Meet Ruby Huang, a 2015 Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert


This blog post is taken from Anthony Salcito's 'Daily Edventures'  which recently featured New Zealand teacher Ruby Huang.

Ruby is a science teacher at Auckland's Howick College. She was recently made a 2015 Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert in recognition of her efforts to include technology in teaching.


“At this moment, I felt that the students began to integrate and relate their learning experience in the classroom to real life; to acknowledge that there is a purpose to science and they aren’t restricted to memorizing facts and calculating pointless numbers.” – Ruby Huang, New Zealand

Ruby Huang grew up a self-described bookworm who even had a favourite Dewey Decimal classification, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that she ultimately became an educator. It was that same enthusiasm for learning that made Huang a 2015 Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, and just as important, a teacher who’s willing to wholly rethink the classroom experience for her digitally savvy students.

After deciding to teach her science students about lab safety by having them produce their own training videos, Huang knew she was on to something. “I knew that recording notes via OneNote or presenting via PowerPoint was not the proper use of technology, nor was it close to innovation,” she says. “I wanted the students to transform their own learning and I would be the one to guide them; at times, it was the students guiding me, as their expertise and knowledge of useful apps and technology were bound to surpass mine later on in the year. This is innovation.”

Since that project, Huang has brought that same approach to many other lessons, including one that focused on delivering food to the needy. Not only did the students develop a food drive, they also applied science by calculating the most nutritious meals.  Her Innovative Educator project, Eco-Building Investigation, raised awareness about the importance of environmentally-friendly construction while giving students the opportunity to investigate and select materials for their buildings.

Because documenting, communicating and sharing these projects is also an important part of the lesson, all of Huang’s projects make use of creative presentation tools. And Huang herself has been something of an innovator in this space, using the new Microsoft Sway to express her ideas on collaboration. Her work was featured here, and is a fantastic example of this new tool’s potential.

Whatever technology Huang and her students are using, you can be sure they’re using it in ways that are both instructive and engaging. Here’s today’s Daily Edventure with Ruby Huang.

What inspired you to become an educator?

As a child, my first dream job was to be an author, I loved reading and absorbing new facts. You could say that I was a bookworm, sitting in the corner whilst the rest of my family watched TV. My favourite Dewey Decimal code was 793.1, which was the puzzle section. I liked mental challenges and thinking outside of the box. Later on I wanted to be an astronaut (but my Dad told me I couldn’t take my dog into orbit).

In primary to intermediate school, I was elected librarian, traffic monitor, environmental agent, paper-recycler, camp leader and sports monitor. It was not until my final year of high school that I found solace in helping people; I was heavily involved with coaching Kendo at my club, tutoring ESL (English as a Second Language) students at my school and also tutoring peers in their school work.

Throughout university, I continued tutoring biology, chemistry, physics, Spanish, mathematics and English as a side job whilst majoring in neurophysiology. Originally, the plan was to get into medical school, as I felt that the health industry was the best place to “help people.” In some ways I am grateful that I did not get the interview after freshman year. It was in my final semester that I realized I had been helping people all along through the power of education. I was an educator and decided that after I graduated with my Bachelors, I would continue with a teaching diploma and start making a real difference in the community.  

What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?

The most powerful event by far was the “Food Parcel project.” Through collaboration with my colleague Steve Martin, I propelled and redesigned the topic of Food and Energy in a digital format to include a 21st century learning task, whereby students had to design and produce a food parcel to be donated to the local Salvation Army.

This was no ordinary food parcel, as students had to scientifically analyse and present their research behind the chosen foods, design and distribute posters and flyers to the public for the food drive, use apps to calculate energy levels, research to provide healthier alternatives, create a menu to ensure metabolic demands were achieved, and much more.

The best moment was when the captain from the Salvation Army came in to explain their role in community and thank the class for their generous donations. The students gave a short speech and the proudest moment was when they thanked the captain for giving them the opportunity to help those in need, for if it weren’t for the initial problem, there would have never been a task to solve in the first place, and their food drive would have no significant meaning. The students truly understood what it is like to have an effect on the greater community.

At this moment, I felt that the students began to integrate and relate their learning experience in the classroom to real life; to acknowledge that there is a purpose to science and they aren’t restricted to memorizing facts and calculating pointless numbers. I felt accomplished as a teacher because I was the one who “opened the door” and the students took the challenge and walked through. “It has always been about the students.” (What Students Say by William E. J. Doane).

Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?

"I wanted each lesson to integrate technology at some point, but I found that this ideal was not what transformed learning - rather, it was how the technology was used." - Ruby Huang

This year was the first year we gave each student a Microsoft Surface 2 tablet. I wanted each lesson to integrate technology at some point, but I found that this ideal was not what transformed learning – rather, it was HOW the technology was used.

The first learning lesson of Y9 Science: I planned to teach them about safety protocols and establish a set of class-lab rules. I came up with a question: “How do I get the students to teach themselves?” The answer? “I shall set them loose in the lab.”

The instructions were simple: “Look around and see what dangers there are in the lab. I want you to use your tablet to create a safety video similar to that of the Air New Zealand Middle Earth videos. Your groups are on the whiteboard; allocate each member a role of either: director, actor(s), costume and props, cameraman and scriptwriter. You have five minutes to write a draft script, 30 to film and 15 to edit. When you finish writing your draft, show me and start filming, submit your video to Schoology LMS. Lastly add a rule to the online discussion board for homework.”

The effect of this task was astounding, I watched as they raced around acting out scenes and practiced their lines, one group used stop-animation and another asked for broken glassware and fake blood to make it more realistic. Consequently, the students were so engrossed with the task at hand, I strolled out of the lab and ran to fetch my mentor teacher, and he too was surprised at how well the simple collaborative task transformed the chalk and talk of “please list 10 safety rules and copy them out.”

Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?

"To establish a quality education for students, we must first establish a quality learning environment... where educators are willing to transform learning by stepping back and looking at the current format of education from a learner's perspective."

Our school is not known for its academic achievements, our neighbouring schools often are the first choice and the queue for quality education is at their doors, not ours. Likewise the student-conceived level of achievement is very poor and low. It is not that the students do not want to learn, it is rather that they have no spark for learning, they’d prefer to laze around and play all day — there is a very low level of learning culture in my school.

In more advanced grade levels, the students often tell me that they “hate science”- because their past teachers never gave them experiments, they only handed out worksheets and told them to copy from the board. “It’s not you Miss Huang; it’s just that science has no use in my life.” It was hard to persuade them, so I decided that I had to let them see for themselves — by giving them the opportunity through inquiry-based learning. Technology gave me the tool to do this, as the fascination behind how the solar system works is no longer presented using numbers, posters and text books, rather we can use interactive web 2.0 apps like this. Or instead of memorizing the path of the digestive system, we could watch a Magic School Bus video and use a flash animation to enhance the learning.

To establish a quality education for students, we must first establish a quality learning environment where the educators are as invigorated with the chance to learn as their students and where educators are willing to transform learning by stepping back and looking at the current format of education from learner’s perspective.

If you were made to write page after page, fill out worksheet after worksheet, just how much information would you retain at the end of the day? Why should we integrate 21st century learning design and turn our heads towards examples of innovative modern learning environments? Why can we never replace the teacher at the front of the classroom with a robot?

In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?

My biggest hope is that students will pass on their enriched learning experiences in my classroom into their day-to-day lives. This does not mean that students must become vegetarians after we talk about the excessive amounts of methane production by farm animals. What I would like to see is that further down the line, they will draw upon their experiences and make choices that reflect upon the knowledge they have gained in the classroom. For example, taking up community service or working up the ladder through collective intelligence and collaboration with their colleagues.

My excitement towards the future of technology and revolution of education is immeasurable. Imagine what we could do in the future if, through the span of 10 years, we have moved from having a single computer in the class shared by 28 students to a 1:1 flipped learning environment where the teacher no longer dictates the pace of learning — the students do. The stars are the limit.

 

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