Bringing his students outdoors is one of the many ways Mr Chong Jack Sheng hooks them to learning Biology.
Confused about mathematical conversions? Conjure up the Bean Sprout Monster or the Super Big Dinosaur! Imaginations run wild in Mdm Chua Mui Ling's classes at Woodlands Ring Primary School, where students solve mathematical puzzles through songs and mnemonics or simply by thinking aloud.
In another class, Mr Chong Jack Sheng is showing how little things add up, but in a quite different way. Instead, he is leading his Secondary 3 students through a "Citizenship Ceremony" to remind them of the significance of getting their identity cards and celebrate what it means to be a citizen.
Mr Ganesan s/o Raman, on the other hand, often gets his students at Fairfield Methodist School (Secondary) to cast their eyes abroad. A firm believer in the value of service learning, Mr Ganesan organises regular community service projects and even overseas expeditions to show his students the challenges faced by children in less fortunate circumstances as well as to lend a helping hand.
For their role in inspiring young people to look beyond their books and comfort zones, Mdm Chua, Mr Chong and Mr Ganesan are three of the five educators who received the 2011 President's Award for Teachers. Given annually to educators who have made an impact on the lives of their students and peers, this award is the nation's highest honour for teachers.
Character-building on the cards
Mdm Chua Mui Ling is a Maths teacher who believes in collaboration and partnership to develop and support students.
A compassionate eye for youthful missteps distinguishes Mdm Chua, who once ran into a former student at the zoo. The boy was performing probationary duties as a result of a fight he was involved in. Instead of chastising him, she greeted him with a warm hug. "I guess he was caught by surprise when I told him that he is precious to me and urged him to have the moral courage to move on," she shared. Clearly remorseful, the boy later sent Mdm Chua a text message, telling her that he has learnt from the incident and would change.
Her pupils may take flights of fancy in her classes, but Mdm Chua, who is HOD for Maths, is downright earnest when it comes to the task of character-building. To motivate her pupils, she introduced an "affirmation card" system designed to encourage the children to be responsible for their own learning and recognise their efforts to contribute to the school community. A punctually submitted assignment or act of helpfulness to schoolmates in need earns a signature on the card, and pupils who receive a certain number of signatures get to earn rewards such as book vouchers and school stationery.
Mdm Chua's use of creative approaches to solve mathematical challenges sparks the love for learning in her students.
The brainchild of Mdm Chua and her colleague, Mrs Sharon Toh, the "affirmation cards" have become an integral part of life in the school. Recounting a call she once received from a parent of a Pri 6 pupil, Mdm Chua shared, "His son was in tears as his card was tattered and torn as a result of being accidentally left in his trousers during washing. It indicated to me that the card is really precious to the pupils, and unknowingly, they have lived out the school's core values."
Replacing the card was easy, but what mattered more to Mdm Chua was that her efforts to strengthen the school's culture through collaboration between teachers and with the pupils have borne fruit. "I came to realise that in educating a child, it indeed requires the whole village - it calls for a partnership."
For country and family
"I am always on the look-out for opportunities to engage students in a hands-on Character & Citizenship Education (CCE) learning experience," declared Mr Chong. The HOD for CCE at Woodlands Ring Secondary School is doing just this through a "Citizenship Ceremony" in which students reflect on what being a citizen meant to them, receive their new identity cards on a stage and collectively recite the National Pledge. Capping this ceremony is a lively class photography segment to welcome the 'new citizens'.
Creating a relaxed mood and relationship building are vital ingredients for effective education, Mr Chong believes.
Helping young people develop a sense of self doesn't stop with a ceremony, however. Occasional trips to students' homes see Mr Chong delving into darker moments, which he tries to turn around. Recalling one home visit to investigate claims of theft, Mr Chong discovered that the boy in question had also been pilfering money from his family. Not wanting to leave a trail of shattered trust, Mr Chong and his colleagues sought to facilitate a family reconciliation. Musing on this incident, he said, "Perhaps education is really about restoring broken relationships and helping young people learn from mistakes so that they can become successful in life."
It's not all solemnity and seriousness, though, for Mr Chong displays a more easy-going side when he dons his Biology 'hat'. Believing that "the brain becomes more receptive to learning and asking questions" in a relaxed atmosphere, Mr Chong walks the talk by leading his students to open-air, living classrooms. At places such as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Sungei Loyang Mangroves, the students think on their feet as they learn about photosynthesis and other biological facts through songs, dances and choreographed poses.
Leading pupils to new waters
Thrust a person into an unfamiliar environment, or another country, and he will discover compassion, a sense of initiative and leadership qualities he never knew he had. Even then, Mr Ganesan confessed that he was a little anxious on a recent trip to Vietnam, when his students visited orphans who were victims of 'Agent Orange' (a toxic compound) used in the Vietnam War.
Mr Ganesan leads the way for his students to discover their sense of initiative, compassion and leadership not just within the borders of the classroom, but also through service learning projects.
"I was worried that my students might not be able to communicate with the disabled children and thus would doubt the value of the visit," shared the HOD for Mathematics. But to his delight, the students broke the cultural barrier by planning and performing a song item on the spot to entertain the orphans. "The warmth and love the students showed these children really moved me," recounted Mr Ganesan.
"These trips really give opportunities for students to experience a different culture and mingle with a different community," stated Mr Ganesan, who also related how his students were spurred into action after seeing some orphans with open wounds. Besides raiding their personal first aid kits, two boys dug into their own pockets to buy antiseptic lotions and plasters, and with the help of classmates in the Red Cross CCA, set out to dress the orphans' injuries. For Mr Ganesan, such encounters offer unforgettable lessons. "Even till now, some students share with me their valuable experiences and their desire to do more for the less fortunate," he added.
To galvanise his fellow teachers, Mr Ganesan is a keen explorer and sharer of new pedagogical approaches in the Professional Learning Community.
Younger teachers also find in Mr Ganesan a guide to new territory, through his leading of professional learning communities (PLCs) that create new lesson packages for students. "We have opportunities to learn from each other and tap on each other's strengths," stated Mr Ganesan of this role. "It's a real joy to see new Math teachers becoming more effective and competent as a result of the learning opportunities they get through PLCs."
Schoolbag.sg congratulate these teachers on attaining the 2011 President's Award for Teachers as they continue to make a positive impact in the lives of their students and peers.