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Applied Learning Programme

Introduction

“The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.”
Swiss Philosopher and Psychologist Jean Piaget

Piaget’s wise words reflect a truth which challenges the existing notions of education within the Singaporean landscape. In its fundamental reconceptualization of the education system here, the Ministry of Education Singapore has already instituted that every primary school here must offer an Applied Learning Programme by 2017. Nan Hua Primary School has proposed and received approval for its flagship Thinking Programme as its Applied Learning Programme since 2014.

At its core, the NHPS Thinking Programme is designed to develop the array of competencies in the MOE’s 21st Century Framework- Civic Literacy, Global Awareness and Cross-Cultural Skills; Critical and Inventive Thinking; and Communication, Collaboration and Information Skills through integrated lessons and distinctive learning experiences. Closely aligned with the school focus as a site where “We Think, We Learn, We Care”, the main goals of the programme are to:

  • Nurture our pupils to become thought-leaders in their own field through the development of multi-faceted thinking skills (Critical, Creative, Applied, Design),
  • Inculcate a spirit of Inquiry and a love for learning through the exploration of natural and social phenomena as avenues of learning,
  • Engage pupils to apply Intellectual Reasoning and Conceptual Understanding as foundations to examine real-world issues and generate solutions,
  • Develop a deep understanding of the human condition and a spirit of empathy towards diverse groups and individuals.

Grounded in theory and contextualized to best meet the needs of the pupils, the NHPS Thinking Programme adopts a multi-pronged Humanist and Holistic approach in the development of Thinking Skills in the pupils.

The programme views Thinking Skills not merely as intellectual exercises but as tools which have far greater application in everyday life. Such skills must integrate with the subject matter found in the academic curriculum to create greater synergy, and extends the pupils’ learning far beyond the sum of its discrete parts. This is accomplished through the alignment of the concepts, skills, paradigms and pedagogies of each discipline with specific elements from the wide array of Thinking Skills and Experiences in our Thinking Programme.

Thinking Skills are also developed through the pupils’ active engagement and experience with the learning situation. The more authentic the learning situation, the more permanent and meaningful the learning will be and the deeper the Thinking Skills will be embedded. Skilled Practitioners of Thinking relevant to each discipline such as Scientists, Applied Mathematicians, and Creators of Language and Cultural Artifacts will be the intellectual Role Models which pupils should aspire towards. Besides Thinking Skills, Universal Intellectual Standards and Intellectual Traits have to be developed as well in order for the pupils to develop sound values to govern their thoughts and actions.

The Benefits of A Thinking Programme

“To alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.”
Brazilian Philosopher Paulo Freire

The benefits of Thinking are almost self-evident, and all civilized peoples and societies define themselves not by their achievements but by their ability to Reason. The greatest challenge that any Thinking course has to face is its impact on traditional assessment in the traditional subject areas. Whimbey’s summative study (1985) demonstrates that when Thinking Skills become an integral part of the curriculum and instructional practice, test scores in academic areas increase. The impact on those scores is perhaps even more significant in an age where educational assessments are geared towards non-routine or non-conceptual testing. Likewise, in an early study on Critical Thinking, Andre (1979) proved that when Reading is taught as a strategy of Thinking, students’ comprehension ability is enhanced. Costa (1984) argues that Thinking courses that are designed with problem-solving strategies generated by students resulted in a corresponding rise in their use of metacognition, a key focus of learner traits in the 21st Century.

