On the 16th of May 2016, FrogAsia announced the winners for the 1BestariNet Teacher Awards 2016: Celebrating 21st Century teachers. We appreciate and would like to congratulate these teachers for their awards! For more information, please visit the 1BNTA website.
In this series of articles featuring the 1BestariNet Teacher Awards (1BNTA), we would like to celebrate teachers of the 21st century with stories from their school. Follow us as we uncover the secrets to the success of 21st century schools all throughout our country.
Last week, we had a chat with Pn. Tan Shin Yee, winner of the 1BestariNet Teacher Awards 2016 for the “Collaboration” category. We want to highlight her dedication in encouraging collaboration among her fellow teachers throughout the country. The following are some snippets from our interview with her!
Pn. Tan, firstly, congratulations on winning the 1BNTA for Collaboration. You must be so happy! Could you tell us about how you felt when you received the award?
Thank you! At first, I couldn’t believe that I had won, because it would have been the third year in a row for me. But, I’m really touched and so thankful that I’m still being recognised for my efforts and that you have given me the opportunity to showcase my impact and be appreciated for it, although it is simply part and parcel of my role as an educator.
What the word ‘collaboration’ mean to you?
Collaboration means a lot to me. It means teamwork, knowing you aren’t alone, and that you have the support of your friends. It gives me such a warm feeling inside when together, we help and learn from each other.
That’s amazing to hear. We know that you have actively engaged teachers and students across schools with your efforts, including gamification. Would you tell us more about that?
The concept for gamification for training teachers came from a simple thought. If teachers are making lessons fun and exciting for our students, who is creating that environment for us teachers? We can be students too! It’s kind of like, flipping the classroom? We don’t want teachers to feel stressed, but they do need to understand in greater depth what a gamified environment is to be able to use it.
You can tell people all day about how good durian tastes, but the most important element is for you to let them try it. No matter what you tell them, they will not understand. But once they eat it, they will know. That’s my reasoning for using gamification and it has been successful so far.
The teachers I worked with were all really excited! Not only did they want to win the games, they wanted to know how to create such games for their students. They are normally skeptical and a tough audience, but with gamification they were very involved and engaged in offering suggestions and finding solutions.
In fact, it was so successful that an elderly retiring teacher, who had initially complained about attending, actually challenged everyone else to change their ways and switch from paperwork to online exams and quizzes. He told us not to waste so much time and embrace the efficient way forward.
Wow, what a powerful story. And were these training workshops just open to your own school, or did they also welcome others? For example, we know that some schools come together every year to learn new approaches to Frog.
I opened it up to other schools from the start. It’s actually because, since we adopted Frog, I have been receiving invitations from many schools to help in assisting them. My headmaster told me that he had 41 invitation requests from other schools for me! So, he proposed that instead of me going out, that we would support them if they all came in to our school for training. He was looking out for me, because it would be impossible to juggle visiting all of them, and it has worked very well. They come from all over, from Kepong Satu, to Xin Jing to even Penang! I tell them about what I did with Frog, how it transformed the school and how we collaborate with others. It has been very rewarding, especially because, now even the teachers in my school are coming on board.
Were teachers from other schools faster adopters than those in your own school?
Yes, at first outside teachers were more interested than our own school’s teachers. It is an easily explainable phenomenon. Our school’s teachers are not like those in other schools because I had already prepared for them a better environment for them to run their work tasks. They never experienced the struggle of needing to keep finding other ways to work.
However, after three years of witnessing the work, and seeing results in our students, they finally opened their ears and were really willing to listen. The proof is in the workshops. We are now overbooked, and have had to ask for more volunteers to become Frog Advocates. In our LADAP (in-house training) more than 50 of our 80 teachers stayed back to attend a Frog CHENDOL workshop in our school instead of going to a work training session in Penang. It’s amazing. After we completed the PIE workshop, they were eager for CHENDOLl, and after that, they wanted another!
Those changes sound very inspiring. What do you think were other possible reasons for their reluctance? What are common pain points that you know of, and were they addressed?
A major pain point for us teachers was having insufficient time to prepare materials for all the necessary chapters. However, with such a good sharing platform as Frog VLE, we are now able to divide the work between us. From having to prepare materials for all 32 chapters, we now only have to focus on 4 topics. That is nearly a 90% reduction in time used! We can simply build a site together and share it. Furthermore, this collaboration is synergistic. Teachers need not necessarily be evaluated on the quantity of work they put in, but the quality. Each of us can contribute our strengths, or our time, or chip in where needed.
Another pain point we faced is that we receive too much information. We are flooded with it. But, most of the time, we receive information when we do not need it. When we do need it, we can no longer find it. We waste a lot of time trying to find information. Now, we can organize all of it. We can have everything in one place. We don’t have to worry and stress about searching for it everywhere. All we need to do is go onto the teacher community site, and everything is there on one central platform. Isn’t it so much easier?
It is. We are really excited about how you have been using Frog. You use a sandwich technique, would you tell us more about that?
So, I came up with a sandwich technique inspired by gamification. We always tell people what we want to do, but why? You telling people how good something is won’t make them understand so. Why not just demonstrate? Let them see and realise what can be done. Three years ago, when I first approached Frog VLE, all I and anyone knew was that it was just a platform for us to put our lesson plans and build sites for students. Teachers didn’t realise what else it could be used for and viewed it as more work to achieve the same outcome. Why would they change from their old methods? But, I wanted them to feel, to know what the benefits of building a site were. So, I gave them the rundown, step by step, tab by tab. We break it down like our normal lessons and let them understand and feel the difference. For one, the site isn’t only for teaching, but can be used for communication, administrative work and so many other things. How do we present it to others?
Imagine logging onto Frog. The bar on your left is the table of all the ingredients (widgets) you can use to prepare your sandwich. The section on your right is your tray. So, the sandwich you want to make depends on your client. If you want to make it grander, use more ingredients. If you need it to be simpler, just use butter and kaya. As long as you’re happy with your food, you can put anything inside it. You are the chef.
That’s a perfect analogy. One of the ways you engaged students was the ‘Superstar’ competition. What was ‘Superstar’?
‘Superstar’ was a simple competition that had every class selecting who would be their class “superstar” via the Frog VLE. The objective was to let the students vote once and understand how a poll works. It was just one widget, as I didn’t want it to be too complicated, and it was to act as a springboard for them to use more of the Frog VLE. We don’t just use Frog for teaching, but also to have fun. We ran a singing competition and uploaded their videos onto the VLE to announce the winners. So, the students are engaged and happy.
Did you still face any resistance after that?
Actually we did receive complaints about how we were using Frog. When we wanted to host the Superstar competition on Frog, teachers complained and told me that I was using Frog improperly and ‘crazily’. I was very down and sad for awhile, but since then, every year we have recognised for the way we have used Frog.
It is a story I continue to share with other teachers because it shows that there is not just one way to use Frog. We can always do better. For those that are still not ready to experiment, I simply say, “Just try la, the police won’t tangkap you!”. Never worry that it’ll go wrong. If we never try, how do we learn something new? Even if we make mistakes, we learn.
Experience it yourself!
Can you really describe the taste of durian? Try creating a site to really understand it. There's nothing wrong with trying!
Your kitchen? Your rules!
You have control! Creating a Frog VLE site is like making a sandwich with ingredients (widgets) from your table (control panel).