Saturday, September 14, 2013

Thank You Singapore!

A huge THANK YOU to all our old and new friends in Singapore. We learned a lot, ate a lot, and took a lot of photos. Thank you for all your generosity and connection into the education system of Singapore. We have been back in the US for about a month and continue to process and learn from the experience. We look forward to seeing our Singaporean colleagues at future education conferences and welcome your next visit to Boston!

Also, a huge THANK YOU to Fund for Teachers for financially supporting this professional development experience. I am a better science educator as a result of this trip, and I look forward to brining everything I have learned to my students and colleagues in the Boston Public Schools.

School visit: Montfort Junior School

My second school visit was to Montfort Junior School. On this day, I was given a tour of the school, which was great to see all that the school had to offer! This post has a lot of photos to document my school visit.

First, I visited a P3 (3rd grade) class that was studying states of matter for science.

The teacher used powerpoint slides to organize and facilitate the lesson as students worked in groups to think about what things have mass, and create lists of things that have matter that they can find in the classroom, at home, and in the outdoors. Students kept science notebooks where they recorded important science definitions and concepts.

The second class I visited was a P6 (5th grade) class that was studying cells. This class used the school's science lab rooms to look at pre-made slides of different types of cells under a microscope.

There were 40 students in the P5 class, which seems to be the standard class size in Singapore. First, students rotated around the 8 lab tables to observe cells. Then, in the hallway, students were given pieces of paper with an organelle written on it. Students were to act out that organelle (without talking!) to try to find their matching partner. Once they found their partner, they went back into the lab to watch a powerpoint slideshow by their teacher explain some of what they had seen under the microscopes.

After the class, I was given a tour of the entire school building. Here are some photos of some of the interesting spots!

Students don't eat lunch at school (their day ends around 1:30pm) unless they stay for after school tutoring or clubs/activities. So, during their morning recess they have a pretty substantial snack, which looked like lunch to me! They had so many multicultural food stalls to choose hot, cooked food from. I enjoyed a peach iced tea. It was raining, otherwise students can play in the school courtyard during their recess. Today students stayed at the tables or in the hallways.

All of the primary schools in Singapore have an eco-trail at their school. Montforte used their outdoor space as learning space.

On the top is the school's eco-trail and stairwell. Below are photos of their butterfly garden. They initially had fabric to enclose the butterfly garden, but it didn't work, so now they just have it as an open garden with butterfly-friendly plants to attract butterflies.

Here are some other things I though were interesting!

The top pictures here show the "LEGO" room. It was donated by an alumnus to the school. In the LEGO room students can go during their free time/recess time to build things out of legos. Parent volunteers staff the room.

The bottom pictures are of the school's project of growing corn on their rooftop. Each year they grow corn, harvest it, and record their data.

Clockwise from left, a photo inside their school library, the teacher room (teachers do not have their personal work desks in their classrooms, they have them in a very large shared workspace... it's nice to know teachers' desks look the same around the world, though!).

The bottom photos are of the school's "Innovation Room." Teachers can bring their students to the room when they want to encourage their students to think differently and creatively. See the pink thing hanging from the lights? That can be lowered like a tent for when student groups want to work in secret!

Lastly, as different at some things might have seen in Singapore, there was also a sense of familiarity. Below, I met the teacher who is basically the school's "Mrs. Hansel" (our reading recovery teacher). She works with the students who need extra support in English literacy.

I also saw that Montforte also has an Environmental Club, just like us! I am very thankful to the teachers and school for opening their classrooms and school to me!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

School Visit: St. Andrews

I was very excited to visit schools towards the end of the trip!

In Singapore, their school year follows the calendar year, so they started on January 2, 2013 and will go until Friday, November 20 (40 weeks of school). In comparison, in the US our school year goes from September-June for 180 days (36 weeks of school).

The first school I was able to visit was St. Andrew's Junior School.

This school is unique because it has a 1-to-1 laptop-student program. I was able to visit a P3 (Grade 3) class that was studying energy. There were 40 desks in the room (a couple of the desks were empty the day I visited). Here are some photos of the students learning in the classroom - they often moved back and forth between their desks/computers and as a group in the front of the room. At St. Andrews, they have common powerpoint slides for each lesson, so that all the teachers are using the same slides to teach each lesson. In addition, Mr. Yeo, the teacher, used his smart board to display a google-doc form that each student was typing into from their own computers. This is how he facilitated much of the discussion.

On the computers and on the smart board the students watched some video clips about energy transfer, answered questions on their computers about the concepts of energy. The teacher emphasized the difference between temperature and heat. The teacher also showed a video of an experiment he had done with a prior class he taught, but these students did not get to do any experiment during this lesson.

Here are some photos of the school's "Eco Garden." My understanding is that all primary schools in Singapore have some type of garden like this.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day Trip to Malaysia

It's the weekend, and I took Saturday to take a day trip across the border to the state of Melaka in the country of Malaysia. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula. The state of Melaka is predominantly Muslim (66%). The population of Melaka is 57% Malay, 32% Chinese (including Peranakan), and smaller groups of Indian, Kristang, and Dutch Eurasian.