Beyond the academic benefits, teaching Thinking Skills to children reduces the occurrence of negative intellectual traits among learners. Presseisen (1985) summarizes the views of leading educational psychologists and philosophers by stating that poor problem-solvers of all ages are inclined to make superficial, sporadic attempts at a solution and poorer thinkers often exhibit a high degree of impulsivity. He notes that effective problem solvers, in contrast, view problems as challenges and are persistent in seeking solutions and if a particular strategy is unsuccessful, they take a different approach. In short, Instruction in Thinking Skills will have lasting benefits. Students will be better able to acquire new information, to examine complex issues critically, and to solve new problems. Two major meta-analyses of the curriculum organization, Kennedy et al (1991) and Abrami et al. (2008) also found that a mixed approach utilizing both general and subject-infused courses was most effective for the development of critical thinking among students. As such, overwhelming evidence suggests implementing a stand-alone Comprehensive Thinking Programme for our pupils to develop Thinking Skills will instil long-term positive habits of mind and examine multi-faceted, inter-disciplinary challenges and solutions.

Programme Model

A Stand-alone Course (Thinking Lessons) which explicitly teaches the tripartite aspects of Thinking, namely Critical, Creative and Applied Thinking, is the core of the Thinking Programme. Working on Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory (1979), the Thinking Programme is divided into 2 core courses:

A)    The Introductory Course is introduced by the age of 9 (Primary 3) once the Concrete Operational Stage is formalized. At this level, the students are introduced to logical thinking as well as basic Critical Thinking and Applied Thinking Skills centred around manipulatives and concrete manifestation of Thinking. Furthermore, Creative Thinking will feature greatly at this stage to enhance the level of innovation and imaginative thinking which many theorists suggest are “schooled” out of them at this critical stage.

B)    The Advanced Course is introduced at eleven (Primary 5), the beginning of the Formal Operational level of Piaget’s Cognitive Development Model. This is a stage where students develop abstract thought but such thoughts are newly present during this stage of development. Abstract Thinking is used alongside the introduction of metacognition to create greater awareness of their thought processes and to properly develop strategies to correct and enhance their reasoning. Along with this, children in the formal operational stage display more skills oriented towards problem solving, often being able to use multiple steps. As such, this stage of the programme introduces abstract problems in which Critical, Creative and Applied Thinking are used comprehensively to examine real-world issues and develop solutions to them.

With these considerations in mind, the programme’s central premise is to work on Thinking lessons to develop Thinking within the individual fields, as well as the intersection of these fields. The culmination of all three aspects lie in the relatively new field of Design Thinking, and will form both as the application of learned concepts and skills throughout the programme and as an evaluation of the Transfer of Thinking Skills into real-life. The Borromean Rings below illustrate the intersection between these three fields and the major Thinking skills introduced in the programme.

Creative Thinking.png

Curriculum Plan for the Thinking Programme

Introductory Programme (Primary 3 and 4)

As mentioned in the earlier section, the key focus of the Introductory Programme seeks to work within the Concrete Operational Stages as proposed by Jean Piaget. As such, the programme introduces in concrete form the manifestation of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking through man-made artifacts and natural design. The mode of learning for Primary 3 revolves around rich media, experiments and experiences, and manipulating replicas of ingenious artifacts, while in Primary 4, stories and artifacts derived from them will serve as the main medium in which these aspects of Thinking are introduced.

Selected Primary 3 Topics
1)    Playing with Fire!
2)    New Energy
3)    Great Inventions across History
4)    Introduction to Droid Programming
5)    Man and the Environment: Improvement by Design
6)    Design Thinking 1: Meeting the housing needs of the Elderly
7)    Imagining the Future
8)    Ghosts and Monsters: Beliefs and Evidence
9)    Pokemon Go Live!: Gaming and their implications in modern society

Selected Primary 4 Topics
1)    Stories: Purpose and Effects
2)    Creative Problem-solving: A Rescue Mission
3)    Puzzles and codes
4)    Pseudo-scientific beliefs and its implications on humanity
5)    World War II and the impact on human lives and beliefs
6)    Child Labour
7)    The History of Education
8)    How do we learn?
9)    Droid Programming Wars!
10)  Plastics and Pollution: Making an instant, biodegradable water bottle
11)  Prejudice and Bias in society

