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Lessons Learned from the Singapore School of Math & Science

Teacherpreneur Ali Wright is participating in the Global Cities Education Network’s symposium in Singapore this week.

On Wednesday, I visited the Singapore School of Math and Science, home to 1,000 of Singapore’s top math and science students. Ranging in age from 13-18 years, the students here have demonstrated early abilities in the areas of math, science, and engineering and are committed to focusing on those areas. The school’s motto is to “nurture well-rounded and world-ready scientific minds to make distinguished contributions as Pioneers, Achievers, Thinkers & Humanitarians.”

Here are some of my take-aways: 

Kids need time and space during the school day to have fun. Throughout my visit, I saw students playing basketball, hanging out in a lounge as a small group playing a computer game- all unsupervised. A school administrator said that it is important to give students the freedom to play in order to help them focus academically.  Above: students enjoying some quality time between lessons.

Even though this is school is home to students who are achieving at very high levels, the students do not take the national exam. High-stakes assessments can be barriers to learning, and in the first few years of the school’s existence, the administrators felt that the national test (and all of the required prep) created a glass ceiling and was actually holding students back. Students in this school are allowed to explore, experiment, and excel at their own learning pace, and teachers have the academic freedom to design and implement their own curriculum. 

Attitudes about academics are important.

As the associate principal said, “Physics should be sexy and cool for high school students.” 

The physical building itself matters.  Throughout the school, there are posters, trophies, and cool mathematical “accents” that inspire student thinking.  My favorite example of this is the math and science achievement “walk of fame” below.

Teachers are experts in their fields and are treated as such.  Over half of the faculty have master’s degrees or higher in their content area, and teach lessons 15 hours per week, giving them time to collaborate, plan, assess student learning, and mentor students during the remaining hours in the workday. Below, a group of Year 3 students (equivalent to high school freshmen in the US) learn how to dissect a sheep heart.

Wow—that visit left my mind spinning. What can we learn from this school? Which of the lessons resonates with you?

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2 Comments

Stephen Schrader commented on November 3, 2013 at 12:58pm:

What about the other students?

Dear Ms. Wright,

After I read your reflection on your visit to the Singapore School of Math and Science, I was shouting hurray!  Hurray for them to have figured out that high stakes testing can impede growth and allowing teachers to create their own curriculum and lessons.  Even though the US department of Education continues to tell us that the students in Singapore are doing so much better than the students in the US, they don't seem to be following their model.  I guess the government in Singapore trusts their teachers and the US government doesn't trust theirs.

I do wonder, you said that this was a school for students who had shown talent in math and science.  I am guessing that this isn't the only high school (secondary school) in Singapore and that there are other schools for these other students.  So what do those schools look like?

Finally do you and your colleagues believe that the students in Singapore excell because of the system nad the curriculum, or is there such a greater difference in the culture and society in Singapore that creates better students?  Thank you for your feedback.

Brianna Crowley commented on November 6, 2013 at 6:56pm:

Cross-Post

Ali,

Thanks for your reflections on the school visit! It baffles me how we (the United States) have so many resources, so much invested in our status as a "world power," and yet seem so stuck in backwards thinking around education. 

I posted your thoughts on CTQ's GOOD.is platform. Hopefully it will generate more awareness and conversation!

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