Applied learning in schools

Seeing relevance of maths and science skills in real life

EcoPonics' Mr Ivan Sei conducting a lesson on terranium- making at Hougang Primary School. The primary school science curriculum now allows for pupils to have more room to understand and apply concepts.
EcoPonics' Mr Ivan Sei conducting a lesson on terranium- making at Hougang Primary School. The primary school science curriculum now allows for pupils to have more room to understand and apply concepts.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Mathematics in school is no longer just about adding things up, but more about getting students to think like a mathematician.

For instance, students could be asked to evaluate the most cost-effective mobile phone plans for classmates based on their different usage patterns.

"In the past, students were taught just facts and formulae. Now, we try to give them learning experiences that will allow them to formulate conclusions themselves," said Mr Chew Chong Kiat, a lead mathematics teacher at Yuan Ching Secondary School.

The curriculum for primary and secondary schools was last revamped in 2013 to give more attention to mathematical process skills. These include abilities such as making connections and application.

Said Mr Chew: "We want them to have a feel of how a mathematician would think, for instance, looking out for patterns and applying them to situations."

He added that the changes aim to help students see the relevance of mathematics to real life.

"When we reviewed the syllabus, we found that we were doing well in the skills, but not so much the processes," he said. "Now, we are spending more time on reasoning and the whys and hows, apart from numerical computation and calculation."

When it comes to the refreshed science syllabuses across all levels, inquiry is the new buzzword.

The 2014 primary school science curriculum, for example, provides more room for pupils to understand and apply concepts. Take a task such as choosing a container that can keep food warm for longer - pupils need to know what are good and poor conductors of heat.

Similarly, changes were made to chemistry, biology and physics in secondary schools in 2013 and 2014 to make the subjects more grounded in real-life contexts.

The sciences at the junior college H2 level were also updated this year to help students better understand the subject as a discipline and see its impact on societal issues.

Mr Sung Peir Yih, who teaches chemistry at Meridian Junior College, said his school organises learning journeys and industry attachments to allow students to see how science works in the real world.

"Concepts and theories are important in science. And it is also important for our students to know that science is not just a body of knowledge, but also a way of knowing and doing," he said.

"Thus, science is not only about what we know but also how we know." This includes how scientific knowledge is generated, established and communicated,  he added.

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'Seeing relevance of maths and science skills in real life'. Print Edition | Subscribe