Inspired by the Maker Mindset, Science educator, Huang Kexin, got her hands dirty setting up a vertical garden and remaking the school library to show students they have the power to make things better.
Huang Kexin, Fuhua Secondary School, President’s Award For Teachers 2022 Recipient
Huang Kexin’s first brush with teaching was a two-month stint as a relief teacher at a secondary school right after the A-Level examinations.
Despite her inexperience, she found the students responding well to her and received positive feedback from them. She recalled this one conversation she had with the students: “I asked them what their ambition in life was, and they said plainly that they didn’t know what ‘ambition’ meant. They had never heard of the word before,”
The response by the students set her thinking hard about her own purpose and mission in life. She realised then that she would want to help others forge and realise their ambitions. Thus, even though she had already committed herself to pursuing an electrical engineering degree, she decided that upon graduating from the degree course, she would sign up with the Ministry of Education to be a teacher.
Embracing the whole child
Kexin’s first batch of students proved to be a rich learning experience for her. Posted to a junior college, she was tasked to teach a class of students with diverse talents and abilities. She quickly realised that while some of her students may not be so academically inclined, they more than made up for it with their grit, determination and passion.
“I am always aware that what I see in the classroom is just one dimension of my students. It is our job as teachers to acknowledge the complete child behind that picture and help them to discover themselves and to develop holistically as a person.”
After a long day of lectures and tutorials, the students would find their second wind to give their best at the sports training sessions or performance rehearsals. Some, driven by passion and determination, would take up student leadership positions in the student council. To support them, Kexin made it a point to attend at least one event or match that each of the students in her class is involved in.
What she saw on the stage, the court and the field made her appreciate the individual gifts and talents of each child. She was determined to empower her students to bring out their own version of their best.
“The valuable lesson my first batch of students taught me is that I must remember that what I see in the classroom is just one dimension of the students. It is my job as their teacher to acknowledge the complete child behind that picture and help them discover themselves and develop holistically as a person,” she says.
Making Learning Matter
As Head of Department for Science at Fuhua Secondary School, she had the opportunity to attend the 2018 Maker Faire held in San Francisco, USA, together with her school’s Vice-Principal and other educators in the W7 Cluster.
There, she learnt much about “Maker Education” and the “Maker Mindset”. “The Maker Mindset, simply put, gives students the appetite to make things better through identifying problems and coming up with solutions by asking questions and self-learning,” Kexin explains. It teaches 21st-century life skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. Teachers with the Maker Mindset will not be too not quick to offer solutions. Instead, they will facilitate the student-directed process of probing and solving.
Maker-centred learning is interdisciplinary in nature. Students are prompted to think with depth within a discipline and breadth across different disciplines. It is not unusual for students when studying Physics to be asked to design and make a chair, for example. When trained in making, students will not be scratching their heads – they will quicky dive into understanding the requirements of designing and building a chair, draw in expertise and solutions from other disciplines and apply what they have learnt from the Physics lessons at the same time.
The Maker Mindset also helps teachers understand the importance of not teaching in silos.
After the learning journey to the Maker Faire, Kexin applied the Maker Mindset to the teaching and learning of Science at Fuhua. She conceptualised and contextualised a fun and authentic approach to teaching lower secondary science. The approach, which uses play as a medium for learning and incorporates elements of science inquiry, problem-based learning as well as collaborative learning, encourages students to create.
A learning journey to Panasonic Singapore to learn how indoor greenhouses can contribute to food security and sustainability had Kexin thinking how it would be useful to have a greenhouse at Fuhua to teach students the importance of food security and sustainability.
This saw her spearheading the ‘greenhouse classroom’ initiative. The initiative materialised in 2021 with the school installing its own vertical garden to serve as a cross-sciences and multi-disciplinary classroom. The Food and Consumer Education students plant and harvest the plants grown in the vertical garden to use as ingredients in the dishes they cook. The Geography students study temperature control in and outside the greenhouse. The school’s Environment Club members also help to look after the vertical garden.
Making is for everyone
To further cultivate the Maker Mindset in her students, Kexin engaged the school population in the re-making of the school library.
To transform the library into one that is not only user-centric but also a place where students and staff can engage in various modalities of teaching and learning, she engaged teachers and students to contribute ideas on the types of space and furniture that they needed. “We wanted to seed in our school culture the belief that everyone – both students and teachers – has a voice and can contribute. There is no lousy idea. We are all here to make the school a better place,” she enthuses. She also consulted colleagues from the National Library Board on how to optimise the use of space. “As the design proposal was taking shape, whoever would listen to me, I would just shamelessly share the design with them”, Kexin shares with a laugh.
“It turned out beautiful,” she says of the year-long project. The floor space of the existing library was expanded offering more multi-use spaces for quiet and or noisy activities and for various group sizes. “The students and the teachers enjoy using the new library.”
Even as Kexin encourages students to learn beyond the classroom, she too does the same. When GovTech approached the school to explore developing learning tools for students, she jumped at the opportunity to forge a meaningful collaboration. The collaboration gave birth to the mobile application called ‘What’s This? Snap!’. Built around the school’s Applied Learning Programme (ALP) in Forensic Science, the app allows the students to virtually transform any location in the school into crime scenes. This helps make the Forensic Science programme more authentic and realistic.
“It is about helping students see that what they learn in the classroom is meaningful,” she says. “Knowing how things are applied in daily life and how it impacts the world around them helps them understand the authenticity and application of the knowledge.”
Ultimately, she explains, “by growing their enthusiasm towards learning, we hope to cultivate active and self-motivated learners for life”.