Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018

Connecting in simple ways with students

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July 16, 2018

Connecting in simple ways with students

With changing times and progress towards a connected world, students have to be trained to become citizens of the world. Greater connectivity translates to more exposure and a greater set of issues to attend to; along with, of course, more scope for learning. The building blocks of their personality development are laid and fixated in the classroom.

I understand that the change in the student- teacher interaction needs to be managed in the most innovative, balanced and comprehensive way possible, by connecting with students in new ways. The common goal is all-round development by the use of positive strategies for classroom management.

My teaching strategy is characterized by Masti, Morality and Wisdom. This strategy specifically caters to middle school students.

The learning outcome is to make teaching fun, inculcate good human values and equip children with tools to manage life in the present and in the years to come.

I feel that activity-based learning helps students to think before they act, with a sense of enjoyment. It tests their grasp, reaction-time and understanding of a concept in addition to giving them a hands-on experience. It calls for the task of arriving at a consensus through observation and discussions in the lab which encourages sensible communication and team work. Lab activities help children conduct themselves in a group and share resources. When students record experiment readings, I ask different groups to share aloud their observations and ask other groups if their observations vary. This helps in auto-correction, discussions and brings to the fore ideas that may have been missed by peers.

I shall elucidate through two examples how I implement the aforementioned strategy at school.

To teach the concept of speed, distance and time, we did an outdoor activity. Children were divided into groups. They were given a start and a finishing point, a measuring tape and a stop clock. They were to measure the distance enclosed between the two points, run a race and record the time taken.

Through this fun-filled and simple activity, students were able to understand the concept of speed and its dependence on distance and time; hence deriving a relation between the quantities. On repetition of the concept in the classroom, they were able to refer to the activity performed, combine practical and theoretical knowledge. This resulted in better understanding in a playful manner.

During the performance of the activity, one child fell. A few children stopped to help, others continued to run. We discussed issues like ‘is it important to win or help others – what comes first?’ and ‘Who emerged as the real winner in the race from the point of view of science and life?’ The children learnt that losing gracefully harbours respect and pride.

I employed the discovery method to introduce and explain the concept of heat wherein they conducted a conduction experiment in the laboratory.

The use of contemporary illustrations like air fryers, microwaves, etc made heat more relatable and realistic for the students, promoting proper understanding of appliances that they use on a daily basis.

I recall a recent school trip where we teachers bought a cake for a student to celebrate his birthday, which much to our dismay landed on his face, his hair and then in the dustbin. We were disappointed and hurt by this behaviour.

I decided to speak to the children about the matter and reason with them. It turned out, there was no malice and this was the youngsters’ way of celebrating. I then told them the teachers’ viewpoint. They were apologetic and proposed that the next time round they would get two cakes – a small one to play and another one to eat. I was assured of their accountability as they had proposed the solution themselves, which the teachers found to be rather practical.

In this way, students offered a practical solution that served their interests as well as the concerns of the teachers and they understood the importance of eliminating wastage of food.


Strategy: Use of Multimedia to Promote Learning

I use educomp (an online portal) and smart boards to explain lessons. It helps avoid extensive reading of chapters and gives an audio-visual touch to the students’ understanding, thus enhancing the extent of their grasp of a particular concept. This approach involves deviation from the tradition of dictation of notes and the unnecessary focus on maintaining them and mugging them up to pass the grade.

I create assignments and put them up on the internet. Students are required to search answers for themselves. Children develop the ability to independently find solutions to unknown concepts over a period of time. This inculcates a value of self-exploration and independence in them which helps them to become professional learners.

For class assemblies, I encourage them to prepare PowerPoint presentations (PPTs) on topics that most students can relate to. For example, students presented a PPT on ‘Teenage’ which was appreciated by all middle school students who are new to this phase of life. It acted as a medium for students to share their findings with their peers and I’m sure that the motivational presentation could rid them of some of their insecurities and supplemented their knowledge.

Learning outcome: Self-learning, ability to find and analyze information independently.

Strategy: Innovative and unconventional question papers.

My question papers are so designed that home tutors are completely eliminated. They focus on

Diagrammatic representation and interpretation.
The papers contain challenging MCQs and diagrams ask children to analyze what’s wrong. Unless the student has followed the demonstration in the lab and internalized the concept, he/she will not be able to answer the questions put forward. No rote learning will help.

Another novel twist is that I give answers in the form of a paragraph and ask students to comprehend what questions are being answered. These practices have created a stress- free condition for the students and the parents with minimum amount of preparation in the few weeks prior to the examinations [in the form of mugging up entire textbooks to no avail].

I also ask students to prepare mock question papers and put in a few questions along their lines of thinking. It helps them revise the entire concept while having fun and feeling important.

My findings convey that students are willing to sacrifice a part of their break to arrive early and occupy the front benches of the classroom. They have come to love my classes and the spontaneous method of teaching and learning.

Learning Outcome: Full attendance in class.

Strategy: Use of contemporary examples to teach concepts.

I understand that mud huts and cow dung cakes are not my students’ reality but air fryers, microwaves and LED bulbs are. I used these to teach concepts of heat, light, etc.

Reference to the movie ‘3 Idiots’ to simplify principles of conduction [actor Amir Khan urinating on a wire to escape ragging] and the Oscar nominated ‘The Theory of Everything’ to talk of Black Holes, etc, made it easy for students to recall concepts and apply them. The social message that was conveyed through these movies was also discussed such that students appreciated it.

Children respect you when you are in touch with their world and quote from it. They feel you understand their vocabulary and are updated in your knowledge.

