Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Singa-Blog 2: Extracurricular settings offer powerful lessons for kids

This is one in a series of blog posts about Executive Director Jenna Bacolor's study trip to Singapore as part of the AAPS Toyota STEAM Delegation

I have to admit, when I was developing a presentation on the value of "informal" or extracurricular settings to share with our Singaporean colleagues, I thought I'd need to make a case from the ground up. I imagined that enrichment would be considered frivolous in Singapore, a country known for its academic rigor and high student achievement. 

Boy was I wrong. 

Day 1: Extracurricular Learning and AAPS's STEAM Framework

On the first day of our study program, the AAPS delegation to Singapore visited the Academy of Singapore Teachers for an orientation to the Singaporean educational system. In the afternoon, Superintendent Jeanice K. Swift, Executive Director of Instructional Technology Merri Lynn Colligan and I gave an overview presentation on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) in Ann Arbor. 

Dr. Swift shares AAPS's framework for STEAM at the Academy of 
Singapore Teachers. Rec & Ed's STEAM offerings fall under "Target." 
I shared key points from the National Science Foundation's Framework for Evaluating Impacts of Informal Science Education Projects. This framework (which does not include the A for Arts) states that extracurricular settings can offer many benefits to students related to STEM concepts and careers: 

Awareness, knowledge or understanding of STEM concepts, processes, or careers
Engagement or interest in STEM concepts, processes, or careers
Attitude towards STEM concepts, processes, or careers
Behavior related to STEM concepts, processes, or careers
Skills based on STEM concepts, processes, or careers 

This information was a preview to the longer presentation I gave the following week called "Extended School Day and Informal Settings for STEAM Opportunities." 

Day 2: Visit to School of Science and Technology (SST)

Enter Mr. Sin Kim Ho, Deputy Director, Ministry of Education Sciences Branch and Mr. Chua Chor Huat, Principal of SST. They quickly put my fears about extracurricular activities not being valued to rest.

In fact, the informal curriculum is highly valued as part of Singapore's "Learning Ecosystem." It includes three areas:

1.  Co-curricular Activities (CCAs): Clubs and sports held after school.
2.  Enrichment classes and programs offered by the Science Center Singapore.
3.  Competitions in physics, robotics, art, etc.

Sound familiar? It should. AAPS offers the same three categories of extracurricular activities. A couple of big differences: in Singapore, participation in a CCA is compulsory for secondary students and they receive a grade based on participation. Also, the Science Center is part of the Ministry of Education and fully funded by it. 

Singapore's informal and formal education settings support STEM-related disciplines. Of equal importance is the ability of extracurricular activities to support development of students' self directed learning, self motivation, resiliency and other skills.  

Here's one example from Mr. Chua:

Science and Mathematics at the Primary Level

Formal Curriculum

Informal Curriculum
1. Co-curricular activities: 
    Green Club 
    Science and Environment Club 
    Media Club

2. Enrichment: provided by Science Center Singapore
    Young Scientist Badge program
    Kitchen Science Lab
    Science in the mall (primary and lower secondary students)
    Science Buskers Festival
    KidsSTOP program

3. STEM Competition
    The Story Creative Science Award
    National Junior Robotics Competition
    The Amazing Science-X Challenge

Spelling out the connection between the formal and informal learning environments would be valuable for AAPS. For too long, we've considered Rec & Ed and K-12 instruction to be on separate islands in our district's learning ecosystem. Our Singaporean colleagues make this connection explicit and value the "soft skills" students develop in extracurricular environments. 

I'm eager to work with my instructional colleagues to create more purposeful connections between Rec & Ed's after school/summer camp STEAM offerings and the AAPS K-12 instructional program. 

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Singa-Blog series: the AAPS delegation visits the Singapore Science Center and is "digested" through an oversized intestinal system.

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