From DNA to Industrial Design
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
It looked like a scene out of Bizarro CSI: groups of Pri 6 pupils gathered around workbenches in a science lab at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, intently chewing on the insides of their mouths, then spitting the fluid into a small tube which they placed into a machine before adding various chemicals to it.
But there were no crimes to solve here, just a small whitish blob of their own DNA, suspended blithely in the tube. And even though some pupils had previously studied the topic in school and extracted their own DNA, this workshop held by the new School of Science and Technology (SST) introduced them to a new approach to it.
"It's different from what I've done before," says Pri 6 pupil Yeow Yu Xuan from Kong Hwa School. "That's why I like science, when we can do experiments and learn new things."
Students who like tinkering and doing new things are exactly what SST hopes to attract through activities such as this. This specialised independent school will be taking in its first cohort of Sec 1 students in 2010, and the workshop "Understanding Cells and DNA" was part of its first school outreach programme, Learning Quest 2009. Held during the March holidays, it drew over 600 Pri 6 students from 31 schools across Singapore, all united by a strong interest and aptitude for science, IT or robotics.
Besides the DNA workshop, there was a workshop on mathematical models and a magic show, "The Magic of Science", by Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer Mr Tan Jui Kuan. The latter was a big hit with pupils, who were by turns entertained and intrigued by magic "tricks" that showcased principles of static electricity, magnetism, air pressure and other principles of physics.
A new school with a fresh approach
Not that students will be learning magic tricks at SST, but the school's curriculum will emphasise applied learning, or what it calls "learning by doing". From the moment students enter at Sec 1, they will be challenged to make connections between what they learn in the classroom and what they see in the real world. The school will also adopt an integrated approach to teaching some lower secondary subjects, such as Integrated Humanities (integrating history, geography and economics) and Art, Design, Media and Technology.
At upper secondary level, SST students can offer two Applied Subjects as part of their overall "O" Level coursework; their choices include biotechnology, design studies, environmental science and technology, fundamentals of electronics and media studies in English. Today, most mainstream secondary school students offer only one Applied Subject due to logistical constraints, but SST students will have the advantage of purpose-built school facilities and teaching staff who can support them to offer more.
The teaching approach at SST will also not be "business as usual". As principal Mr Chua Chor Huat explains, the school was set up as a collaboration between MOE and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. SST teachers have worked closely with polytechnic faculty not only to develop curriculum approaches, but also to design special facilities and classrooms at the school's holding site and future purpose-built campus.
Looking ahead, Mr Chua says, "Our teachers can benefit from the polytechnic's Teaching & Learning Centre, and from the cross-fertilisation of ideas that will come out of interacting with polytechnic faculty." SST is also partnering Nanyang Technological University to provide attachments, internships, and special programmes for its students.
Seeking science-minded students
To introduce its curriculum and school programmes to more pupils and parents, SST will be holding seminars for parents on 18 and 25 April, and an open house on 23 May. All 200 new Sec 1 students will be admitted only through MOE's Direct School Admission exercise, so the school will also be explaining its admissions criteria to its prospective applicants.
If the interest level of the Pri 6 pupils who attended the Learning Quest is anything to go by, there's plenty of latent curiosity about science for SST to go on. Zhao Shi Chong from Rulang Primary School enjoys reading science encyclopaedia on his own and learning about how human beings are formed, while Brandon Lin from West View Primary School, enjoys reading books and websites about cloning and DNA. Future students of SST? Perhaps!