methods because they experienced the inadequacies of Quantitative Research in elucidating the whys and wherefores of social phenomenon. For example, quantitative research informs us that 1st class Honours graduates earn more (on average) than a non-grad. This is true when you look at mass tendancies. The majority of 1st class Honours grads (at age 23) will evolve earn more at age 50 than a non-grad (at age 23), even if the non-grad eventually becomes a grad by age 50.

However, there are people like these 12 Singaporeans Who Prove You Don't Need A Degree to Succeed. Suppose you want to understand why these non-grads make it big (whilst other non-grads don't), you would need to study them and each of their paths individually. You really could not get at the richness of the reasons why they are successful, with a mere Likert scale survey.

In general too, illiterate people don't earn much. Yet, David Gan is illiterate and he earns more than many graduates. In this case, there is only one David Gan. How do you propose to study the whys and wherefores of his success using statistical techniques and the bell curve?

Similarly, qualitative researchers like to cite the case of Phineas Gage, in support of the usefulness and importance of qualitative research. Phineas Gage was a railroad construction foreman. He sustained a traumatic brain injury. He was a hardworking and pleasant man before his accident. A 43 inch rod with a diameter of 1.25 inches entered and exited his brain. After his accident, he became surly and temperamental.

Clearly, you cannot go about shooting 43 inch rods into and out of the brains of 1000 research participants along the exact same trajectory through the brain, in order to later apply quantitative statistical techniques to explain the change post-accident in Phineas Gage's personality. A qualitative study of Phineas Gage's singular brain did teach neuroscientists a great deal about the brain.

Reducing social phenomenon to bell curves fails to explain individually rare phenomenon. Bell curves fail to explain people and events that are infinitely valuable to the human condition simply because they are so few (perhaps only one). Measures do not exist when there is only ONE case. If there is only one, you CANNOT have control groups. You cannot have bell curves and statistical significance.

You cannot have a t-score.

What Is Wrong With the PSLE T-Score (our national quantitative measure of a child's worth?)
The t-score is a proxy measure of 3 things...
- child's IQ
- child's motivation
- child's privileged access to quality tuition or parent coaching

The t-score is a measure of competence in...
- English
- Math
- Science
- Mother Tongue

The t-score is a very very very narrow measure of a child's worth.

Actually, no one has ever explicitly said that the t-score is a measure of a child's worth. However, the fact that it is used (almost exclusively) to decide entrance into secondary schools means that it is a yardstick by which a schools judge whether or not a child is worthy to enter this or that school.

What it really measures is a very narrow part of the whole child (mastery in 4 subjects). The t-score does not show up rare and emerging skills (e.g., Bill Gates' ability to code before coding became a recognisable skill)... a child's sense of humour... a child's ability to influence his peers (primary school prefects, without their official status, may not be good at persuading their peers)... a child's kindness... a child's resourcefulness when caught in a bind... a child's passion ... a child's innate sense of social responsibility... a child's determination to rise out of poverty...

Surely, these qualities are important in tomorrow's top talent, and deserve consideration when it comes to selection into secondary schools.

Even more importantly, the t-score fails to pin down those who will succeed in the future because they are different than anything the t-score currently measures. Their worth to the world of the future is in areas that the t-score does not capture. T-scores do not capture the X-factor. A qualitative assessment however, can surface that special X-factor that is the child's very own gifting.

We now recognise that the t-score is an insufficient measure of talent. Yet, we are afraid to step into the unknown of qualitative assessment for fear of subjectivity and cronyism.

All My Students Have Worth
Though trained to do both quantitative and qualitative research, my personal preference is qualitative research.

You don't leave behind years of training. So, I cannot help it but see something special in every child I teach. This one will grow up into a Michelin star chef. That one will be a world-renowned singer. That one there will break the mould in painting. This one here is a go-getter. That one there is a mediator. Yet that one will one day make it to CEO of a multi-national. I can see that other one as Entrepreneur of the Year.

All that latent potential that even their parents do not see because parents are blinded by the t-score (English, Math, Science, Chinese).

I teach them English but when they come for class, I see super-imposed upon their faces the ghostly images of people of the future that escapes being defined by their A* in English, or their t-scores. T-scores do not capture specialness, unless at the very top score... and even then, the child is only special in that he/she is the best in the country in English, Math, Science and Mother Tongue.

