Interactive books and apps on iPad help students excel at this historic girls' school.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Singapore was changing rapidly. Though independence was still decades away, the city had become a sophisticated and prosperous crossroads of the world — a place where new ideas could quickly take root and grow.
Nanyang Girls' High School, one of Singapore's top public schools, dates back to this vibrant, optimistic era. The school was built on the then‑revolutionary idea that girls, like boys, should be educated in order to realize their full potential.
"The founding fathers believed we needed capable women to build a good society," explains vice‑principal Dr. Seah-Tay Hui Yong. "They thought it was important to bring them up not just cognitively, but in character and a sense of zeal for society."
When it was founded in 1917, the school was based in a modest Singapore shophouse, with a class of just 100 students. It was a far cry from the current campus, a stately nine‑acre facility with resources such as technology‑equipped classrooms with broadband Internet access. Today's Nanyang is an academically demanding school with 1700 students. Alumni have become prominent government officials, scientists, musicians, media professionals, and educators.
As it approaches its second century, Nanyang Girls' High School is revolutionizing learning again. By placing iPad in the hands of teachers and students, the school has discovered innovative ways to connect classrooms with the larger world. With apps and Multi-Touch books on iPad, routine schoolwork is transformed into interactive explorations that challenge students to enhance each lesson with their own contributions.
"Students these days are wired differently from our time," says Madam Heng Boey Hong, the school's current principal. "We need to use a medium and an approach that's exciting for the girls, so they become independent learners. iPad has made students more excited about going to class. They are eager to show the teachers and their peers what they know, and to share that knowledge."
In the past, classes at Nanyang Girls' High School followed traditional educational methods. Teachers lectured, students listened, and lessons were confined to the classroom.
But the school's teachers and administrators wanted more for their students. They hoped to foster greater self-confidence and collaboration, and provide resources that would encourage the girls to participate more fully in the learning process.
So in 2011, Nanyang Girls' High School initiated a one-to-one program to introduce iPad to teachers and students over a two-year period. The program began with a single grade level and gradually expanded to include the entire student body.
Instructors in subjects from math to Chinese were chosen to explore the possibilities of teaching with iPad. Long battery life and easy Wi-Fi connectivity made it possible to extend lessons outside conventional classroom walls. And the teachers quickly discovered their own innovative ways to make classes more exciting by creating their own interactive books and using apps to demonstrate concepts in ways they never could before.
With iBooks Author on Mac, history teacher Ong Lee Hua assembled an engaging Multi‑Touch book for her lesson on the Hock Lee bus riots, during which striking workers and students clashed violently with police in post-WWII Singapore. In addition to reading text and viewing photos of the event on iPad, the class could watch historical video clips, listen to songs from the era, and test their knowledge with quiz questions. If they came across an unfamiliar term, they could simply tap to select the word and find a definition.
"The interactive features definitely appeal to and engage the students more," says Ong. "Some students prefer to watch videos. The messages get through to them more easily, and it makes the subject much more interesting and alive."
In Cressandra Tan's language arts class, iPad helped students collaborate on a project analyzing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Students and teachers exchanged ideas and answered each other's questions in an online forum, and created presentations in Keynote oniPad — complete with animations andgraphics — to share with their peers.
"The collaborative element of using iPad is pretty relevant in today's world," Tan says. "Not just relying on your own strengths, but the strengths of your group. With iPad, students can easily take notes and reference other people's opinions. They can see what others have posted, and learn from each other."
For physics teacher Mark Shone, iPad offers a way to bring the scientific method out of the lab and into the larger world. "The students are building and firing water rockets, and using iPad and apps not only to document the process, but to measure the angle of launch, create velocity time graphs, and map the rockets' trajectories," Shone says.
Using the built-in HD video camera and science apps designed for iPad, students can see the physics behind each rocket launch in real time. "They're having fun, but at the same time learning about kinematics," says Shone. "With these apps, everything appears in front of you."
Today, nearly every teacher and student at Nanyang Girls' High School has an iPad. Students use iPad throughout the day to access course materials, record notes, join virtual discussions, and search online for supplemental information about the topics they're studying.
The impact of iPad has been remarkable. Shy students speak up more in class and participate more readily in online discussions. Because iPad is so portable, the girls can collaborate anywhere on group assignments outside school hours. And academic researchers tasked with evaluating student interactions at Nanyang found that with iPad in the classroom, students ask questions that indicate greater comprehension and engagement.
"With iPad, students can look up the basics on their own, so the questions they ask are higher-level," Dr. Seah notes.
Whether they're designing scientific experiments or documenting the results, brainstorming ideas about literature or presenting them in public, these students are inspired to achieve more when iPad brings lessons to life. "iPad has changed the way teachers and students interact," Shone says. "Teaching doesn't just happen in the classroom — now the learning is more real-world learning."
Above all, iPad helps ensure that today's students at Nanyang Girls' High School are prepared for tomorrow's successes, wherever their future paths take them.
"After trying out iPad, I find that it is really the right direction to go," Madam Heng says. "We can build on the excitement and energy of this technology, and encourage the girls to continue to explore, continue to enjoy learning, and continue to see their own relevance in the community, the society, and the family."