Anubhava Program for Enriching Science teaching
Anubhava Science Foundation (ASF) in collaboration with Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology (KSCST), IISc inaugurated Teacher's Enrichment Programme on 15th June 2016 with support from The Centre for Sustainable Technologies (CST), IISc.
A year long course for teachers teaching Science began on 15th June till 18th June from morning 9am to 4pm. This will be followed by monthly one day sessions till April 2017 and couple of more sessions in the month of October and April.
Venue : CST Conference room, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bengaluru
Inauguration on 15th June 2016
When teachers became enlightened students !
Seeing them place buttons on a cardboard to show electronic/atomic configuration, or simply burn paper to display a chemical change, the involvement and enthusiasm of the participants was an eye opener. Popular notions of government school teachers as a bunch of lazy, dispirited lot hadn’t prepared me for what I saw during four long days.
The class of 45 odd government school teachers ranging from ages 30 to nearing 60 were no different from enthusiastic students in any classroom… they sat in rapt attention, answered all at a time to a question and did the experiments like children given new toys.
Handling the sessions were instructors from Anubhava Science Foundation, whose primary objective is teacher upskilling in science and math education. The engrossed class was proof of the team’s engaging communication skills and subject expertise. The June 2016 workshop was part of a year-long teacher enrichment programme to be conducted in collaboration with the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology.
Puzzled at first on why very simple and basic stuff was being spoken of in class, the picture became clear as sessions went on. Reflecting the general picture, most of the teachers did not have a degree in science. Around half the class had completed schooling and gone on to teach, while the others are graduates in arts. A handful had done their graduation in science.
In classes 4 to 7, teachers in most government schools are expected to teach all subjects! In many schools, there are less than three teachers to take all the classes and subjects. Their understanding of science is mostly from fragments of definition remembered from school days, decades ago. Since then, science has advanced into the world of quarks and gluons and bosons. But for these teachers, it has stood still with a few words and definition.
In the hands-on session, many struggled to place their electrons and nucleons simply because they did not know to read the periodic table. Made one sad to realize what the system is denying to a large fraction of our children.
The eagerness of the teachers to learn however proved that this is not a lost case as much as a shelved case. Given the right training, these teachers can be turned into fully equipped resource persons. If only the need is acknowledged.
The other reason why it looked too simple was that the modules are prepared to induce concept-oriented learning as against text-book based memorising. A lot of discussions peppered with activities was how the four days were planned and executed.
The sessions on matter, atoms, force and motion and density saw instructor Geetha Arvind nudge the class in the right direction using questions and simple experiments designed to encourage thinking and demonstrate concepts.. eg., ‘air has matter and occupies space’ was proved using a bottle, funnel and water! Or the application of density concept demonstrated using naphthalene bobbing up and down in soda.
Now how many from top end schools can state lucidly that the state of matter depends on three aspects – arrangement of particles, their movement and forces of binding to each other? Even if they can, what is often missing, as Geetha notes is, the step by step approach of looking at the three states of matter at the particle level, and then to derive the concept of shape and space and finally assign names to the states. “Here naming is given less preference than understanding the concept .. In traditional approach, naming is given the priority and then follows the definition.”
Handling abstract aspects like what is matter, and particles... to tricky questions like ‘does light occupy/capture space’ evoked mixed replies and arguments, till all agreed (on some prompting) that it does not, because light does not displace earlier occupant.
The states of matter were then examined for what can be compressed/expanded and what cannot be, in order to understand what happens during expansion and why some matter cannot be compressed.
Geetha stressed time and again to the teachers not to bring in new concepts not yet explained when discussing any topic, nor to take on more than one at a time. Just as she led them step by step from ‘objects’ which can be created and destroyed to ‘matter’ which cannot be created or destroyed, to ‘particles’ to atoms, nucleus and the constituent electron, proton and neutron.
A useful step appreciated by teachers was the new concept of a mind map (as against lesson plan) to put all the related ideas around a subject in a kind of flow chart with many branches and offshoots. Noting that there were different ways to put the points, Geetha stressed to her ‘teacher students’ that it was about getting the best flow.
So also when asking participants to share what they learnt with other teachers at school, the young IIT post-grad in math and computer science pointed out how teaching is the best way to learn. “When you discuss, you will come up with more doubts, which you can bring to our next class next month. We do not know all the answers but let’s discuss.”
The difference between physical and chemical process in which the objects retain their original characteristics or do not, a little history on Democritus, Proust, Lavoisier, Dalton and Mendeleev to show how scientific enquiry developed into the modern day understanding of the universe, and then to motion and force.
Teachers were confused on how to differentiate between force and energy… lot of debate ensued. Geetha watched indulgently and then finally put it simply ‘energy is needed to apply force”.
From there to different kinds of motions using objects like a ball and a paper cup tied to a string and then to explain the difference between speed and velocity using concepts of displacement and direction was the job for the third day.
Why does the coin on a carom board eventually stop? Force is less, board is rough, etc came the replies. The ideal situation was applied where the board is smooth and the force is adequate, and yet the coin stops. That was how friction was smoothly brought into the discussion! Next step was to ask why there was friction at all. A few words on the structure of the surface explained that.
Simple experiments like a weight pulled on a smooth and hard surface showing different weights due to friction took some time to be understood, while a more exciting one with one of the facilitators Bhama Sridharan (a double post-grad in computer science) doing the famous ‘Leaning tower of Pisa experiment’ by dropping two similarly shaped objects of different masses simultaneously (to show acceleration due to gravity is same on all objects) elicited much excitement and saw onlookers keenly watch out!
