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Helping pupils connect science lessons with the real world

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One evening in a tuition class in Bukit Timah, a group of Primary 6 pupils were spending a good 30 minutes releasing toy cars on ramps.

The pupils, who were having tuition at Science Studios Learning Centre, were learning about the conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy as the toy cars moved down the ramps.

Science Studios is among an increasing number of tuition centres that are including hands-on activities in their classes - such as experiments and games - to help their young charges pick up concepts in subjects such as science and mathematics.

There are more than 60 centres that conduct hands-on activities, up from about 30 five years ago, say observers.

This comes at a time when schools are encouraging applied learning to make learning more relevant.

The activities can include dissecting a cow's heart to learn about the circulatory system, building a mirror maze to observe how light travels, and assembling a solar-powered toy car to learn about sources of energy.

Such activities can take 15 to 45 minutes to complete and are integrated into tuition lessons.

While some centres conduct games and experiments every lesson, other centres do so a few times each term.

At Science Studios, each two-hour lesson involves some experiments, such as dissecting flowers to study parts of their reproductive system, as well as observing brine shrimps through a microscope to learn about the characteristics of living things.

These activities, which come with worksheets for students to record observations, break up a lesson into portions, which keeps students engaged.

Mrs Calla Chiang, director of Science Studios, said that science concepts come alive for her pupils in Primary 3 to 6.

"This is in contrast to typical tuition classes in which students simply copy notes from the whiteboard, do repetitive drills and practices... where science concepts are shown only through diagrams in worksheets," she said.

"Students are unlikely to take in much information if they were sitting down continuously over a period of two hours."

Secondary 4 student Jamie Soh, who attends Thinkscience enrichment centre, remembers testing for the presence of starch in leaves during her lessons.

"We did not really get to do it in my school but it will be tested in our examinations, so we have to remember the experimental procedures and results," said the 15-year-old, adding that the activities are more interesting compared with rote learning.

Educators said exam questions these days tend to assess students' application of the concepts and having such experiences gives them a head start over their peers.

Thinkscience director Gabriel Tan said students can recall the concepts and analyse experiment-based questions better.

Mr Justin Leow, head of teaching network at The Learning Lab, said such activities also help students connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world.