Learning is Life

Learning is Life

by Kai


Dear Parents and Students,

This post includes some contrarian views that you may not agree with, so please move on if it does not sit well with your views. The intent of this post is to share some views that may be of worth to some students and parents, if not all, as they consider their choices for the next few years.

I have heard and read many times about students having to spend so much time and effort in school related activities, resulting in them having “no life”. Should things really be this way?

As a student who used to love to go to school and as a concerned citizen, my answer is “Yes, this is life”! Learning is life, so spending a lot of time in school is life, or at least a big part of life. As full-time students, should they not be spending most of their time immersed in learning-related environments such as schools? Schools are mini-copies of our society, although not all schools are the same, but they are copies that are less harsh than our society. Schools, especially secondary and tertiary, are safe havens in which students discover about themselves and the world around them, as they grow and mature. So should they not explore as much as possible in schools before they progress to the eventually adult society?

Yes, there will be a reduction in family time as students spend more time in schools but is this not a natural progression as students mature to become independent young adults? Without sufficient time away from their parents, will students learn to become independent adults by the time they become working adults of the society? However, it does not mean that parents should be almost out of the picture completely. In fact, the teenage years are when parental guidance is the most important. It does not take a lot of time to give timely advice, does it?

Is it not ideal that students catch on with the idea of having “no life”? In my opinion, I think that is detrimental to their motivation for going to school and hence for learning. One only feels that there is “no life” when what one has to do most of the time is something so undesirable. So should students learn to think that spending a lot of time in school is undesirable? I think the idea of “no life” comes from the societal norm that life, or at least a good life, should be full of leisure, and so working for long hours means “no life”. Then along the way, school work and activities have become synonymous to adult work, and so born the idea that spending a lot of time in school means “no life”. Actually, in my opinion, work is also life but unfortunately a good number of people around the world may not be very happy with the work that they have to do.

Learning is Life! Happy Learning Everyone!


Bullying in Singapore – Do Things Improve after Victims Confide? [2.5]

Bullying in Singapore – Do Things Improve after Victims Confide? [2.5]

IMG_0526If you are being bullied at your workplace, will you confide in someone or share worth someone and hope things get better? If you don’t, do you expect your child to do the same?

Our students perceive the effectiveness of telling an adult or a figure of authority determines who they tell when bullied. However, many of them are under the perception that nothing can be done to improve the situation even after they tell someone.

Our students are perceptive enough to note 2 factors when they tell someone of a higher authority of their bullying: willingness and interest of adults to intervene on their behalf.

From the statistics, a good number believe that teachers are not all that ready to intervene on their behalf. Is that really true? We will be looking at that are in the next post.

bullying in singapore

Science Explains Why Some Teenagers and Children Feel Good from Self-Harm

Science Explains Why Some Teenagers and Children Feel Good from Self-Harm

IMG_0527You may have read this article or even heard of someone who has engaged in self-harm or also known as “non-suicidal self-injury” (NSSI). When I was teaching, self-harm was one of the top cases that our school counsellors and teachers often reported.  In fact, it is actually a rising trend; it was reported in the local news in 2008, 2012 and just recently. This act is, indeed, very terrifying and it is worse if it happens to your child. However, while many of us are quick to dismiss it easily as a ‘cry for help‘ or ‘attention seeking‘, science explains why this act of self-harm actually causes feelings of pleasure in our children.

RELATED: Science Says Your Child’s Math Scores is Doing More Harm than Good

Acts of Self-Harm

Here, we defined self-harm as literally making small cuts on his or her body, usually the arms and legs. It is an act where the child injures themselves on purpose by making scratches or cuts on their body with a sharp object  enough to break the skin and make it bleed . It seems as if your child is suicidal and honestly, its appearances will terrify any parent.

Some may cut themselves on their wrists, arms, legs, or bellies. Some people self-injure by burning their skin with the end of a cigarette or lighted match. When cuts or burns heal, they often leave scars or marks. People who injure themselves usually hide the cuts and marks and sometimes no one else knows.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Lower Your Child’s Anxiety

Who and Why They Self-Harm

It is easy to stereotype wile and rebellious teenagers as the ones who will engage in such acts but the truth is, there is a growing number of studious and quiet girls and boys who are engaging in this act. Self-harm is an act of control where victims feel gives them power over something. Reasons for making them feeling that they have lack of self-control ranges from struggling to live up to expectations and lack of warmth from family. Some may copy these acts from their friends and stick with it as they enjoy the pleasure of cutting. People usually start self-injuring in early adolescence, between the ages of 11 and 15 (though there are some cases where children as young as 5 start hitting themselves repeatedly as well) and most of them report that it calms them and brings a sense of relief. This is most likely to occur in those who have much trouble regulating their emotions.