Here in Dr. Pet's Enrichment, I do not compute class averages. I do not calculate percentiles. I could think of many statistical operations to do with the grades given by the schools and the weekly grades I assign.

I don't.

Instead, I think about EACH child as an individual that cannot be compared with another numerically. I observe EACH child and make qualitative observations and construct special teaching moments needed by that child only. It is great fun to work like that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Working With Careless and Dreamy Kids: Part 4

This is Part 4 in a series.

Part 1: HERE
Part 2: HERE
Part 3: HERE

Have you ever had a hugely emotional fight with someone? How did you feel after that? Sapped? Tired? Unable to focus? Suppose you were to take an exam in that state of mind, or produce a piece of work then? Would you do well?

When one has careless and dreamy kids like mine, it can get frustrating. See HERE for Smelly Boy's gong-gong stories. Frustrated parents start yelling and screaming. One parent with anger management issues came to me for Parent Coaching. In her own words, "I have hit her with anything and everything. Basically, I pick up anything I see and I hit her with it." My eyes teared as I wrote that particular coaching report. This coaching session was so painful for me that I refused to sign on a 2nd session.

Getting scolded or beaten up is an emotionally sapping experience for the child. Even if the child were not prone to being dreamy and careless, he would become so, if always scolded and beaten. You only need to think of how well you would perform at work after a emotionally fraught conflict with your spouse or a co-worker to know that this is true.

An unhappy child (like an unhappy adult) is prone to ruminating about the unhappy event. You think about it. You moon over it. Unless you are trained to use Mindfulness Techniques (see HERE), you would tend to replay the dispute again and again in your head. You expend ever more mental energy feeling upset all over again.

Who can focus and be less careless in such conditions?

Hence, all through P4, P5 and P6, I internalised my own anger and frustration. I also made it a point to detoxify my son of his anger, anxiety and frustration (from being bullied, from being wrongly accused, from overwork, from fear of exams). See HERE and HERE.

I am still not done with sharing strategies for Dreamy and Careless Children. However, the remaining 2 strategies will be shared months later. I am still monitoring their effectiveness.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

MOE: Dismantle Something

Both Acting Ministers for Education jointly announced (as reported HERE) that...

Primary schools will help students discover their strengths and interests in areas such as arts, music and sports. A stronger emphasis will be placed on outdoor education, "to build up ruggedness and resilience in our students", according to the MOE.

Having some fleeting acquaintance with both Ministers, I am torn between fear and faith. Having a passing acquaintance with Ministers is no big deal. Many constituents have passing acquaintances with their Ministers.

Both Ministers have earned my respect as men of integrity and intelligence. My instinct is to trust and have faith in them. Yet, the announcement strikes fear into my heart because a Ministry can be a much bigger entity than its Minister. It has a life of its own. The Minister is supposed to drive the entity but it can happen that without realising, the entity drives the Minister.

It seems that MOE is like the Alhambra. Every new sultan that takes power builds a new structure to add value. Nothing gets dismantled out of respect for previous sultans. Imagine taking over your parents' bungalow and building a new living room without dismantling the old one. Imagine your children doing that in their turn. And your grandchildren.

Soon, your house will be a clutter of mismatched styles, no?

At first, primary schools taught 4 subjects. Then, they added on niche areas of excellence (orchestra, shooting, gymnastics, wushu, Chinese orchestra, sailing). Then, they added Character Education. Now, there will be Outdoors Education. I doubt the Teachers can cope unless MOE dismantles some things. I doubt that our children can cope unless there is some intelligent dismantling of the humongous and complex MOE primary school to secondary school system.


Our little ones are already doing HW up until 9pm every night in order to cope with the high standards of the PSLE, and strive for DSA... and now they will have to up their game in outdoor activities.

Please dismantle something.

In 2013, Lee Hsien Loong announced at the National Day Rally speech that the PSLE t-score would be dismantled in favour of letter grades (à la 'A' levels). Till now, 2016, there is no indication that the t-score will be dismantled. On the ground, in the schools, parents with means are still scrambling to help their kids score well at the PSLE. Parents without means send kids to free tuition.

