Singapore - A Rich Resource for Learning

The first Unit of the Inquiry Year 4 learners at Nexus have explored this year is  'Human exploration results in new discoveries.' For this UOI our major location focus was Singapore. The city provides a rich context for children to learn and discover about the past as well as put into practice the attitudes of the PYP. There are two aspects to this unit that we anticipated the children would likely find challenging.

  • Understanding how the interplay of cultures have shaped modern Singapore
  • The effect of time changes our physical environment.

In the process of tuning in, I wondered 'What were the misconceptions the children might have about Singapore's history?' How will they understand how time has shaped the cultures and space of the city?

As a form of pre-assessment, the children created a Pinterest board, of places newcomers to Singapore should go to learn more about the country. The children's choices reflected their experience with their environment:

  • Universal studios
  • Sentosa Island
  • Vivo city
  • Marina Bay Sands

Rather than see this as a deficit in knowledge, I saw it as a huge opportunity for learning.  Using a split-screen approach to this problem the children thought about what an explorer might do or be.

We put those dispositions into action with a field trip through Singapore's neighbourhoods of Little India, Kampong Glam and the Singapore River. Uncovering the attitudes would help the children understand there is more to Singapore beyond their experience.

The journey provided a huge opportunity for the children to learn more about different cultures through being out in the city.

However, I worried about how children would make connections to the physical space and the abstract concept of time. The children needed to blend the past with the present - to see the now but also what has come before.

Looking at old photos of the past would give the children some reference point, but I wondered how we could make the experience more deep and meaningful. I wondered how the children could take a concrete experience and turn into a real one.

Enter the photo mashup.

I found some historic photos of places we would visit on the trip,  and the children could use their iPads to blend photos of the past with the present. The beauty of the iPad is that the kids can take their technology with them and get great results quickly. We used Instashake which would enable the children to blend photos with their fingers.


The mash up gave children a chance to see the past while standing in the present. The opportunity to create, to take perspectives, to really think about how the space they were standing in had changed over the decades. It enabled the children to put themselves into the past.

Were the mash-ups perfect? No. But they provided an important tool for thinking. As the children looked for reference points between the old pictures and the spaces they were standing in, exclamations of 'wow!' 'it's changed' 'oh there it is' 'oh now I see it.'  They were the sounds of children using their concrete experience to make sense of the abstract.

The trip was just the start and was a strong provocation for the children to further inquire into how the foods, buildings, religions, architecture are all influenced through the different people who have come to call Singapore home.

One of the things we need to do a lot more in education is get outside. I feel so hugely privileged to teach in a city where we might start in a Hindu temple, walk past a century-old catholic church to visit a mosque before navigating the towering skyscrapers along the Singapore river.

One of the children in my class summed up the provocation best; 'there's no way we'd be able to do all this in England Mum!'

Stephanie Thompson
Year 4 PYP Teacher
Nexus International School, Singapore


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