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The science of bonding through social media

02 Sep 2021

Leung Yulun

Instead of chasing likes or followers, teacher-influencer Leung Yulun leverages social media to spread messages of positivity, care and Chemistry.

Leung Yulun, Yuan Ching Secondary, President's Award for Teachers 2021 Recipient

At Yuan Ching Secondary School, students follow an influencer of a very different sort. The influencer in question? None other than their school’s Head of Character and Citizenship Education (CCE), Leung Yulun.

Yulun, who is also a subject teacher for Chemistry, stumbled into the role of a social media influencer. As a young educator busy with the daily demands of his teaching job, he was looking for a way to marry his love of music with his work.

An avid guitar and er-hu player who loves to sing and compose his own songs, Yulun’s solution was to create songs infused with key Chemistry concepts. He explained his rationale, “Articulating the lyrics will help the students remember all the facts, but I make sure that every verse is conceptually connected, like a mind map. This helps to deepen their understanding of the topic.”

Set to the catchy melodies of Taiwanese singer Jay Chou’s pop hits, each of the audio compositions that he wrote and sang himself was a runaway success among his students. “Learning Chemistry Is So Fun” made his students look at kinetic particle theory in a different light. Another song unpacked Collision Particle Theory to the soulful tune of a Mandarin pop song.    

It was a breath of fresh air. “The feedback from my students was very encouraging and heartening,” he recounted.

Being digital natives, Yulun’s students suggested that he turn the audio recordings into videos for greater impact. Yulun obliged by conceptualising, storyboarding and shooting a set of Chemistry music videos with the help of his school’s ICT staff, and uploaded them onto YouTube.

To illustrate kinetic particle theory in the video, for example, Yulun played the role of a particle and ‘cloned’ multiple copies of himself in various ways of interaction to represent the relationship between particles in solid, liquid and gaseous states.

The videos were a hit with his students — and came with a bonus. “My students told me that during the one month of self-study at home before the O-level and N-level examinations, they felt very lonely. But they could easily access my music videos online, which helped them feel connected and supported,” he shared.

Yet another unexpected chemical reaction? This year, his Secondary 4 class wanted to perform in his videos.

“Chemical Bonding Is So Easy” became a teacher-student collaborative effort that involved half the class taking up a role, whether in playing the piano or, for the student trained in Chinese dance, using dance movements to illustrate ionic bonding.

Raising his social media game

While his Chemistry songs may seem like mere entertainment to some, to further engage his students and extend his reach, Yulun started an Instagram account to share his Chemistry music videos as well as snippets of his personal life. Posts of school events and activities are juxtaposed with posts of him playing the guitar or erhu, shooting hoops in the basketball court, or doing volunteer work on weekends.

For Yulun, his extracurricular activities reflect his belief that it is important to live a meaningful life. For instance, his volunteer work packing and delivering free lunches to the elderly in the neighbourhood stems from a simple desire to help and be a useful member of the community he lives in.

“I felt that if I use Instagram right, I can provide a more formative support for my students. On IG, the main objective is to share about the positive purpose and passion in life. It's not just about Chemistry anymore.”

As the main proponent of CCE initiatives in his school, it is evident that Yulun takes a deliberate yet active approach in teaching students positive values.

“Teaching values should not be confined to just the CCE lesson. Any school experience can become a CCE lesson. Because not every moment can be teachable, we need to be intentional in creating teachable moments,” he pointed out.

To Yulun’s delight, even students not taught by him step up to chat with him about the contents of his Instagram posts or YouTube videos. At Meet-the-Parents sessions, parents are happy to recognise him from his music videos, making it a good icebreaker.

Fighting a virus with positivity

Fresh opportunities to create teachable moments came when the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year. With the Circuit Breaker, Home-Based Learning and other safe management measures in place, it was difficult for the students to go out and do their regular Values-in-Action projects.

So Yulun collaborated with ground-up initiative BraveheartSG to launch “Love Letters To Our Healers”, a campaign where the entire school – students, teachers, office staff, canteen vendors, security personnel and even parents – wrote letters of appreciation to the frontline healthcare staff battling the pandemic in the hospitals.

Najla, a Secondary 4 student, shared, “It made me realise how a few words of encouragement can greatly impact a person. I also learnt more about the hardships faced by healthcare workers and appreciate them more.”

Likewise, when the school found out that migrant workers had been relocated from their quarters to temporary housing blocks in Taman Jurong – just a stone’s throw away from the school – as part of safe management measures, Yulun helmed a campaign with community organisation Welcome In My Backyard (Wimby) to welcome them with warm messages of encouragement.

The momentum of the school’s WIMBY campaign has carried on to this year. With the migrant workers still largely confined to their dormitories, the Performing Arts Club at Yuan Ching volunteered to put together an e-Getai concert to entertain them. And in anticipation of the day when the workers will be able to venture off-site, the students created a video introducing places of interest in Taman Jurong which they could visit.

‘Heart’ and soft skills in the making

By role-modelling positive values in his everyday life, Yulun has built a deep culture of care in the school that he has been teaching at for the past 14 years. As Head of Department, he looks out for the well-being of his fellow colleagues at work, and is certain that the values embedded in the care and consideration he shows them are passed on to their students.

Beyond the CCE lessons in the school curriculum, he instituted a Values-of-the-Month programme, where selected classes celebrate the nominated value with the rest of the school via creative ways like songs and skits. This way, students learn not to view values in the abstract, but also try to relate them to their daily lives.

As an example of values-in-action, Yulun got the students to share good deeds and positive stories which they might have come across in school, which may involve school personnel such as the cleaners, canteen vendors and security staff.

“We show the students that the educators in Yuan Ching are not only their teachers, but also these aunties and uncles who role model for us good values,” he said.

The culture is so infectious, his educator colleagues spontaneously share short stories of good deeds during the morning assemblies. It has permeated to his fellow teaching mentors, who take at-risk students from his school’s GEAR-UP programme under their wings.

Yulun’s student Tan Jian Yao summed up the impact of these activities this way, “I’ve learnt that learning is more than just about ourselves. We have learnt to lend others a helping hand."

Said Yulun, “The knowledge and the hard skills that we equip them with will be outdated by the time they enter the job market. But what will never be outdated will be the values and the soft skills that they learn here.”