For as long as the PSLE is a gateway to the top schools, parents will continue to push kids to...
- excel academically (cram them with tuition)
- demonstrate awards excellence in niche CCAs (in the hopes of DSA)
- AND NOW more outdoor activities (whatever these may be)

Unstructured Play
What the children need is UNSTRUCTURED play. See HERE. I am not entirely comfortable with this extent of toddler independence but the article makes a point clear. To learn initiative, drive and self-reliance, adults must stop telling kids what to do every minute of the day. The kids need time to play what they want how they want.

So now, good lohhhh... we are going to structure them to play outdoors.

In Dr. Pet's enrichment centre, there are Vietnamese, Indian and Indonesian parents. I note that none of these foreign parents have any problems adapting to Dr. Pet's Thinking Curriculum. It is the Singaporean parents that cling on tight to structure, rules and guidance. Singaporean parents need to be spoon fed and told everything because they are so AFRAID to be unsupervised.

These foreigner parents FIGURE IT OUT EASILY like ducks swim, especially since the materials are designed to be EASILY figured out.

Can we please dismantle some MOE mechanisms so that our children can indulge in unstructured/unsupervised play?

Give Teachers a Break
Teachers cannot do everything. The children don't want to be told how to play and what to play. So, why make the Teachers supervise, monitor and structure outdoor play? If you dismantle the PSLE, parents will naturally allow kids to play... and some kids will naturally choose outdoor play.

Busyness is Not Good
MOE is busy. The children are busy. Busy at what? Is there a need to control, monitor, supervise, structure, award, reward, recognise everything? Sometimes, less is more. Re-look at the PSLE as a placement exam. Change that mechanism.

Swimming Up a Waterfall
Else, you are just adding to the pressure for Teachers and Children. As long as the PSLE is a placement exam that leads to top schools, any attempt to reduce focus on exams is like swimming up the Niagara Falls.

With the focus on niche CCAs and outdoor play, what is likely to happen is that kids will go to school to play and then have tuition (paid or free) and parents to help them learn to ace the PSLE. This is the world on its head. In times past, kids went to school to learn to ace exams and then went home to play.

Break Down the System and Rebuild It
Someone must have the guts to break down the system and rebuild it. You cannot keep adding to the structure. It is against the laws of nature. Whether in architecture or in biology, healthy systems possess an internal coherence. Our MOE system lacks an internal coherence. My friend, Dr. A suggested that we learn from nature how to build a system.

Let Us Learn From Nature How to Develop MOE Muscle 
Muscle building results when the body repairs tears that occur during strenuous exercise. Muscle building cannot occur without first tearing down muscle fibers, the main component of muscle tissue. Hypertrophy is the term used to describe an increase in muscle bulk, which occurs when the body repairs torn muscle fibers. Weight lifting, resistance training and long-distance running are among the stressors that initiate the teardown and muscle-building cycle.

- Taken from HERE. - 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bubbles of Blessings

After writing the series of posts on working with careless and dreamy children...
HERE: Mental Energy Depletion
HERE: Cardio Therapy
HERE: Juggling Therapy
... I have been receiving messages and emails from parents who went out to buy trampolines, exercise bikes, skipping ropes etc...

They all report that they have happier and more relaxed children. This is not surprising because cardio exercise produces dopamine (the happy hormone). It also happens that dopamine enhances the brain's ability to learn and remember - HERE.

In other words, happy children learn better.

Anyway, this post is about the silly image that keeps surfacing in my head the past few days.

I wonder how many children are now doing cardio therapy... 100, 200, 300? Now, imagine for a moment that 100 children stop every 40 minutes to do cardio (and produce dopamine). These children feel momentarily a small bubble of happiness. Imagine now that these bubbles of happiness rise upwards to heaven.

God is seated on His throne in heaven. The bubbles rise up to him and burst, giving off a fragrance. Do you suppose that God is pleased at the smell of Children's Happiness?

Such a silly image, I know... but I cannot get it out of my head.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Working With Careless and Dreamy Kids: Part 3

This post is the 3rd in a series...
Part 1: HERE
Part 2: HERE

Caveat: This strategy does not work at all if the child hates juggling and is just doing it to go through the motions.

