Archive for December, 2007

The blog entry I mentioned in my previous post had this line that caught my attention:

“[NCLB] is particularly destructive to bright young math students.”

I’m assuming this consequence is partly due to the Reform Math taught in many public highschools in the US.

Like the NCLB, Reform Math started out from good intentions. Its goal is for all students to “learn to value mathematics” and “have numerous and varied experiences related to the cultural, historical, and scientific evolution of mathematics so that they can appreciate the role of mathematics in the development of our contemporary society.”

However, Reform Math seems to be committing the same mistakes as the New Math of the 1960s. The focus on abstract concepts and “mathematical thinking” at the expense of basic arithmetic, though essential for highschool and univ. students who are interested in more advanced mathematics, seems to be too much for young kids to handle.

In fact, some schools in the US are turning to other more “traditional” math syllabuses, one of which is (surprise surprise) Singapore Math!

Remember these?

Primary Math Textbook 1A U.S. EDITION

A rather amusing line from the wikipedia article about Singapore Math:

“Most U.S. parents are likely to be familiar with the traditional mathematics presented in a typical Singapore math book. By contrast, many reform texts which follow NCTM recommendations cover advanced topics such as algebra and statistics, which makes some parents feel inadequate. “

I don’t doubt that algebra and statistics are important, but surely feeding them to any ordinary student under 10 is like giving wine to kids? It’s too strong for their system and it makes them lose their footing. Let them learn how to consume grape juice first. (And I strongly believe that good mathematics, like good wine, is an acquired taste)

To end off, here’s a funny video featuring someone lip-syncing Tom Lehrer’s New Math:

(this guy lip-syncs Tom Lehrer’s The Elements too!)


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no child left behind?

A rather disturbing blog entry I chanced upon (here) concerning America’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) says:

“‘Statistically, 20 percent of U.S. school dropouts test in the gifted range.” Keep in mind that the “gifted range” is defined as the top 3%. So 20% of dropouts come from this particular 3% of the population. …

“NCLB is not only leaving the gifted behind, it is also leaving behind the bottom 20% of students, presumably those very students it was intended to help!”

Clearly a one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to go for education. This is echoed in (of all places!) Lewis’s Screwtape Proposes A Toast (bear in mind it’s the devil speaking):

“The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good mark. …

” Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not….

“At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Let, them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. …

“Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma — Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career”

This was written back in 1959!

Sure, the NCLB Act was started with the best of intentions, and sure, it’s done some good (according to its wikipedia article). But having incentives against low-performing students and incentives against gifted, talented and high-performing students (I quote headings from the wikipedia article) is clearly no go! I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, which starts:

“THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.” (bold mine)

Boy am I glad that our MOE has recognised this absence of equality, and has catered for it through streaming (to identify the strong & weak students and channel them to the appropriate curriculum) and the presence of vocational institutes (to provide for those who’d rather not go on the univ. route). They’ve also succeeded in showing that having a system based on meritocracy (not elitism, mind you) does not mean having to leave others behind.

Fortunately, the NCLB only applies to sub-Univ. levels in the US.

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Xristmas Xuotes

A collection of words about the Word, from various sources:



“For the light of Supernova Bethlehem is still flooding out through space; it has left Earth far behind in the twenty centuries that have elapsed since men saw it for the first and last time….

“At this very moment, therefore, the Star of Bethlehem may still be shining in the skies of countless worlds, circling far suns… And for thousands of years to come, as its radiance ebbs out toward the frontier of the universe, Supernova Bethlehem will still have power to startle all who see it, wherever – and whatever – they may be…

“What did they make of it – and did it bring them good tidings, or ill?”

The Star of Bethlehem, Arthur C. Clarke



“O Thou, Whose glorious yet contracted light,

Wrapt in Night’s mantle, stole into a manger,

Since my dark soul and brutish, is Thy right,

To man, of all beasts, be not Thou a stranger:

Furnish and deck my soul, that Thou mayst have

A better lodging than a rack or grave.”

Christmas, George Herbert



“A word came forth in Galilee, a word like to a star;

It climbed and rang and blessed and burnt wherever brave hearts are;

A word of sudden secret hope, of trial and increase

Of wrath and pity fused in fire, and passion kissing peace.

A star that o’er the citied world beckoned, a sword of flame;

A star with myriad thunders tongued; a mighty word there came….

“The breaking of the girths of gold, the needs that creep and swell,

The strengthening hope, the dazing light, the deafening evangel,

Through kingdoms dead and empires damned, through changes without cease,

With earthquake, chaos, born and fed, rose, – and the word was ‘Peace.'”

A Word, G.K. Chesterton



“See how far upon the eastern road

The star-led wisards haste with odours sweet.

But peaceful was the night

Wherein the Prince of Light

His reign of peace upon the earth began;

The winds with wonder whist

Smoothly the waters kist,

Whispering new joys to the mild ocean-

Who now hath quite forgot to rave,

While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.”

Christ’s Nativity, The Hymn, John Milton



“Like a stab at that moment, over Crab and Bowman,

Over Maiden and Lion, came the shock

Of returning life, the start and burning pang at heart,

Setting Galaxies to tingle and rock; …

” Then pulsing into space with delicate, dulcet pace

Came a music, infinitely small

And clear. But it swelled and drew nearer and held

All worlds in the sharpness of its call….

