Reflections of our SISTC 2017 Award Recipients

Mr Bala Chandran S/O Thiruselvan

Reflections on Innovative Teaching and Learning of Science

Questions.Children can't stop asking them and adults sometimes can't stand answering the seemingly endless flood of them. Questions are inextricably linked to what I consider the driving force for any child or adult to delve into the world of Science; curiosity. Sometimes, science education sadly becomes reduced to an accumulation of rote facts and formulaic procedures instead of socially negotiated constructions and explanations used to understand the world around us. Such instances extinguish that innate spark of curiosity which students have when starting to learn about Science.

The time crunch that teachers face is indubitably evident and this proved to be my greatest motivation in thinking of ways to teach science innovatively that are not frowned upon as time consuming or "unrealistic". Also, there is an uncanny relationship between a good scientist and the values advocated by MOE's R3ich Framework (namely Respect, Responsibility, Harmony, Integrity, Resilience & Care). In my efforts to inculcate scientific thinking and attitudes, I was also providing my students valuable opportunities to develop these values.

Time was definitely a factor at the P2 level as there was simply no curriculum time allocated for science lessons. It was here that the pedagogy of leveraging on multidisciplinary lessons paid off as I sought to actively incorporate science learning into my other lessons.

Upon reflection, a core reason that has led me to become a staunch proponent of advocating science learning is its transformative power. Over the course of two years, learning and sharing about science has tremendously helped a P2 student who had severe difficulty developing interpersonal relationships and managing his anger. In an attempt to address some of the endless questions students had, I introduced the "I wonder..." board in class where my students could post any question they had about the world around them.

At first, I put up answers to their questions but gradually, I encouraged peers helping their friends in efforts to build a culture of peer teaching and learning. The boy in question exhibited a hitherto hidden wealth of scientific knowledge and patiently explained what he knew to his peers. His passion for science was clearly evident as his eyes lit up when talking about anything from volcanoes to birds of paradise.Now, he is our science ambassador; ever ready to work together with anyone to unravel the class' latest scientific mystery.

After reading the Stellar Big Book "A Butterfly Is Born", I taught my students to try creating art pieces to incorporate learning about life cycles of other animals (P4 science topic) with art in a fun way.

Indeed, science learning has become a staple in my English lessons. Take 'Short, Tall, Big or Small' for example, a unit taught last year. The students constructed a diorama where they learnt about the climate conditions as well as the biodiversity found in a safari.

When writing about science related topics, the students usually began with a "K-W-L" chart to organise what information they knew, list out what they wanted to find out and at the end of the writing, consolidate what they had learnt. Then the students became researchers, actively collaborating to construct their report on the desired topic. I found that the children would, of their own volition, accomplish far more than they would with a teacher's urging or stern warnings about completing work.

Work had become play. Intrinsic motivation was working wonders and I continually sought to leverage on it as much as I could. Using ICT tools such as Padlet which allowed for asynchronous collaboration allowed me to "create" time for such learning as students were actively participating even when not physically in the classroom.

Simple activities such as using my HDB apartment's floor plan to allow P5 students to role-play as electrical engineers and use what they have learnt in the topic of electricity to plan the wiring in my house while also using what they were learning in math about ` area and perimeter to decorate the home as interior designers afforded for fun lessons where they could see how the lessons they learnt at school were relevant and inextricably enmeshed with each other in the real world.

The resilience, creativity and sheer passion exhibited by my students over the past 2 years has truly inspired me. Upon reflection, I can confidently assert that with a healthy dose of creativity, a teacher can use almost anything as a stepping stone for science teaching and learning.

Ms Ng Yee Ling

The Art and Science of Engaging Students in the Teaching of A-Level Electrochemistry

The revised H2 Chemistry curriculum aims to enable students to become scientifically literate citizens with the attitudes relevant to the Nature of Science (NoS).The review considered MOE's key initiatives of Student-Centric, Values-Driven Education and the development of 21st Century Competencies (CPDD, 2016). Teachers are encouraged to design lessons that facilitate the appreciation of scientific problem-solving and the recognition that the outcome of scientific problem solving is influenced by economic, social and ethical considerations.

Students find the learning of science more meaningful when the concepts are set in appropriate contexts (Bennett & F. & Hogarth, S., 2007). Their intrinsic motivation to learn is increased when the information presented is contextualized and meaningful to their current world. The use of real-world contexts provides authentic platforms to distill the social and ethical dimensions of science based on sound scientific explanations.The need for informed decision making based on sound scientific explanations is a critical skill that students must have in order to navigate the VUCA world they face today. In Electrochemistry, students often encounter the following difficulties:

1. Selecting the correct half-equations that are responsible for reactions in specific electrochemical cells;

2. Differentiating between electrochemical and electrolytic cells.

These obstacles, coupled with the perceived lack of relevance to the current world, cause students to label this topic as monotonous.By adopting the Interleaving Effect as a pedagogical approach and by leveraging on the use of suitable technological platforms, Electrochemistry tutorial lessons can inculcate both NoS attitudes and address the above learning difficulties.

