Sciences

Wider set of lab skills with more hands-on practice

St Andrew's Junior College students observing X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy on a visit to the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences in Jurong last November. JC students will be taught to relate abstract concepts to real-world examples and
St Andrew's Junior College students observing X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy on a visit to the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences in Jurong last November. JC students will be taught to relate abstract concepts to real-world examples and make connections between different issues, instead of just accumulating knowledge.ST FILE PHOTO

Students pursuing the sciences in junior colleges have fewer facts to memorise, but more hands-on practice.

They will be taught to relate abstract concepts to the real world and make connections between different issues, instead of just accumulating knowledge.

The biggest change will be how the practical exam will be conducted at the end of two years in JC, instead of annually.

It will test a wider set of laboratory skills, which includes planning skills, observation and presenting data, as well as interpreting data and making predictions.

Mr Muhamad Salahuddin Ibrahim, a lead biology teacher at Serangoon JC, said: "The new format will ensure that students have a full two years of lab training and exploring the practice of science.

"In the past, schools could choose topics and teachers would design lab lessons in line with those themes, but now we will have to expose students to practical skills across more topics."

Content has also been cut across the science subjects. These topics were already taught in secondary school or are deemed more suitable for studies at the university level. For instance, in biology, cell division and the control of gene expression have been dropped.

Instead, infectious diseases and climate change have been added for their topical relevance in Singapore and the rest of the world. Students will study diseases such as dengue and learn about deforestation, fossil fuels and local biodiversity.

Mr Salahuddin said content has been reorganised so that the links between themes such as genetics and inheritance, and the cell and biomolecules of life are clearer.

"We're not just teaching different pieces of the syllabus but developing a clearer narrative that is now more coherent," he said.

The revised physics syllabus will focus more on fundamental and classical branches while the likes of quantum physics and semiconductors, which are not easy to fully cover in two years, have been taken out.

Mr Sze Guan Kheng, a physics lead teacher at Raffles Institution, said: "Not all H2 Physics students will move on to pursue a career in physics or engineering and abstract concepts in quantum physics may not be that relevant to them."

Chemistry students will have to think about scientific processes.

For instance, topics like the atomic model will be presented as "thinking" and "doing" processes rather than just factual content, said Mr Benjamin Chan, head of Hwa Chong Institution's chemistry department.

"They can see how the model has been developed based on evidence from experiments," he said, adding that this ties in with the recent announcement of four new elements.

While scientific knowledge is reliable and lasting, students will understand that it is still subject to revision when new evidence is found, he said.

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2016, with the headline 'Wider set of lab skills with more hands-on practice'. Print Edition | Subscribe