Advanced Programme

The Advanced programme focuses on the transition of the Concrete Operational Stage towards the fossilization of the Formal Operational Stage as theorized by Jean Piaget. As such, it introduces abstract issues and problems which manifest themselves in myriad examples in reality, such as the impact of the Resource Curse in developing nations and how Xenophobia is exploited in politics to its ugliest extent in Nazi Germany. The mode of learning in Primary 5 is situated around problem identification and exploring social issues through discussion and debate. The mode of learning in Primary 6 will be through the pursuit of solutions and developing active plans to solve an existing problem, while engaging in Thought Experiments and philosophical principles. The Programme will result in a culminating artifact or awareness campaign designed by the Primary 6 students as manifestations of their learning during the Post-PSLE period.

Primary 5 Suggested Topics
1)    Terrorism: Cause and Effects
2)    The Art and Practice of Design Thinking
3)    Droid Programming to solve a real-world problem
4)    Mind Games: Anchoring, Illusion of Control, Gambling
5)    “Scientific Discrimination” in Eugenics and their moral implications
6)    Myth-busting: Nutrition, Physics, Social Behaviour
7)    Social Problems Today: Injustice, Poverty, Environmental Degradation
8)    Fake News and their implications
9)    Multi-tasking: What it does to us
10)  Human Behaviour: Bandura, Milgram
11)  Creativity and visualization
12)  Media Issues: Social philosophy and media representation

Primary 6 Suggested Topics
1)    Advertising: Function and Effects
2)    How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
3)    Great Thinkers: Leonardo Da Vinci
4)    Creativity and “Mad” Geniuses: Heath Robinson and Rube Goldberg
5)    Learning to Learn
6)    Critical Literacy: Reading beyond the text
7)    Language and Power
8)    Moral Dilemmas: Heinz, Life-raft
9)    Philosophical Thought Experiments: Ring of Gyges, Plank of Carneades
10)  Problem-solving Project: Design Thinking

Programme Administration

Levels: All Primary 3 to 6 classes.

Frequency and Duration: One 60-minute lesson per fortnight over a 40-week school year. Estimated number of lessons per year: 20

Instructors: 1 Specialist Teacher per class, co-teaching with the class English Language Teacher. The Specialist Teacher will adapt each lesson to the learning needs and interests of the students within the overall principles of the Programme. Students are encouraged to suggest topics of interest to the Specialist Teacher who will in turn develop a Thinking experience based on the class-selected topic termly.

Technological Infrastructure: Full ICT integration using a 1-to-1 iPad-based learning system greatly enhances the Interactive elements as well as amplify the skills and content taught in the programme. Apps range from Classroom Response and lesson delivery (Nearpod), Research (Safari, Encyclopedia), artifact creation (iMovie), Programming (Sphero Edu, Blockly), to even games for Thinking (Rubeworks).

Conclusion

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
British Novelist George Orwell

The greatest challenges faced by our students in the immediate and distant future are issues of values, notably the issues of finding truths amidst seas of lies, the pursuit of personal gains with little regard to the impact on society, and the relevance of Education to them as a human, not merely as a worker-to-be or a mere cog in the larger social machinery. Truly, as educators, we have to hold fast to the fundamental belief that the future can be a better age and that the challenges that confront society and our pupils can be resolved through a firm grounding in constructive thinking and positive values formation. The symbiosis of Critical, Creative and Applied Thinking into a Comprehensive Thinking Programme could and should be a first and important step in equipping our students to confront the challenges they will face and to be the best person they can be. This bold programme of empowerment and engagement, of dialogue and debate, of skill and will, of actions and attitudes, will result in the transformation of the students from passive fatalists to agents of positive change in a better age.

Thinking Programme Contact Person:
Thomas Lim
Lead Teacher (English Language)
Nan Hua Primary School
thomas_lim_kok_tiong@moe.edu.sg

NHPS Thinking Programme Website: www.teachingthinking.education