Science Explains Why They Feel Good in Self-Harm

Researchers conducted a brain imaging study using pictures and temperature to invoke a warmth or heat-pain sensation (set at individual’s threshold) in their participants. Those who have issues coping with emotion have heightened activation of limbic circuitry in response.  The limbic system, also known as the ‘emotional brain‘ as it contains the brain’s reward circuit, is a set of brain structures that supports a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, and long-term memory. When its response is heightened during the act, it means that the brain sense the ‘cutting’ as a reward for physical pain. The amygdala ,which is part of the limbic system, is also inhabited and thus, fear is also inhibited.

Thus, some people cut themselves to provide pain relief from emotional distress due to the inhibitions of some brain regions involved in emotions.


Discovering I have 2 Mom Modes

Discovering I have 2 Mom Modes

by Donna Cheng


You’ve heard the popular line from the TV series “Kids say the darndest things”.  But I realised that many parents don’t say the smartest things either when it comes to building our children up daily.>

I am ashamed to admit this, but I am guilty of not affirming my boys as much as I want to. This is especially when I am on the “autopilot” mode, and with my younger boy who doesn’t always like to live by the rules.

I made this sad and rather disturbing discovery recently when I decided to monitor what I say to my boys. Don’t get me wrong. My boys and I have really interesting and engaging conversations, and we laugh often, many times daily.

But I realise when hard pressed for time, especially when I am hurried in the mornings – to get the boys to school on time (thankfully I do not need to prepare breakfast) and try to squeeze in a quick prayer followed by –

Task-driven mum-mode:

  1. Do you need to stay back in school for anything?
  2. Do you have anything for me to sign? Any forms, test papers, worksheets?
  3. Did you finish your homework? Why didn’t you bring back the papers for me to sign?
  4. Do you know your teacher sends out Whatsapp messages to all parents? I really don’t like it when I see your name on it. Please be more responsible.

Then when I near the school gate and get ready to drop them off, I suddenly switch modes, smile  and say in a loving tone (because I suddenly realise I won’t get to see them till hours later):

Loving mum-mode:

  1. Ok, remember, be good. Have a good day in school. Have fun. Learn something. Love you.OR
  2. Enjoy your day, Baby / Darling. Be nice and take care ok? Love you.

With that, we end the morning conversation in the car. It’s off to school and I miss out on the opportunity to send them off for the day with their love tank full.

Yes, I ended with the niceties, and they kiss me before slamming the door shut, but it wasn’t much of a conversation that affirmed them. It was questions and lots more instructions.

I wish I could affirm them more often for something they did, and tell them something really great so they get that boost to take on all that they have to face in school. Occasionally I do, but not often enough.

After school, it gets harder. They are tired from school, and it’s the mad dash to make sure they get lunch, then off to after-school classes and homework. One of the first things I utter, after saying “Hi baby” is :

  1. How was school today? How was class?
  2. Did you get back your test papers today? (a standard question I ask couple of days after the test even though we never punish for poor results or hardly praise for good results. The praising happens when they put in effort prior to the test. So results are not all that important to us but it is a follow-up for closure, a reflex almost, that I ask about their results)
  3. How did you do? Do you know where you went wrong? Are you ok? It’s ok, we can work on the bits you don’t know but you need to know which ones you don’t understand.
  4. Do you have much homework today?
  5. How are you? (Usually this comes after the first few questions about school and school work)

As much as I try not to focus on the academics, the first few things I talk about immediately when I pick them up from school does revolve around school, specifically school work, tests, exams results and what they can do to do better or keep up their great results.

Once the “serious “ school talk gets out of the way, we talk about lunch, dinner plans, funny things that happen in school with their friends or they share with me incidents that took place in class.

I realise from my week-long observation of the things I say to my sons on weekdays is that I do not affirm them enough and I do not fill them with enough love and smiles after their long day in school.

I have decided to be more mindful about the first things I say, and to listen more to them talk instead of trying to offload all the “important” things they need to know to be responsible and to not get in trouble with their teachers.

I am thankful the boys know that their studies aren’t everything. They have a good mix of activities and school work is just part of their everyday lives. But I can certainly do more to talk more about these other things, and also look out for ways to affirm them.


Choose to be aware of the things your kids are doing right

For a start, I consciously decided to look out for one thing I can say to them that affirms their good behaviour or wise choices just before they leave for school. I started it with my younger one who gets the most “instructions” and pep talks from my husband and I because he often forgets to bring his forms home to sign, and does not hand in his homework even if he has done it!