A series of three lessons was designed based on the following frameworks:

1. Constructivist Theory

Based on the Constructivist Theory, students construct meaning to what they learn individually and socially (Hein, 1991).They attribute meaning to their experiences and construct knowledge based on them. In the lessons, students were asked to identify mobile phone features that were important to them. They were then challenged to present creative suggestions that could explain recent instances of explosion of mobile devices. Subsequently, when students learnt and understood the science of lithium ion batteries, they had a lively discussion which led to the realisation that consumer demands and media sensation were also driving forces responsible for sensationalisation of these explosions. As future engineers and consumers, students learn and appreciate the fact that they have a role to play in ethical scientific design, reasonable consumer demand and informed decision making. Contextualised and engaged learning of science would not have been possible without this level of discourse.

2. Interleaved Approach

Brown, Roediger and McDaniel (Brown, Roediger III, & McDaniel, 2014) posit that spaced practice works better as the increased effort to retrieve the learning after a little forgetting has the effect of retriggering consolidation. Rohrer et. al. (Rohrer, Dedrick, & Burgess, 2013) found that students who were taught by interleaving concepts performed better than those who were not. Instead of compartmentalizing the lessons into electrochemical cells and electrolytic cells, the discussion on rechargeable batteries was used to "interleave" concepts of electrochemical cells and electrolytic cells in this lesson package. This facilitates students' ability to appreciate the link between the two types of cells.

3. Demonstrations

Basheer et. al. (Basheer, Hugerat, Kortam, & Hofstein, 2016) advocated the use of demonstrations to enhance learning, motivation and attitudes.According to Chiappetta and Koballa (Chiappetta & Koballa, 2002) and Shakhashiri (Shakhashiri, 1992), properly presented demonstrations have the potential of enhancing students'understanding of chemistry concepts. In this lesson package, students were encouraged to use the "Predict, Observe and Explain" framework to deepen their understanding. All collaborative activities were designed to allow students to make their thinking visible. Prior to the demonstrations, students were asked to write down their expected observations. They were then asked to share their answers before the demonstrations.Students were given time to discuss and account for differences in their predicted and actual observations. The demonstrations were interesting experiments that made use of common household chemicals. In one instance, electrolysis of salt solution containing a few drops of red cabbage indicator was carried out using a 9V battery. The accessibility of such common substances allows students to duplicate the experiments at home, thus ensuring the sustainability of intrinsic motivation.

Students were perceived to be more engaged in their learning as compared to their peers who were not exposed to these learning experiences. There was increased amount of collaborative work observed among the students. While this approach may not result in an immediate translation to a higher distinction rate, it presents a promising start for students to better appreciate the relevance of what they have learnt to their current world. This will improve student' intrinsic motivation in learning.

Mr Rohman Nor Bin Suib

Engaging Students in Learning Science Innovatively, Preparing Them for the Future

"For students, whatever school they are in, they can have even better access to high quality and relevant learning resources. This will help level-up our students across schools. Teachers can also rapidly learn, acquire a range of teaching strategies around ICT, and spread good practices."

Mr Heng Swee Keat, MOE WPS 2013

To enhance my teaching and students’ learning, I have enriched my science lessons with ICT in order to promote thinking, collaboration and connectedness. Overall, the objectives of my lessons are:

  • Students to take greater ownership of their learning with self-pacing and working collaboratively
  • All students to have equal and open access to quality curriculum-aligned resources
  • Connected in a virtual classroom

I have started using Google sites for seven years. I found that it enhances my teaching and learning in the classroom and beyond. With the use of Google sites, boundaries are broken where students work collaboratively, manage their own learning in a self-pacing environment with quality aligned-resources from the teacher and shaped into self-directed learners with a global outlook.

My teaching practice changed for the better:

  • I spent more time providing authentic tasks/ problems for students (customising lessons and quizzes for students)
  • I monitor students’ learning and progress
  • I view and analyse their performance and addresses learning gaps
  • I provide quality feedbacks/comments to students’ responses
  • I assign and re-assign appropriate resources to students to address learning gaps and move their learning forward
  • I motivate students in their participation and effort
  • Learning became colourful and interesting with videos, charts, diagrams, gifs and sounds

The tasks set were more personal, authentic and reflective; the assessment criteria were expanded to provide clearer evidence of what was expected. Students were encouraged to use a wider range of resources that is available in the sites and recommend other sites which they find of value to the other students. When the resources are recommended by the students, i.e. website, videos, charts and diagrams, they will upload and share these resources after getting approval from me.

Students also completed a learning log collaboratively. This information was collated and discussed to develop insights into different student’s conceptual understandings, interpretations and misconceptions. Students then viewed feedback and comments given by peers and the teacher, and finally made improvement and adjustments to their own learning.

A perception survey was carried out. As a result of the changes in the methods and way I teach, it made me notice:

  • Improved student attitudes towards science
  • more concept-focused discussions, addressing learning gaps rather than assessment achievements
  • more attention to learners’ own ideas, experiences
  • students were eager to express and share their views with supported evidences and claims
  • students felt that their thinking were valued and this has improved our learning environment
  • learners were more enthusiastic and more involved. In authentic real-life activities, their performance was more personal and reflective
  • focus on more relevant issues, using more authentic problems in science with different perspectives, asking more open-ended questions and seeking more learner inputs
  • tasks were more related to students’ lives and experiences which offered them meaningful learning experiences

The approaches that I used are shared in my school during professional sharing session where the lesson design, lesson outcomes and the ICT tools were shared and demonstrated. From the sharing, other teachers are able to try out the lesson design and activities which I have conducted. All the teachers also play an active role to improve on the lesson with their inputs and feedbacks. The improved lesson can be conducted by another teacher. This process improves the lesson design and at the same time improving my teachers’ teaching skills.