teacher facing the camera and smiling in a busy street

Meet John Miller, an educator from California who participated in the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Research Program to Singapore in 2019.

Why I applied

I teach with low socioeconomic groups and kids that struggle. I’ve used games with kids for a long time to get them to engage with the curriculum and read more. I knew that Singapore had a reputation as an educational powerhouse. I wanted to see how Singapore used games—particularly with disadvantaged kids—to promote literacy and how they used educational technology. I had a good support team in place. So, I didn’t feel like I had to go it on my own when I applied.

What I did 

In Singapore, education was very top-down. The teachers were really experts at game design and kids played the games, whereas I try to involve kids in game design. What’s fascinating about their system is the time they devote to professional development. They only teach part of the day and really have time to learn, plan, and form groups with other teachers. Some groups address literacy or STEM or even more specific topics like flight. I interviewed teachers and co-created an educational game with them. We then did pre-and post-testing with students to see how they liked the game. I got some good data. It was just an invaluable experience. It made me a better teacher and a better person. 

What changed 

When COVID hit, we were distance learning for over a year. The school district didn’t have any real plans—no one really did. Most school districts were trying to just recreate traditional school online. I proposed the Singapore model for that year. We combined history teachers and art teachers. Math and science teachers got together to create lessons. We emphasized teacher professional development. We gave all of our lessons similar elements. Days off were for lesson development, scoring kids, and giving them real feedback. We slowed down the pace and gave teachers time to really grow and to connect with kids. It worked really well. 

Read more about John's experience in his November 1, 2021 blog post for The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY).