NorthLight Opens New Possibilities with Digital Making
NorthLight School is home to a diverse cohort of learners who each progress at a different pace. A dedicated team of teachers pay special attention to every student, molding them to become confident, motivated and productive members of the community. In line with this vision, NorthLight recognizes the importance of digital skills for her students and has successfully integrated digital making into their Infocomm Technology (ICT) programme.
Wheels in Motion
NorthLight started its digital making journey in 2017 with Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA)’s Lab On Wheels, a bus converted to a mobile tech lab. The Lab On Wheels visit gave NorthLight’s students an opportunity to try out the exciting coding and digital making technologies available on board.
NorthLight students’ first exposure to digital making was creating customised game controllers using Makey Makey
The Lab On Wheels experience sparked an outpouring of enthusiasm for digital making among NorthLight students. The Makey Makey device, which teaches simple electronics and programming concepts by turning household objects into game controllers, was a particular favourite of students. Seeing how much their learners enjoyed digital making encouraged NorthLight’s teachers to incorporate it into the ICT curriculum.
When IMDA’s Digital Maker programme was launched, NorthLight School eagerly took up the opportunity to integrate digital making into their ICT programme. IMDA provided training for NorthLight teachers on how to use digital making tools as well as lesson ideas to integrate them into various subjects. Armed with this knowledge, ICT teacher Mr. Mohammad Zulkiffli embarked on creating a customised programme for his students.
To begin, the ICT department selected the micro:bit microcontroller over Makey Makey as their primary teaching device. The decision was made because Makey Makey was simplistic and might lack the ability to engage students over the long term. Micro:bit presented many more possible applications while still remaining accessible enough for students to learn to use it quickly.
The micro:bit microcontroller allows a wider variety of projects to be made
At the same time, the school converted two classrooms into digital making labs. This endeavour was also supported by IMDA’s Digital Maker programme, which furnished the school with a large quantity of micro:bits.
In his own time, Mr. Zulkiffli researched on how other schools conducted digital making classes. Realising that the classes should impart skills beyond the technical aspects of coding and digital making, Mr. Zulkiffli constructed a project-based curriculum that would also develop important soft skills such as inquisitiveness, teamwork and perseverance.
NorthLight uses real-world problem-solving to interest their students who may struggle with a conventional digital making curriculum. ICT teachers introduce problem statements in their projects for students to solve through design thinking and creative approaches in digital creation. The teachers also facilitate the brainstorming process and guide the students with step-by-step demonstrations.
NorthLight’s ICT teacher Mr. Mohammad Zulkiffli uses available resources to provide students with realistic cutouts to use in their projects
Understanding that student interest drives their learning, teachers go to great lengths to increase student engagement with their projects. For example, when students were creating a car crash sensor that detects vehicular collisions, Mr. Zulkiffli – drawing from his involvement in the school’s National Civil Defense Cadet Corps - used cutouts of SCDF vehicles for students to build their projects with. “The hope is to help them understand that the crash sensors they see in the real world can be replicated in school, we want to tie in academic learning with practical implementation” said Mr. Zulkiffli.
Onwards and Upwards
All the effort that NorthLight’s teachers have poured into digital making has paid off with positive student feedback. Students Siti Zubaidah and Avril Yeo both shared that their experience with creating the car crash sensor was empowering and rewarding.
While the premise of the project was provided to them, Avril and Zubaidah had to work with other students to actualise it. This process involved figuring out how to connect the sensor to the micro:bit and even conducting research on how crash systems operate in real cars. Although both Avril and Zubaidah found it difficult at times, the adversity made the eventual resolution all the more rewarding. “The finished project is an example to our juniors that you can succeed eventually even if you struggle,” said Avril. Being able to apply what was learnt in class to real life scenarios was also satisfying to Zubaidah, showing how digital making has improved the learning experience at NorthLight.
NorthLight students Avril Yeo (second from right) and Siti Zubaidah (first from right) demonstrating a digital making project – a two-person joystick controller - at a competition
While NorthLight’s two-year digital making journey has been encouraging so far, they are already looking to bigger and better things. Ambitious projects are underway, with Mr. Zulkiffli working with selected students on building a NorthLight drone, which he hopes will serve as an inspiration for the rest of the school.
Mr. Zulkiffli showing off the 3D printed parts for the NorthLight drone
The ICT department is also looking to expand the digital making resources available. Said Mrs. April Tay (HOD ICT), “We want to create a digital makerspace where students can come in to design and create their invention using digital tools.” Mr. Zulkiffli added, “As technology is constantly changing, we want to stay flexible. We are looking at other platforms besides micro:bit.” When asked whether it would be a challenge for teachers to incorporate more coding platforms into their lessons, Mrs. Tay responded, “We adopt a growth mindset. When we realize there is something beneficial for our students, we will take it upon ourselves to learn. Are we there yet? I think this is just the beginning.”
Digital makers – (left to right) NorthLight students Siti Zubaidah and Avril Yeo with their ICT teachers, Mr. Zulkiffli and Mrs April Tay