Wednesday, March 26, 2014

School Visits in Singapore Day 1

We visited the Tao Nan School at its temporary site on Wed., hosted by Mrs. Fiona Soh.  I'd met her son at a UCLA party in Houston.  The school is 108 years old and the original building is being updated to meet the Ministry of Education's requirement that all schools run on a single schedule within a few years.  The old school is quite beautiful. The school's enrollment is nearly 2400 students, with grades 4-6 coming from 8-1 and grades 1-3 coming from 1:30-6:30.   We were greeted so warmly by Dr. Chin Kim Woon, who talked about the joys and challenges of being a principal in Singapore.

This building is used as rotating temporary housing as schools are being updated.  This is one section out of 4!!

We were privileged to see three lessons taught to two groups of students.  The first was a science lesson taught to sixth graders b Mrs, Fiona Soh, a master teacher.  As we entered the room with the teacher, the students stood up. The prefect said, "Bow."  The students bowed in unison and said, "Good morning Mrs. Soh."  After she introduced us, we got a bow and a choral welcome also.  It showed such respect!!
 The content of the lesson was interesting and engaging.  More important was how it was taught,  Mrs, Soh gave some very brief instructions on data that was to be collected.  Eliza Thomas and I were so impressed at how the students worked together on how they would organize their data  Each group had different ideas and charts, but all were very neat and clear.  All students had journals, pencil boxes, and white out!

The mood was very relaxed and light as the students got to work.  This class is the gifted class, so it is quite small by Singapore standards--only 18 students. but they were all on task and engaged.

Then the teachers moved to save instructional time and we saw a math lesson with the same students by Mrs Ngoh Poh Sze Wei. First, they were asked to explore the relationship between two angles within a circle on a computer.  Then, using only a piece of paper and a ruler, they were asked to find the exact center of a circle.
Students got right to work and would excitedly approach the teacher if they thought they had the answer.  Usually, her response was, "Are you sure?" or "Is that enough?"  Eliza and I had to cover our mouths when one boy said to another, "If she asks if it's enough, it isn't."

We were so impressed with how the students persevere and work together.  Students would share their answers with the group so others could learn from them.  It really exemplifies what we're trying to get to with the CCSS Practice Standards.      

The third lesson, taught by Mr. Clifton Lim,  was a fill the bucket lesson using a computer program, with gifted 4th graders.  I must admit we were happy to go the air conditioned computer lab!!  This lesson was very challenging to the students but they worked together and were gently guided by the teacher.  The lesson was not completed but they agreed to continue and discuss it again later in the week, after they'd had more time to explore the concept.   as we left the class, they bowed and said, "Thank you for teaching us."          
                                                                                   We ended the day with a discussion with one of the Vice Principals, Ms. Cheryl Chee about the challenges in the Singapore Schools.  She talked about how hard they are working to move away from summative  testing and its pressures and develop portfolios.  We also talked about teacher evaluation, professional development, and improvement plans.  It was a packed morning and we learned so much.  We are so thankful to the staff at Tao Nan School!


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