Mobile Navigation

Learning on a wider stage: Dover Campus is benefiting from the proximity to neighbouring academic institutions

Daniel Orr, Head of High School Geography, Dover Campus
Nathan Hunt, Former Director of Sustainability, UWCSEA
22 June 2015

With Dover Road becoming one of Singapore’s leading educational hubs, Dover Campus is benefiting from the proximity to neighbouring academic institutions. Recent partnerships with academics at National University of Singapore (NUS) and Yale-NUS are providing valuable learning opportunities for students … whether they are studying for IB Diplomas or PhDs. They are also directly contributing to our goals for environmental stewardship on campus.

When two Environmental Science masters students currently studying at NUS needed some land to carry out a field trial on measuring microclimate effects of native trees in an urban environment, Head of Dover Campus Frazer Cairns was quick to see the educational possibilities for Dover students. In return for offering the use of the astro-turf, where our plant nurseries are currently sited, the ‘deal was sealed’ when they agreed to publicise their work to our students and the wider community.

Tal Hertig and Felix Sadlo (studying at ETH, Zurich but on overseas placement at the NUS-Future Cities Laboratory) were keen to fulfil their side of the bargain. Some of the first to benefit from their expertise were the Grade 11 IBDP geographers. An important unit in the Geography course is urban sustainability, part of which involves examining the effects of structures and human activity on urban microclimates, including the ‘urban heat island’ effect. As a result of climate change and the resultant global warming, urban areas may become unbearably hot as a result of this effect. The first step in helping to plan cities of the future is understanding the interaction between human and natural environments, which is what the field study is attempting to contribute to. After visiting the field study, Grade 11 Geography student Camila Fernández Nion said, “It was great to see our Geography syllabus come to life on our own campus. I believe Geography is a subject that holds the key to solving many of Earth’s problems.”

In preparation for their field trip to Melaka in Term 3, the Grade 11 students were also able to gain an insight into using different data collection techniques to find out what effect an urban environment has on localised climate conditions; this was something which they investigated as one of the three case studies they undertook on the field trip.

Middle School Geography students also took up the offer to visit the research. Teacher Sarah Song said, ”The field experiments gave our Grade 8 students an opportunity to observe classroom discussion topics being put into real life action. It was heartening to see the aspirations of our mission statement reflected in the interaction and learning among the students visiting from Zurich and NUS and those from our community at UWCSEA. Tal and Felix were impressed by the depth of understanding apparent from the questions posed by the students. A great experience for all!”

Tal and Felix will also be talking to students carrying out Extended Essays in Science, as their knowledge of experimental design is invaluable for Grade 11 students planning their studies. Frazer Cairns adds, “We benefit greatly by our students working alongside the researchers and in helping to take measurements we hope that their enthusiasm for practical research will be fired. We can also learn a great deal ourselves about how we can manage our immediate environment, and it is interesting to note that a partnership developed between UWCSEA and researchers from ETH through an earlier experiment we hosted, contributed to the design of the new High School block. As a result the building will be one of the most energy efficient buildings in Singapore.”

The second partnership project is with Yale-NUS, the new Liberal Arts College, and is also based on tree research. Assistant Professor Dr Michiel Van Breugel is a tropical forest ecologist keen to link his own studies with the work of UWCSEA’s Rainforest Restoration Project. With help from doctoral student Hao Ran Lai and Assistant Director of Singapore Botanic Gardens Elango Velautham, Dr Van Breugel has designed an experiment in our tree nurseries to examine the responses of tree seedlings with various characteristics to different light levels. It is hoped that the data can then be used to help guide species selection for reforestation programmes in this region. The work will be carried out by our students working directly with the Yale-NUS team, and hopefully also involve interested parents and staff. Dr Van Breugel says this “is a great opportunity to pilot a real citizen science collaboration and make a genuine contribution to much needed reforestation research.”

While the emphasis of both of these projects is on learning, clearly both could have very real outcomes for improved environmental stewardship in South East Asia. And even better, both will leave a legacy of enhanced native biodiversity on Dover Campus, as many of the tree specimens (some of which are classified as critically endangered on the IUCN’s Red list) will be planted out here this coming year.

Finally, one more recent collaboration took advantage of the fact that some of our students have parents who work next door! For the Grade 11 Theory of Knowledge (TOK) Miniweek in January, Dover parent and Professor of Science at Yale-NUS, Brian McAdoo contributed to our lecture series on Integrating Knowledge for Human Understanding. Professor McAdoo’s presentation Trans-disciplinary Approaches to Disaster Risk Reduction might sound like a subject at an academic level way beyond our IB Diploma students, however the interactive style of the presentation and its direct relevance to their studies proved highly useful to them. Not only did Brian’s talk illustrate that a true understanding necessitates integrating thinking from different subject areas (a key premise of the TOK course), but it also served to show that without deliberate integration of local and academic knowledge, the humanitarian projects that the students Global Concerns groups are involved in will rarely be successful.

As the main purpose of a UWCSEA education is to learn how to shape a better world, all three of these partnerships help us to put our mission into practice. As teachers and students we feel very privileged that our university neighbours are so willing to work with us to achieve this.