Today, as we got into the lift to get to the carpark, I told him, “I am so proud of you for waking up early on your own, getting ready so quickly, and taking the initiative to bring the things daddy needs. It is so responsible and considerate of you.” He smiled, stood tall with his chest up and said, “Thanks mum.” It made my day, and his too I’m sure.



How to Boost Your Marks for English Comprehension

How to Boost Your Marks for English Comprehension

 by Jerry Lee

IMG_0524English Comprehension is the bane of all students.  Students struggle with comprehension passages from Primary 1 all the way till Secondary school and then it gets harder for the Junior College General Paper.

I have attached a sample English comprehension test with answers at the end of this post.  This comprehension passage is for Primary 6 students but Secondary 1 students can try it too.

Meanwhile, here are some tips for you to tackle your English Comprehension.  These tips apply to students of all levels, regardless Primary or Secondary or Junior College.


reading storybooks

1.  Read the passage with Understanding (not like a story book!)

Many students read comprehension passages without understanding.  They take it too casually.  Do keep in mind that when you are reading the passage, your aim is to understand what’s going on in the passage.

Most comprehension passages, (especially at the higher levels), are taken from a section of a story or an article.  Hence, you are basically reading an incomplete plot or an incomplete story.  Get used to this fact that you will never know the starting or ending, and concentrate on understanding what’s going on with the facts at present.

As you read, you may encounter mental barriers:


“Huh what’s going on in this story?”

“Who is this character? He just appeared out of nowhere!”

“Why is the English language used here so weird?”

“What are all these funny names? Are they names of places or names of people?”


The moment you catch your mind churning with these confused thoughts, keep calm and continue reading.  Keep the faith that you will uncover some vital clues that will answer all these questions as the passage unfurls.  The moment you panic or give up, you will never get the crucial understanding you need of the passage.

And trust me, the questions will always be based on this vital understanding.

So don’t take comprehension reading lightly.  Take out a highlighter; highlight or underline important parts of a paragraph.  Make annotations or notes by the side of each paragraph.  Pick out topic sentences.  Ask yourself what this info means; ask yourself what this phrase means.  Decipher character emotions and personality through the scenes transcribed in the passage.  Think crucially about why certain metaphors are used or why certain comparisons were made.

Read critically and think.  Do not just let your eyes sift through words without any understanding.


grammar scrabble

2.  Take note of your Tenses + Subject-Verb Agreement

The easiest way to boost your marks in comprehension or the English language in general, is by simply building an awareness for your writing, particularly, your grammar.

By cultivating this simple mindset of writing awareness, you can easily boost your English marks by at least 1 grade.

Students who are lazy in cultivating this mindset will struggle with English (Comprehension, Writing, Summary…) throughout their lives.

To start with, just take note of these 2 aspects of English Grammar.  Tenses and Subject-Verb Agreement.

Whenever you finish writing a sentence, re-read it again to check if you are using the correct tense for the correct time frames and under the correct conditions.


E.g:  Tommy was injured but he did not cry as he wanted to show his friends that he was brave.

was injured – past tense

did not cry –  after the word ‘did’, the word ‘cry’ must be in the bare infinitive ( present tense, plural)

wanted – past tense

to show –  after the word ‘to’, ‘ show’ is in the bare infinitive form

was – past tense


When you re-read the sentence, you must be able to sift out keywords and take note of their tenses.  Now let’s look at the same sentence and take note of subject-verb agreement.


E.g:  Tommy was injured but he did not cry as he wanted to show his friends that he was brave.

was – singular, referring to Tommy

cry –  after the word ‘did’, the word ‘cry’ must be in the bare infinitive ( present tense, plural)

 show –  after the word ‘to’, ‘ show’ is in the bare infinitive form ( present tense, plural)

was – singular, referring to Tommy


Do this for your next comprehension and see immediate improvements in your results.

copy paste

3.  Do not lift blindly

Most students are able to identify where the answers lie in the passage.  The real challenge, however, comes from expressing the answer.  Many students are unable to rephrase or rewrite the answers in their own words, hence, they would blindly copy and paste the answer straight from the passage.

The main issue with lifting answers blindly is this:

Whatever that’s being written in the passage is meant to engage the reader, lay out the facts or to push the story along.


What YOU are supposed to write – is an ANSWER to a QUESTION.

Answering a question is different from narrating a story or an event.  Take for example:


“Where did the 3 little pigs live?”