The last day saw the introduction of another abstract aspect –density. Using the idea of particle arrangement and mass of each particle, the differences between various objects was discussed. Like a stone, sponge, chalk, water and gas. Why do some objects sink in a liquid while others float? Again, the replies varied from ‘it is heavier’, to shapes, etc. The idea of unit volume of a substance was introduced and finally the formula governing density. Naphthalene rising and sinking in a glass of soda puzzles the class till the answer is finally given away – of changing volume of the object due to the bubbles that accumulate on its surface!
Problems like deriving the chemical formula from atomic mass and the proportions of elements in it made for some brain racking sessions.
Pre-tests saw most participants answer meticulously, with a few indulging in discussions (the eternal struggle not to be outsmarted!)
Take- home assignments for the next month – mind maps for the topics covered, doubts encountered in class, etc were also noted down religiously.
Words are important, as Geetha said more than once, whether in illustrating the difference between an element and molecule, often used interchangeably, or in the more common interchange of steam and smoke.
Formula and definition are not as important as showing kids what you mean, she told the teachers. “Don’t talk. Just do the experiment and let them watch and then bring in the concepts.” She also handed out advice like telling them not to stop with a few students giving the right answer, but to work on those with the wrong answers to make them think it out.
There was a sense of camaraderie and humour in class all four days, yet no fooling around. The conversational tone using colloquial language for communication made it easy to connect.
Sometimes the discussions failed to arrive at a conclusion. For instance, when trying to decide if wood was a mixture or compound. But as Geetha told her class, sometimes one may not immediately have the answers and experiments too may flop. “You have to reason out what could be the problem.” She left the class with a few answers hanging, saying “think and find out”.
Simple experiments with inexpensive and easily available items highlighted the workshop. To show density varying with volume, a coin tightly wrapped in a cover was used to show it sinks while the same cover puffed up with air floated. Air expands was simply demonstrated by heating a test tube with balloon fitted to it. The balloon filled up with heating.
The bits of cardboards, stones and used sachets were collected back after the experiments, showing a diligence in re-using the resources.
When doing science, especially the physical sciences, how can one do away with Math? Not possible. That is why the session had a daily dose of an hour of relevant topics in Math like fractions and ratios, proportions, factors and multiples, area and perimeter.
Here again the focus was on understanding the concept or idea behind the word more than the equation or formula. A simple question like ‘is 1:2 same as fraction ½’ can easily floor many of us. Most were inclined to say it was the same till instructor Kshama helped discern the difference using shading to show how in the ratio, the whole is 3 while in the fraction it is 2.
Direct and inverse proportions were introduced using the relation between speed, distance and time. From a game of ‘masala, dosa and masala dosa’ evolved the least common multiple. Arrangement of a given number of squares to form as many different sized rectangles as possible bought home the concept of factors. Since the LCM has no upper end to it, the least one is opted for while with the HCF which ends in the number itself, the highest is picked.
Lot of confusion prevailed with most disagreeing that a square is also a rectangle, till Kshama Chakravarthy, a post-grad in Math from IIT, and MA in Education from Azim Premji University, emphasised that the definition merely says ‘opposite sides are to be equal’ and this was true for a square!
The idea of area was made clear using tiny bits of squares to estimate the shape with bigger area. Using stones and five questions around factors and multiples with direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, the two groups had some good fun. With Math!
Teaching math in Kannada was not without its challenges, as Kshama pointed out later. “Multiples and Factors mean something in English because they are used colloquially and their meaning is more or less the same in Maths. But with words like ‘apavarthya’ and ‘apavarthana’ in Kannada, one doesn’t know what is what and this leads to blindly memorizing them. Language is also crucial in the understanding of a concept! In such a case how can we blame children for not ‘remembering’ the words?”
Drawing graphs was another practical lesson with everyone participating eagerly. “We never knew the concepts behind these words like ratio or hcf,lcm. Nor that math could be so interesting,” observed a group.
And finally, there were the practical real-life issues taken up by KSCST scientists who spoke on rainwater harvesting, need to involve community in reviving old water bodies and the urgent actions on energy conservation and renewable energy.
If A R Shivkumar spoke on how city-zens are wasting rainwater which could easily cater to the needs of a city like Bangalore, on the purity of rainwater and the ease of harvesting it, then Vijay U T painted a grim picture of decline of kalyanis in the state and what the institute has been doing to help in building beneficial policy. Vishnu Chinagundi drilled home the message of global warming and energy conservation while touching on how renewables can help. Queries and observations from the engrossed class were many, despite the sessions eating into lunch time.
Some contradicting observations: while few teachers said the text books were too lengthy and the workshop had made the topics shorter and clear, some others said that the workshop mode of explaining concepts in-depth was interesting but would require more time than available, given the onus of syllabus completion!
Some expressed need for more elaborate explanations on tough topics like atoms and density. Others wanted more experiments or experiments to follow each concept. The class was keen to be updated on latest in science with many evincing interest in space science. (No wonder perhaps with Isro adding laurels to its bag with the latest launch of 20 satellites in one launch.)
All were unanimous in their high praise for the training session and some went as far as requesting for the same bunch of trainers in future.
All four days there was not a single participant who was seen to yawn or doze off, even for a few minutes! This, despite the fact that a significant chunk of the participants was on the wrong side of 50 years of age.
Anubhava Science Foundation has eight years of solid experience in making science more fun and thought-provoking by focusing on conceptual understanding of the subjects by teachers, both from government and private schools. This is however the first time the NGO is coming up with a year-long sustainable training for a group of 50 teachers to effectively reinforce the learning. They hope to expand next year to 200 teachers using a combination of physical and virtual classrooms.
The teacher enrichment programme will also include sessions on sustainable technology offered by the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, IISc.