In Geylang Methodist School (Secondary), students are looking forward to a greener future.
Twenty-two Secondary 3 students excitedly file in to Physics Lab 3 at Geylang Methodist School (Secondary) one Tuesday afternoon. The teacher in charge and Science HOD, Ms Ng Peck Suan, tells them to sit in their assigned groups and await further instructions.
On the table in front of each group are these seemingly random items: 20 sticks of spaghetti, some tape, a pair of scissors and a marshmallow. The students soon find out that they have to build a freestanding structure with the items, with the marshmallow on top. They have 18 minutes and the team with the tallest standing structure, wins.
These students are participating in a task-based interview. Last January, teachers involved in GMSS’s Applied Learning Programme (ALP) had given a presentation to all Secondary 3 students to reveal the project that Tier 2 ALP students will be working on. These are the ones who’d signed on.
Only one team is able to successfully complete the task. The other teams all make the same grave error – not taking into account the weight of the marshmallow before sticking it on during the final few seconds only to see their structure topple.
While the students are animatedly deciding on the best ways to build their structures, the teachers are silently noting their communication skills, leadership qualities, teamwork and process in order to decide which of them will join the Tier 2 programme.
The project, for students who do make it, is to design, construct and maintain a roof garden. The goal of this three-year project is to lower the energy consumption in the staff room below. The students in this pioneer batch will be responsible for the research portion, while the next two batches will work on design and implementation. They will work with industry partner, DHI Water and Environment (S) Pte Ltd, who will provide the technical expertise.
Picking up real-world skills
The Applied Learning Programme is a combination of theory and hands-on practical work designed to equip students with real-world skills. GMSS started their programme in 2014, choosing to delve into the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
According to Ms Ng and Subject Head for Lower Secondary Science Mr Sng Peng Hock, the school decided to specialise in environmental science and sustainable living as it involved the three sciences – physics, biology and chemistry – and was more related to the school’s syllabus.
The school worked closely on lesson plans with STEM Inc, a collaboration between Science Centre Singapore and the Ministry of Education, and which was set up to support STEM ALP in schools.
The Tier 1 programme is compulsory for Secondary 1 and 2. Students spend 70 minutes per week per school term on it. They go through interesting and innovative lessons and activities that demonstrate how they can use scientific knowledge to solve real life problems.
Students are not graded and do not receive any marks for participation. What they do get, are cool awards at the end of the year such as Best Teamwork and Most Innovative Team.
A natural progression
Secondary 1 students learn about Urban Heat Island, a city or metropolitan area that’s a lot warmer than the rural areas around it because of the dense population of people, buildings and vehicles. Some of the activities for this module include using an infrared camera to view thermal images, and measuring the surface temperature of different insulating materials and coloured metal plates to study the effect of material and colour on heat.
Secondary 2 is the Urban Agriculture module where students learn about vertical farming by visiting Sky Greens, the world’s first low carbon, hydraulic driven vertical farm. They also get to build their own water wheel to simulate the system used by Sky Greens.
The Tier 2 roof garden project is a natural progression for Secondary 3 students who are interested in delving deeper. It’s an opt-in programme and is no longer part of the curriculum so students will have to do their research and speak to industry experts outside school hours.
A green future
Having less free time is no deterrence for 15-year-old Secondary 3 students Matthias Wee and Ong Yun Ting, who both signed up for Tier 2.
Wee is excited about the real-world implications of the project. “The garden will enhance the entire surroundings. Potentially being part of a bigger project that might inspire generations to come is exciting. I want to do my part in changing the world,” he says.
His classmate, Ong, echoes his sentiments: “In Secondary 1 and 2, we didn’t do things that could benefit the school. It was just for ourselves.”
Both of them are also excited at the prospect of working with professionals from DHI. “I’ll get an insight into what the working world will be like. I want to be a scientist. So this will be a good preview to what I will be doing when I’m older,” says Wee.
Although the students did not know much about ALP when the programme first started, they quickly got on board. “When we first got our time table, I was like, ‘What is ALP?’ But it turned out to be a good surprise because we get to do things in groups so we learn to work together with different people,” says Ong.
“We can see science education worked out and how the world utilises it. It gives us a foundation to understanding what the outside world is like. It’s important so that when we grow older, we will understand the problems and can solve them,” says Wee.
Both Wee and Ong admit that going through two years of ALP has changed the way they look at things. “I believe that it has very powerfully influenced me on how the world works,” says Wee. “Being able to look from everyone’s point of view really allows you to see the big picture. It’s an eye-opener.”