TAKE AWAY THE UPPER LIMIT – Treating students as a scientist pushes them far beyond school curriculum

Did you have a chance to conduct research in university labs when you were in secondary school?

Here is a school located at the center part of Singapore, Clementi Town Secondary School, where science teacher send their students into a lab in university.  Mrs. Rachel, a science teacher at Clementi Town shared with us their initiative in partnership with National University of Singapore and how students have been trained in this unique experience.

Not only intellects, but communication skills are what is required 

In Clementi Town Secondary School, a talent development programme was started from 2011 by teachers’ initiatives to further challenge students by exposing them to applied science beyond textbook and have them try solving problems in the society. That is called Science-in-Action Science Mentorship Programme – SiA-SMP, which is one of the ways their Science Department seeks to further deepen the understanding in science of scientifically literate Clementeen. “What is unique about this project is that it aims not only to stimulate their intellectual curiosity, but also to form their character and train their will.  Students in this programme are most likely to be at the forefront of research in the future. It means they will need to collaborate with others, think creatively and critically to try solving challenging yet exciting problems ” says Ms. Racheal.  This is why multiple facets of criterion is be applied to the selection process. Students are required not only to get good scores in related subjects but also to pass communication exercise and interview to judge whether the students are capable to work well in team. Only 10 students from Sec 3 and 4 are selected to to conduct research in university lab in the programme.

On the job training to become a scientist 

The program is very intensive. They go to university lab two times a week, four to five hours per day after school. Especially during June and end of year holiday season, students work in a lab everyday. During the visit, students are treated as a scientist. They work in a same research project together with university students. “In order to assist students, I try to ask questions a lot throughout the process. Talk to them a lot and guide them to think WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHERE and HOW. By this, students can get used to discuss in groups, going  outside and plan experiments by themselves”. Often, students obtain “negative” results that do not fit hypothesis. What is important is that this apparent “failure” is also a result. Students were at first quite taken aback as they are used to working hard and getting results. It took them sometimes to realise that working hard does not always lead to the intended results. Letting students work on beyond textbook, they try to find answers to their research question. 

Next change is to step out of their comfort zones 

Mrs. Rachel believes changes of students through this programme are very important. They are forced to step out from their comfort zones, to realize their passion, and to be able to work in team. After graduation, many students pursue their career in universities or polytechnic in the field of Science or Medicine, and she believes that the skills and knowledge they gained through the program would surely benefit them in their future path. One aspect is their outgoingness. Ever since they started the programme, they become more willing to try out conferences to share research achievements. In March 2017, Clementi teams joined SCIENCE CASTLE in SINGAPORE with a research titled “How Post Translational Protein Modification of tumour suppressor Fumarase affect its enzymatic function”. Not only sharing such a forefront research working with university, they could open their mind to new ideas by meeting new friends from Malaysia and Japan, which add to their experiences.

Comments from alumni

Looking back, SiA-SMP posed a huge mental challenge to me and has helped me to grow as an individual. Through the programme, I have gained not just technical skills and knowledge but also invaluable skills such as accepting failures and learning from them, time management and being able to think under high amounts of stress. Being in SiA-SMP provided me a foundation to life science research, which has proved to be extremely helpful in coping with my (current) diploma studies in Biomedical Science. – Andrea Chua, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, School of Life Sciences and Chemical Technology, 2013-2014 batch

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: