“Everyday when you plan your lessons, when you discuss with your colleagues, when you attend professional development courses. Everyday you have the opportunity for innovation in education.” – Siyun Chen, Singapore

“It is my belief that with carefully crafted lessons, you can combine 21st century skills in your lessons and attain improved grades for the students, showing that academic achievement and 21st century skills can actually complement and benefit each other,” says 2012 Global Forum winner and ICT teacher, Siyun Chen. “I have been trying to show that incorporating 21st century skills in my everyday lessons can be done, even though there is a tight syllabus to complete. Recently, I have completed a self-directed and collaborative academic year for 13-year-old science students that required them to solve problems creatively, and at the same time trained them in 21st century skills. Students are engaged and they show great improvement in their academic results.”

Siyun’s project, “Impactful Online Service Learning,” led her students, together with students from an Indonesian village, through a journey of international collaboration. The project focused on the understanding of and appreciation for Singapore’s own water source, and learning about the problem of clean water sources in another country. “Together, as scientists, the students from both countries would collaborate to solve an authentic pressing issue on the lack of a clean water source in a village in Indonesia,” notes Siyun. “The final product, a culmination of the collaboration, would be carried out by the Indonesian students in the village. It is a twist on conventional service learning, where the students could help others without leaving the country, while gaining curriculum knowledge and seeing a link between facts from their textbook to real-life application while helping others.”

Siyun and her students stood out at the Partners in Learning Global Forum in Prague, and she was recognized as the runner-up in the Collaboration category.

Here, Siyun shares her experiences incorporating 21st century skills and technology – even while acknowledging that she is not a digital native – and how she believes being a mother makes her a better teacher. Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure!

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

My students have benefited from the lessons, with the way they approach a particular problem, how they collaborate with each other and how their academic results have improved. I have grown as an educator from seeing how my students have progressed and improved when given the faith and the space to be independent learners. We need to believe that our students can do more and not impose a glass ceiling on their abilities. A successful lesson is when both teachers and students are learners, with both gaining knowledge from the learning experience. I hope to show other teachers in my school and from other schools the benefits of a 21st century classroom and ways to design these lessons.  Hopefully, this will get more teachers to hop on the bandwagon.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

The biggest challenge is to get started. Start today. Start thinking about the lessons you had been doing. Most of the time you already have the right raw materials at your fingertips. With the right tweaking and management of time and resources, you could have a very innovative lesson on your hands. Start sharing with your colleagues and start building networks. There are a lot of good teaching networks out there, like the Partners in Learning Network, and this is a very good place to start. Why reinvent the wheel when you have a lot of good lesson resources that you can adapt from?. Once you have gotten the hang of it, it will come naturally to you and will become really enjoyable.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I am not a digital native and when I plan my lessons, ironically I do not focus on the technology, but the pedagogy and lesson structure. However, the technology will come in naturally with my planning, as a 21st century lesson can be so much more effective with the use of technology. My students collaborate with students from other schools and other countries with the help of technology. They learn things from beyond their textbooks through the Internet. They build digital portfolios that they and myself can access anywhere.  Learning is so much more effective with technology, I cannot imagine teaching without. You can easily bring the world into your classroom with technology.

Technology is a great way to connect teachers from different countries, to share resources and learn from each other. No longer do you have to attend a course physically and I have had set up an e-learning course for teachers in my school to learn on their own time.

I believe in the accessibility of technology as well. You can work wonders with any technology tools you have. My most innovative lessons usually involve only Microsoft tools, with free web 2.0 tools online. Do not focus on what fancy tools you do not have, but the wonders you can do with what you have.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Fighting for the students’ attention with the realities of life. Sometimes these students face a lot of challenges at home.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

Singapore’s Ministry of Education is really supportive of teachers, especially in the area of professional development. I love that the Ministry of Education is always willing to support teachers in upgrading themselves with higher degrees and courses. I think that a very important aspect in education is to constantly learn and improve. I love that quality education is accessible to all children; equal education is the way to go.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

The good thing about the Ministry of Education is their efforts to constantly improve and address any outstanding needs of education; examples are the efforts in promoting 21st century skills and character development in education. I think that is commendable.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Everyday in your classroom you have the chance to inspire, to innovate, and to engage your students. Everyday when you plan your lessons, when you discuss with your colleagues, when you attend professional development courses. Everyday you have the opportunity for innovation in education.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Do not think that grades and innovative teaching or 21st century or values education do not go together. They are not mutually exclusive. They are not just a fad that will go away, or government policies that are imposed on you. In fact, if you can strike a balance between teaching our kids to be 21st century learners with values education, inspiring them in the subjects they learn, bringing the world into their classroom and making their subjects come alive and be relevant to them while delivering the content, the grades will follow.

