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Sun, Nov 08, 2009
The Straits Times
At this school, it's okay to 'tweet' in class

WALK into any classroom in Ngee Ann Secondary School and you will find students 'tweeting' on mobile phones or chatting on MSN Messenger.

No, they do not get penalised for this. Cellphones and social networking programs like Twitter are being used during lessons as learning tools at this school in Tampines.

Its innovative use of technology has been recognised: Software giant Microsoft on Wednesday named it a 'Pathfinder School' - one of 30 schools worldwide so honoured this year.

Ngee Ann is the first school in Singapore to bag the title since Microsoft introduced it in 2007.

The announcement came at the Innovative Education Forum held this year in Salvador, Brazil. This annual event comes under Microsoft's Partners in Learning (PiL) scheme, a US$500 million (S$700 million) initiative set up in 2003 to improve education through access to technology and training.

The number of schools named Pathfinders varies each year, depending on the quality of the year's applicants, with this year's lot being mainly primary and secondary schools.

Besides Ngee Ann, two other Asian schools - one each from Sri Lanka and the Philippines - also made it to the list.

The Pathfinder status is the second highest level of recognition given by Microsoft to schools. The highest is 'Mentor School', an honour given to schools that have revolutionised teaching methods and are viewed as leaders in their countries and regions.

There are now 12 Mentor schools across the world. Singapore's Crescent Girls' School, which received the title in 2007, was joined this year by another 11 schools overseas.

For schools to achieve Pathfinder status, school leaders have to submit a written entry and video about how they use technology in teaching and learning. A panel of judges made up of Microsoft staff and PiL's International Advisory Council (IAC), who are mostly academics, makes the final decision.

Pathfinder schools get to test new Microsoft software and receive advice from Microsoft's IAC and Mentor schools on developing programmes to improve learning, among other things. These schools are expected to share their know-ledge with schools in their own countries.

PiL director James Bernard, one of the judges, said schools like Ngee Ann Secondary stand out because they have principals who are committed to changing education for the better.

'These headmasters understand how to lead change within their schools and what it means to change the culture of their schools. They are also willing to create an environment in which teachers can thrive and innovate,' he said.

He added that having a Mentor and a Pathfinder school was testament to Singapore's commitment to education. Australia, Finland, Canada and Ireland are the only other countries to have schools awarded both these titles.

Ngee Ann's principal, Mr Adrian Lim, said his school decided to use social networking tools to aid learning because he believes this is the way to connect with students.

'Our students are from a wired generation. They are used to receiving information on their mobile phones instantaneously and in multimedia forms. If we don't think we need to change the way we teach, we are in denial,' he said.

Ngee Ann's teachers credit him as the driving force behind the school's tech innovations.

One of these is Photosynth, a software that analyses digital photographs and generates 3-D models from them.

Using this software in their social studies lessons, for example, students take pictures showing examples of government policies at work, such as the Bedok Reservoir and the Electronic Road Pricing system. Photosynth generates 3-D models that the students use to make class presentations.

Micro-blogging service Twitter, which lets people share 140-character messages or 'tweets', is used to test students' understanding of physics concepts: Assignments require them to summarise these concepts in tweets to one another.

Or, using MSN Messenger, they chat with their virtual buddies about what was taught in the day's lesson.

Students like their school's cutting-edge approach to teaching.

Secondary 3 student Loh Wei Jie said: 'I don't like it if our teachers just talk and we listen and read from textbooks. I don't want to speak up because even if I disagree with the textbook, the content won't change.

'With technology, I contribute to what is taught in class. I take my own pictures and share these with my classmates. I feel I am in charge.'

ameltan@sph.com.sg

 

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

 
 
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