” Such a note as neither Throne nor Potentate had known

Since the Word first founded the abyss,

But this time it was changed in a mystery, estranged ,

A paradox, an ambiguous bliss….

“A shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth

Went gliding. Her bonds were released.

Into broken light a breeze rippled and woke the seas,

In the forest it startled every beast…

“So death lay in arrest. But at Bethlehem the bless’d

Nothing greater could be heard

Than a dry wind in the thorn, the cry of the One new-born,

And cattle in the stall as they stirred.”

The Turn of the Tide, C.S. Lewis


Merry Christmas!

needles & snow

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L. & e

While walking around the Singapore Botanic Gardens with my father, he pointed out an exhibition at the Garden’s Library of Botany & Horticulture commemorating the 300th birthday of Carl Linnaeus, ‘the father of animal and plant classification.”

The exhibition was advertised in a large poster with a portrait of Linnaeus and the characters, “300th”, printed in Gothic script. It reminded me of the advertisements for various events and concerts celebrating Mozart’s 250th anniversary last year.

I felt it was good that the Garden’s were doing something to increase public awareness about this figure in biology, but thought nothing more of it, until I came across this comment (on the Amazon page for Euler’s “Elements of Algebra”):

“2007 is the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Leonhard Euler. As a result there is likely to be a resurgence of interest in him and of course his work.”

So Euler was born in 1707 too! As far as I could recall, though, there had been no surge in an interest of either his life or his work in Singapore this year. The music and natural history societies in Singapore had commemorated the lives of their iconic figures, but the mathematical community was silent about the birth of one of the greatest and most influential mathematicians!

But after a few moments of brooding over this sad reality, I realised that, being confined in camp for most of this year, I hadn’t really been in touch with the happenings around Singapore this past year. It would have been unjust to shake my head at the mathematical community in Singapore without first ascertaining the validity of my notion. And besides, I was guilty of being ignorant of Euler’s birthyear, too.

A quick search revealed that the Singapore Mathematical Society, in conjunction with the Swiss House (Euler was Swiss) had planned a series of public lectures and essay competitions to commemorate Euler’s life and influence.

And so I am comforted. Although I’m now brooding over having missed those lectures, some of which sound rather interesting…

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December is a magical month. If you don’t agree, listen to George Winston’s “December” until you do…

There’s this change in mood…

“And the greatest wonder of them all
Is not what’s happening around you, it’s the way
You start to be
Yes the greatest wonder of them all is how your
Heart is filled with love
You start to light up like a Christmas tree

Feelings feel so wonderful
You have to let them show
Maybe that’s why ev’ryone begins to get a glow…”

(watch it on sesame street)

There’s the usual change of wind & weather, the Christmas cheer & celebrations, special birthdays & birthday’s of special people (happy birthday, ma!).

But this is a special december. This couple of weeks, despite the lack of school holidays, despite having to travel to the remotest part of the land & adjust to my new posting, and despite not being able to leave the country, have been simply great.

The whole comms package was great, and the new lifestyle that follows promises to be fun & fulfilling. The last of the package was last night’s comms ball, where I looked like


save for the red tie (mine was black) and white shirt (mine grey). Oh, and the face (mine looked marginally more human).

The ball would have been a bore, if not for the fact that most of us weren’t really concerned with what was happening on stage. The company was great, though. Would have been better if Maj Se7en was around. I thought the calendar & video were not bad. Some photos were really good, but I don’t think I’m allowed to release them here.

That aside, the culinary experiences in these past weeks were really one of a kind. First, the heavy-on-tradition dining-in at SAFTI, where we all sat uniformly in our dining attire at really long tables and attempted to remember which utensils to use for which dish. Then the truly FINE dining at the Cliff @ Sentosa, where the waitress gave a commentary on the dishes placed before us and my tastebuds were given a ride of their life (and it’s not because I tried to pronounce the dishes). And just this afternoon, a really green lunch at a rather niche vegetarian restaurant that sorta refreshed my palate (like when you press the F5 key). I’ve got 2 more BBQs to look forward to, and maybe there’ll be more great food around the Christmas & New Year periods!

And though I didn’t get to leave the country, Sentosa wasn’t a bad alternative. The Song of the Sea was a pleasant surprise; a visual spectacle with lots of great visual treats popping up like jack-in-a-box-es. It’s worth the admission fee, and you have to be there to appreciate it.

So yeah. It’s been a great december so far, and we’re only 2/3 of the way through. And most of the experiences above were not planned (at least not by me); they just seemed to happen. I’m hoping there’ll be lots more pleasant surprises for the rest of the year. And I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.

After all, December is magical.

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It’s a great feeling, throwing that peak cap in the air, channeling all the tension, nervousness and pressure of the past 2 hours are releasing it, letting it go, like a cork from a champagne bottle.

Definitely a great way to top off a great week. Got my sword, my $100 voucher, my wine glass, my scroll, photos, and those 2 precious golden bars. They really know how to make us feel good.

And of course, great family & friends to share the moments with.

Happy is an understatement.

And now I can (I hope) resuming posting. I notice I haven’t done so for almost a month. So many things to say & do, so little time (or rather, so little network speed… )

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ending the seemingly endless thirty-eight weeks

and heralding the start of another fifty weeks

and as many years

because our time starts now

and doesn’t end till we’re close to fifty

and even then

it doesn’t end

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