“Once upon a time, there lived three little pigs called Tom, Tim, and Tan in Hougang.”


Did the student answer the question?  No!  He is merely reciting a line from the passage! Obviously the student is not giving the answer in his own words.  He is just blindly and copying sentences where the answers can be found.


What you should do is this:

– find the sentences or phrases that provide the answer

– internalise and understand the information

– write out your own sentences such that it answers the questions directly!


be specific

4.  Be Super Specific when you Answer

The next challenge when it comes to expressing your answer is being super specific.  Not just specific, but super specific.  In fact, you have to be so specific that you treat the marker or examiner like a little child.

Many students would take the mental shortcut or assumption that the answers they provide is clear enough.  Yes your answers are clear to YOURSELF.  But is it clear to OTHERS?

Take for example, a passage where the lead character gets poisoned by a snake bite.


“Why did Tom scream in pain?”


A student who takes mental shortcuts would write:


“Tom was poisoned.”


Notice how this sentence allows interpretation in several ways, especially if I am someone who did not read the passage beforehand.  Tom was poisoned by what?  Cyanide?  Lethal injection? Spider bite?  Frogs?


The student should write specifically : Tom was poisoned from a snake bite.


From now onward, make sure that you express your answers specifically.  Make sure that you leave no room for the reader to interpret the answer otherwise.



long list

5.  Be Concise ( No unnecessary words)

Sometimes when I teach the students to be super specific, another problem from the other end of the spectrum suddenly emerges.  The students stop being concise in their writing and try to squeeze in as many facts, info, details or words into their answer.


For e.g if the question asks again:

“Why did Tom scream in pain?”

A student who is overly wordy would answer:

Tom screamed in pain because he was bitten by a  snake and poisoned so he had to scream to show his pain.

Notice that the sentence above provides the same meaning as: Tom was poisoned from a snake bite.

The only difference is one just uses too many words to express the answer.

Being specific doesn’t mean writing long sentences.  It means providing an accurate answer such that there is no room for misinterpretation.

Being concise doesn’t mean writing short sentences.  It means providing an accurate answer using the necessary number of words.

Both qualities can, and must, come together, hand-in-hand.



Smartify Study  Tip #4 – Study Orientation

Smartify Study Tip #4 – Study Orientation


Repeated studies by scientists and educators conclude that there are 4 main study orientations that can affect a person’s will and ability to study.

Most academically weak students often display the characteristics shown in ‘shallow‘ and ‘social‘ where they often study for the sake of studying.

Students who are motivated and genuinely interested in learning fall in the ‘deep‘ orientation and with study skill from ‘performance‘ orientation – will find themselves soaring.

study orientation

The V of Love – Setting Age-appropriate Boundaries

The V of Love – Setting Age-appropriate Boundaries

by Donna Cheng

smartify I was driving back to my mum’s place with my kids in the backseat when my older boy, just 9 years old then, asked me, “Mum, when will I be able to do that?”

“Do what, Darling?” I asked.

He pointed to a group of junior college students walking along the pavement leading to a mall nearby. My son wanted to know when he can go out with his friends, on his own, after school.

On another occasion my son asked, “When will you allow me to have my iPhone? I will only use it after I finish my work, Mum. We can discuss the rules. Can I have it please?”

My husband and I had our reservations about giving my son a smartphone, let alone an expensive iPhone. It is true that we have to set boundaries when we decide he is ready, but the policing seems like a constant battle for many parents I have spoken with. There seems to be a constant negotiation between parent and child. So for a long time, the easier option was the status quo – no smartphone, no iPhone.  Just use the phone in the school office if you need to reach us.  But I knew we couldn’t continue to hide in our cave much longer, the boy was a pre-teen, we had to deal with this situation soon enough.

The First Step on a Wider Path of Decisions (us) and Choices (them)

We finally did, out of necessity. I was travelling for three weeks and wanted to be able to keep in touch with my sons daily, and for them to still “chat” with me like they do when I’m around.  It’s been six months since both boys were given their smartphones. (Yes, the younger one got it when he was just 9 years old. Is there really a right age to give them a mobile phone? I am often asked this by friends)

Thankfully the ground rules were set and we have no issues with the phone interfering with our family meals or their homework so far. But I am prepared for the day when we have to renegotiate the terms of use when the older boy starts to question the restrictions we place on him.

What’s next?

He is already telling me about the complete freedom his friends have — they are allowed to use the phone late into the night, they can play games on it anytime, they can download games or any applications without needing to ask for permission! But he cleverly adds, “But I am not comparing. I am just saying.”

