Software grips class as learning takes fun turn

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2007, 12:00am

Local primary school pupils are using a programmable computer device to turn English classes into sessions on how to design mechanical toys.

'A great way for people to learn is to design or create things where they grapple with all sorts of ideas,' explained Robbie Berg, professor of physics at Wellesley College in the US, who visited Hong Kong last week.

'While children are building things, they are also building their own knowledge,' said Professor Berg, who helped design the program - called Crickets - in Massachusetts Institute of Technology's media lab while researching the use of computer tools in education.

'The right kind of play activity is an incredibly powerful thing.'

The computer-educational tool was introduced to 14 primary and secondary schools by Chinese University of Hong Kong's Centre for University-School Partnerships.

Last week's visit was to review the play-study scheme, which was first implemented locally in September last year with the help of a HK$3 million donation from the Hung Hing Ying and Leung Hau Ling Charitable Foundation.

CUHK's Project Creative Class director, Felicia Tsang, said the project could eventually be introduced into the formal school curriculum with more funding.

'The beauty of [computer-educational tools] is they are not so language-oriented,' Dr Tsang said.

The MIT technology was used to tap into children's natural interest in and talent for storytelling, and involved a group of four 11-year-olds at St Paul's Co-educational College Primary Division.

The pupils were given an English story called Inspector Grub and the Gourmet Mystery and told to create a gadget using Crickets for the main character, Inspector Grub.

Nicholas Sung, Monica Wong, Jonathan Lee Tian-heng and Dick Li Pei-ying used the device to design a model car called 'The Eagle'.

'It comes with a flashing light on top and has a loud siren which is controlled by a sound box. It has guns at the front to horrify bad people,' said Nicholas, explaining their creation to Professor Berg.

'Others kids are missing out on the fun we have while learning English,' Jonathan added.

After finishing the model, they were asked to present their work in class and write a report in English.

The tool was also tried out at Marymount Secondary School, where students from Form One to Form Five studied maths, technology, humanities and art using it.