How technology opens new windows of learning

SINGAPORE - There is no better way to get a feel for war poetry than to see what war is like, so to engage students of Crescent Girls' School in learning this subject, their teachers developed a digital mobile app for Bukit Chandu, the war memorial site.

Using the "trail" created by the app, the students visited the black and white bungalow in Pasir Panjang, stopping at various places to complete activities such as writing their own poems.

Now a museum, Bukit Chandu depicts the bloody Battle of Pasir Panjang that took place there one day before the British surrendered to the Japanese in World War II.

For this project, which used the Microsoft Windows 8 operating system, the teacher behind the idea, Mr Richard Koh, was recognised as an Expert Educator by software giant Microsoft. He was one of two teachers from Singapore who were invited to Barcelona last week, to present their projects at the annual Microsoft in Education Global Forum.

The forum seeks to share the best teaching strategies around the world that use technology. More than 1,000 school leaders, educators and government officials from more than 75 countries took part.

The other representative was science teacher Chen Si Yun, who heads the infocomm technology department at Chestnut Drive Secondary in Upper Bukit Timah.

Mr Koh, 37, teaches the Communicative Arts programme at Crescent Girls', which combines the learning and teaching of English and literature as one subject for all Sec 1 students.

He said the school had two aims in mind when rolling out the Bukit Chandu digital trail app.

"We wanted the students to appreciate what they have right now, and we wanted them to delve deeper into the poems that we were learning, and have a stronger emotional connection to it," he said.

And the preliminary results have been encouraging.

"The girls were more engaged when learning and analysing poems, and because teachers went through the Bukit Chandu visit with them, our conversations became richer," he said.

In Barcelona, Madam Chen, 31, showcased her project on using technological tools, such as the motion sensing Kinect by Microsoft, to help students with learning disorders such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) improve their learning of English.

Students stand in front the device and screen and read aloud, while an onscreen avatar captures their sounds, gestures and movements. This can be played back later and students can pick out areas to improve on, such as their articulation, and gestures.

"This trains their confidence, because some are very self-conscious. This way, we can pick up their body language," she said.

The school also had students in the Normal (Technical) stream read passages from websites on a Microsoft Surface tablet, which has a handy text-to-speech and dictionary function - easy reference guides that made reading less onerous.

Chestnut Drive's principal, Madam Tan Miao Ling, said students sometimes lose interest and give up reading a passage when they cannot understand a word.

"But now, we have observed that they are more engaged and interested, and you can see that they are really reading intently from the device," she said.

Student Derrick Koh, 16, said he is now more confident of his oral skills after being on the reading programme. "Listening to the passage being read out helps," he said. "In the past, I hardly used the dictionary to check for meanings. But now the dictionary function makes it so convenient because you just have to click it."

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