I may have crossed a small “milestone” in the life of every Singaporean parent — the giving of mobile phones to my sons, but I have yet to cross another. That is, when do I allow them to go out on their own with their friends? Or when will I allow them to play computer games at home. For now, we have not bought them an Xbox, PlayStation or a fancy laptop for gaming.

We take it a step at a time though I do admit we have had it easy so far. The boys have been raised to reason, and have not asked or pestered us for any of these, for now. They have, however, asked about going out with friends or hanging out in their homes. When do we let go? How much freedom should I give to my boys? These are questions every parent will ask, many times over as our children grow up. How do we navigate this? How do we negotiate with our children or should we even negotiate? Thankfully, I have had resources that help me make informed decisions (not perfect because every child is different) and I can learn from the experiences of other parents and experts who have spent time studying and working with children and teens.



A Before-and-After Singapore Math Problem

A Before-and-After Singapore Math Problem

by KC Yan




A Singapore math primer for grades 4–6 students, teachers, and parents

In Model Drawing for Challenging Word Problems, one of the better Singapore math primers to have been written by a non-Singaporean author for an American audience in recent years, under “Whole Numbers,” Lorraine Walker exemplified the following before-and-after problem, as we commonly call it in Singapore.

Mary had served $117, but her sister Suzanne had saved only $36. After they both earned the same amount of money washing dishes one weekend, Mary noticed she had twice as much money as Suzanne. What was the combined total they earned by doing dishes?

The solution offered is as follows:


© 2010 Crystal Springs Books

The author shared that she did two things to make the model look much clearer:

• To add color in the “After” model;
• To slide the unit bars to the right.

This is fine if students have easy access to colored pens, and know which parts to shift, but in practice this may not always be too convenient or easy, especially if the question gets somewhat more complicated.Let me share a quick-and-dirty solution how most [elementary math] teachers and tutors in Singapore would most likely approach this before-and-after problem if they were in charge of a group of average or above-average grades 4–5 students.


From the model drawing,

1 unit = $117 – $36 = $81
1 unit – $36 = $81 – $36 = $45

2 × $45 = $90

They earned a total of $90 by doing dishes.

Analysis of the model method

Notice that the placement of the bars matters—whether a bar representing an unknown quantity is placed before or after another bar representing a known quantity.

In our model, had we placed the [shaded] bar representing the unknown unit on the right, it would have been harder to deduce the relationship straightaway; besides, no sliding or shifting is necessary. So, placing the bar correctly helps us to figure out the relationship between the unknown unit and the known quantities easier and faster.

In general, shading and dotting the bars are preferable to coloring and sliding them, especially when the problem gets harder, with more than two conditions being involved.

The Stack Method

This word problem also lends itself very well to the Stack Method. In fact, one can argue that it may even be a better method of solution than the bar model, especially among visually inclined below-average students.

Take a look at a quick-and-dirty stack solution below, which may look similar to the bar method, but conceptually they involve different thinking processes. To a novice, it may appear that the stack method is just the bar method being depicted vertically, but it’s not. Perhaps in this question, the contrast isn’t too obvious, but for harder problems, the stack method can be seen to be more advantageous, offering a more elegant solution than the traditional bar method.


From the stack model diagram, note that the difference $81(= $117 – $36) must stand for the extra unit belonging to Mary.

1 unit = $81
$36 + ▅ = $81
▅ = $81 – $36 = $45
2 ▅ = 2 × $45 = $90

So, they had a total of $90.

The Sakamoto Method

This before-and-after problem also lends itself pretty well to the Sakamoto method, if the students have already learned the topic on Ratio. Try it out!

Let me leave you with three practice questions I lifted up from a set of before-and-after grades 4–6 problems I plan to publish in a new title I’m currently working on, all of which encourage readers to apply both the bar and the stack methods (and the Sakamoto method, if they’re familiar with it) to solving them.


Use the model and the stack methods to solve these questions.

1. At first, Joseph had $900 and Ruth had $500. After buying the same watch, Joseph has now three times as much money as Ruth. How much did the watch cost?

2. Moses and Aaron went shopping with a total of $170. After Moses spent 3/7 of his money and Aaron spent $38, they had the same amount of money left. How much money had Aaron at first?

3. Paul and Ryan went on a holiday trip with a total of $280. After Paul had spent 4/7 of his money and Ryan had spent $52, the amount Paul had left was 1/4 of what Ryan had left. How much money did Ryan have at first?

1. $300 2. $86 3. $196

Walker, L. (2010). Model drawing for challenging word problems: Finding solutions the Singapore way. Peterborough, NH: Crystal Springs Books.