An Interview with Shirleen Tan

Shirleen Tan has almost 15 years of experience teaching Science and English. Through the years, she has curated teaching materials exclusively used for her small group lessons. She started her teaching brand under ‘Sowing Seedz’ where teaching methods and valuable tips are shared to enhance the learning experience.

Shirleen is the author of Complete Study Guide: AL1 PSLE Science Lower & Upper Blocks. This book is carefully curated to support your child’s learning in Primary School. The Primary Science topics (following the latest MOE syllabus) are segmented into D.I.C.E.S. – Diversity, Interactions, Cycles, Energy and Systems respectively – for easy revision and memory retention. This study guide is suitable for use from Primary 3 right up to Primary 6.

Today, Shirleen shares more about preparing well for PSLE Science exams.

About your book

Complete Study Guide: AL1 PSLE Science Lower & Upper Blocks by Shirleen Tan

Q1: What is the best way to leverage all 4 parts of this book effectively and comprehensively for Science revision?

In exam preparations for any subject matter, starting revision early is the key to ensuring maximum learning.

Look through the contents page to understand the topics from the Lower Block right up to the Upper Block.

You may make annotations beside the topics to indicate which level the topics are at, to get a bird’s eye view of the whole syllabus. For example: Materials (Lower Block, P3), Interactions, Forces (Upper Block, P6).

Q2: Is mind-mapping an important tool for Science revision?

Mind-mapping captures the essence of each topic, and it is one of the more powerful tools to use for memory retention.

Q3: How can students become better at critical thinking?

The attitude and mindset are very important. Learn to take ownership: admit your mistakes when needed and move on.

Accept that there is more than one way to get the answers, and if you think your answers are acceptable, seek clarification instead of just accepting the ‘model answers’.

Q4: What are some important Science concepts that students must understand when revising for their Science exams?

They must learn to OATS:

  • Organise your thoughts, especially when reading Science questions. Ask yourself, which topics/levels are the questions from?
  • Analyse the questions. Are the questions direct or indirect? What concepts are the questions testing on?
  • Think. Mentally visualise the topics/concepts taught before. Are you familiar with them? If yes, then attempt the questions. If not, go back to your study materials, revise, and try again.
  • Solution. Answer the Science questions after going through O, A, T. The steps will encourage you to think critically.

Q5: Can you share what examiners typically lookout for as good answers in PSLE Science?

I would use OATS to reference. Teachers will check for ORGANISATION (if a child is able to organise his/her thoughts well), ANALYSIS (identify the question structure), THINK (understanding the concepts tested), and SOLUTION (answering with key words or Science vocabulary).

Q6: How can parents help their children develop independence and a sense of ownership for self-learning?

Create a timetable for them to refer to or the list of things to do daily. Parents may set objectives and aims. Children may set their commitment to complete the tasks. Both sides need to agree.

Depending on the child, parents can decide on the amount of intrinsic (praises, stickers) or extrinsic (screen time, sweet treats) rewards to use to motivate the child.

About Yourself/Work/Expertise

Q1: Why did you choose to teach Science and English?

I grew up reading a lot, thus, I had the natural love for the language. 

Science is a subject that I grew interested in when I was in Secondary school, especially the Science experiments. 

I actually love Chinese too, but unfortunately, in NIE, one can only choose one language.

Q2: Can you share what are some of your teaching methods that enhance the learning experience?

I am a hands-on and visual learner. Thus, my lessons are very much based on the principles I believe in. 

Writing is an acquired skill that is not achieved overnight. Hence, I also teach writing right from Primary One. For my lower primary students, to encourage them to love writing, I will have hands-on crafts related to the topics and allow them to unleash their creativity on the art pieces before lesson proper.

I use interesting newspaper articles for upper primary students and have lively discussions with them. From there, students can draw real-life scenarios to use for their composition writing. 

Q3: How have the Science and English curricula evolved over the last decade?

MOE’s call for the removal of academic tests has led to a shift in the test rubrics for English. There is a higher emphasis on non-academic skills like “Show & Tell”, “Oral”, “Listening Comprehension”, right from Primary One. 

For Science, there is also an attempted shift to test students using hands-on, experimental tests for many schools.

Q4: Can you share some highlights of your holiday workshops?

During pre-COVID-19 days, English workshops were hands-on and were either craft-related or food-related. Writing-related activities would allow students to understand the aspects of writing.

For Science, there are hands-on experiments where students get to tinker, play, analyse and  and also take them back. Question related to the experiments will allow them to make connections and cement their learning.

Q5: What are some best practices in revising for PSLE?

Some of the best practices are as follows:

  1. Have a timetable or schedule drawn up at the start of the year.
  2. Pencil in your school’s exam dates and PSLE dates in a calendar.
  3. Work out a revision plan. Give yourself some deadlines to complete certain tasks—have a buffer for unexpected events like falling sick.
  4. After examinations, have a reality check and see what gaps need to be plugged. Clarify immediately with your parents, teachers or tutors.
  5. Amidst revising past year papers, carve out some quality time to exercise, rest and ensure you have a well-balanced diet.
  6. Sleep early before the exams. De-clutter your mind before sleeping.

Q6: Having taught for 15 years, what is the number one piece of advice you would give to students taking the PSLE?

I always tell my students ‘No Big Deal’. In life, there are ups and downs. If one does not do well in PSLE, ‘no big deal’. Pick yourself up and do better for the next level. I share my life story about scoring average marks in PSLE, doing well in O-Levels, not doing well in A-Levels, and then doing well in NIE. The most important thing is to try one’s best and not have regrets.

In my years of teaching, some students can be really hard on themselves, and my sharing did help them to relieve some stress, and they learn that it is not always about results.

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