I WAS with 50 Year Five and Six pupils of SK Sri Labis and SK Kesang recently in an audiovisual room in SK Kesang. The students were eagerly waiting to speak with an important person halfway across the world in Florida, United States through Skype.
The person was Diane Savitch, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut educator, who was just as eager to answer the children's questions.
When she came on the video screen, she was in a simulation capsule.
My student, an 11-year-old boy named Hafiz, spoke into the laptop microphone and asked Savith: "Why do you want to be an astronaut?"
She replied: "Because I like to travel and I wanted to see new worlds."
Upon hearing her voice and American accent, the classroom erupted into cheers and one by one the students then took turns asking Savitch questions about what it is like to be an astronaut.
Savitch later got her colleague to demonstrate to the students the experience of being in a zero gravity space. The demonstration thrilled the students even more.
I was there with my fellow Fulbright programme English Teacher Assistants (ETA), at an outer space-themed English camp organised by English Teaching Assistant's (ETA) Yinshi Lerman-Tan and Adeel Chaudhry.
English Teaching Assistant Programme is administered by the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE ) and the Education Ministry.
I thought the camp organised by Lerman-Tan was a brilliant idea as the theme enabled the students to use English to discover more on a subject they are interested in.
The outer space theme was a fun way to make the students think about their world and to have a broader experience. The camp was an instant hit with the students as they were able to communicate with a real astronaut.
Skyping a NASA educator is just one of the many activities Lerman-Tan and Chaudhry had lined up for the day.
After the question-and-answer session with Savitch, the two ETAs added more fun to the session.
An astronaut character in a white jumpsuit and white motorcycle helmet suddenly appeared on the video screen. He was lost in outer space and even asked the students to help him find his way, offering a reward as well.
The character was really just an ETA but the short clip and the Q&A with Savitch was a great learning experience for the students.
It motivated them to be more involved in activities which used the English language.
The students always wanted to learn about America and spoke about NASA with great enthusiasm.
It was based on their enthusiasm that the "outer space" theme was decided on.
The ETAs then contacted NASA and got in touch with Savitch.
NASA and Savitch's active role in the camp activities made it exciting for the students to practice their English conversational skills.
The students spoke English throughout the camp and cooperated fully in all the activities.
For me, in Johor or anywhere in the world, the fundamental of teaching is engaging the students, better still if the subject is something that they are interested in.
Shalene Gupta, a graduate from Johns Hopkins University, shares her space camp experience. She is an English Teaching Assistant at SMK Kota Masai 2