Winning ways with Science creations
Teacher Talk By NITHYA SIDHHU
<< Malaysia Toray Science Foundation
IT was easy to see why Tan Mun Wai was all smiles when I met her recently a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
As one of the 2011 Winner Prize recipients of the Science Education Award given out annually by the Malaysia Toray Science Foundation (MTSF) to creative teachers and educators, she had every reason to be proud.
A lecturer with Institut Pendidikan Guru Kampus Pendidikan Teknik, Kuala Lumpur, Tan’s winning idea and the one that booked a berth at the 18th MTSF prize presentation ceremony was a model of the moon’s eclipse and its path relative to the sun.
Sitting not too far away from her at the ceremony was another prize recipient, Dr Tan Ming Tang, a lecturer at the Institut Pendidikan Guru Kampus Batu Lintang, Sarawak.
He had created a simple winning model, using a tilting plastic bottle and a ball, to explain how the Earth’s seasons occur.
For those of you who are in the dark as to what the MTSF is all about, Toray is a Japanese foundation which has taken its corporate social responsibility role to the level of doling out lucrative annual science and technology research grants as well as science education awards to Malaysian researchers and educators.
As was explained by the MTSF chairman, Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Omar Abdul Rahman in his message, the foundation has, since its inception in 1993, “funded 191 basic research projects and awarded 36 outstanding scientific achievements and 289 creative and innovative teaching methods.”
I can vouch for the truth of what he says because over the span of 10 years (from 1998 to 2009), I myself, as a government secondary school Biology teacher, submitted my own creative ideas to the MTSF and won seven Science Education Awards from it.
I was named winner on three occasions, a runner-up once and won three consolation prizes.
The reward, recognition and respect awarded to a teacher like me by the foundation, not to mention the learning experience is unforgettable. I can honestly say that the MTSF spurred me to grow creatively as a teacher.
I still remember how nervous I felt the first time I participated in the competition in 1998 and was shortlisted and called to Kuala Lumpur to present my idea to the examination committee panel of the Science Education Award then.
At that time, the chairman of the Examination Committee was Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz and I was understandably concerned as to what impression I would leave on him.
I shouldn’t have worried. The man was engaging, humble and a good listener, as were the other members of the committee.
Encouraged by my first win, I made it my personal and professional goal to “dare to be different” in the classroom and kept submitting my tried-and-tested ideas to the committee.
Lest you think I was motivated by the money (recipients are rewarded with cash prizes ranging from RM2,000 to RM6,000), I must tell you that my entries were often sparked off by my students themselves — who yearned for something “novel” , “fun” or just-the-right analogy to clarify their understanding of the material I taught them.
As a child of the 60’s, I spent countless hours playing outdoors. With no money to buy proper toys, I was often forced to fashion many of my own — from rubber bands, cardboard, stones and paper.
This allowed my mind a creative bent and as a teacher, I noticed early that I found it easier to “think out of the box” compared to some of my other colleagues.
Interacting or alone, in nature or in the man-made things that surrounded me, I would find inspiration for new ideas.
Today, I am no stranger to the MTSF prize giving ceremony which, by the way, is held yearly in the month of December.
I was honoured last year however, to attend the ceremony, not as a winner but as an invited guest.
The sight of its secretary, Susan Lim, was familiar and comforting. An MTSF stalwart, she is the woman with the kindly face who offers words of encouragement and advice before any teacher steps into the assigned room to present his or her ideas to the committee.
Talking to Tan Mun Wai and Dr Tan, two of the prize recipients at the ceremony, I was not surprised by their positive and winning attitude towards teaching and life.
Both their awards were definitely bred from their desire to do their best for their students and the willingness to work hard on their projects.
All winners know it takes time, passion and commitment to bring a good idea to fruition.
At school, despite having new ideas to improve their teaching or even using them in the classroom, many teachers stop there.
Some of them feel that their creative endeavours lack merit and some do not bother to take the trouble to write up their ideas or submit them in ‘innovative teacher’ competitions organised by the foundation or the district and state education departments.
