We tell our kids to “have an open mind” – especially when they’re rejecting asparagus for the umpteenth time – but how often do we show them how? CARL BROWN does exactly that. He’s the Open Minds Coordinator at Canadian International School Lakeside. We talked to him about why he uses Singapore as a classroom, teaching lessons all across the island.
Where are you from?
I’m from England, and this is my tenth year of teaching – eight here at CIS and two back in the UK. I’ve been the Lakeside Open Minds coordinator for three years.
Tell us about CIS’s Open Minds programme.
The programme is unique amongst schools in Singapore. We were the first school here to offer anything like it. It uses innovative and authentic learning experiences in settings outside the classroom to teach kids about the world around them. Kids can learn by reading textbooks or watching videos, but personal experience makes abstract concepts more concrete. Plus, they remember the lesson better. I ask them: Do you remember when we built this or touched or tasted that? They do. Learning this way is more rich and authentic. It encourages creativity and connects their school lessons to the outside world. Ultimately, the kids learn to think and solve problems in open minded ways.
Where have you taken the kids in Singapore?
We go to places like Gardens by the Bay, the Sungei Buloh Wetlands and Bollywood Veggies. Each activity has a purpose and connects back to the curriculum. So, I’m constantly sourcing new sites that connect to their studies.
Give us one example of an Open Minds lesson.
Last week I took a Grade 2 class to Gardens by the Bay to explore how water is transported around a plant and how photosynthesis works. In one activity, we engaged students in a tactile, active game where they were split into teams. Each team member was allocated a job and had to collect a colour block. The blocks represented the different elements involved in photosynthesis, such as sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and chlorophyll. They then acted out how these elements combine to produce glucose. This was a great exercise because instead of showing the students a diagram, it gave students an authentic and memorable learning experience.
How is the programme different than, say, a field trip?
Our offsite activities are much more than a routine school excursion where students simply turn up and walk around looking at things. Instead, students engage in stimulating hands-on activities, such as games, experiments and role playing, like when they step into the shoes of a botanist at Sungei Buloh. Amongst other things, they use their senses – such as smell, touch and taste – to collect their own data, rather than just relying on someone else’s discoveries. Learning from experience, rather than being spoon-fed information, encourages learning ownership.
What can parents expect?
Each year the programme is different, so in that sense they should always expect something new. We’re always adapting and changing it. It’s not a stagnant programme that’s been running for 13 years and never changed.
Who can participate in the programme?
All CIS students in Grades 1 to 6 get to participate. Every child gets four Open Minds experiences over the course of a year.
What do students like most about the programme?
They like that it is completely different to a normal day in class and that they don’t know what they are going to experience. The kids also enjoy being “the expert” for the day. They feel really empowered.
What’s the most rewarding part of the programme for you?
I love to foster a sense of wonder and curiosity in a seemingly mundane or abstract topic. For me, watching a child take risks and connect the dots to find the answer is what it’s all about.
Keen to learn more about the CIS Open Minds programme?
Join an Open Minds outing and experience it for yourself.
When: 9 May from 9am to 10.30am
Where: Sun Pavilion (Cactus Garden) at Gardens by the Bay
What: An Open House day, this is not! Step into the shoes of Dr Plog, Chief Scientist from Mars Space Agency, for a hands-on learning experience. Carl will be on hand to explain the morning’s activities, which will mimic the type of lesson students receive through the Open Minds programme. Light refreshments (coffee, tea, fruit juice and pastries) are provided at a nearby café.
Register to attend here.
Canadian International School
Lakeside campus: 7 Jurong West Street 41
East Coast campus: 371 Tanjong Katong Road
6734 8088 | cis.edu.sg
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