Turning the Tables on History Education in Singapore: The Flipped Classroom Experience in NUS High School of Math and Science

Introduction

Before the late 1990s, the traditional pattern of secondary History education in Singapore schools was largely a teacher-centred, didactic experience. However, since the late 1990s, the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) has implemented new initiatives such as “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” in 1997 and “Teach Less, Learn More” in 2004 in order to better engage students and prepare them for life (MOE, 2009). This is aligned with the goals of the MOE document, the Desired Outcomes of Education, which seeks the cultivation of self-directed learners and active contributors who are able to work effectively in teams (MOE, 2009).  To achieve this, various teaching strategies such as Group Cooperative Learning (Sharan, 1999) and inquiry-based learning have been taught at the National Institute of Education to trainee History teachers. Simultaneously, efforts to integrate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the classroom also gained momentum with MOE’s Third Masterplan for ICT in Education. Under the Third ICT Masterplan, a key effort was made to transform “the learning environments of our students and equip them with the critical competencies and dispositions to succeed in a knowledge economy” (MOE, 2008).

With this context in mind, this article highlights the results of the implementation of a flipped classroom approach that was used by the Humanities Department of the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science in Singapore for its Integrated Humanities module in 2012.[i]The discussion of the approach will hopefully allow educators to be aware of an exciting pedagogy that uses an engaging medium for students.

A brief explanation of the flipped classroom pedagogy is provided first, followed by a discussion of its implementation in NUS High and how the students felt about it. Its benefits are highlighted and an evaluation of its limitations is also underlined to assess its overall utility.

The Flipped Classroom

In broad brushstrokes, the flipped classroom inverts traditional teaching methods by carrying out instruction or delivery of the subject matter online (outside of classroom time), while “homework” is simultaneously moved into the classroom (Pitler, Hubbell & Kuhn, 2012). Essentially, students watch recorded lectures for knowledge information at home at their own pace, while concept engagement takes place in the classroom where they engage in applying what they have learned to solving problems and other forms of practical work under the teacher’s guidance. The role of the classroom teacher is to tutor students when they become stuck, rather than to impart the initial lesson. This transforms the teacher from a “sage on the stage” into a “guide on the side” who spends more time on answering questions, working with small groups, and guiding the learning of each student individually (Pitler et al., 2012). This flipped classroom approach was brought to greater prominence in 2007 by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two teachers from Woodland Park High School in Colorado (Pacansky-Brock, 2013). It has also found acceptance by the Stillwater Area Public Schools’ Board of Education after a pilot run in Mathematics classrooms in 2011 revealed an increase in students’ enjoyment of lessons. Likewise, Clintondale High School in Michigan reported improved test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance along with student engagement and a corresponding decline in disciplinary problems with the implementation of the flipped classroom approach (Stillwater Area Public Schools, 2012; Pearson Case Study, 2013).

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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