ADHD kids cannot pay attention. They cannot focus. That is why the condition is named Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. What I find more insidious is the condition Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD).  The ADD kids sit quietly and their minds float from one thought to another. In a class of 40 kids, it is hard to pick them out. They give no trouble. They are not hyperactive but they cannot focus. Only when they start failing do parents and teachers notice.

The thing about ADHD and ADD is that it is a continuum. The cut off point between what constitutes a special need is rather arbitrary (in my opinion). Hence, your child may be poor enough at focusing to damage his own potential but not that poor that he/she is classified as ADD/ADHD simply because he does not fall within the cut-off boundaries.

In Dr. Pet's classes, we do not focus on results. We focus on behaviours that lead to results. Then, our results look after themselves. Our facilitators are trained to WATCH children's faces and body language. We had been wrestling with one child's poor focus for 2 years. This was the borderline ADD type, with vacant eyes and slow reflexes. I fairly pulled out my hair trying to unlock his potential.

Juggling Therapy
As a last resort, I placed him on Juggling Therapy. He started Juggling Therapy every day since early September 2015.

15 minutes EVERYDAY.

To date, he can do close to 100 rounds, and has graduated from 3 balls to 4 balls. His ability to control his attention has improved immensely. This was a boy that I had written off as dumb. When many in his class were topping their classes/levels in English, this one failed.

I teach all the students. I provide the same materials to all of them. I mark all their work the same way. Others top the class/level. This one failed. I felt like a failure too. After months of Juggling Therapy, he scored 2nd in class in Dr Pet's comprehension test. I am so amazed, I have trouble believing it. I marked his comprehension paper 3 times to be very sure.

Online References
For those who are interested to read/view...

(1) Juggling grows white matter in the brain: See HERE (for the raw research paper) and HERE (for a simpler layman report).

(2) Juggling improves academic performance: See HERE and HERE.

(3) Juggling helped an ADHD child focus and do well in school. See HERE.

Results of Juggling Therapy
Out of desperation to help kids who were borderline ADHD and ADD, I searched for unconventional interventions. We have had good results.

No... we have AMAZING results when the parents ENSURE daily and sustained practice. Some parents are indisciplined. They know what is right to do but they cannot follow through in a disciplined way. Then, not even I can help their kids. I think I am already going beyond the call of duty when I pore through research papers to troubleshoot and find solutions. I absolutely refuse to go to a student's house and personally supervise HW or therapy. I also absolutely refuse to nag/motivate parents to do what they know they should do. If you don't have the self-motivation to help your kid, I don't help you.

So, I give up and request the parents to source for one-to-one tuition where a dedicated tutor will sit next to the child and force the child to focus. However, this does not resolve the root of the child's attention deficit problem. The tutor is merely a crutch to help a handicapped child.

Personal Experience
I searched high and low. I even booked a booth at the Causeway Point library to look for more research papers on juggling. I could not find any proper neuroscience research that linked academic results to juggling. Researchers usually examine in any single paper ONE narrow focus on an issue. I suppose the effects of juggling on academic performance is a complex and multi-faceted one and it is still a very little understood phenomenon.

Desperate to understand, I got myself a trainer (JimmyJuggler). The activity was so taxing that I had to go and sleep after a 1 hour lesson.  I tire easily because of health issues. So, I am not a good gauge. The Husband, however, also found it mentally taxing. Other parents who have tried it, say the same thing.

This is my experience...
(1) The moment I lose focus, even for a millisecond, all the balls drop. My guess is that the parts of the brain that control attention grow in gray matter. This is my guess.

(2) The moment I get happy (when I am doing well) and anxious (when I drop the balls), everything veers out of control. I am guessing that Juggling rewires the brain for emotional control too.

(4) My 2 kids, with very strong focus abilities, picked up juggling very fast. The Daughter was juggling 3 balls within 15 minutes. Smelly Boy shot the balls all over the room in his enthusiasm one night and the next night, he came in juggling like a pro.

Parents can buy Dr. Pet's book on How To Motivate Children to WANT to Study, HERE.

Please also watch this space. I am not yet done with sharing strategies on 
How to Work With Dreamy Kids.

