Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mighty Minds National Finals 2010

Last weekend (Oct 15-17), Kak Saf & I accompanied our students, Aiman, Kaif and Ghavinaash to the RHB-The Star Mighty Minds 2010 National Finals. We entered the state level competition last August and won first place! Besides pocketing a cool RM3k prize money, the students also won the rights to represent Selangor at the National Finals.

The Finals were held at the Swiss Garden Hotel, Jalan Pudu. Prior to the competition, the students met daily after they had completed their SPM Trial to prepare for it. The competition tested the students on their maths, science & general knowledge. Since Kak Saf & I are both English teachers, we couldn't help the students much in the first 2 areas. We just quizzed the students on some general knowledge stuff and oversaw their mock-oral presentation. Oftentimes, it was us who got stumped when the students presented us with questions/puzzles such as this one called the Einstein Puzzle (try it, it's really fun!).

At the state challenge, the win came as a surprise. I wasn't really expecting it. But this one's different. I really thought that they stood a good chance of being crowned the champions. Not only did they work well as a team with each person having their own specialised set of abilities, they were also quite well-prepared for the competition.

The Finals comprised of 5 challenges:
1) The Hand-on Challenge
2) The Minds-on Challenge
3) The MCQ Challenge (multiple-choice questions)
4) The Oral Presentation
5) The Buzzer Round

The first challenge required the students to create a more practical clothes stand. The boys came up with a great model that put them in first place!

But after the second and third challenge, we dropped to number 3. Nevertheless, we were ecstatic that we had made the cut (only the top 5 teams out of the 14 states would proceed to the next round)!

Being in the top 5 was already an achievement but we were all aiming for the first spot. That night, the students stayed up late to prepare for the oral presentation. They prepared their scripts, the PowerPoint slides, practised their lines and timed their presentation until they got really tired and cranky. Haha.

The next day, the boys looked really smart in their blazers, all ready to do the oral presentation. The lower-secondary finalists went on stage first. Each team was only given 3 minutes. Then, it was the upper-secondary students' turn.

Aiman, Kaif & Ghavinaash did really well. Their confident performance may have put them as the front runner coming into the last round: the buzzer quiz.

It was a nail-biting final. The KL and Sarawak teams monopolised that round. KL was in a particularly devastating form. They positively blitzed through that round.

Kak Saf, Kak JC and I made a quick calculation. It's going to be either us, KL or Sarawak who were going to be champs.

When the result was announced, we got third place, Sarawak second and KL first. We lost to KL by a mere 0.45 marks!

Takpelah, they still walked way with RM2k and got their picture plastered in the news. They gave it their best shot. And I was so proud of them :)

I've really enjoyed the whole experience not just because I got to stay in a nice hotel and eat sumptuous hotel food (though these were good enough reasons ;))

I've learnt a lot from my students which reminds me of the book I'm currently reading, The Essential 55, by Ron Clark. The book was dedicated to his parents and students. He wrote, "To my students, thank you for teaching me more about life than I could ever teach you".

And later in the acknowledgements, he wrote, " all of my former students, every day I spent with you was magic. I learned, I laughed, and I had the time of my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you."

Actually, I was planning to write a whole other entry on The Essential 55 book, but what I'm getting at now is, teaching can be so much fun. Once in while you do come across that magical teaching moment/experience. And you realise that sometimes your students teach you more about life's lessons than you can ever teach them about the English Grammar or what not.

I've learned from these students about working hard to achieve your goals. It's humbling to see the hard work that these students put in (even though they are already really, really smart).

They are also very independent, proactive and resourceful. Kak Saf and I needn't do much. They really do deserve the bulk the credit.

So thanks RHB and The Star for organising a great competition. The competition really does challenge the students' creativity and mental prowess in a way that's different from the typical pen-and-paper tests.


