Phua said research showed that most students preferred concrete manipulatives as a preferred teaching tool, followed closely by visual aids.
According to Phua, 100 per cent of students studied indicated that they preferred the use of physical objects, for example in teaching the concept of fractions in a Mathematics class.
More than 90 per cent said the use of graphics or other visual aids helped in learning. Results dipped to 20 per cent if words alone were used to explain the concept.
“This is why interactive white boards are powerful teaching tools because they are both manipulative and visual at the same time. Students love the ‘touch’ technology,” he said.
“Touch technology is more intuitive, especially with younger kids. There is no need to teach them to use it,” said Christopher Chong, Regional Director of APAC, SMART Technologies, providers of the interactive whiteboards used at North Vista.
Phua believes that technology is vital because the children’s world is a technological world. “While the virtual world may not be real to us, it is real to the students.
"We have adopted the Reggio-Emilia philosophy of learning which honours the child’s voice. We strive to provide all resources required—whether it is the internet, hardware, books, and so on – so each child can explore the world based on his or her interests,” he added.
When used effectively, technology can help engage students with learning disabilities. “We have children who are slower in learning—teachers normally have trouble getting them to read.
"In one of the classes, the teacher videoed students reading in front of a big blue screen. In the recorded clip, the blue screen then transformed into the student’s colourful artwork.
"We were very pleased to see how these students became motivated and were very excited by the activity,” described Phua.
Besides equipping each classroom with an interactive whiteboard, every student has a netbook and are able to access information easily and independently.
They use their netbooks to set up presentations and reports, documenting their own learning process at the same time as interacting with their peers and teachers.
“Within each netbook, we have stored 250 books so students can read anywhere and anytime,” Phua said.
The school, which was started in January 2008, is recognised for its innovative approach to education.
Phua said: "Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology visited our school to find out how Singapore schools are using interactive whiteboards, one-to-one computing and the use of electronic textbooks. We discussed our successes and the key challenges we faced.”
The biggest challenge, however, is changing teachers’ mindsets.
“Some teachers think that they cannot do it. Some of these teachers just need to see how easily technology can be integrated into their lessons and how big an impact it makes,” he said.
SMART Technologies is working closely with North Vista and other educational institutions to overcome such challenges.
“Educators are hard pressed for time. Some educators see a huge digital gap between them and their students. Some say that students are ahead of them in terms of the adoption curve,” noted Chong.
“We do not want to train teachers to be technical experts; we should merely train them to be effective users of classroom technology.”