STEM-ming from a real cause

With a desire to serve and interact with the residents in the neighbourhood, a team of NUS High School students conducted a survey to find out the needs of the community. The survey revealed that several residents in Clementi had little or no coding experience but were keen to learn. Hence, the students decided to leverage their knowledge of computing to meet the needs of Clementi Estate residents.

This led to the birth of Scratch® Workshop. The brainchild of nine NUS High School students, Scratch® Workshop enables participants to learn the basics of computational thinking using a ‘Drag and Drop’ programming language. The 4-hour free workshop conducted in May 2018 was attended by 18 people, with participants ranging from pre-schoolers to retirees.

Work on the project began in early 2018. The students, who volunteered for the project, first conducted research to find out more about the community needs. The students then started brainstorming on areas, with the aim to engage their target audience who had little or no coding experience,. The Scratch® programme was chosen due to its drag and place functions, which they felt was easy and fun to use for beginners.

In preparation for the workshop, the students crafted the lesson plan and teaching resources, rehearsed several times, and even translated instructions to Chinese for participants who are more conversant in the language.

A computing studies enthusiast, Ng Quan Hao, a Year 6 student at NUS High School felt that this project was very special for him. He shared how doing this project rekindled in him the thirst for learning something new, and igniting that same excitement in others. Through this team project, he learnt the importance of working together and good time management, which ensures the smooth running of events.

“Even though many of the participants were unfamiliar with computers and programming, they tried their best and showed an interest in learning something new. I felt that I should adopt a similar attitude and be passionate about learning new things, making learning truly a lifelong process,” reflected Quan Hao.

The participants had the opportunity to put their newly acquired skills to test as they tried their hands at coding a game during the workshop. Due to the students’ rigorous preparation, the workshop received positive feedback from participants. Tan Wei Chun, another Year 6 student, was delighted and encouraged that the participants looked forward to similar workshops in the future. Wei Chun hopes to participate in more of such projects, as it not only improves his teamwork skills, but also brings joy to the participants.

This project is part of the Humanitarian Education (HE) programme that NUS High School piloted in 2018, with the support from Tay Eng Soon Endowment managed by Temasek Foundation. This six-year programme encourages students to have a better understanding of the needs and challenges of diverse communities. With this knowledge, they are then empowered to ideate solutions, leveraging on their talents in STEM. As part of the programme, students are first equipped with effective communication, thinking, and community-building skills. It then culminates with the HE Project in Year 5 – spearheaded by the students, they will reach out to organisations within the community (e.g. community centres, voluntary welfare organisations) to dive deeply into what the needs are, prototype ideas based on these needs, and organise suitable activities.

Close to 50 students participated in the pilot, forming seven project groups. Apart from this coding workshop, students helmed projects that sought to raise awareness of food waste, conducted a workshop on recycled gardening, educated the community on e-waste management, taught breadmaking without an oven as well as engaged with the elderly to keep their minds and body active. The results from the pilot have been very encouraging – about 90% of students surveyed shared that the HE programme has allowed them to learn how they could contribute better. Students also learnt valuable life skills such as adapting to unexpected situations and having empathy. This has inspired students to want to initiate more meaningful projects for the community, and given NUS High School the confidence to roll out the programme to the entire school in 2019.

More stories on our Humanitarian Education Programme:

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