We took a charter bus from Singapore to the city of Melaka. You have to go through customs leaving Singapore, and then again entering Malaysia, and similarly on the way back you have to separately check-out of one country before the check-in stop. Once across the border we had a quick breakfast stop (ate some hot noodles, dim sum, and hot tea) before getting to Melaka for our lunch stop. Along the way we saw all the Palm trees that are farmed to produce palm oil. It took about 3.5 hours to get there. Lunch was tasty Nonya cuisine, from the Peranakans (ethnic/cultural blend of Chinese and Malay).

Then, we walked down Jonker Street, popular for its shopping! I enjoyed browsing the shops, the interesting street food (see the picture of the candy-man chipping away pieces of candy), and had a refreshing star fruit juice at the Geographer's Cafe. Then, it was back on the bus to head back to Singapore, stopping for dinner before crossing the border for another big family-style meal.

Singapore's National Day

Today was Singapore's National Day! It celebrates their country's independence from Malaysia in 1965. Today celebrated their 48th birthday! It is a public holiday, so all public offices and schools are closed and I enjoyed the day to do some exploring of the city. In appropriate form, we wore our "I love Singapore" t-shirts we received as gifts! It began with a hearty breakfast, a "typical workman's meal" of soup, noodles, chicken, vegetables and traditional tea.
Then, it was off to venture around Singapore's Chinatown neighborhood. Like many Chinatowns I have visited around the world, there were a lot of places to buy inexpensive souvenirs, so I bought an assortment of items to bring back to the US. I escaped from the heat and humidity with a traditional shaved ice dessert from Hong Kong.

After Chinatown, I went to the Asian Civilisations Museum (admission was free for Singapore Day), had a taro ice cream sandwich (literally ice cream between a piece of bread), and had the traditional Peranakan dish of "laksa" (coconut curry soup with noodles) with "otah" (fishcake wrapped in banana leaf) for dinner. 

Finally, it was time for Singapore Day fireworks! We went to a barrage to see them from afar. 
Happy Birthday, Singapore!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Visit to the Science Centre

 First, a hearty dim sum lunch to get us started for the day! We went to the Chinese Swimming Club, where many of Singapore's national swimmers train, to the TungLok Signatures restaurant. We ate a variety of small dishes, such as Chinese-style fried chicken wings, frog and duck rice porridge, and some familiar dumplings similar to what we can find in Boston's Dim Sum restaurants. Finished with a house special fruit juice served in a test tube!

Then, off to the Science Centre, which is Singapore's museum of science! To me, the Science Centre felt like a cross between Boston's Museum of Science and the Children's Museum. In the center of the Science Centre was their stage for the electricity show, just like at our Museum of Science! Although their generators and metal cage were MUCH smaller - it was like a miniature MOS stage. Around the museum, visitors engaged in hands-on activities around different science topics such as sound, engineering, and ecology. Outside the Science Centre was the "Kinetic Garden" with fountains and activities for kids to play in.


 For dinner, it was off to the East Coast Park on the water, where we ate at Jumbo Seafood. We met up with Karen Lam, who works for the Ministry of Education, her husband, Peter, and Ken Jin Tan, Head of Department for Student Development in his school and also a physics and math teacher. We learned more about how Singapore's education system works, and about different professional tracks that teachers work along in their career. A very intriguing way to support teacher professionalism and growth along the career span!

We ate the famous Singaporean chili crab, as well as pepper crab, fried prawns with cereal, and crisp baby squids. Delicious! 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

National Institute of Education

Today I went to visit Singapore's National Institute of Education. The NIE is an institute of the Nanyang Technological University. It is where all of Singapore’s teachers go through teacher preparation. Students can go through a 1-year postgraduate program, or a 4-year undergraduate program. It is a competitive application process, which includes an interview and sometimes a teaching stint in a school where they can see your teaching aptitude. When students are admitted, they are considered teachers and are given a stipend while they do their studies.

At the NIE I met with the science education faculty and some of their students to share about how we teach science in Boston. In Singapore they do not formally include science in their curriculum until grade 3, so they were very interested in some of the student work samples that I showed them from my kindergarten and first grade students. They shared that in Singapore they are also working on improving student writing in science, like we are in Boston, and some teachers are even using the framework of Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning (CER) that our students are familiar with!

For lunch, we drove to Singapore’s countryside to Bollywood Veggies, a farm and education center. We ate at their restaurant, Poison Ivy Bistro, named for the founder Ivy Singh. We met Ivy, self-identified “warrior” who is an outspoken woman who doesn’t hesitate to tell you what she thinks about Singaporean politics and policies, while working for a more sustainable Singapore. We often eat family style, and this meal consisted of farm fresh veggies, along with curry chicken, tofu, and fried fish! (For fun, click here to see what Martha Stewart thought of this place!)

Aside from learning about how Singapore teaches elementary science, I am learning about how to eat my way through Singapore! For dinner, we ate the traditional meal of "Chicken Rice." It is rice, cooked in the chicken broth, eaten along with boiled chicken, chili sauce, and a variety of side dishes! Yum!