Gifted and High Potential
We are now rolling these therapies out to the GEP and Hi-Potential students to further strengthen their brains and help them cope with the heavy GEP workload.

Part 4 is HERE.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Teachers and Their Parking

I was in 2 minds about whether to write this post. Since the new MOE Minister (for schools) took over, MOE seems to have gone completely deaf to parent feedback again. It has gone back to the "I am so clever that I know best what to do" attitude again, importing the latest methods and technology from Harvard, USA (and talking about highfalutin innovation) etc... without really examining issues from First Principles...
- local teachers' needs
- local children's needs

It does look at local workforce needs but unless these are seamlessly integrated to teachers and children's needs, the whole system is just going to limp along with aches and pains everywhere.

Do you wonder that SIA pilots get to fly Business Class (sometimes even 1st Class) for free? It is called a Staff Benefit and it is a clever Staff Benefit. Other companies who want their staff to fly First Class need to pay SIA its costs and profits. SIA can fly its own staff at cost.

So, it makes sense to offer free First Class holiday flights to anywhere in the world (as staff benefits) to pilots and their families. especially since there are almost always unoccupied seats in First Class.

Schools have always had ample parking spaces to cater to possible PTA days and events where large numbers of parents are invited. It doesn't cost schools a lot to let their Teachers use these lots for free the rest of the year. Surely Teachers deserve Staff Benefits?

Surely, it is clever HR practice (to attract and retain staff) to provide a Staff benefit that is...
- unique
- not costly to the organisation
Free parking for Teachers happens to be Unique and Not More Costly to MOE.

I wonder why no one begrudges the pilots their free First Class holiday flights. Are pilots worth more than Teachers? Or are Teachers just a community of people so cowed by MOE (and so disrespected by the public) that everyone gets step all over them in practically every way...
- HUGE classes (not conducive to teaching thinking skills)
- heavy admin workload
- guard duty
- baby-sitting duty
- little protection from parent abuse
... and now, must pay for parking.

It isn't as if Teachers earn mini-fortunes. The majority of them do not drive to work anyway. This really smacks of exploitation, in the same way the Lords of the feudal system squeezed their peasants dry, for them to farm on lordly lands.

How much more money will MOE make anyway from those few who do drive? How much more will it cost to implement and maintain parking machines in all the schools? And perhaps, to recoup the costs of installing and maintaining these machines, the schools will be forced to let the public park in the schools (given that parking space in schools is often under utilised)?

Then what about school security?

It really is already so shameful that classes are so large that Teachers cannot teach as properly as they want to (and thus parents have to buy tuition)... and now we are squeezing Teachers for parking? To what extent will MOE go to save money and transfer costs (to parents for tuition and teachers for parking)?

Just consider it a staff benefit that only Teachers get, and let Teachers feel special for once, in the way that policy treats them. Those who think with their heads forget to feel with their hearts. Most Teachers don't drive anyway but they aspire to. Take this away and you take away hope.

Most Teachers spend more on school supplies and gifts for their students. So, it really is not money. They view free parking as a sort of emotional get-back... a special something that only MOE can give, and it has been giving all these years. Take this away and you re-set the employer-employee relationship to a purely transactional one. I give you your pay and you work. This is at odds with the profession of caring. The last of the gotong-royong spirit will evaporate into ether.

The emotional response is NOT objective.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Working With Careless and Dreamy Kids: Part 2

This post is a continuation from HERE. It details ONE practical strategy to top-up levels of norepinephrine in the brain. Kindly paste this bloglink into your Facebook to share with friends. The Facebook algorithm limits the number of spontaneous exposures for Facebook corporate identities and my company is charged for every view and every click.

I had initially considered keeping all my techniques secret and proprietary. After all, it is with these techniques that we have been able to bring some children from Zero to Hero. See HERE. However, I think more Singaporean kids will benefit (and live better quality lives) if I share publicly. There is a limit to how many lives I can touch by working with individual kids (even though I comfort myself that it is better to touch one life than none at all). 

Besides, I don't have to share everything, right? Just share enough to do my civic duty. Haha!

So please, let your friends know. I will not be broadcasting this post on Facebook in the same way I broadcasted Part 1.

