Friday, June 19, 2015

Science: On learning and scoring (An interview with Jayce Or)

A few months back, I attended a Primary Math and Science seminar for homeschoolers, conducted by Jayce Or, a fellow homeschooling parent. The seminar helped me to get a better understanding of how Math and Science was taught and tested at the Primary level. While we hope to homeschool through the Primary years, our kids still have to sit for the PSLE, so getting a better understanding of how these subjects were taught and tested was useful. 

Our recent post about the issues of Primary Science education generated a fair bit of debate and feedback, so I thought it would be great to follow up with some posts to guide parents into helping their kids with regards to learning Science. So to start us off, I thought having a chat with Jayce would be ideal, since he is in a pretty good position to advise (you'll understand why, after you read his introduction!). 


Hi Jayce! Thanks for agreeing to share on the blog. For starters, please tell us more about yourself.
I'm Jayce, a teacher and curriculum developer at Mind Stretcher Learning Centre. I just came back from my further studies (Master of Education) at University of Melbourne, Australia. Previously, I was teaching in two primary schools for about eight years. I have always been heavily involved in the school’s science department, especially in the setting and marking of exam papers, and teaching science in practical ways. I was the teacher-in-charge of one of the school’s Science Club and the other school’s Environment Club. I am also a father of four beautiful children, aged 3, 6, 9 and 11 years. My wife and I started home-schooling our kids since 2014, and we are still learning to teach them.  

What do you think are the key problems that contribute to students not faring well for Science?
There are two levels of problems that students face in the subject of Science. Students whose grades generally fall below 40 have weaknesses in the main concepts of the topics that they have learnt, and need to gain a stronger understanding of the key components required in order to improve. The next level of problems that students face are what most parents and even teachers find more difficult to overcome. This has to do with bridging the gap between knowing the scientific concepts, and applying what students know to answer exam questions. 

How would you suggest students approach the learning of Science? Should they use any tips or techniques when studying Science? 
My suggestion towards the learning of science is always to develop the love for science first. Getting kids to see, feel, smell, touch, hear and even taste begins a process of exploration for them to delve deeper into the details of what they are learning. One of the ways that many schools use to help students in learning science is to get them to draw the concept maps of the various topics to give a clearer picture of the main concepts they are required to know.  (Side point: Reading about Science can help too. Click here for a list of great reads on Science and nature!)

Could the questions that occur in a Science paper be sorted into categories requiring different skills? What are the skills required, and are there any points to note on how to approach these different kinds of questions?

A typical Science paper (including PSLE) will comprise of a complete set of questions to assess the concepts and skills required for a student who has been taught through the entire science syllabus. The skill set is listed in the MOE Science Syllabus 2015 and they are as follows: Observing, Comparing, Classifying, Using apparatus and equipment, Communicating, Inferring, Formulating hypothesis, Predicting, Analysing, Generating possibilities and Evaluating. (Side note: You can download a copy of the latest Primary Science syllabus here.)

Questions tested would include a combination of a few of these skills, in order to ensure that students have understood the fundamentals of science and know how to apply it. Approaching these questions would mean that the students have to be clear what types of questions are assessing on which skills. If not, the situation would become likely that the student could end up ‘using a hammer on a thumbtack’.

Is memorization of key words the only way to go, and how can we help students to identify key words in a topic? Do you think tuition classes or enrichment might help in this aspect?
Memorising of key words is not all there is to learning science. The crucial thing is still to understand the concepts, and apply it correctly to the question asked. Tuition classes or enrichment may help to a certain extent. Most of the time, they give more exposure to different questions with the intention to reinforce answering skills and techniques. I am currently planning a parents’ workshop on Science in September, to help parents to guide their kids in the answering of science questions. 

Source: Marshall Cavendish

Are there any good guidebooks/assessments you would recommend? 
If I had one book to recommend, it would be the Science PSLE Revision Guide by Marshall Cavendish (the orange book). The content of the science textbooks from P3 to P6 is contained in one book instead  of being spread across four to eight textbooks, and the key concepts are always in bold for easier reference. Studying the main concepts from this book would be sufficient to cover all the topics for PSLE. 


Thank you so much, Jayce, for taking the time to share with us! Those tips were certainly helpful. 

We do need to focus on cultivating a love for Science in our kids, and then help them to grasp key concepts and attain the various skills required. There is also the need to guide them into learning how to identify the skills and concepts required in questions, so that they can bridge the gap between understanding the concepts and applying their knowledge. We hope to chat further with Jayce, so if you do have any questions on learning Science, please leave a comment!

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