Teachers and Tinkerers – Beatty Secondary School
Beatty Secondary School is committed to teaching its students empathy through its Community Service initiatives and more recently the Applied Learning Programme (ALP). With the nationwide push towards digitization, Beatty has incorporated digital making and digital inclusion into these programmes.
Besides stimulating student’s minds, Beatty has always tried to develop their hearts through empathy-centred programmes such as their long-running Values-in-Action (ViA) programme and ALP, which was introduced in 2015. While the Values-in-Action programme aimed to give students hand-on experience in helping others, ALP focused on conceptualising solutions to wider problems using design thinking methodology. As with any endeavour, Beatty’s teachers looked to enhance the effectiveness of these programmes. Digital making was the answer.
As subject head for student innovation and person in charge of Beatty’s ALP, Mdm Toh Pei Ling shared, “In 2018, we introduced programming [through ALP] because we saw that to be in line with the Smart Nation directive, our students needed to learn some programming knowledge and skills to prepare them for the digital world.
The revamped ALP is a 2-year programme for all students. Students spent their first year learning basic programming using the micro:bit. In the second year, they applied their knowledge to create projects that aim to solve real-life problems. Through the design and creation process, students can apply both the design thinking and coding knowledge practically.
Students who showed aptitude and interest in digital making are selected as ALP ambassadors, and they continue to learn about digital making beyond the 2-year programme and challenge themselves at competitions beyond the school where they also interact and exchange ideas with others who share similar passion in this domain.
Like the ALP, the ViA programme recognises the need to keep people updated with digital technology. In line with this new digital direction, Beatty’s student councillors and ambassadors regularly conduct outreach sessions that aim to teach primary school students and seniors digital skills.
Student volunteers are so committed to teaching digital skills that they would go the extra mile to help the seniors. A group of students, while teaching seniors how to use smartphones, observed that the elderly participants had difficulty remembering what they had learnt, and decided to create handbooks for easy reference. Launched in January 2019, the handbooks feature easy-to-follow illustrations as well as instructions that have been translated into different languages.
The Digital Handbook also came in iPhone and Android versions
The ALP’s unique process of learning, ideation and creation has also developed other important soft skills in students that cannot be taught through lectures or textbooks.
For example, the challenging nature of the digital making projects helped to develop resilience in students. From picking up coding knowledge to overcoming the trials and errors associated with project work, students learn how to deal with difficulty and failure in a positive manner. This was made clear by ALP Ambassador Tina Singh, 15. “My classmates posed many questions about my project which I was unable to answer. I had to re-build my project from scratch and redo the coding and prototyping. I felt really sad in the beginning as I had worked on it for a long time. However I realised that the feedback benefitted me because it made me changed my approach, making my project much better.”
ALP ambassadors (left to right) Mark Alfonso, Tina Singh and Poh Hong Kai with their Smart Home project.
Fellow ALP ambassadors Poh Hong Kai and Mark Alfonso, both 15, felt their communication skills improved from the teamwork and presentation requirements of the class. “We gained a lot of experience and became more confident while presenting our project,” said Alfonso. This improvement was particularly pronounced for Poh. “Hong Kai started off as someone who was shy, but now he has become more confident in presenting and communicating his ideas,” said Mdm Toh.
New Subject, Fresh Approach
Students are given freedom to explore their ideas during ALP classes.
The ALP’s impressive results so far have much to do with its fresh approach to teaching. Classes are open-ended and students are given ample time to identify and solve real life problems through discussion. The absence of any grading component removes the pressure of fulfilling a certain rubric, further encouraging the students to explore their ideas freely. A high teacher-to-student ratio also ensures that students will always have an experienced hand to guide them along if they require help.
Great things can seldom be achieved alone. This proved true for Beatty’s ALP teachers, who received steadfast support from both the government and their school management.
A project made using a micro:bit provided by IMDA
The micro:bit devices used in classes as well as training support for teachers were provided by Info-communications Media and Development Authority (IMDA) under their Digital Maker programme (DMP). “The few of us [teachers] without any knowledge on coding benefitted greatly from IMDA’s digital making course designed for educators,” said Mdm Toh. Teachers also received help when developing their lesson resources from the Ministry of Education, who assigned a STEM educator from the Science Centre to provide support for the planning and implementation of the lessons.
Similarly, Beatty’s own school management has backed digital making to the hilt, allocating resources and facilities to aid in its conduct and future development.
Plotting the Course Ahead
Despite their brief digital making journey, Beatty is already looking at ways to expand their programme. “We will continue with micro:bit but also explore other programming options. For our upper Sec students, we hope to stretch their potential with more advanced topics like app development and to broaden their learning experiences through attachment to industries or tertiary institutions,” Mdm Toh shared.
As education gravitates towards critical thinking and innovation, DMP fits nicely with this trend. Mdm Toh stressed, “Our objective is not to produce programmers but create awareness and develop student interest and passion in this area. This will help prepare them for the digital world.”