Young teachers should challenge themselves with creative teaching methods and ideas in order to progress even further, while organisations should provide incentives that recognise and reward them.
AT THE heart of any good teacher is a simple desire to be allowed to teach in way that students can fully understand what is being taught. Take a Science teacher, for instance. A good one is not content with giving theoretical explanations on the board or projecting e-chalk notes on a screen. He will take his students to the laboratory regularly and make them do as many experiments as possible.
What about a creative teacher? He takes his game one step higher. He looks at his students and thinks, “Now, how can I spark more interest or get them to understand the topic even better?”
If he truly listens to his experience-inspired intuitive wisdom, any teacher can become innovative if he dares to translate this inspiration into new ways to make learning truly meaningful. Most teachers, however, stick to the safe and the familiar. Occasionally, why not investigate what is on the flip side?
A teacher could, for instance, simplify and create experiments that use materials that are easily available. Or, he could zone in on something new to make his students say, “Hey, this is awesome!”
This is exactly what 58-year-old Physics teacher, Dr Yip Chi Keong of SMJK Chan Wa, Negri Sembilan did.
I met him recently during the prize presentation ceremony held by the Malaysia Toray Science Foundation.
Dr Yip’s innovation of using a time-exposure apparatus to analyse and measure the velocity and momentum of a tennis ball as it approaches and rebounds from a racquet, landed him a runners-up prize award.
While the Education Ministry hands out annual Innovative Teacher Awards (certificates and prize money of up to RM1,000 included), one private Japanese organisation – the MTSF (Malaysia Toray Science Foundation) has been rewarding innovative Malaysian teachers (and I might add, also researchers) since 1993!
Secondary school Science and Mathematics teachers who have been responding to its annual “shout-out” for creative ideas, stand a chance not only to win the Science Education Award but also monetary rewards, ranging from RM2,000 to RM6,000 per idea.
Star treatment and a sumptuous lunch on the prize-giving day are an added bonus! You only have to look at Dr Yip to know that age is neither dimming his appreciation for MTSF nor his intellect. He has, in fact, added another feather to his cap by completing his PhD this year.
I asked Dr Yip about what kept him going,
His answer was as sincere as his beaming face. “I love presenting new ideas to my students and I love it even more when they get equally excited by them!”
Talking about passion, HELP Academy’s Seow Yoke Hock has had enough to create ripples in the life of his students. When his ideas worked in the classroom, he submitted them.
This year, he was awarded a prize for a model that demonstrated the repulsion and attraction effects of changing the direction of current on a pair of parallel wires which could be made to “dance” to the rhythm of music. It was a fun, yet effective way to teach electromagnetism to his A-Levels students!
His innovation certainly earned him the right to waltz to the bank with a cheque for RM6,000 in his pocket.
A reflective educator, Seow proposes that teachers use the 5P approach he adopts to achieve success: Passion, Persistence, Patience, Precision and Perfection.
He knows, like I do, that it requires hard work and many trial-and-error attempts to take an idea from inspiration to fruition.
In agreement was first-time winner, Idris Abdul Talib of SMA Izzuddin Shah, Perak. He came up with a kit which used the analogy of water flowing through tubes to demonstrate how a transistor radio works to his Form Five Physics students.
Idris told me humbly that he was urged to submit his idea by his mentor and co-applicant, Prof Dr Rosly Jaafar of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, in Perak.
Good things have been coming his way ever since Idris completed his master’s degree last year. Being promoted to “Excellent Teacher” was one, and being selected for the Innovative Teacher Award for Perak was another.
“As for Prof Rosly, I saw a man who takes the veracity of ideas seriously. In UPSI, he is now working on making visualisation-assisted teaching aids (which he calls VATA) a reality that will be used by teachers all over Malaysia, be it in physical or virtual classrooms.”
Feeling slightly out of depth was 28-year-old Mok Soon Kong of SMK Marudi, Sarawak. Looking understandably nervous, he still couldn’t get over the fact that his first-time entry had earned him an award.
I liked this sincere young teacher. Motivated by the fact that his General Science students were “weak” and lacked enthusiasm, he began to search for fresh approaches and hit upon the idea of using an eight-layer, step-by-step teaching aid which he made from inexpensive transparent book wrapping. It took him two years just to perfect it. But, with it, his students now realise how simple the process of latex coagulation really is.
That’s the way to go — using low-cost materials that can be converted into effective models.
For Mok, the award has boosted his teaching spirit no end. We need more organisations (besides the foundation and the ministry) to put their money into incentives that understand this simple fact — the more we recognise and reward teachers, (especially the young ones), the more likely they are to be progressive in their teaching.
Further, if we want a dynamic education scene in this country, we need to spur and involve the young in this country, first to want to become teachers and then, to be the kind of teachers who are interested to make learning relevant to the youth of today. Just look at what Teach For Malaysia has done for giving teaching a good name. Teachers trained by this NGO are called ‘fellows’ and they carry cards bearing their name!
The bottom-line is we can’t be relying on the older teachers forever. I believe the future lies in able young teachers who should be fired up enough to catch the “baton” older teachers are passing on to them. Reward them well and you’ll see them grow!
I am sure the old hands at the MTSF game such as Ms Tan Mun Wai (from Institut Pendi-dikan Guru Kampus Pendidikan Teknik, Kuala Lumpur – who won a prize for her ‘ecliptic and seasons’ model) and Mr Wong Fu from SMK Putatan, Sabah will agree with me.
Wong Fu (fondly called ‘sifu’) is a venerable “old man of the sea”. Being an “Excellent Teacher” for Physics, he sang his swan song this year by submitting a model that “unlocked” the mystery of a dynamo.
I hope he will find the time to occasionally guide and lend a listening ear to young teachers who can still benefit from his wise counsel.
It is experienced teachers like those mentioned above and the bright young ones too who should be invited to sit on panels that come up with fresh new ideas on how to inject life into the teaching of Science and Mathematics in this country.
Mok admitted that his submission in English was edited by an older teacher who taught English in his school, who was in turnencouraged by a senior Physics teacher. I felt heartened.
In schools, I laud experienced teachers who are willing to be sincere mentors. The guidance they offer is one of the best ways I know of helping younger teachers perform better, and even, excel in their career.
It’s a pity that while many teachers in this country know about the foundation’s incentive, few participate for fear that their ideas will not be good enough to meet the selection criteria or that their English will let them down.
Give it a shot! Do not be cowed by your own fears. Let your entry be judged by the MTSF examination panel. No doubt it is made up of revered and experienced academicians, but they will use the same four criteria to assess your idea as they will of that submitted by teachers who keep winning year after year.
These criteria are: creativity, practicability, economy and effectiveness.
The awards won by first-timers Mok and Idris are a clear indication that you should not entertain too much self-doubt. Think creatively, experiment, polish your idea and submit it.
I too received the foundation’s Science Education Award seven times for my creative ideas in teaching Biology and won two District-level Innovative Teacher Awards.
The closing date for the MTSF 2013 competition is May 31. Why not begin now to think of something you can create to make your teaching more interesting?
This year, the foundation only received 104 entries, 35 of which came from Sabah and Sarawak. As you can see, we can afford to bring these numbers up.
I would like to thank MTSF and congratulate the 16 teachers who received the awards.
On my part, I wish I could have talked to and written about all the 16 teachers who received the foundation’s Science Education Award this year, but there were space and time constraints.
Organisations which are keen to reward Science and Mathematics teachers are welcome to do so.