Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ways to teach Science in schools

I came across an intersting article by Kartikeya V. Sarabhai where he has demonstrated via an example how kids could be involved in scientific learning.


Learning Science

About 20 years ago, my colleague from Vikram A. Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VASCSC), Jayshree Mehta and I used to go to teach once in a week or so in a school in Rajoda village near Ahmedabad. This was a part of our effort to understand how science and mathematics were being taught in schools, and how children learn. I would like to describe an incident from this experience, which was a very important lesson to me in terms of how to teach.

One day, we gave a multiplication problem to the students. The problem was simple: what is 25 X 5. We expected that some would get it right and some would get it wrong. What surprised us was that the answers fell into four clusters. One group gave the right answer, viz. 125. And the three wrong answers, each given by a group of children, were 30, 45 and 105.

We asked the children to make groups based on the answers they had given. We asked each to explain how they had arrived at their answers. The operations that the 3 groups with wrong answers had carried out were:
·         The group with answer ‘30’ had just added. In other words, they did not know what multiplication was, or how to carry out the operation.
·         The group with ‘45’ as answer had started by multiplying. They had even carried over ‘2’. But they had forgotten or did not know that the second digit too had to be multiplied. They had added the second digit to the carry over digit.
·         The group with ‘105’ as answer had carried over ‘2’ but forgotten to add it.

We asked the teacher what she did when students made mistakes in the multiplication lesson. She told us that she made them repeat the concerned multiplication table eight times. 
When we discussed the analyses of the class performance with her, it was obvious that no child had made a mistake because he or she did not know the multiplication table. Rather, it was to do with not understanding the process of multiplication. So repeating the tables would not really help.
The teacher appreciated the point and we set about teaching each of the groups individually, based on the mistakes the group had made. And sure enough, within a fairly short time, the whole class could actually multiply.
There are many lessons for educators. Unless we understand where we are not communicating, we cannot help learners. It is necessary to bring the method of science to the teaching of science. Rather than assuming why the children are not learning and take “corrective” action based on this, it would probably be better to observe the children and set up a hypothesis as to why children have not learnt a concept, then actually try to scientifically test and validate it, and then proceed from there.

Kartikeya V. Sarabhai
Centre for Environment Education

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