THE P FILES

Psst, his students have a confession to make...

By Christopher Ong

"I think Dr Ho should have a fan page. And when the fan page reaches 1,000 fans, we will make a recommendation to the school to promote him."

"I felt guilty when Dr Ho walked past me during the exam… After he went out of his way to help the weaker students like me, I really felt apologetic that I wasn't able to do better for his paper."

"… how many of you here think he was born to teach?"

These posts – and other similar ones – on the NTU Confessions Facebook page have garnered over a hundred "Likes" for Dr Ho.

Dr who?

Meet Dr Ho Shen Yong. The School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences lecturer is well-liked by students and has already won three awards for teaching excellence in the short two years that he has been with NTU, including a top university-level award last year.

Yet, the 40-year-old, who teaches Physics A, a foundation course for freshmen who have not taken A-level Physics, remains humble. "I read some of the posts after my colleagues told me about them. Actually, I am just relieved that my students have remained resilient and positive in the face of the fast-paced and challenging Physics A curriculum."

What gives this man the wow factor? He tells HEY! : "Instead of just teaching from the notes, I make it a point to illustrate the importance of the concepts taught and, whenever possible, their applications in daily life, with some humour."

Like any good storyteller, Dr Ho captures his audience with a good hook. Revealing how he piques his students' interest on a new topic, he says: "On one occasion, I asked the class which of two tasks they would take on for a $50 fee: estimate the average allowance of the 800 students present, or find the average speed of the air molecules in the lecture theatre."

"Most of the students were surprised to learn that it is actually easier to do the latter – a thermometer and a simple formula are all that's needed, and they became interested in learning that formula."

In another lesson, after teaching Newton's first law – the reluctance of masses to change their state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line – Dr Ho demonstrated a novel way of getting out ketchup stuck at the base of a near-empty bottle using the law – swirling the bottle, cap facing out, with his entire arm. The exaggerated motion and reminder to students not to do it in a restaurant drew laughter. The lesson ended on a more serious note – the same principle can be used in uranium enrichment to make nuclear weapons.

Dr Ho also produces two educational videos every week for his students – one containing hints for the weekly online assignments he gives and the other a pre-tutorial video. Typically, he spends three to four hours after dark recording the two videos, when it is quieter and he is free from the distractions of the office. "My course has many students and the videos allow me to reach out to everyone and provide help as and when they need it."

Says physics undergrad Yong Yam Yuan: "I appreciate Dr Ho's dedication to his course, especially how he sometimes stays up past midnight to record the videos for us."

"By using experiments, videos and case studies to explain the various theories, he makes lessons interesting, fun and easy to understand."

Only positive charges in these physics classes.