Tan Mun Wai explained, “such teachers should not feel their creative ideas have no value or significance. They should just come out and say, ‘Hey, I have this idea and I want to share it with you’. Besides, whenever a teacher takes the trouble to communicate and make her ideas presentable to others, she clarifies it all over for herself.”
Dr Tan and I agree that it’s a boomerang effect. “Every idea of mine,” he shared with me, “starts with a misconception or misperception on the student’s part.It comes from them and then goes back to them.”
“When there’s a frown on the face of one of my students, I start thinking to myself — how can I simplify this? What method can I use to make them understand it better?”
I enjoyed talking to them.The others whom I spoke to included two teachers from Sabah, Mr Wong Fu (from SMK Putatan) and his protégé, Ho Pui Shan (from SM All Saints, Kota Kinabalu) — both Physics teachers.
Wong Fu, a Guru Cemerlang (excellent teacher), is an old hand at the game. This is his sixth Science Education Award from MTSF and he plans to keep “charging” his brain to generate even more ideas to benefit his students.
His told me that his winning entry on the “lost dimension of the prism” came to him when he saw how the water in his son’s water bottle curved when the bottle was lying in a horizontal position.
Ho, meanwhile, had created a sensitive Bourdon gauge using a paper whistle and a straw pointer. She too confessed that the idea struck her when she saw a young child playing with a paper whistle.
By the way, the MTSF Science Education award attracted a record number of 131 entries last year.
As a platform for Science and Mathematics teachers to channel and share their ideas with the teaching community at large, the MTSF is doing a commendable job.
In his address to the audience and press, the current deputy chairman for the Science Education Award, Datuk Dr R. Ratnalingam, appealed once again for more corporate organisations to offer incentives and rewards to teachers who are innovative.
“Teachers often have to fork out their own money to work on their creative ideas. The expense incurred can be a strain on them. While planning and thought are needed to generate ideas, grants would be hugely beneficial to these teachers. ”
I agree with him. I know for a fact that the MTSF motivated and supported many of my own creative endeavours at school.
My feelings on the matter were shared. Mr Lau Yong Fuei (from SMK Convent Ipoh, Perak), who was runner-up for his idea on how to trap mosquitoes as well as by Mr Yip Chi Kong (consolation prize winner from SMJK Chan Wa, Seremban, Negri Sembilan), who submitted the idea that impressions made by waves in sand were a useful teaching device.
Sitting at my table for lunch were also See Yik Chu (a winner of the Selangor State Innovative Teacher Award) and Eng Guan Guch (of SMK St. Thomas, Kuching, Sarawak) who were also recipients.
Like me, they too realise that while nothing can take the place of seeing “our students do well when we put them first”, it is always nice to be appreciated and acknowledged for our ideas in our own right.
As Seow Yoke Hock from HELP Academy, another winner said his speech as the representative of the 14 recipients who won this year, “it takes 5Ps to make it – passion, persistence, patience, precision and perfection!”
If you are interested to participate this year and you think you have these 5Ps, please visit the MTSF website at
www.mtsf.org and the closing entry for all submissions is May 31, 2012.
Why not give it a shot
Sunday January 8, 2012 The Star
UNIVERSITI Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) vice president (Internationalisation and Academic Development) Prof Dr Ewe Hong Tat and Universiti Malaya Faculty of Medicine’s Prof Dr Mary Anne Tan Jin Ai have won the Science and Technology Award under the Malaysia Toray Science Foundation (MTSF).
The MTSF awards recognise the excellent achievements of scientists, researchers and secondary school educators, and were presented at a ceremony last month. Prof Ewe and Prof Tan received RM30,000 each.
A total of 16 young researchers were given the Science and Technology Research Grants for their research projects while the Science Education Award went to 14 secondary school teachers/educators.
Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry deputy secretary-general (Policy) Datuk Dr Sharifah Zarah Syed Ahmad represented deputy minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof at the event.
Reading Fadillah’s speech text, she said: “In this ever-evolving, complex and competitive global economy, science, technology and innovation as well as human capital are important and add value to our agricultural and industrial sectors.
“It also enhances our nation’s economic growth, and is in line with the ministry’s vision,” she said.
Also present was MTSF chairman Tan Sri Dr Omar Abdul Rahman.