Pokemon helps teacher win President's Award

At the Istana yesterday to receive their award from President Halimah Yacob were (from left) Mr Syam Lal Sadanandan, 54, from Bukit Batok Secondary; Madam Sarah Koh, 41, from Holy Innocents' Primary; Mr Victor Chew, 37, from Rosyth School; Dr Koh Noi
At the Istana yesterday to receive their award from President Halimah Yacob were (from left) Mr Syam Lal Sadanandan, 54, from Bukit Batok Secondary; Madam Sarah Koh, 41, from Holy Innocents' Primary; Mr Victor Chew, 37, from Rosyth School; Dr Koh Noi Sian, 39, from Nanyang Polytechnic; Mr Joel Lim, 38, from Fairfield Methodist School (Primary); Ms Ella Siu, 53, from Republic Polytechnic; and Mr Mohamed Azhar Mohamed Noor, 41, from Innova Primary.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

He designs activities based on popular series to teach science; 6 others also get the award

Science teacher Mohamed Azhar Mohamed Noor thinks way outside the square when it comes to teaching his charges about animal adaptation and evolution.

Instead of using "textbook" examples, such as eagles ripping flesh from their prey, he gets his pupils to draw Pokemon characters with different features that he then hides around Innova Primary.

To win the game, his pupils have to find the drawings and identify the Pokemon's distinctive characteristics and functions.

Mr Azhar, 41, said: "Science is based on facts. If you do it in a 'textbook' manner, they'll get bored.

"Children may not remember the text or the things you say, but they remember activities and how you made them feel."

His innovative teaching helped him clinch a President's Award for Teachers yesterday.

The seven winners were selected out of a pool of 3,886 individuals nominated by school leaders, teachers, parents and students.

President Halimah Yacob presented the awards to them at a ceremony at the Istana that was also attended by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and Second Education Minister Indranee Rajah.

The teachers will join an overseas conference and a study trip at the end of the year as part of their professional development.

 

The other recipients were Mr Joel Lim from Fairfield Methodist School (Primary); Madam Sarah Koh from Holy Innocents' Primary School; Mr Victor Chew from Rosyth School; Mr Syam Lal Sadanandan from Bukit Batok Secondary School; Dr Koh Noi Sian from Nanyang Polytechnic; and Ms Ella Siu from Republic Polytechnic.

Dr Koh, 39, a senior analytics lecturer, co-developed artificial intelligence software that can detect the emotions of her students to help them learn better.

The system uses a Web camera to capture facial expressions. It also monitors typing speed and mouse clicks. The software is programmed to provide pop-up hints when it recognises a student is stuck or on the verge of giving up.

Dr Koh, who has a PhD in information systems, has also linked the system to a data dashboard so tutors can see patterns in the topics that students are weak in.

She said: "Emotions are integral to learning... We don't want our students to give up because they feel frustrated with a problem."

Mr Syam, 54, aims to motivate and educate "troubled" students who are struggling with studies and other challenges. He started an environmental activity club in Bukit Batok Secondary School in 2006 to "catch" Normal (Technical) students who had dropped out of their co-curricular activities.

"I repeated Secondary 4 and that experience shaped who I am today. I can understand how my N(T) students feel and I can empathise with them," he said. "This phase of life is very important. If we catch them early and make sure they come to school, I know they will succeed."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2019, with the headline 'Pokemon helps teacher win President's Award'. Print Edition | Subscribe