Smart students for smart nation

Chong Zhi Yu (left), 16, and Koh Si Siang, 12, work with a micro:bit. Learning to program the tiny computers is a new part in the school's iSCoRe2 curriculum. A student experimenting with virtual reality technology at Anglican High's iCrea+e corner i
Valencia Lee and Ashley Lee fly a drone outside the school's library. The girls, who had never touched a drone before iCrea+e opened, now use drones to take aerial photographs of the school.ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG
Chong Zhi Yu (left), 16, and Koh Si Siang, 12, work with a micro:bit. Learning to program the tiny computers is a new part in the school's iSCoRe2 curriculum. A student experimenting with virtual reality technology at Anglican High's iCrea+e corner i
A student experimenting with virtual reality technology at Anglican High's iCrea+e corner in the school library.ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG
Chong Zhi Yu (left), 16, and Koh Si Siang, 12, work with a micro:bit. Learning to program the tiny computers is a new part in the school's iSCoRe2 curriculum. A student experimenting with virtual reality technology at Anglican High's iCrea+e corner i
Chong Zhi Yu (left), 16, and Koh Si Siang, 12, work with a micro:bit. Learning to program the tiny computers is a new part in the school's iSCoRe2 curriculum. ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG

Anglican High students learn programming and have a space to get creative with tech

Since this month, every Secondary 2 student in Anglican High School has been learning to program a micro:bit, a new part in the school's iSCoRe2 curriculum.

The new lessons in tiny computers go hand in hand with the school's opening of iCrea+e, the school's version of a "makerspace", last August. Makerspaces are places people can go, usually for free, to create projects that benefit the community.

Through these two ways, the school hopes to teach its students 21st-century competencies - skills needed in a globalised, digital world - such as communication, collaboration and information literacy skills.

"With the development of new tech in the industry, there is a new emphasis on enhanced student learning - preparing them for a smart nation," said Mr Patrick Tay, 41, the school's head of department for information and communication technology.

For instance, the enhanced curriculum combines the traditional subject of design and technology with putting values into action.

This year, with their new-found knowledge in programming the tiny handheld computers, students visited charities such as St Andrew's Community Hospital and Orange Valley Nursing Home to learn the challenges faced by the seniors, such as a lack of exercise and the onset of dementia.

Then, they brainstorm and program solutions to these problems using the micro:bits. They are still in the conceptualisation stage for potential projects at the moment.

Last year, as part of these lessons, one group of four students came up with a toothbrush holder which would give users audio reminders to brush their teeth.

Outside of lessons, students can visit iCrea+e, a corner of the library that has been converted into fertile ground for creativity.

All items in the room - from drones to virtual reality headsets to micro:bits and even a new 3D printer - are free to use, and the students are not strictly monitored.

The students are trusted to maintain the equipment in good condition, though Anglican High vice-principal John Wu, 40, is not too concerned about damage. "We feel that the opportunity cost of not putting this technology out here is higher than the cost of replacing it," he said.

Aside from a few scratches and chips, nothing has been stolen or spoilt so far.

Sec 4 students Valencia Lee and Ashley Lee, both 16, had never touched a drone before iCrea+e opened. Now, they use drones to take aerial photographs of the school, and practise their skills by manoeuvring the drones inside rooms and up a flight of stairs.

"Previously if (the movie industry) wanted an aerial shot, they had to use helicopters to film from the top down (which was expensive). Now that we have drones, this is a big step towards making cheaper shots," said Valencia, when asked about potential real-life applications for the skills she has picked up.

"It's good that we can start at this age, so that we can have the experience in the future," added Ashley.

Mr David Khoo, 37, a history teacher who helps maintain the drones, said: "When this room started, I was impressed by how self-directed the students were. In this age, it is the teachers who have to learn from the students."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2018, with the headline 'Smart students for smart nation'. Print Edition | Subscribe