Learning Outcome: Immediate connection and relatability to concepts

Strategy: Economic sensitivity and conservation of environment

I am frugal with resources and find a way around in case they are not available. I use slates and encourage online submission of homework via e-mails to save paper, use the suitably tiled ground in the corridors as a substitute for graph paper, smart boards to present questions/teach curriculum, etc. I encourage students to use LED, CFL bulbs at home and teach them their working.

In case I find the classroom dirty, I pick up scrap paper, etc myself and children follow suit.

I take pride in the fact that my students are home-learners. I give them assignments that enhance their knowledge regularly. On some occasions, the assignment is such that the students have to reach out to their parents and grandparents to accomplish their quest for obtaining answers and completing the task. It helps them to compare the working of appliances that they use and those used by their grandparents when they were younger. Students appreciate the progress made in the field of science and technology and the aforementioned rubric stimulates fruitful interaction with their family, spending quality time with their grandparents and creating new memories; supplemented by the joy of having learnt something new. I believe that experience speaks for itself and my students should definitely learn from it by seizing every opportunity that they get.

Learning outcome: Ability to find alternative solutions; being practical.

Strategy: Constructive and beneficial use of the library

Through the strategy of ‘Parivartan aur Vikaas’ (change and progress), I intend my students to be able to choose the right books by means of going by authors and read books in a systematic manner as opposed to being lost in the library and resorting to playing games. They found it rather intriguing to learn about the author alongside.

For instance, while going through Khushwant Singh’s work, I told them about his column in The Hindustan Times. I gave them an insight into his life and in addition, they read some of his works.

Learning outcome: Enabling students to practice optimum utilization of available resources.

Strategy: Connecting concepts across disciplines

I took students on a field trip to the ‘Toilet Museum’ built by Mr. Bindeshwar Pathak who is also credited for the initiation and maintenance of Sulabh Toilets across the country. I collaborated with the History teacher and asked children to write an essay comparing ‘Shah Jahan’s love for his wife to Mr. Pathak’s love for the poor’. It helped children philosophize on higher concepts.

Similarly, while preparing for the Founder’s Day exhibition on ‘The uses of Flowers in Hindu, Muslim and Christian weddings’, the students were to think of a title to best describe their display. One of the students propounded the title ‘Flowers know no religion’. This goes on to reflect that middle school students have the ability to ponder upon philosophies which unfortunately, some adults find hard to decipher.

On another occasion, I referred to an old Panchatantra tale of the lion ruminating on the impression of his form in the lake. I spun a question related to the same – ‘Whether the impression was a shadow or an image?’ This was with reference to their syllabus.

I asked children to find out which politician was famous for wearing HMT watches while teaching the concept of time.

Learning Outcome: Ability to see the bigger picture.

Strategy: Not take oneself too seriously whatever your position or status

A student of mine drew an excellent sketch of me on the last page of his notebook during class. While he was petrified of being reprimanded, I sought his permission to put it up on facebook. It fetched me an unbelievable number of likes and helped me win the students over!

Learning outcome: Some situations are best handled with a little humour.

Strategy: Take calculated risks

My grade eight students were to present an assembly on the occasion of Shivratri. I suggested we try ‘chaupai’ from the Ramayana. Children felt that the idea was boring and outdated and in fact, they threatened to boycott the assembly. I further suggested that we try it as an Antakshari to give it a contemporary twist. Children then warmed up to the idea.

A student of mine drums his school desk- much like a percussionist- something that makes him a butt of jokes. I decided to use his skill, called it ‘Raag Mez’ (table). He was scared of being ridiculed before the school but he agreed after much encouragement. He received a standing ovation for his feat and became a bit of a star. The assembly was a roaring success.

Learning Outcome: Well- presented concepts find acceptance.

Strategy: Promote open communication, be approachable and rational.

A student of mine was to attend a wedding. She got herself an expensive French manicure and was pulled-up by the discipline in-charge and asked to get rid of all the colour. She approached me and promised to take it off the day the function was over. I granted her permission and she lived up to her promise. I believe that rules are all right but life should be lived practically.

Similarly, in the peak of Delhi winters, a child was asked to take off his sweater as it was not the one prescribed by the school. He informed the discipline in-charge that his sweater was dirty and had been sent for a wash. He approached me so I fetched him another sweater from the lost and found room and he was grateful.

I believe that it is important for students to be able to confide in their teachers. Being too strict doesn’t serve the purpose. Too much idealism is hardly acceptable. Similarly, students ought to be able to take their own decisions after having inculcated the right values. For instance, banning of the AIB knockout and the BBC documentary on the Delhi rape case(Nirbhaya rape case) doesn’t stop concerned entities or people from re-uploading them and concerned viewers from watching them (adults and children alike). They need to be allowed to choose what is right or wrong for them.

Strategy: Learn from anyone, anytime.

While reading the newspaper, I came across an abbreviation the full form of which I was unaware of [MGD – Million Gallons per Day]. The article was about water consumption and I was surprised that I did not know what it stood for. However, I took it in my stride to find out what it meant and informed my students of the incident. They realized the fact that age does not fall in the definition of learning. The process of learning is devoid of any age bracket.

I, by all means, try to match my students’ level to teach them and learn from them. My desire to learn and teach, to give life in the form of knowledge and experience my reincarnation during the span of my life – the happiness it brings to me – fuels my spirit with each passing day.

Learning Outcome: Manage egos and pride; ask for help if someone is better.

Alka Mahajan’s students call her lady Einstein with affection, because she shares her fiercely curly salt and pepper locks, passion for physics and philosophical outlook with him!

Three decades and a half an educationist, in her current young-at-heart avataar, she enjoys getting up without an alarm, travelling on her two feet, eating salads and reading between the lines. She edits books on science, and sometimes uses her experience to help students. Most of all, she is focussed on improving her karma, and is enjoying her schooling in the art and science of life!

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