Intermittent Cardio Therapy
Cardio exercise increases dopamine (see HERE). Dopamine is a precursor to norepinephrine in the brain (see HERE). There is a caveat to this therapy. Your child must want to do well. If your child is not motivated, no amount of norepinephrine will help.

Now, imagine a child faced with 8 worksheets (2 Math, 2 Chinese, 2 Science and 2 English), all to be completed in the afternoon. This child has just come home from school, had lunch, bathed and played some phone games. Bearing in mind that phone games use up norepinephrine big time, the child starts on his HW with half a store of norepinephrine. This is enough to get him through the 2 Math worksheets, both done with reasonable quality. By the time he gets to the last 2 English worksheets, the child is restless and can barely focus.

By the time Dr. Pet marks these 2 worksheets, I get sentences like this from a child who had recently topped his class in compo writing, "There were one hundred houses on the ancient London," The word "bridge" is missing after "London".

We have had good results with focus and concentration using Intermittent Cardio. I teach the Mommies to watch their children's body language to note the actual length of time the child can focus without slouching or dreaming. Mommies then make a note of that time. It can be 30 minutes, 45 minutes or 2 hours.

Every child is different. So, know your child.

Build Cardio Therapy Into Work Process
Let us assume that a hypothetical child called Milo can only focus for 40 minutes at a time. Break his work schedule into chunks of 40 minutes (i.e., 2 Math worksheets) and pop in a 10 minute cardio break before continuing another 40 minutes (i.e., 2 Chinese worksheets).

During the 10 minute cardio break (I am talking about heart pumping, red face and sweaty temples), dopamine is produced which the brain can use to synthesise into norepinephrine for use in the next 40 minutes of focused work.

You can divide the work into chunks by time (in minutes) or by worksheets (number of worksheets estimated to take around that number of minutes). It is ok to give or take 5 minutes each way.

Train Mental Stamina
Bear in mind that some PSLE exams can take up more than 2 hours, with half hour break in between Papers 1 and 2. You need to train your child's mental stamina to focus for at least 2 hours, no? To train stamina, simply expand the 40 minutes to 45 minutes to 50 minutes to 60 minutes GRADUALLY... whilst maintaining a 10 minute cardio break in between chunks of work minutes.

Expand all the way up to 2 hour chunks. Expand GRADUALLY. Nobody graduates from 2kg weights to 3kg weights in 1 day.

What Type of Cardio Exercise
Here is a selection of what Dr. Pet's mommies have picked...
(1) Indoor trampoline
(2) Exercise bike
(3) Chapteh
(4) Skip rope
Anything that can be made readily available right next to the child's work table.

Most parents give play breaks. Unless your play break involves cardio, it is a waste of time. Not enough dopamine is produced

A parent asked if exciting shooting games that raise the heart rate and make his boy break into a sweat, counts as exercise. Of course not! Computer and phone games use up mental energy. You need actual PHYSICAL EXERCISE.

How about watching movies or Youtube? They use up mental energy too!

Fat and Unfit Kids
Singaporean kids often have so much HW that they never run around. Physical health has a direct impact on brain functioning. One fatty bum bum joined me in September 2014. He often forgot to write his name on his worksheets. In class, his eyes glazed over after 2 comprehension questions and we had to verbally call him back on task every 10 to 15 minutes. I actually had to assign TWO peers in class to check that he had packed all his worksheets, written his names and passed up his work. His grades in school were poor.

Acting on my advice, his wonderful Mother (one of my favourite Mothers by now)
(1) lightened his workload (by actively reducing worksheets) and
(2) made him jog daily
He is now one of the students to whom I entrust the task of bringing another Very Dreamy Classmate back on task. His end of year 2015 English results are HERE.

He was doing LESS work and achieved BETTER results. Of course, cardio therapy alone will not bring a child from Zero to Hero. We had to effectuate some language therapies too. Also, please don't OVERDO the cardio. Some kids are really very unfit. Just a light sweat will do. Find a cardio your child enjoys.

In Moderation Please
Parents should not over-use this strategy. It would not do, for example, to make your child work for 24 hours at a stretch with 10 minute cardio breaks every 40 minutes. You will damage your child's body.

For the next few strategies... please watch this space...

