Montfort Junior: Taught to build their own dreams

Shane Pan built a magnetic rubber-band gun in about four hours using mostly household objects, such as plastic tubs, clothes pegs and fridge magnets. Primary 1 Montfort Junior pupils enjoying their time in the school's Lego Room. It is part of the sc
Primary 1 Montfort Junior pupils enjoying their time in the school's Lego Room. It is part of the school's "boys-centric" education, which will soon be expanded with a schoolwide Makers Culture complete with a new workshop.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
Shane Pan built a magnetic rubber-band gun in about four hours using mostly household objects, such as plastic tubs, clothes pegs and fridge magnets. Primary 1 Montfort Junior pupils enjoying their time in the school's Lego Room. It is part of the sc
Shane Pan built a magnetic rubber-band gun in about four hours using mostly household objects, such as plastic tubs, clothes pegs and fridge magnets.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
Sacheen Balan wired up this toy over three days. The electrical whizz-kid is now working on an electricity-powered Ferris wheel.
Sacheen Balan wired up this toy over three days. The electrical whizz-kid is now working on an electricity-powered Ferris wheel.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Montfort Junior's curriculum emphasises technological know-how and group activities

During recess, primary school pupils have the option of hitting the canteen, the school library or the basketball court.

But since 2010, pupils at the all-boys Montfort Junior have had another destination - an alumni- supported Lego Room filled with plastic bricks and displays of their creative projects.

Principal Wilbur Wong said this is part of a "boys-centric" education, which will soon be expanded with a schoolwide Makers Culture complete with a new workshop for the pupils, billed TinkerShop@MJ.

The school prides itself on a "boys-centric curriculum" that emphasises technological know-how and active experiences in groups.

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"The fundamental values are very much aligned to what we want to do - giving the kids confidence, giving the kids the iterations and telling the kids it's okay to fail," said Mr Wong.

The school's Makers Culture includes a computational thinking (CT) subject that will soon be rolled out across all six grade levels. Upper-primary pupils have already been taking part in it for two years.

SKY'S THE LIMIT

I hope to design homes that can run on only solar power. Why must I look at other people's work when I can build it myself? The only limit is your imagination. ''

PRIMARY 6 PUPIL SACHEEN BALAN, an electrical whizz-kid who wired up a toy.

Elements of programming and design are already incorporated in the rest of the school curriculum. For example, pupils have used "claymation" technology in arts and crafts lessons and learnt about angles and compass directions with programmable robotic balls.

Primary 4 pupil Daniel Mocorro, 10, said: "There's been a lot of difficulties - sometimes, the design doesn't come out the way we want it, or we get the programming wrong - and it's actually motivation to persevere."

Mr Wong said: "When we look at the CT, and the kids have learnt all this, the next platform is, how do we get the kids to be able to apply?"

So, come July, pupils can apply their skills at TinkerShop@MJ, which will boast apparatus such as 3D and vinyl printers, electronic parts, soldering irons, and moisture and temperature sensors.

Budding pilot Majesty San Juan, 10, is thrilled at the prospect: "My interest is in making do-it-yourself projects... I used recycled plastic bottles to make things like helicopters."

Montfort Junior's management also envisions the Makers Culture programme becoming a pipeline for the "Made in Montfort" Applied Learning Programme at Montfort Secondary, which was rolled out last year.

There, students learn about circuitry and coding with an eye to developing smart solutions for everyday problems. They are also being given a pathway to computing as an O-level subject.

About half of Montfort Junior pupils continue their education at Montfort Secondary. "Some of the maker ideals really fit into what we want to do as a school," said Mr Wong. "The whole crux of maker, the whole premise, must be that anyone can make. So it doesn't matter whether you're intellectually a bit more capable or a bit more challenged - anyone can make."

The Lego Room at Montfort Junior was initiated by retiree Ang Chee Kok, 63, who graduated from Montfort School in 1971 after his A levels. Well-wishers, including other alumni, managed to raise an initial sum of more than $5,000. Mr Ang and other old Montfortians continue to support the Lego Room. "The latest request was to buy more wheels because the boys love to build vehicles of all shapes and sizes," he said.

Primary 6 pupil Shane Pan, 12, built a magnetic rubber-band gun for fun in about four hours - including time taken to conceptualise the design. He used mostly household objects, such as plastic tubs, clothes pegs and fridge magnets. "Art should be learnt from the heart and not from the teacher, and it should be inspired by the self," said the amateur actor, who is also considering a future career as a product designer.

Primary 6 pupil Sacheen Balan, 12, is an electrical whizz-kid who wired up a toy in the spirit of old school games such as Surgery. It took him three days of trial and error, including electrocuting himself twice, and he is now working on an electricity-powered Ferris wheel.

"I hope to design homes that can run on only solar power," he said. "Why must I look at other people's work when I can build it myself? The only limit is your imagination."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'Taught to build their own dreams'. Print Edition | Subscribe