Inspired by her schooling years at her primary school, Miss Ng Bih Huey sustains a variety of innovative classroom efforts, to create special learning moments for her primary school students which they will carry with them years on.
Ng Bih Huey, President’s Award for Teachers 2015 Award Finalist
Mee Toh School
When an opportunity came up after the examinations to do something purposeful with my seven-year-olds, I decided to get them to sew their own beanbags to play Hopscotch. It is not something that many of our children get to do today. The novelty excites them.
The parents were supportive and joined the children in packing the needles, thread and cloth. Someone asked curiously, “Why do you want to do this with the class?” I explained that often, it is these little things we do as teachers that will make a difference to the children’s positive experiences in school. Incidental learning can take place as the children persevere and overcome their apprehension of the task. Yes, we could choose not do this but it would be a missed opportunity for us to create a precious learning memory.
My own experience in primary school has taught me to value the little things that teachers do and treasure these learning moments. I vividly remember my joy when my Art teacher brought me and a classmate to take art lessons from an auntie at a neighbourhood crafts shop to recognise my efforts in Art, and how my Chinese teacher took time to praise us individually when we took turns to read aloud in class. These little things that my teachers did provided me with a sense of accomplishment as a learner and I try to do the same for my students today.
As I seize opportunities to do the things that count, I am reminded that often, it is the many little things we do with the children – a word we say, a smile we flash, something we stop to explain – that make a difference.
Novel Classroom Experiences
Making lessons memorable is important to me.
One lesson which left many of the students squealing was when I brought in fishes from the wet market during Science class. The children had shared earlier that they had never been to the wet market so I decided to bring the wet market to them. It was very smelly and one Primary Three boy cried when I asked him to feel the fish scales! He has never touched them before and that experience made him braver. The children dug out the gills to learn what they really look like. I also brought tiny frogs to class for the children to release in the garden when I taught the topic of amphibians, and I could tell from their gasps and unwillingness to let the frogs go that they would not forget the experience soon. This was another chance to make learning memorable.
I enjoyed Art as a child – I believe most children do – and I try to marry Art with my lessons. In Science, I draw comics and diagrams to help the children make sense of the information. In English, we convert comprehension passages into comics. This deepens their understanding and I am often so proud of their creative drawings that I take photos of them and show them to other people!
Life beyond the Curriculum
Primary school children are impressionable, and it is at this young age that I am moved to help them step forward with a confident, can-do spirit to develop positive habits and sound values, beyond the subjects I teach.
Cocola is a mascot I created seven years ago as part of a rewards system where students earn cocodollars if they are diligent and display good habits. The students love Cocola, and the cocodollars go a long way to motivate them to write neatly or work hard. They also learn about delayed gratification and responsibility to keep their cocodollars safe, because they only get to spend their ‘money’ towards the end of the year!
‘Shopping Day’ is an exciting class event when all the students become little entrepreneurs, setting up their own stalls by bringing things from home or making handmade items to sell to one other. I was very touched when I saw how my students shared their cocodollars with their friends who did not do as well in class, and had less to spend. I saw that they were learning values for life, practising empathy, kindness and charity.
I saw another opportunity for the students to learn beyond grades when I was put in charge of designing Mee Toh School’s Heritage Centre and the school history curriculum. What better way to make the centre relevant, than to inspire students with stories of the founder and the pioneers? So, beyond a browse-and-gaze experience, I worked with a team of teachers to plan the school history curriculum so that students who visit the centre with their teachers would learn about values like compassion and integrity that guided the school’s founder and pioneers.
I planned for the students – not just teachers – to become ambassadors under the School Heritage Ambassadors Programme and be able to present the stories in the Heritage Centre to visitors, to help build their confidence and oratorical skills, and more importantly, nurture a greater sense of school belonging.
Power of One
I am a teacher who believes in the fundamentals of education. I go the extra mile to create learning moments that the children can connect with to make learning meaningful and relevant. I believe many teachers do this in their own ways. Seizing opportunities to create joyful and meaningful learning experiences is invaluable, for these are the things that the children will remember individually and share collectively.
It means something to the children when we do our work well. For that reason, I make it a point to support and energise my colleagues. We work in teams and I share opportunities for learning to inspire my colleagues. It takes consistent work, but it is necessary because every time I successfully enthuse one teacher, the influence multiplies when the teacher gives back to the students. This is what I call the power of one. Like each starfish that matters to the young man in the Starfish Story, every student counts and every teacher makes a difference.
I hope my students remember their learning moments in 30 years’ time, the way I remember my own primary school teachers and experiences – earning and spending cocodollars, being given a chance to speak to a Minister, visiting the 7th Storey Hotel before it was torn down, taking the old lift as a class, smelling and touching fishes during Science lesson, drawing hopscotch outlines with chalk, sewing their own beanbags, writing thankful messages to appreciate people around them, singing National Day songs with pride and drawing their own comics.
These experiences are part of the tapestry of fond childhood memories and sense of wonder that comes with learning and experiencing the world as a child, in which I have played a part in weaving.
Miss Ng Bih Huey, 38
Head of Department (ICT)