Smartphones take learning out of the classroom and help pupils become more independent and observant learners.
Imagine having homework that doesn't involve stacks of worksheets or exercise books. Instead, all you have to carry is a Smartphone as you roam the parks to capture photos of various plant species. Once shot and saved, you then simply upload the pictures to an online gallery for sharing with your teacher and classmates.
For pupils at Nan Chiau Primary School, such experiences are part and parcel of Seamless Learning, one of several programmes that use mobile digital technology to enrich learning at Singapore's newest FutureSchool. Offering a peek into new frontiers for education in Singapore, FutureSchools such as Nan Chiau Primary School lead the way in exploring how learning and teaching can be enhanced through the meaningful use of technology.
Seamless learning of science
Explaining how Seamless Learning opens up multiple avenues for independent learning, Science teacher Ms Jenny Lee said, "This platform engages all their senses. The pupils can draw pictures, take photographs, create mind maps, produce videos and animations and submit these online to a class server. Throughout all this, I can keep close track of their progress."
The Seamless Learning Programme has a Sketchy feature where pupils draw plants and animals they learn about during science.
"Science became our favourite subject with Seamless Learning," recalled Leong Yi Wei of her class's encounters with the programme when she was in Primary 3. Now in Pri 5, Yi Wei added, '"It was so much fun!" Recounting an assignment that involved recording a video of her giving a "lesson" to her family on the digestive system, she said, "We shared our videos in class and gave each other feedback on how we could explain this process better."
Nan Chiau Primary School's forays into Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and e-learning enjoy the support of partners such as the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language, Microsoft Singapore and Temasek Polytechnic. The school's strong culture of innovation, along with sustained efforts to equip teachers with new media teaching skills, have also been recognised by Spring Singapore through Innovation Class Awards (I-Class) in 2007 and 2010 as well as three National Innovation Quality Circle Gold Awards since 2008.
The school is not alone in embracing this bent for experimentation. "At first, my parents thought I was playing games on the mobile phone and I had to tell them that it was my homework," said Low Wen Jun, a Pri 5 pupil. These days, however, some parents even ask how their children can become more involved in mobile learning.
What clinches it, it seems, is the mobility that lightens the pupils' schoolbag load and frees up their imagination. "Instead of carrying so many worksheets, I just need to bring a mobile phone and my schoolbag is so much lighter," stated Shaun Lim, a Pri 5 pupil.
Idioms meet intelligent technology
Pri 6 pupils An Qi and Liang Jun felt that E-Proverbs improved their written Chinese.
Science isn't the only subject to benefit from the ability to go paper- and wireless. Chinese Language lessons have also taken a virtual turn with E-Proverbs, a programme jointly developed by the school and the National Institute of Education that has been nominated for MOE's Innergy Award, which honours innovative ideas in education.
Picture this: after learning Chinese idioms in class, Primary 5 pupils armed with Smartphones head out to take photos of real-life scenes. They then select pictures that best illustrate the Chinese idioms and create sentences using these photos and phrases. Uploaded onto a class wiki website, the text and image combination provide fodder for discussion, after which the teacher rounds up the session by pointing out common mistakes and highlights efforts that hit the mark.
"Most children do not see the relevance of Chinese idioms to their lives because they seem 'ancient'," related Mr Heng Liak Kia, a Chinese Language teacher. "However, the photo-taking activity helps them realise that these idioms are applicable to their modern lives and builds up their vocabulary."
Science teacher Ms Jenny Lee says she is able to track her pupils' work more closely using the Seamless Learning Programme.
The opportunity to reinforce classroom lessons through encounters with real-life contexts can hit home, literally. "When we were assigned to take photographs to describe the idiom, ???? [to eat with relish], I got my parents to pose while we were eating dinner," said Koh Liang Jun, a Pri 6 pupil who went through the E-Proverbs programme last year.
Farm An Qi, also in Pri 6, felt that E-Proverbs helped to boost her Chinese vocabulary. "Before, it was hard to memorise the meanings of Chinese idioms," she shared. "Now, with hands-on experience in learning these idioms, I find it much easier to use them in my compositions."
Liang Jun, who comes from an English-speaking background, has also seen a marked improvement in his grasp of his Mother Tongue. "I used to get Bs but now I'm getting As for this subject," he said happily.