Nov 22, 2010
Time for science lessons, take out your phones
Nan Chiau Primary's innovative use of IT in teaching wins it top honour from Microsoft
Nan Chiau Primary pupils (clockwise from bottom left) Abel Tsen, Janelle Lee, Yuki Chua, Isabel Ow and Ng Tze Ming, all 10, using their cellphones during a science lesson. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
WHEN Nan Chiau Primary teachers start their science lessons, they ask their pupils to take out not their textbooks, but their mobile phones.
Using their handsets' styluses, the pupils use the software uploaded on their phones to read up on the concepts, then go on to do exercises. If in doubt, they surf the Internet for more information.
Teachers test the pupils' understanding by getting them to sketch diagrams of what they have learnt. Their work is uploaded to a server for teachers to review.
The school, in partnership with National Institute of Education (NIE) researchers, has introduced this new way of learning to all Primary 3 classes and two Primary 4 classes. It has bought about 300 mobile phones, so the pupils can each have one to take home.
Although there are other schools that also use mobile phones in classes, they do so on a smaller scale, for example, taking photographs or videos during class trips.
Nan Chiau Primary's innovative use of technology has been recognised: Software giant Microsoft last Thursday named it a 'Mentor School' - the highest honour it gives to schools that develop information technology programmes that can serve as models for schools globally.
Mentor Schools can get access to Microsoft experts who will help them develop new programmes. The schools also get to test out new Microsoft technology, and share their expertise with other schools. There are 25 other Mentor Schools around the world.
Besides Nan Chiau Primary, Singapore has two other Mentor Schools - Ngee Ann Secondary and Crescent Girls' School. The only country with more Mentor Schools is Australia, which has five.
Crescent Girls' has been a Mentor School since 2007, while Ngee Ann Secondary was upgraded from being a Pathfinder School this year.
All Crescent Girls' students have tablet PCs, which allow them to blog, upload videos and chat using instant messaging with their teachers and classmates.
Ngee Ann Secondary has developed 'virtual buddies' on Windows Live Messenger that answer questions on physics and texts from Shakespeare.
Schools can apply to be a Mentor School or Pathfinder School - the second highest level of recognition - by submitting a written entry and video about how they use technology in teaching and learning. A panel of judges comprising Microsoft staff and experts makes the final call.
The awards are part of Microsoft's Partners in Learning - a US$500 million (S$650 million) initiative set up in 2003 to improve education through access to technology and training.
Nan Chiau Primary applied to be a Pathfinder School, but its work impressed Microsoft so much that it upgraded the school.
Microsoft Singapore managing director Jessica Tan said the judges felt the school had 'a robust and well-thought vision and plan' for its IT projects.
Nan Chiau Primary has resident researchers from NIE throughout the year. They work with teachers to design and evaluate IT projects for teaching and learning.
The school is working with the NIE, Singapore Centre for Chinese Language and Microsoft on a new software, MyCloud, to teach Chinese. The software can read out uploaded text and has an e-dictionary to help with difficult words.
Principal Tan Chun Ming said: 'IT equipment costs a lot of money. We cannot embark on a project without proper planning and after a few months say, 'Hey, this is not working out' and stop it. So all our IT initiatives begin with research and our teachers work with the researchers to evaluate if the projects are successful.'
Researchers have tracked the results of a Primary 4 class that has been using mobile phones for lessons for two years.
The pupils who used to get Cs and Bs in science before using the gadgets now get Bs and As. Pupils say they like using mobile phones in class because it is fun.
Janelle Lee, 10, who got an A at the recent year-end exams, said: 'Science lessons used to be boring. Now with the mobile phones, I can watch videos, surf the Internet and draw pictures.'