‘I am a Young Sustainability Champion’ and ‘I am a Young Geospatial Scientist’ are two of the newest badges that primary school students can strive to collect when they take part in the Young Scientist Badge Programme, which is still going strong after 40 years. Hear from Programme champion Beatriz Fernandez, once an ardent badge collector who now has a career in Science.
Ms Fernandez donning the four Young Scientist badges she had earned back in school on her Science Centre jacket.
It has been 40 years since the Science Centre Singapore (SCS) introduced the Young Scientist Badge Programme (YSBP) and Beatriz Fernandez knows it well. The SCS life sciences educator recalls completing activities and collecting the corresponding badges with gusto as a child, and eventually feeling so inspired by the programme that she would take up Science as a career.
YSBP offers 21 badge programmes today, and over one million young scientist badges have been awarded; it is a signature primary science programme with enduring and endearing values that many adults are able to identify with even today. It also introduced the concept of self-discovery in science, which proved quite the novelty in primary schools in the 1980s.
Schoolbag caught up with Ms Fernandez, who is an educator and YSBP taskforce champion at SCS. She shares from personal experience how the Programme continues to empower self-directed learning to shape the next generation of young scientists.
Ms Fernandez explaining aerial roots to the participants of a Young Ecologist workshop.
What are your memories of the Young Scientist Badge Programme?
My teacher at Teck Ghee Primary School introduced me to YSBP. Back then, I had no idea that I was actually engaged in self-directed learning as I simply had a lot of fun drawing posters, making models and collecting insect specimens in my quest to complete four badges – I am a Young Zoologist, I am a Young Entomologist, I am a Young Environmentalist, and I am a Young Mathematician.
Earning the last of those badges took me by surprise as I never liked Math as a student! And so mum was quite proud of me when I came home with that badge in particular.
What impact did it have on you?
The exposure to a variety of sciences enabled me to discover my passion and love for nature at a young age and emboldened me to pursue that as a career.
I went on to study environmental biology and am today a life sciences educator at SCS, where I teach nature science programmes to school groups and conduct Young Scientist workshops for the public.
Recently, I worked on a young scientist programme involving geospatial sciences and information systems – which was a rather unconventional field of science for me – but given the early training in attempting such things, I knew I might get through it if only I tried. And guess what? I did!
Students at an upcycling workshop and turning an old T-shirt into a reusable bag. They are on their way to earning their ‘I am a Young Environmentalist’ badge.
How are such experiences curated?
The badges are curated by teachers, researchers and educators versed in the primary Science curriculum – covering a wide array of sciences, from nature-science ones such as ‘I am a Young Ecologist’ and ‘I am a Young Marine Biologist’, to STEM-related ones such as ‘I am a Young Engineer’ and ‘I am a Young IT Whiz’, to the Physical Sciences ones such as ‘I am a Young Chemist’ and ‘I am a Young Physicist’!
Two of our newest badges are also pretty special and multi-disciplinary: The ‘I am a Young Sustainability Champion’, which was developed in collaboration with Temasek Foundation, and ‘I am a Young Geospatial Scientist’, developed in collaboration with Singapore Land Authority.
A variety of activities are designed for every badge and are assigned different levels of difficulty. Easy tasks are worth one point – like writing a poem or finding information, while tasks that are worth three points would invariably require more effort – like going on field trips, designing experiments, and recording observations over a period of time.
The submitted record of completed activities would then be verified and approved by the Singapore Association for the Advancement of Science (SAAS). The Association is a constituent member of the Singapore National Academy of Science and works together with SCS to promote and popularise science.
What’s your role in all of this?
As a leader of the Young Scientist Taskforce, I get to view the submissions by students, interview some of the young scientists, design and facilitate workshops as well as prepare annual virtual ceremonies!
The Young Scientist Badge Scheme is open to all primary school students who can sign up for the programme here. Registered students can sign up for Young Scientist Workshops which are open to 10-12-year-olds and listed online.
SCS also organises activities to complement the ones that students do on their own in their quest to score a badge. The Friday Stargazing sessions help them earn Young Astronomer points while self-guided trails at SCS like the Young Ecologist Trail help students earn the ‘I am a Young Ecologist’ badge.
A student testing a handmade telescope, part of an activity which counts towards the ‘I am a Young Astronomer’ badge.
How does the Programme encourage self-directed learning?
Most of the badge activities are linked to the Ministry of Education’s Science syllabus. Even so, YSBP encourages curiosity and the joy of self-discovery through self-directed learning beyond what is tested in school. This happens organically as students explore badges and attempt activities of interest, taking charge of their own learning.
Such exposure creates a mindset of openness to learn new things and cultivates pro-activity, independence and responsibility – which are highly desirable leadership qualities that students can hone.
How can parents encourage self-directed learning at home?
Be open to your child’s curiosity and questions. Facilitate the process of them finding out answers for themselves, instead of providing the answers. This can be done by allowing experimentation to take place in the home! You’ll be surprised at the enthusiasm and interest of your children to learn new things and you might even learn something new from them!
What would you say to budding young scientists out there?
Don’t be afraid to try something new because you will never know if you like it till you try it! Initiatives like the YSBP give you a lot of opportunity to explore and learn many new things, so take advantage of that and collect as many badges as you can!
The Young Scientist Badge Programme (YSBP) was first launched as the Primary Science Activities Club by scientists and educators at The Singapore Association for Advancement of Science (SAAS), The Science Teachers Association of Singapore (STAS) and Science Centre Singapore (SCS). YSBP turns 40 this year and a suite of promotions like the launch of an alumni as well as fun activities parents can do with kids at SCS among many more, have been planned for the year ahead.
By Thomas Danny Jeyaseelan, Media & Communications Manager, Science Centre Singapore