Singapore’s 21st Century education vision of Thinking Schools, Learning Nation has set the precedence for a
change in mindset and teaching paradigm in our local schools and institutions of higher learning. In this issue,
we bring to you a selection of articles by various educators, both local and foreign, on their experiences with the
teaching of Thinking Skills.
Science teachers often complain about their students
thinking and writing, but often do not know what to do to
improve them. Here I describe an exercise that addresses both
challenges at once with first year university students in
a special programme.
Early in a year-long interdisciplinary programme that includes
all sciences, I assigned an article in the current primary
literature [Schwenk, K. (1994). Why snakes have forked
tongues. Science, 263: 15731577]. In the
same week, we asked a simple question in tutorial: Could
a bacterium of a given size sense a concentration gradient
with different parts of its body at the same time, or would
it need a memory? Can gradients be that steep? The
problem is difficult and its answer is interesting. I wont
bother you with those details here; my point is about the
form of the work, not its content. I asked students to write
a paper on the general problems of using information to guide
movement; not just by snakes or bacteria, but by any mobile
animal. Other well-formed, sufficiently open and challenging
problems would serve as well. Each author was also assigned
first and second editorship of two other students papers;
everyone got 3 grades for the exercise.
A secretary date-stamped the submitted papers and gave them
to the first editors. They inserted comments and wrote essays
about the authors conceptual approach, much as scientists
do in reviewing papers for journals. (Most editors had to
interview the authors to be clear enough to respond effectively,
which was revealing.) Editors also rewrote authors papers
for them; what they thought authors would have written had
they expressed more clearly what they were thinking. Authors
re-wrote their papers, second editors reviewed and rewrote
them again, and then the authors produced final drafts and
handed them all to me.
In one night, I commented on the evolution of 65 papers but
judged the quality of only the final drafts. I judged authors
receptiveness to insightful feedback, and commented at length
if editors missed anything important or ideas were so interesting
that I couldnt resist. In both grading and commenting,
I stressed the effectiveness of the author-editor collaborations
in clarifying and strengthening scientific arguments, and
the willingness of editors to serve authors when editing and
not just themselves.
Final drafts were readable, enjoyable, and revealing, and
papers became more distinct from each other as they progressed
through the drafting. The exercise was a monument to editors,
authors, and the community of scholarship we were building.
It was an enjoyable evenings work for me and a lot of
fun and challenge for everyone. Best of all, the students demanded to do a similar exercise the next term.
Science had become part of their lives, and they loved it. (They learned a lot too.)
For more on my general approach to teaching, which emphasises
the development of creativity in students, please see:
- Gass, C.L. (July 1998). Teaching for Creativity
in Science: An Example. CDTLink, 2(2): 67.
Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning, National
University of Singapore.
- Gass, C.L. (2002). Introduction to the special
feature: educating for integration and sustainability. Conservation Ecology, 5(2): 31. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol5/iss2/art31.
For a description of the special programme, please see:
- Benbasat, J.A. and C.L. Gass. 2002. Reflections
on integration, interaction, and community: the Science
One programme and beyond. Conservation Ecology 5(2):
26. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol5/iss2/art26.