Teaching_in_Singapore

Project-Based Learning in Singapore

Atanas Bakalov for Schools, Schools (K-12) 0 Comments

Operating under the motto “diligent in study and practice,” the Bukit Panjang Government High School (BPGHS) is among the top-ranked schools in Singapore, a country which itself vies for the number one spot on OECD’s prestigious PISA exam.  Though critical thinking is often touted as the cornerstone of Western education, explosive economic growth, and smart policymaking have propelled many countries in Asia Pacific to challenge facile generalizations.

In highly structured educational settings, patterns that don’t fit the mold are intriguing.  Under the tutelage of their English teacher, Robert Puffer, students at BPGHS regularly complete video storytelling projects.  The resulting work is technically impressive and entertaining.  In the best examples, it is also rich in significance, delightfully complex, and aware of global interconnectedness.

“In the early days, before the Internet came into existence, we were trying to see just where and how to use this new addition to curricular tools. Today, the computer is a means to an end: bringing students together, empowering and enabling them to express their creativity.”

An American expat and avid world traveler, Bob Puffer is the product of the best Western education can offer.  Becoming involved in the first global classroom at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and early investigations of interactive technologies at Harvard and MIT, Bob recognized the youthful power that people could unleash through computer-aided interaction.

“In the early days, before the Internet came into existence,” shares Bob, “we were trying to see just where and how to use this new addition to curricular tools.  Distance learning and collaborative pedagogy led to the realization that the computer is best used as a communication device – be it word processing or emailing or now social media.  Today, as these tools have become more sophisticated, the computer is a means to an end: bringing students together, empowering and enabling them to express their creativity.”

Freedom of Expression

When Bob arrived in Singapore six years ago, creative projects hardly seemed the go-to option.  With high stakes exams at the forefront of both students’ and administrators’ minds, doing videos instead of grammar drills must have seemed like doodling.  But Bob persisted, and the visual stories that emerged as an outgrowth from that relatively rigid context are exceptionally interesting.

The sense that the process of creating a video was in and of itself liberating is apparent in the very title one of Bob’s students chose for his video: School Is Boring.  The bodacious tagline aside, the video is fundamentally a coming-of-age tale.

After watching the clip, we grasp the power of video creation as a means of self-expression.  We follow the narrator, Faruq, as he recounts his schooling experience and as he grows up, literally and figuratively.  The story exudes a meditative calm, wisdom that seems beyond Faruq’s years.  It is personal, sincere, and accepting of the risks that come with opening oneself up to vulnerability.

When Bob arrived in Singapore six years ago, creative projects hardly seemed the go-to option. With high stakes exams at the forefront of both students’ and administrators’ minds, doing videos instead of grammar drills must have seemed like doodling.
The transition from black-and-white in the first half of the video to the full-color palette of the upbeat ending is particularly effective at revealing the student’s inner transformation.  The transition signals a change in point of view, a change in attitude.

As Bob pointed out during a recent conversation, it possibly signals another layer of meaning too.  In Singapore’s multi-racial environment, one’s complexion is often a subtle determinant of social standing as well as inclusion or rejection. india .  Since Faruq is a member of one of the local ethnic minorities, color may also be loaded with connotations that express the inner world of a socially aware narrator and illuminate his bold and emphatic self-acceptance in the video’s concluding sequence.

Visible Thinking

In spite of its emotional impact, Faruq’s video falls short of fully articulating the reasons behind the narrator’s change in perspective and, by extension, the chromatic transition.  Debating the various possible interpretations, however, could serve as an effective “hook” to immerse other students in Bob’s class in intellectual exploration.

More than other tools, making videos enables students to express their unique personalities and patterns of thought so that teachers and peers can understand and appreciate them.
Structured as a stream of consciousness, Faruq’s video story is an emblematic example of the way video creation can serve as an aid to make thinking visible.  As the story unfolds, we see Faruq tracing his learning process, which culminates with an epiphany about the importance of one’s attitude to interpret life circumstances.  More than other tools, making videos enables students to express their unique personalities and patterns of thought so that teachers and peers can understand and appreciate them.

In our previous blog post, we pointed out that immersing students in digital media projects is a way to encourage visible thinking.  An offshoot from research at Harvard Graduate School of Education, The Visible Thinking Project is an excellent resource for educators interested in exploring this concept in greater depth.  In the researchers’ words, “when thinking is visible, it becomes clear that school is not about memorizing content but exploring ideas.  Teachers benefit when they can see students’ thinking because misconceptions, prior knowledge, reasoning ability, and degrees of understanding are more likely to be uncovered.  Teachers can then address these challenges and extend students’ thinking by starting from where they are.”

Start Using Video in Your Classroom