Friday, 14th June 2024

Friday, 14th June 2024

She turns ‘beautiful’ tech into power tools for learning

31 Aug 2023

Accidental EdTech champion Yang Yan Qi has transformed the way students learn Mathematics and eased colleagues into creating engaging learning experiences. The Head of Department of ICT at CHIJ (Katong) Primary School, and a President’s Award for Teachers 2023 recipient, even exploits tech to build rapport.

There’s a quiet ritual that happens every morning with Ms Yang Yan Qi’s Primary 5 class.

Filing into the room, each student deftly picks up a tablet from a cart parked at the front. They proceed to complete the Daily Challenge on an online maths learning platform, while waiting for their teacher to arrive.

Talking about the students’ increasing proficiency in the subject makes Ms Yang, a former Mathematics Level Head, smile with pride; the game format she introduced to make complex maths concepts easier to grasp has also imbued a competitive and can-do team spirit in them.

“They find that, hey, if we work together, we can get the points for the class and we’re going to try our best for it,” she adds.

Lesson time begins. The girls switch to an interactive tool that Ms Yang uses to teach, put up quizzes, and review everyone’s responses on the spot.

“This way, we can surface errors really quickly instead of waiting for me to finish marking worksheets to clear misconceptions,” says Ms Yang, who’s the school’s Infocomm and Technology (ICT) Head of Department (HOD). 

Transforming the maths learning experience 

It isn’t hard to see why students at CHIJ (Katong) Primary School get excited about Maths. From level-wide competitions like the speed-based Battle Royale — wrong answers will make them “lose lives”— to virtual escape rooms on the Student Learning Space (SLS), and coding and programming a robot to learn about speed and distance, Ms Yang sets a high bar for making learning effective and engaging.

All of this comes with added time and effort in lesson planning, but this dedicated educator isn’t complaining. “I think it’s time well-spent because it creates a totally different learning experience for my students. They remember so fondly the different activities they have done, so it’s worth it,” she quips.

It is exceedingly clear that the educator of 12 years is a big EdTech champion. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Yang has been using different e-tools to improve her students’ learning experience. What the pandemic has done, however, was help hone her adoption of EdTech into almost an art form.

“We want to make sure what they’re learning through tech is relevant in the real world. There’s no point in just playing games.”

Ms Yang stepped into the ICT department just two months before the pandemic put a giant hurdle in her way.

Having to help her colleagues and students adopt and adapt to online learning overnight was a scenario no one could be prepared for, but she was up for the challenge. “I guess I’m that kind of person who would choose fight over flight, so I decided to kick-up a gear and problem-solve,” laughs Ms Yang.

In time, the stressful period gave way quickly to a sense of amazement.

“I saw the benefits technology brought about, how it enabled teaching to continue outside the classroom. My interest really deepened because I wanted to know how to improve so we can support our students’ learning better — not just academically, but behaviourally, socially and emotionally. Even virtually, we can build rapport,” she says.

Deploying tech for school-wide initiatives 

Beyond fun and games, there is a deeper significance to Ms Yang’s passion for incorporating technology into teaching — to help everyone develop confidence in Mathematics. “Weaker students are fearful of Mathematics, as they think that they are not good enough. That’s why when I design some of the activities, I pitch it to their level to allow them to taste success,” she reflects.

And the results show for it. Ms Yang recalls a former student who was scoring 20 to 30 marks out of 100 at the start of Primary 6, then moving up to a C grade, and recently scoring her first A in Mathematics in secondary school.

It was sweet enough that she looked for Ms Yang to thank her for the effort, but the girl also added, “You were the first person I thought of when I scored an A”, Ms Yang recalls; it made her tear up.

As HOD of ICT, Ms Yang’s impact on e-pedagogy beyond one subject is acutely felt. Helming the school’s flagship “Girls Like Tech” programme, she not only ensures that students are equipped with basic digital literacy skills (such as in infusing the use of Microsoft Word into English lessons), but she has also been exposing them to emerging technologies such as 3D pens that students have used to create solid figures.

Ms Yang also supports other school-wide initiatives such as the Applied Learning Programme and Values in Action with a curation of tools and applications. Students learn to create aesthetically pleasing infographics with Canva, and a green screen and teleprompter are available for video productions.

“When we communicate, it’s important to capture the audience’s attention, so we want to make sure what they’re learning through tech is relevant in the real world. There’s no point in just playing games,” she stresses. 

Ms Yang Yan Qi_3

Spreading tech adoption to the teaching community 

Tech adoption doesn’t stop with the students.

“When we want to have joy of learning for students, we too must have the joy ourselves,” says Ms Yang.

Walking the talk is how she tries to motivate her colleagues and counterparts to embrace the hardware and EdTech applications that she has come to appreciate.

“I have to learn it first before I can ask somebody else to do it. As a leader, you must be able to role model, learn and grow together with the rest,” she says.

Ms Yang appreciates that change is hard. “Every time I have something new that I want to share with my colleagues, I have to help them see the relevance of why they need that and teach it at a comfort level that gives them confidence to try it out in class,” she explains.

ClassPoint was one interactive app which she has managed to cascade across the school — it is easily integrated with PowerPoint slides, which the teachers are already familiar with.

More than the practical benefits of leveraging digital tools, it’s perhaps Ms Yang’s unmistakable enthusiasm that moves people to action. “I curate things and I get excited about it while sharing with my colleagues. Sensing my excitement, others want to try it too,” she says with a chuckle.

Her advocacy work extends outside of the school. She shares videos of her e-pedagogy experience on the EdTech Leaders Community (ELC), a private Facebook group consisting of some 2,000 school leaders and HODs across Singapore. She was also invited to share her tech planning and delivery knowledge through LAMP+, a leadership programme for new HODs and Subject Heads.

These are sharings that have been done with heart not just because Ms Yang has seen the power of technology in motivating students (“when used responsibly”, she adds a caveat), but she has also seen how it has brought the teaching fraternity closer together.

She says, “You won’t see this before COVID-19 but now everybody is sharing and helping one another. I’ve learnt from others and now it’s my opportunity to give back through the ELC group and LAMP+. Somehow, technology has become something so beautiful.”

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