Btw, catch them on NTV7 on Nov 3, at 7.00pm!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Yesterday (Oct4) was spent getting the Block C Hall ready for PMR. 160 candidates are to sit for their lower-secondary examination in that hall. So, a good 3 hours was spent arranging the tables and chairs, sweeping the floors, taking down the curtains and things pasted on the bulletin boards, scrubbing the graffiti off the tables, emptying their drawers, pasting the exam slips on each table and lastly, hanging a big clock in front of the hall.

After all that hard work, the students were allowed to go home. As was tradition, many chose to look for their teachers instead to ask for forgiveness and blessings. So the staff room was packed with students surrounding their teachers. Some students were more dramatic than others. Haha. Some giggled when they confessed to their wrongdoings ("Saya tahu saya tak buat kerja Teacher"), some even shed a few tears.

Looking back on 2010, I couldn't believe I had survived another year of teaching. Though schools will officially end on Nov 19, my core job is basically finished. After 9 months of teaching 185 15-year-olds, I can finally let out a sigh of relief.

I've had my fair share of ups and downs. Here are my 2010 memories according to the classes that I teach:


My favourite class. I know I'm not supposed to play favourites, but I'm human after all. I taught 3 Qudus for a semester in 2009, so we were already familiar with each other. I could implement any sort of lesson in this class and they would participate in the tasks enthusiastically. That reciprocity spurred me on.

We sang songs, did presentations, acted a play, watched a movie and even held a lesson outdoors (though this one turned out to be bad idea because we were bitten mercilessly by mosquitoes).

The students offered me footballing updates without my asking. And regularly named characters in their essays after Arsenal footballers/manager. They probably thought that they'd get extra marks for that. They didn't.


The class that took the longest time to warm up to me. Most of them are already proficient in English, so they didn't take the subject seriously. But they loved playing Hangman, target puzzles and other language games. Thus, each time I entered the class, the students would collectively shout, "GAMES!". They made me feel like a game show host. Haha.

My most unforgettable memory with them was when I was observed by by another teacher. The class was very quiet. They were on their best behaviour. When the teacher left, the class erupted in a rapturous applause. They were congratulating themselves for their impeccable "performance". I hadn't told/bribe them to act nice. They did so of their own accord.


The most quiet class I have ever taught. Seriously. You could hear a pin drop. But all that undivided attention and obedience lasted for... 2 months?

Then a transformation began. And it proved to be irreversible, mirroring the novel we were studying for literature, "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". From good, well-behaved students, they turned into something completely different. I still wonder how on earth did I squander my absolute authority over that class.

But despite their misbehaviour, I still love them. Teachers are like that. We forgive easily. But students have to remember that saying sorry is not an excuse to commit more mistakes.


Besides teaching them English, I'm also their class teacher. They're okay I guess. They don't have major disciplinary problems so I'm grateful for that. They're just noisy. And malas (<---that was a bit harsh but it's really hard getting them to do any work).

I often received complaints from other subject teachers about them but what could I do? I'm a lousy disciplinarian. The only teacher that they don't dare mess with is their Ustaz. I happened to pass by the class one day when Ustaz was teaching. And I was amazed by what I saw: The students were all seated in their seats; Everybody was quiet and paying attention; All eyes were on Ustaz while he was delivering his lesson.

Wow. It was like witnessing a miracle.


My weakest class in terms of proficiency. Half of the boys have chronic avoidance of work. They often came late to class after the assembly. They took a detour to the toilet for their ciggy break but they claimed that they were stopped by the discipline teacher instead (or any other excuses that they had concocted and perfected).

Once, when I pointed out that they smelled of cigarettes, Hadi replied with mock-innocence, "Macam ni ke bau rokok? Saya tak tahu cikgu sebab saya tak pernah hisap rokok".

The whole class burst into laughter and I just gritted my teeth. Had to admit that that was a funny answer. Despite all the disciplinary problems that the class posed, I still enjoyed teaching them. They are a handful to manage but they are not disrespectful. Most of them are just craving for attention.


I like teaching 15-year-olds. They are at that stage where they're not so childish anymore yet they are still malleable compared to the fourth and fifth-formers.

I don't know whether I'll be teaching them again next year but for the record, I had a great 2010.