Published: 17 February 2016

Inspirational teacher who puts the fun into science

A passion to enthuse academically ‘at-risk’ students, many of whom are under-privileged, with a love of science has led to international recognition for inspirational teacher and Surrey alumnus Dr Nazir Amir, who has won the Humanitarian and Charities category of the Vice-Chancellor’s Alumni Awards.

Nazir, who graduated with a BEng (Hons) in Electronic and Electrical Engineering in 2001, has developed a unique teaching approach to make science lessons interesting and relevant for less-academically inclined students in Singapore after witnessing first-hand how these students switched off during classes.

He said: “When I started teaching, a challenge my fellow teachers and I faced was the adoption of day-to-day classroom teaching approaches that would motivate our academically ‘at-risk’ students to gain academic content, particularly in science. This was related to the perception that it was a struggle for these students to excel in the science domains such as physics, and that they would be better suited in sports or the arts.

“There was also the related challenge of providing these students with avenues to demonstrate their inventiveness through knowledge acquired from science subjects .”

Looking for ways to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects more engaging, Nazir undertook a part-time PhD (whilst teaching) and researched methods that would work well for these students.

The result is the RAP (Relevant, Appealing and Personal) pedagogical approach - where lessons are crafted to not only relate concepts to the real world and students’ own experiences, but also with the promise of making them appealing to keep the students intrinsically motivated and on task.

Nazir developed a RAP-infused project-based curriculum, where students learn content in STEM subjects by designing and making toy projects that appeal to them.  For example, in the Toy Story Telling Project, Nazir challenges his students to design and make educational toys to be used in support of telling fairy tales and nursery rhymes to younger children in nursery schools, and to under-privileged children, such as those with learning disabilities, and in orphanages.

Students incorporate scientific principles and make use of recycled materials to construct the toys. In one design, a group of students made a simple tower from a cardboard tube that uses a small pulley system and a magnet to lift a prince up to Rapunzel’s room at the top of the tower.

To complete the whole project, Nazir collaborated with teachers of other subjects, such as English, Computing and Art, to make content relevant for the students. In addition, important life-long values such as respect, responsibility, resourcefulness and resilience are continuously reinforced throughout this project.

Thirteen years into his teaching, Nazir now regularly mentors professional communities of teachers in his school, across Singapore and regionally through workshop sessions, and has won numerous awards. These include the President’s Award for Teachers, Outstanding Physics Teacher Award, Inspiration Award for Science Teaching, the Public Service Award, and four Outstanding Contribution to School awards. In March, Nazir will be travelling to Dubai to present his work as a top 50 finalist, from 8,000 nominations, in the Global Teacher Prize 2016.

Even more fulfilling for Nazir is that his students now join him in contributing to the professional development of pre-school teachers - by showcasing their toy inventions in his workshops and assisting him in demonstrating how lessons can be made appealing and engaging.

“Showcasing and recognizing the creative inventions of these academically ‘at-risk’ students have instilled in them a sense of self-worth. It has also contributed to a positive change in the way they are viewed – from students who were looked upon as less motivated in STEM areas, to ones who have the potential to be developed as future inventors.

“I am very happy to be able to equip teachers with skills to craft out lessons to motivate students to come to school beyond the sake of attendance or passing examinations, developing a love for the subjects that they learn. Seeing students and teachers benefit from my guidance is all the motivation I need to keep pursuing my passion in teaching.”

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