A SAP Maths session brought Sec 1 students on a learning journey to Giant Hypermart.
An air of anticipation, broad grins and shrieks of exhilaration are not usually associated with learning the finer points of Maths. But once you have zoomed down a 1.5 storey-tall slide in the name of Maths concepts and principles, such reactions become a part of the equation.
Students from Bedok South Secondary School recently had such an experience by taking a ride down a giant slide at Changi Airport's Terminal 3. Along with visits to a furniture mall, supermarket and public park, this was one of several tasks the students had to complete during learning journeys under the school's Skills and Abilities Programme (SAP).
Ms Siti Zubaidah bte Mohd Sharif, Level Head for Sec 1 & 2 N(T) and Subject Head for English Language (EL), explained that SAP goes "beyond the normal curriculum" by setting aside three class periods each week in which students develop their numeracy or literacy through real life encounters. With their focus on experiential learning through hands-on activities such as workshops, enrichment courses and learning journeys, SAP sessions complement the existing EL and Maths curriculum by bringing to life abstract concepts. In short, words and formulae learnt in regular classes are turned into visible events and tangible experience that also help develop the students' confidence and presentation skills.
Say it out loud
According to Ms Zubaidah, students often regard the formal curriculum as being 'rigid' or 'boring'. Hence, the school sought to inject a high fun quotient and student-centric approach to EL lessons. In Readers' Theatre and Speech and Drama, for instance, students interpret and transform scenes in a book into creative performances. Theatrics apart, such sessions help students hone their communication skills as they recite their lines. The students learn to enunciate their words clearly and express their body language confidently. Such learning is applied in their task to create a podcast and vodcast.
At Pasir Ris Park, Sec 2 students were given worksheets that had them practising their Math mensuration skills.
At other times, the teacher might weave in themes from other lessons such as social studies. For example, EL teacher Mr Ng Wee Loon, has tapped on the themes of the adventure novel Nim's Island to get his class to think about the impact of consumerism, tourism and conservation. Every student is also encouraged to voice his or her opinion on the subject, thereby becoming over time more confident speakers who can think on their feet.
Through such sessions, students such as Azyan Irdina bte Affendi have learnt how to command an audience without having to shout. "I know how to project my voice now," stated the Sec 1 student, whose newfound confidence in public speaking also means she no longer gets tongue-tied when addressing strangers. On her part, Azyan's classmate Quraisha De'Melda declared, "I know to make my conversations more interesting, and I can engage people more easily."
To the park, market and mall
When Maths comes into play, however, the students might be told to "take a walk". They happily oblige, as this means embarking on an off-site learning journey. One Maths Trail leads to Pasir Ris Park, where the students learn to take measurements, namely the length, circumference, area and volume of objects in the park. The slide at Changi Airport, on the other hand, was an unforgettable way to learn about speeds and averages. Another trip, this time to the supermarket, reinforced skills such as division and approximation through a marketing exercise to shop for a picnic on a fixed budget.
Speech and Drama SAP sessions improve the students' self confidence and speaking techniques as they learn to speak and act in front of their peers.
Another Maths task required the students to design their own room subject to a given budget. This involved taking measurements, hatching of concepts, working out a budget, making a small scale-model and when a blueprint was ready, an outing to IKEA. "We learn better when we are away from the classroom setting," remarked Azyan of the experience. "Learning journeys are awesome!" added Quraisha.
According to Ms Zubaidah, SAP has struck a chord with the students through its authentic learning environments and repertoire of meaningful tasks. It certainly shows, as absenteeism from class has fallen since the syllabus was introduced. Maths teachers Mdm Halimah Jumaha and Mr Samuel Goh also see greater enthusiasm and active participation during regular lessons and note that one not-unwelcome outcome of SAP is an audible demand for more learning journeys.
Readers' Theatre provides the students with rich fodder to express themselves in word and action.
Encouraged by the results so far, the school plans to refine the N(T) curriculum by integrating the English Language and Maths components as well as incorporating more elements of other subjects. But it's not all books and labour, as come end-October, the N(T) students will cap their year with a balloon sculpturing and magic show before their schoolmates and invited guests at a Learning Fiesta. These fancy tricks may not have much to do with Maths, but Ms Zubaidah explained that the performance is a culmination to months of hard work. "Doing things well will encourage a feeling of accomplishment," she said, adding that she looks forward to seeing the students wield their newly acquired presentation skills to engage the audience through, fittingly, words and well-calculated actions.