Getting students interested in physics lessons is not rocket science for Mr Mohamed Ashiq Mohamed Elias.
No, the teacher isn't using his role as the discipline master at Pasir Ris Secondary School to scare students into paying attention.
Mr Ashiq has other tricks up his sleeve. The 34-year-old has been using magic to get students interested in his subject.
From squeezing hard-boiled eggs into bottles to flipping glasses of water upside down, he has done them all in the name of science.
For his creative approach to teaching and efforts in nurturing his students, Mr Ashiq, along with four other teachers, was awarded the Outstanding Youth in Education Award by the Ministry of Education at the Teachers' Investiture Ceremony last Wednesday.
The award is given to teachers below the age of 35 who display enthusiasm, energy and active involvement in the development of youth.
A total of 1,446 new and returning teachers also graduated as full-fledged teachers at the ceremony.
Mr Ashiq learnt about the use of magic tricks as a way of engaging students when he was a trainee teacher at the National Institute of Education in 2008.
He said: "It was just a small part of a pedagogy lecture that said it was a possible way to engage students, and it got me interested."
When he joined Pasir Ris Secondary School as a physics teacher six years ago, Mr Ashiq applied what he had learnt in that lesson.
"I was showing the students the magic tricks every other lesson, as I was eager to engage them with science."
The tricks he does can be explained using physics concepts.
For instance, a levitating spinning top makes use of magnetic forces, while the hard-boiled egg is sucked into the bottle using a burning piece of paper to create a pressure difference between the inside of the bottle and the outside atmosphere.
Such was the enthusiasm shown by his students that he even engaged an external vendor to go to the school to conduct a magic workshop. But he realised there was a problem with this approach.
Mr Ashiq said: "My students became more interested in the magic tricks than science."
He started to scale back on the magic tricks, and used other methods such as IT and videos to engage his students.
For now, Mr Ashiq's students will probably get to see his magic tricks only five or six times in a year. "Now I do it so that I can engage the visual learners, as well as to create interest in the subject."
BREAKING THE ICE
The magic tricks have become a way of breaking the ice with his students.
"The tricks make me more approachable to the students because in the classroom, I am more a teacher than the discipline master."
The secret behind the trick is not explained till the end of the lesson or even the next lesson.
But from time to time, students would suddenly interrupt his lesson to tell him that they know the secret behind how the trick works.
He said: "It shows that the trick has engaged them, and they are thinking about the science behind it.
"When they do get it right, it shows that they are actively using what I'm teaching."
Mr Ashiq is keen to emphasise the importance of value-based learning.
"It is important to link whatever the students are learning to values and ethics.
"The topic of kinematics, with the study of speed and distance, can be used to teach students about the importance of punctuality too."
To him, it all boils down to one thing.
Mr Ashiq said: "It's not about getting good results, but getting good results the right way."
This article was first published on July 19, 2014.
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