As part of their environmental science ALP students have developed their own rainwater harvester from recycled materials. Here’s a team proudly showing how their prototype works! (Photo taken before COVID-19)
У Dazhong initial, environmental sustainability is more than just an applied learning program (ALP). Respect for nature and conservation of the Earth’s limited resources are topics that appear in all subjects, and students come up with their own solutions to environmental problems both in the classroom and outside of it.
We are talking to Mr. Caleb Leong, Head of the Department of Science, who also oversees the Green Makers ALP program at Dazhong Primary School, to find out how this is achieved.
Who are the Green Creators?
We know that climate change will be a major challenge for our generation, and it is important to give children the skills and knowledge of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) to cope with them. That’s why our ALP combines the theme of sustainability with the Maker approach so that all students not only know about environmental issues in Singapore, but also take action by coming up with environmentally friendly solutions and encouraging others to do the same.
So Green Makers were conceived. Through 3As (Awareness, Action and Advocacy) we hope to give our students the opportunity to live up to school values.
Students bring recycled materials for their ALP projects – because they have conversations when it comes to sustainability! (Photo taken before COVID-19)
So what do students actually do?
They do a lot of things related to the topic of sustainability. For example, our 5 primary school students were tasked with designing a rainwater harvester, keeping in mind the constraints that Singapore faces, such as limited land space. This happened after they learned about climate change and the threat it poses to our water supply, so they understood the need and context of the project. Students are given the opportunity to show a natural curiosity to learn more and then apply their knowledge by creating solutions with the principles of design thinking based on 4Ds: Discover, identify, develop and deliver.
Students who are interested in technology, get acquainted with the basics of programming using micro: bit and give the opportunity to participate in competitions to test their creativity. One team built a garbage sorter that used a light sensor to determine if an item was made from recyclable material. When the item is to be recycled, a rotating damper is triggered and the item enters the recycling bin. Another group found a way to reshape an orange peel to make reusable air fresheners for school restrooms. I would say that the imagination of our students is boundless!
Students show how their rainwater harvester works. (Photo taken before COVID-19)
Due to the situation with Covid-19 we also switched to blended learning for our ALP. For example, our faculty conducted some of the ALP sessions through Zoom and Student Learning Space (SLS), where students received sets of solar-powered fans and recycled cardboard to create an energy-efficient classroom model. Even when lessons are held online, our students do not miss the opportunity to build and present their prototypes to their classmates.
The student explains the features of his energy-saving class through video conferencing.
How did students react to such an approach?
I think kids always like to be practical and they value the freedom to create. One way to see their enthusiasm is every year “Challenge to dare”where students create green solutions and shoot TED Talks-style videos to share their ideas with their classmates. This is not a required project, but over 80% of students from P1 to 5 have accepted the challenge and come up with amazing creations from recycled materials such as a candle boat, a self-propelled plant pot and a fully-operational claw machine! It is safe to say that our students are proud to be Green Makers. In our last ALP launch 99% of students answered that they believe they can contribute to the issue of sustainable development in Singapore!
Is it all about technology? And what about “green” aspects such as nature and wildlife?
We also engage students in green issues. It helps that our school has two ecosystem ponds and a Sky Garden where we can teach them to appreciate nature and biodiversity. As part of our extended science curriculum, some teachers bring students to the garden for lessons and make references to what they study in English or science classes.
Another part of our ALP that students enjoy is when they grow their own food. Our school has an indoor aeroponics system, and we recommend that classes take seedlings and monitor the growth of vegetables – which is also related to their science lessons. Students are also guided in creating their own hydroponics system; many were very happy to donate products to school cleaners to thank them for the work they do. The school also has its own house earthworms that help recycle food waste from the canteen. Through these projects, students will learn about Singapore’s Green Plan and Singapore’s food sustainability goals.
Left: Experiments in hydroponics in 2019. Right: our high-tech aeroponics system.
Sustainability is a fairly popular topic in schools today. What do you think makes Green Makers @ Dazhong unique?
I think Green Makers has really gone beyond ALP lessons, so that environmental sustainability is part of our school culture. Teachers who study subjects that are not traditionally related to the environment, such as mathematics, have also found ways to incorporate these topics into their lessons. For example, they made students track the amount of garbage in classroom containers and plot it in different types of graphs so they knew how much they were throwing away. For education and career guidance, we have also invited speakers from the field of green technologies, such as the entomologist NEA, who is involved in the Wolbachia project, to fight dengue to share their experiences. The goal is to show students how sustainability also offers viable career options. We can say that this is the work of the whole school!
Our ALP has also led to valuable partnerships with parents and society.
Volunteer parents and even citizen gardeners from the neighborhood join our school’s scout troupe to maintain and decorate our gardens (where COVID measures allow). We also have a group of dads who bring their families to Saturday cleaning around the neighborhood and sample how we can all contribute to the environment outside of school.
I think these connections to their daily lives and the wider community make our ALP special!
Left: Gardening with community volunteers. Right: Saturday cleaning with the whole family through our “Dads for Life” program.
I wonder what a program of applied learning (ALP) on the environment in high school might look like?
Damai High School teachers share their experiences Building ALP in environmental science from scratch.