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Science Lessons and Activities in the Classroom
Although I am a staunch proponent of using education technology in classrooms, I have never considered activity-based approaches to be inferior. Pablo Picasso once said, “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."
On 15 September, I was reading the morning newspaper by sipping a cup of warm coffee. In southern India, where I live, we usually use a container, known as tumbler, made of brass or stainless steel, to drink coffee. As I read the newspaper bit by bit, between several sips of coffee, I placed the tumbler on a paper or plastic lid. That morning when I picked up my tumbler from the plastic lid, the latter also got picked up along with the tumbler, as if the tumbler were a magnet.
I repeated this action quite a few times, just to witness the bond between the tumbler and the plastic lid. Though the incident is nothing extraordinary, it served as a great illustration of a very important and often thought of as an abstract concept in high school physics-- Surface tension. I have used several such household phenomena, which children experience everyday, to teach science concepts at the elementary and middle school stage. Not once did I require any costly or special equipment. This inspired me to create science lessons and activities that were based on every day occurrences.
There are many places in a lesson where we can introduce activity-based approaches. Most often the best time to use `action packed’ activities, as far as I have experienced, is when we introduce a lesson. Once we captivate children’s interest at the very beginning, it is less difficult to sustain it later. I can recall an incident when my physics students were a little surprised to see a metal coin stuck to my forehead as I entered the classroom. Although they did know there were some `magical’ moments waiting to be unfolded, it was the first time they saw me with `cosmetic’ make-up at the very beginning of the lesson. As I entered the class, I said to them, “Hello guys! Wondering how stuff sticks to my forehead? We shall see it in today’s lesson!" This was another demonstration of surface tension and another example of science lessons and activities in the classroom that proved effective.
Simple hands-on activities not only bring joy and excitement to kids, they also make them think. Almost all science concepts up to the middle school level can be taught very effectively by using simple activities.
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Why is Homework Important?
There has been a growing belief that homework is not important, with many asking "Why is homework important"? Homework is important as it is one of the best ways to enable students practice and reinforce what is taught in the classroom, provided ofcourse the homework is developed with the specific objective of transfer of knowledge and skills in real life situations.
From my experience of working in K-12 school systems and educational publishing in India, I think the two main reasons for teachers not using as many activities as they should seem to be quantity oriented syllabi and badly written textbooks and multimedia resources.
Recently, I happened to see an advertisement released by the India Association of a popular British online math teaching website, in the same newspaper that I had mentioned at the beginning of this article. The lesson sample asks children to make a paper cup, fill it with popcorns or peanuts and asks them to measure the `volume’ of the contents. It also says, “Try to make a cup with larger (or smaller than the one you just made) piece of paper and compare the volumes". I don’t understand the logic behind measuring the volume. Instead, it makes sense to measure the weight or mass. Besides, being substandard in presenting the concept, the quoted sentence contains grammatical mistakes. The e-learning site claims to reach 50 countries. Whether we use real activities or virtual ones, it is our moral obligation not to mislead children.
Activity based approaches are the most effective when it comes to homework. I am sure you will agree if I say that a question “Look at the cylinder shown in the figure. Its height is __ mm and radius of the base is __. What is its volume?" is certainly not as effective as “Measure the height and inner diameter of any container in a cylindrical form. Calculate its volume. How can you prove your answer by carrying out a simple activity using a measuring cylinder"? Homework should always be given with the main aim of enabling children to use their knowledge and skills gained in the classroom, in solving real life problems. Unless this is achieved, homework would simply be an extension of class-work without any specific purpose.
Coming back to activities, they also help teachers (and sometimes parents) pedagogically and psychologically. I have met numerous teachers who told me that they themselves learnt lesson concept correctly the first time, when they did the activities as rehearsal, before using them in their classrooms. I know of many teachers, including myself, who found themselves in a better psychological state (less tension and less anger) after using some activity-based approach in the classroom!
So next time you feel stressed out, prepare some activity based lesson plan for your kids.