Photo Caption: Ms Chang sees great potential for accelerated adoption of technology to spur greater learning.
By Aster Tan
Cues of emotional distress and stress often go unnoticed, but not when Ms Janessa Chang is around. Whether it is fatigue, withdrawal from friends or playgroups, or a sudden lack of focus, the 25-year-old physics teacher at Naval Base Secondary School makes a concerted effort to spot these tell-tale signs in pandemic-weary students.
“Showing care is particularly important during these extraordinary times. As teachers, we should listen to our students’ concerns and understand their challenges,” says Ms Chang, who is a recipient of the Ministry of Education (MOE) Teaching Award. “We must check in with students frequently to ensure that they are coping well both in school and at home.”
Beyond her own classroom, Ms Chang also serves as a guidance coordinator on the school’s Guidance Committee. She finds it meaningful to counsel troubled students and connect with them.
“Teachers do not just teach subjects; we also inculcate values that help shape character. That is why interactions outside the classroom are just as important as within the classroom,” she says.
Lessons outside the classroom
Ms Chang, who holds a Bachelor of Science in Education (Honours with Highest Distinction) from Nanyang Technological University-National Institute of Education (NTU-NIE), attributes her empathetic skills to the experiences she had as an MOE Teaching Award scholarship recipient.
As part of NIE’s Service And Leadership Training (SALT) programme, Ms Chang went to Phong Thanh, in rural Vietnam, to teach English.
“Though I was the one teaching, I also learnt many life lessons as well,” she says.
She was moved by how the children hungered for knowledge, despite their less privileged background.
“Every child, regardless of background, has the ability to learn. This experience affirmed my conviction to always bring out the best in each student,” she adds.
While doing an elective course at San Diego State University in California, Ms Chang picked up counselling skills and learnt how to actively listen, build rapport and remain non-judgmental when dealing with youths. She also observed real-time work at youth counselling centres .
To this day, the skills she had acquired continue to make her a better educator.
Using Escape Room puzzles to learn science
Having entered the teaching profession just when the pandemic hit, Ms Chang admits that her job has been “like a roller-coaster ride”.
Despite the ever-changing measures, she embraces the challenge with gusto. For her, conducting lessons online is an exciting development and she sees great potential for accelerated adoption of technology to spur greater learning.
“Students can access their iPads for research and be more self-directed in their learning,” she explains. “Physics is an abstract subject. With an iPad, they can access applets that help them better visualise concepts.”
For instance, knowing that students enjoy solving Escape Room puzzles, she and her team incorporated a similar concept in The Big Science Challenge, a programme for Secondary 3 students. Students had to work in groups to solve puzzles – which involved performing simple science experiments such as constructing electrical circuits or testing for the presence of protein – to “escape” the laboratory.
“The students had great fun with friends while applying what they have learnt. I hope to integrate more games into my teaching!” says Ms Chang.
While attending a three-month course on “Visible Thinking” at Harvard Graduate School of Education, she picked up a thinking routine called See-Think-Wonder. This involves showing students an experiment or demonstration and inviting them to jot down observations, explanations and questions.
As schools settle into a new normal, and start to move away from grades, Ms Chang supports Full Subject-based Banding in schools, which would allow students to learn at the level that best caters to their strengths, interests and academic needs.
Visit moe.gov.sg/tss for more information.