What every parent should know about 21st century learning

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Hot Milo in a ceramic cup. Hot Milo in a metal cup. Which one cools faster and why?

This heat transfer experiment is one of the ways that Townsville Primary School incorporates inquiry-based learning in their Science programme. The school has been building on its Ideas First curriculum to help Primary 3 and 4 students develop understanding, skills and attitudes, while laying the foundation for more complex routes of inquiry down the road.

Building these softer skills will come in handy in the future, especially since the world is changing rapidly. To cope with these changes, students need to be prepared to face the challenges and seize the opportunities created. In this regard, the Ministry of Education has identified the critical 21st century competencies to equip the next generation with the skills needed to flourish in the future.

Research has shown that active learning methods, such as the inquiry-based learning used by Townsville Primary and other Singapore schools, can help students nurture these 21st century skills – students learn to work in teams, solve complex problems and apply the knowledge gained from one lesson in another.

There are many types of 21st century learning strategies, but here are the three most widely used in Singapore.

  • Inquiry-based learning

Students are challenged to ask questions, collect data and start exploring new areas of knowledge and insight. In the heat transfer experiment above, students collected data on the temperature of the hot Milo as it cooled. Eventually, they discovered that the Milo in the metal cup cooled faster, which meant metal was a better conductor of heat than ceramic.

  • Project-based learning

Students learn through a real-life open-ended “project” that they work on. The project can take many forms, and can be a quick project or a lengthier one that spans a whole school term. It often covers a variety of subjects and promotes creative, lateral thinking.

  • Problem-based learning 

Similar to project-based learning, this approach utilises a single-subject problem to promote discovery. Students often work in groups to discuss the facts of the problem, brainstorm solutions, identify learning needs, research and share data. This cycle is repeated until the problem is solved.

What’s more, students learn more deeply when they can apply theories to real-world situations. 21st century learning practices, say researchers, can improve a student’s performance more than any other factor.

After all, Confucius did say: “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”