How do we work that magic? To strike that balance, I believe the key is in sound pedagogy, good knowledge practices, continuous professional development, an amazing sharing circle like Partners in Learning and most importantly, a safe environment where there can be no failures as long as you dare to try different innovative lessons. There can be no bad teaching when you have the child’s well being at heart. I hope that my own children will be in a classroom like that.  All children deserve an education like that.

“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as hard duty. Never regard study as duty but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.”

Albert Einstein

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

Education cannot be static and needs to be ever-adapting and evolving, so as to best prepare our students for a future they will be well equipped for. Any “trends” do have their benefits; I especially think the new 21st century learning direction that education is moving towards is brilliant. In addition, I think a great new trend is equipping teachers with the detailed breakdowns of the different criteria of 21st century skills in their classrooms with LEAP21 to guide them on what a sound lesson should look like. I think the key is the accurate and effective implementation of these trends in the classroom — it might be a waste of precious class time if not done properly, and this is where the investment in professional development comes in.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Access to the Internet and the ability to use it wisely. The whole world is at your fingertips. I always tell my daughter, if you can read, if you know where to find the information you need, there is nothing to stop you from learning or knowing. If I can teach my students to know how to learn and source for information to solve their own problems, they are getting a good start in their 21st century citizenship.

About Siyun Chen

  • Birthplace: Singapore
  • Current residence: Singapore
  • Education: Bachelor of Science (Honors), Post-graduate diploma in education
  • Website I check every day: Education blogs like www.edutopia.org and my new favorite www.dailyedventures.com
  • Person who inspires me most: My parents and my husband. They have the best work ethic of anyone I have ever known. They are dedicated, honest, hardworking folks who give their best in whatever they do. They taught me humility and respect for the job I am doing and to always give my best. I am glad I am making them proud with the recent achievements with my work. They made me feel like how I think a Finnish teacher would feel – that I have the most respected and important job. They are always there to listen to me, and are really supportive of whatever I do.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Racing down the beach with my siblings, while my parents strolled behind us during a holiday to Gold Coast Australia.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): No plans yet, maybe Australia for pleasure, it is one of my favorite places in the world.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why?: Just a few hours ago, while decorating the Christmas tree with my two children. They make me laugh everyday, no matter how down the day can be. They are the joys of my life. Being a mother has inspired me to become a better educator. It brings home to me the fact that every student is someone’s child and the most important person to them, and reminds me that I must be the best I can be to every single student in my class. Being an educator makes me a better mum to my children as well; for example are the different ways that I can teach them at home. If I am spending time teaching my students innovatively, I must do that for my own children. I want them to love learning. I want them to think that learning is fun. Play is the highest form of education. My older daughter who is learning to read and write, has a diary in the form of a blog for her to learn socially from the comments her aunts put on her blog. It encourages her to love reading and writing, and instead of avoiding the Internet, I’m educating her to use it wisely and cautiously at the age of five. She keeps a little garden with me as she learns about nature; about science as she documents everything with a small camera that she has. I truly believe in the things I do at work, because I do the same things at home with my children. I love my job, and how it really complements my role as a mother.
  • Favorite book: I love to read and I have a lot of favorites but what comes to mind now is the book “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom. I hope that I will be a wise teacher like Morrie to a child someday, and hope to make a little difference everyday. “Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

  • Favorite music: Jason Mraz, Adele for leisure. When I am working and looking for inspiration, I love to listen to cello music or any pieces by the Piano Guys. They are a pair of inspirational musicians, breaking the traditional molds of classical music, attracting new audience whom otherwise might not have chosen to listen to classical music.
  • Your favorite quote or motto:  “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” ― Plato

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One Response to “Everyday when you plan your lessons, when you discuss with your colleagues, when you attend professional development courses. Everyday you have the opportunity for innovation in education.” – Siyun Chen, Singapore

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