Do you remember that sense of accomplishment you felt as a child when you built your very first LEGO model? The sheer joy and satisfaction from the activity just makes you want to share your masterpiece with the world. Imagine if those same feelings can be replicated in classrooms today. What would it take to change the way teachers teach for that to happen and how would it change the way students learn if it happens? A team of teachers from St Hilda’s Primary School shares how they do it in the Hildan’s classrooms through constructivist learning activities.
Intrinsic Motivation to Learn
Being in a time-constrained environment, the focus in most classrooms today tends to be placed on academic learning. But for one team of teachers from St Hilda’s Primary School, sparking that joy of learning and nurturing creativity in their students constantly remains their priority.
Consisting of a team of teachers from different disciplines co-led by Mrs Elaine Wong (Head of Science Department) and Mr Andy Ng (Head of Gifted Education Programme), the team strongly believes that it is crucial to imbue in their students an intrinsic desire to learn. They hope to do so through student-centric pedagogy that fosters positive values and mindsets in students.
“In a world where knowledge and skills are made obsolete rapidly, the only way to have future-ready students is to imbue in them a strong desire to learn,” Elaine shares. “So when then-Minister for Education Ng Chee Meng spoke about joy of learning in 2017, it struck a chord in us.” Elaine believes that when a child sees joy in learning, he or she will be intrinsically motivated to constantly seek new knowledge.
So how can teachers inculcate a love for learning in students? For Elaine and her team, the answer lies in the concept of makerspace.
Making Way for a Landscape of Play
“‘Making’ is a form of play, which is a means to foster a joy of learning and entrepreneurial dare in children,” Andy explains the idea of makerspace. “But if ‘play’ only resides in a physical space, its impact on learning is limited.”
As such, the team envisions more than just a space but a spirit of play that starts from the physical space and spreads to other spaces: the classroom, staff room, and then into the hearts, heads and hands of students and teachers, forming a landscape of play at St Hilda’s.
“Makerspace is about creating an environment for students to engage in constructivist learning activities,” Andy adds. It is a space where students use available resources to create tangible artefacts and, in the process, nurture intangible qualities such as creativity, resilience and the joy of learning,” Andy adds.
With a strong leadership support, the team creates the Hildan Playscape with confidence that the spirit of playing and making within it can and will spread further beyond that physical space itself.
The Hildan Playscape
“Development of growth mindset, and a tolerance for risk and failure are valuable characteristics that we see students developing slowly. The students also seem more inquisitive and more motivated of their own learning.”
– Elaine, on the positive impact constructivist activities have on students
Today, a room filled with students building LEGO models, creating straw sculptures and tinkering on iPads is a common sight at St Hilda’s.
Elaine notices that when students are fully immersed in their constructivist activities, they are less averse to failure and start to have an appetite for risk. “Development of growth mindset, and a tolerance for risk and failure are valuable characteristics that we see students developing slowly,” she shares. “The students also seem more inquisitive and more motivated in their own learning.”
The Hildan Playscape is not just a fringe activity for students to participate in during their free time. It is a whole-school movement that challenges the conventional ways of teaching to inspire learning. With this aspiration, the team takes small, intentional steps to integrate Playscape Activities into the classrooms and the school’s curriculum.
A Whole-School Approach
Through a ground-up approach to ensure that their action plans are effective and sustainable for the school, a multi-discipline team brainstorms on how to include play in their respective subject lessons. The team will then try out these ideas in their respective classrooms and adjust accordingly as they progress.
After rigorous testing, the ideas are infused into level programmes. “The infusion process allows the team to assess if both the rigour of the subject’s learning objective and the intent of learning through play strike a balance. At this stage, the team will start to train and mentor teachers who are not familiar with implementing Playscape Activities in their lessons.” Andy explains.
Once the infused lessons achieve the subject’s learning objectives, the team integrates these ideas into the school’s scheme of work. This is when teachers from the various departments will work together and integrate the Playscape Activities into the school’s curriculum for future implementation.
Benefits of Playscape
In the pursuit of fostering the joy of learning in students through play, the implementation of Playscape also brings about other benefits.
At the individual level, it provides opportunities for students to pick up new skills and take ownership of their learning. “St Hilda’s Primary’s own version of makerspace is a space and an outlet for our students to fuel engagement, curiosity and creativity and at the same time, experiment, take risks and play with their own ideas,” Elaine shares.
From the perspective of an educator, the Hildan Playscape creates a personalized avenue for students to learn in their own preferred way and pace. This flexibility allows teachers to better cater to the needs of multiple intelligences within the classroom.
“Students also develop a maker mindset through the different Hildan School Distinctive modules introduced at various levels,” Elaine adds. “Students engage in coding, use design thinking and maker pedagogy to solve real life problems, underpinned by attributes such as resourcefulness, and a willingness to collaborate and share expertise and experiences.”
Through all these, the Playscape team hopes that students in St Hilda’s Primary will become the agents of their own learning and the change makers of tomorrow.