Edited 12 January 2016
Part 3 is HERE.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Working With Careless and Dreamy Kids: Part 1

This post draws from Roy Baumeister's research and is written for parents of children who...
(a) are dreamy (eyes go blank in Dr. Pet's class)
(b) scatterbrained (leaves worksheets, water bottles, pencil boxes behind in Dr. Pet's class)
(c) careless when doing Dr. Pet's worksheets
(d) careless when writing compos
(e) high potential and GEP kids facing high workload and undergoing high stress

Basically, it is for every child in Singapore lahhh...

Mental Energy Depletion
In psychology research, the term "ego depletion" is a highfalutin term for "the idea that self-control or willpower draw upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up."

I don't like the cheem term "ego depletion" so I shall simply call it "mental energy depletion".

Put simply, a child's brain has limited stores of mental energy. This pool of mental energy is like an iPhone battery, if it is depleted, the child stops thinking (the iPhone stops working). When that happens, parts of the child's brain goes into sleep mode LITERALLY. See HERE. The child is awake but key parts of the brain fall asleep.

The Role of Norepinephrine
In the brain, at optimum levels, norepinephrine increases arousal and alertness, promotes vigilance, enhances formation and retrieval of memory, and focuses attention.  Too much norepinephrine increases restlessness and anxiety. Too little norepinephrine?
- Your child's attention drifts.
- Your child cannot catch his/her own careless mistakes

See HERE for the research on norepinephrine (and attention).
See HERE the research on ego depletion (and various types of tasks involving the brain). In effect, all tasks (even as simple as checking for carelessness, involve the brain). Once ego depleted, the child no longer can exert mental self-control and even if he wants to pay attention, would start thinking about other things - his mind drifts.

Norepinephrine VS Mental Energy
A neuroscientist would say that a child who cannot pay attention is lacking in norepinephrine. This site HERE documents that ADHD children are treated with Ritalin which increase norepinephrine in the ADHD brain so that these children can focus. Ritalin also increases dopamine (the happy hormone). Guess what? The brain converts dopamine into norepinephrine.

A psychologist, like me, would say that the child is "ego depleted". Like I said, I do not like this cheemology so, as an English Teacher, I prefer to tell parents,

- "Your kid runs out of mental energy halfway through the compo. That is why the last page has so many more mistakes even though the compo was done with no time constraint."

- "Your kid had piano class just before Dr. Pet's class. Dr. Pet's class is structured to deplete mental energy. 15 minutes into the class, your child cannot focus."

Motivation VS Depleted Mental Energy (aka Depleted Norepinephrine)
When I first started out teaching English, I tried everything to motivate these children (who look stupid) but sometimes, when the conditions were right, would give me star quality work. I assumed (wrongly) that the child was not motivated. After all, motivation is my expertise and if you are expert with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Again and again I hit roadblocks when I tried to troubleshoot ...
(a) stupid looking kids with flashes of brilliance
(b) GEP and high-po kids who just kept on giving me sub-par work
... using motivational techniques.

Fortunately, I had some instinct to step back and see if I could crack these children from a different approach.

I realised that these kids WANTED to be focused. They WANTED to please Dr. Pet because the price  of displeasing me is expulsion and since classes are so fun, NONE of them want to be expelled. They really are motivated children. They simply could not help it!

Once I had figured that out, the next question was WHY could they not help it? Deep in the recesses of my memory, I remembered the notion of Ego Depletion. I locked onto this construct and started to read up. I then started troubleshooting these children with techniques aimed at
- increasing norepinephrine (aka mental energy)
- topping up norepinephrine (aka mental energy) at optimum intervals through the day
- preventing the depletion of norepinephrine (aka mental energy)

So, I devised some practical ways to help kids top-up on norepinephrine. I launched these strategies on the WORST kids (kids who needed 3 pairs of eyes [2 class facilitators and 1 peer] to bring them back on cognitive task). Luckily, the centre has enough manpower to afford 3 pairs of eyes on one child!

To my joy, both their ability to focus and their quality of work improved! For me, research is not convincing unless I apply its findings to real life and see the effects. Without true real life effects, all that research blather is useless.

This post is getting too long. Please come back to this blog to read Part 2 of this post which will detail the exact techniques to increase, top up and prevent.

Edited 5 January 2016
I have written up Part 2 HERE.