Saturday, August 23, 2008

NUS High School of Science and Maths

Thursday 21 August
We have just arrived in Singapore after a straight forward night flight from Frankfurt. The flight was packed and the plane was a bit interesting. Just after take off the oxygen masks on the row of seats across the aisle from me came down. They couldn't put them back so hd to evacute those seats. I then had to use a piece of cord I had to tie up the storage flap in front of me because it was broken and hung against my knees.

I then discovered that my reading light did not work. Then the guy's seat diagonally in front of me would not go up after reclining so the poor guy behind him was getting annoyed. The plane also rattled alot.

It was terrible to hear of the air crash in Madrid that must have occurred while we were somewhere in transit.

We're all resting up now before heading out for an exxplore and some tea. Tomorrow morning we are meeting with a local principal who has a curriculum strong in the sciences and whose buildings hve been influenced by the current guru on learning spaces, Prakesh Nair

NUS High School of Maths and Science
Today Terry, Dallas and I visited the National University of Singapore High School of Maths and Science. It opened in 2005 and is a government initiative aimed at targetting gifted students who excel in maths and science. It's motto is “Experiment. Explore. Excel” and has a strong culture of research. Students have to submit a thesis to graduate.

Secondary students in Singapore sit A Levels and O Levels but sitting two external examinations wastes learning time so some schools have been given permission to sit only O Levels. NUS High School students sit neither but complete an NUS Diploma which is recognised by Singapore's Universities and from prestigious universities throughout the world.

Our students are epected to complete three years of external qualifications!

We were hosted by GOH Hock Leong who is the Director of the Office of Research Innovation and Enterprise for the school and Dr SEAH Wee Khee who is the Head of that department.

We were ggiven an overview of the history of the school's creation, its philosophy and some information about its curriculum and structure. They run a modular structure which is made up of core, elective and enrichment modules. Only core and elective modules are graded.

Learning takes place within three contexts: classroom (though this involves tutorials and group problem-solving discussions and very little lecturing), field (including at least one international experience in their time at school) and independent (self study, peer tutoring and research projects).

Students have had their work published in academic journals and presented at international conferences alongside PHDs and professors.

The key elements of their curriculum are: differentiated, compacted (don't do stuff they already know), small group discussion and peer tutoring, research focused, relationship centred and pro-risk taking.

We went for a tour of their school which included to one of only three observatories in Singapore, their boarding hostel, where all students must stay in their 5th year to concentrate on their research project, their library, some classrooms and their impressive concourse which is a covered, open space where students gather, hook up their laptops to power points in the floor, and where there is a timeline in the floor of major scientific and mathematic discoveries.

Tables and chairs were set up outside the staffroom so that students and teachers could meet to discuss work and issues. A student common room sppace existed in a covered outdoor area, and there were gardens in available open spaces. The netball and tennis courts were on the roof, soon to be covered by more science labs to be built above them and the canteen is beneath the 400m synthetic track!

Once again we have come across a model which has at its centre differentiated learning with all students working with mentors to develop their own Independent Learning Plan based around real life issues and problems which the students see as authentic and relevant to them. Teachers act as facilitators to help them experiment, explore and excel.

It has also been reinforced to me that the actual spaces and atmosphere created by them play a big impact on the learning approach and motivation of the school.

We need to convince the Ministry of Education that we must rebuild most of Opotiki College. Our request will have more chance of success if we embrace the required pedagogical changes and do what we can with what we have.

1 comment:

winstedt said...

I think it's customary in diverse countries to oblige students to submit a thesis in order to graduate. Otherwise only collecting enough course credits would be the only criterion.

I think that the scientific angle might date back to English domination and its culture at the universities, where theses are sometimes the ways to pass the courses.