For about two months this year, schools in Singapore were closed in an attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19.
At Methodist Girls’ School (MGS), Mrs Natasha Tay, Head of Aesthetics, feared that the students would end up feeling isolated and disengaged in learning.
This spurred her to come up with the MGS Stay Creative! project to foster the spirit of innovation, joy of learning and sense of togetherness.
“Instead of implementing top-down programmes and initiatives, we decided to allow the end-users (i.e. students) themselves to brainstorm ideas and come up with creative solutions,” says Mrs Tay.
“This also allowed the students to exercise empathy for their peers.”
In total, MGS Stay Creative! attracted 282 submissions from 196 students and seven staff.
These ranged from dancing to baking and making paper origami. Here, four of the submissions are highlighted.
1. Happy Spirits
In an effort to promote optimism and positive energy, the House Leaders and CCA leaders created videos that taught dance, art, brush calligraphy and cooking. Appearing as special guests were the teachers. The student leaders demonstrated initiative and leadership by being sensitive to the different age groups in school, and successfully leveraged the platform to promote the House spirit, even though no face-to-face games or events could be held.
One of the activities led by the House Leaders was a Tik Tok performance where the girls did a mass dance choreographed to the song Sunday Best by Surfaces.
2. Costume Parade
The prefects got in on the action by issuing fancy dress challenges to brighten up form class check-ins on Google Meet and Zoom. One morning had the students dress up as their younger selves, while another saw them don outfits of their favourite movie or TV characters. The circuit breaker became less gloomy when the element of joy and surprise was incorporated into this routine.
The Blast to the Past challenge saw the students dress up as their younger selves.
3. Creative Pursuits
Art and other activities, such as journaling, painting and baking, provided meaningful forms of introspection and expression for the students. In addition, it allowed them to make connections across subject disciplines. Creativity thrived under these conditions and became a strong driver for digital transformation, as they learnt new skills and showcased them virtually.
The Secondary 3 art and Art Elective Programme students expressed their artistic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by each using a dominant colour to create a piece of work, before putting them together into a collage.
4. Home Projects
HYPERLINK - https://iwonderpicturebook.wordpress.com/
Familial bonds were deepened. The students took the initiative to co-create content with their family members, with one even publishing an e-book with her parents that chronicled her reflections of the pandemic.
Siblings Min (Sec 1) and Rae (Pri 5) found the time to bond over their common interest of baking.
Says Mrs Tay, “Despite the constraints, our students demonstrated perseverance, creativity and an enthusiasm for life and learning.
“This was a powerful reminder that education is not hampered by space and place. With the right environment and enablers, education can be redesigned and reimagined.”
Spatial and Environment Design is difficult to teach in a pandemic – so found out Mr Kong Chee Chiong, who delivers the Diploma in Design for User Experience at Republic Polytechnic.
Participatory design, wayfinding and place-making are three of its main topics and require students to interact with a community on site to co-create solutions.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 discourages any kind of close in-person interaction, which meant Mr Kong had to come up with alternative ways to deliver the lessons.
He started by identifying a problem that needed solving right on the campus’ doorstep.
With the opening of Woodlands North MRT, RP now has a new entrance on its northern perimeter.
This has opened up opportunities to design signage for wayfinding and place-making in seven sites nearby that could offer a better community-based experience for students, staff and visitors.
Mr Kong therefore wanted his students to come up with ideas for them.
“With the help of my colleague, Jose de Castro, we took 360 photos and created an immersive virtual tour of a route from the new Woodlands North MRT entrance through the school campus to Admiralty Park, which spanned the seven sites.
“This gave the students the opportunity to be virtually immersed in the campus environment and helped them to design appropriate signage to Admiralty Park for the wayfinding lesson.”
Signage proposed by the students along the route to Admiralty Park.
After they were allowed to have lessons on campus, Mr Kong taught his students how to take 360 photos of the seven sites, to recreate them virtually for place-making and added them to the immersive virtual tour.
Since most of the school’s population had not returned to campus yet for them to conduct face-to-face participatory design research, the students created online survey forms to solicit ideas and feedback from potential users virtually.
These were then used to formulate ideas for the function of the sites, with a focus on place-making, before they were rendered and inserted into the virtual tour as a gallery walk, for the users to evaluate and vote for the best ideas.
Among the ideas include a tech-enabled bicycle park, café in a shipping container, obstacle course and children’s playground.
A possible location for the sports court and obstacle course on one of the seven sites.
“Both the students and users can develop empathy by experiencing the journey, visualising the designs on site and gauging how they fit or stand out from the surroundings.”
“This is particularly important for wayfinding and place-making solutions, which need to be visible yet part of the environment.”
Wayfinding signage has to be visible in the environment without being obtrusive.
In fact, the solution of a virtual tour has allowed the students to reach out to more potential users of the sites.
Additionally, it attracts and engages them beyond a simple survey and transports them along the actual journey to the site.
Its non-threatening style is pandemic-friendly and the community has the freedom to make comments anonymously.
“The virtual tour link is live and evolving with the designs and we have plans for the students to propose to the school’s management for their designs to be implemented,” Mr Kong reveals.
“This use of virtual reality technology has helped design students go beyond their limits and we plan to extend this to overseas projects with foreign partner universities.”
As a teacher, you often ask yourself what you need to do to Lead, Care and Inspire. What was your answer to this question when schools were closed to fight the pandemic?
We faced the grand challenge of reimagining education, including what and how our children learn, amid the loss of human interaction. I believe social distancing does not necessarily equate to isolation; it is about taking time to foster connections with others in novel ways. Showing care and doing our part for the community is a large part of our mission at CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity and personally, I have always believed it is not about monumental gestures but simple, small actions, or even random acts of kindness, that make a meaningful difference to others.
How did this manifest as a project?
I was inspired to design a series of stickers featuring words of encouragement that my colleagues could use when marking digital worksheets, as well as in virtual interactions with their students. I also used the app Sticker.ly, recommended by my colleague, to turn my designs into WhatsApp stickers. Because these are one of the fastest-growing ways people communicate, with billions sent every day, my designs were very much appreciated by everyone. The cheery designs and puns brought smiles and perhaps even hope for many during the challenging times.
The cheery designs brought hope.
What was the response from your colleagues and educators from other schools?
The stickers became a source of inspiration to educators in other schools. It led me to create a YouTube video showing how I used Microsoft PowerPoint to design the stickers and I shared it in different online teacher communities. Every now and then, I will get a private message from a colleague sharing how they were inspired by my video to design and create their own stickers too.
Some of the stickers had puns that drew smiles.
Did you continue designing the stickers after the circuit breaker?
Yes. I enjoyed it so much I went on to design some for Hari Raya Puasa and National Day. It brings me so much joy that even though as we were all physically apart, the presence and the support from these virtual communities enabled us to continue to inspire and be inspired, to learn and to grow.
Below are three stickers designed for Hari Raya & National Day which I propose you stitch together and caption as “Ms Mohamed Anwar continued to design stickers after the circuit breaker for Hari Raya and National Day.”
Some of the stickers had puns that drew smiles.
How do you feel about the outcome of the project?
I have always loved design and the fact that my designs can make even a slight difference to the lives of others, makes it all the more purposeful. Amazing things happen when passion meets purpose.
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