Difference between revisions of "Science: Pedagogy"
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= Institutions for Science Education =
= Institutions for Science Education =
# [http://www.iiserpune.ac.in/ ]<br> The Government of India, through the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), has established five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER). These institutes are located in Bhopal, Mohali, Pune, Kolkata and Thiruvanantapuram. <br> The IISERs represent a unique initiative in India where teaching and education are totally integrated with state-of-the-art research nurturing both curiosity and creativity in an intellectually vibrant atmosphere of research. Each IISER is an autonomous institution awarding its own Masters and Doctoral degrees. <br>
#[http://www.hbcse.tifr.res.in/ ]<br>Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) is a National Centre of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. The broad goals of the Centre are to promote equity and excellence in science and mathematics education from primary school to undergraduate college level, and encourage the growth of scientific literacy in the country.
= Articles by teachers on Science and Science Education =
= Articles by teachers on Science and Science Education =
Revision as of 10:43, 4 January 2013
Pedagogy of Science
There are several aspects to teaching science - bringing about an appreciation and understanding of the world around us, developing a scientific method of approaching problems and developing solutions (this scientific method will be discussed more in detail later) and build skills that will allow the learners to build their knowledge. Obviously this means more than just the transfer of the body of knowledge. How these objectives will be met will also vary depending upon the context of the learner.
Given below are some articles that describe these various aspects in greater detail.
This page needs contributions. Please help develop it!!
Methods of Assessment
Exam Question papers
Shashi Kumar from GHS Bangalore, Rural has shared a sample question paper for the 8th Midterm Exam.
Institutions for Science Education
- Indian Institute of Scientific Education and Research
The Government of India, through the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), has established five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER). These institutes are located in Bhopal, Mohali, Pune, Kolkata and Thiruvanantapuram.
The IISERs represent a unique initiative in India where teaching and education are totally integrated with state-of-the-art research nurturing both curiosity and creativity in an intellectually vibrant atmosphere of research. Each IISER is an autonomous institution awarding its own Masters and Doctoral degrees.
- Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education
Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) is a National Centre of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. The broad goals of the Centre are to promote equity and excellence in science and mathematics education from primary school to undergraduate college level, and encourage the growth of scientific literacy in the country.
Articles by teachers on Science and Science Education
Blog by Dr S N Prasad, Principal(Retd), RIE
Dr. S N Prasad is a Former Principal & Professor of Physics, Regional Institute of Education [NCERT], Mysore. Teacher Educator and Educational Consultant with over forty years of field experience. He is actively involved in popularization of Science, including Observational Astronomy, through lectures, demonstrations and writings
He blogs at http://drsnprasadmysoreindia.blogspot.com/
His most recent blog is on the "End of the World", reproduced below.
Waiting for the world to end! – What will (not) happen on 21st December 2012
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the former. - Albert Einstein
Countdown to doomsday
Down the ages, one of the favourite pastimes of soothsayers, prophets, oracles, astrologers, ufologists, numerologists and an assortment of similar scaremongers and pseudoscientists has been to make outrageous ‘predictions’ of doomsday scenarios for the earth and watch the chaos created in the minds of the gullible from the sidelines. They continue to stay on the sidelines if nothing of any consequence happens, as indeed is the case almost always, and jump into the fray with an ‘I told you so’ if anything even remotely resembling their predictions actually happens. Whatever be the eventual outcome, the more enterprising of these charlatans would have made a fortune through their books, writings, ‘astrological advice’, special religious ceremonies in appeasement of the ‘angry’ gods, sales of ‘survival kits’, sponsored and paid media events, etc., and the gullible would have been taken for a ride, swallowing the bait hook, line and sinker.
The most bizarre and outrageous of the doomsday predictions has been reserved for this year (2012) in general and specifically for 21st December 2012 in particular. Why this particular date? Primarily because it is the day of the winter solstice (as viewed from the northern hemisphere) when the Sun is at its southernmost point from the equator; for this reason it is treated as rather special in astronomical terms and highly significant in astrological reckoning. So far, nothing of any cognizable significance has happened in the year per se, so all the attention is now focused on the specific doomsday date just a week away from now. While most people are unconcerned with and indeed indifferent to whatever may or may not happen, large segments of the population everywhere in the world are anxious, apprehensive and at the very least nervous about what the day may unfold and some are even contemplating ‘precautions’ like hiding themselves in safe locations as one might do during an eclipse or, much less likely, at the time of an air raid. In India, these precautions are taking the more traditional form of appeasing the gods with some of the choicest and most expensive offerings to the accompaniment of special prayers and poojas in temples. The market forces are at work and the managers, owners and priests of the temples are set to make a huge killing on that day, with the service charges and rates shooting up like airfares during Diwali and Christmas holidays. Like air tickets, there are already a lot of advance bookings.
The Doomsday ‘predictions’
Unlike ordinary times, the doomsayers this time have a number of what they consider ‘surefire’ alternatives to back on to ensure the end of the world no later than this year. Here are a few of the more ‘reliable’ ones with brief descriptions of how they are supposed to happen and a very reassuring expert assessment of how they cannot happen the way they are envisaged. Before I delve into these I strongly recommend the reader to go through an excellent website specifically dedicated to discussing these ‘manufactured fantasies’ and related issues for what they really are: http://www.2012hoax.org/. Equally illuminating is the article titled “2012 and Counting” by NASA scientist Dr David Morrison in which he answers the ‘Top 20 Questions about 2012’. It is available at: http://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/2012-and-counting/.
The Mayan Myth
The Mayans of South America is one of the better known ancient civilizations, now long extinct, with some notable achievements in Astronomy and calendar making to add weight to their intellectual prowess. The chief 2012 doomsday myth concerns how their longstanding calendar calligraphy ends abruptly this year end. A whole cottage industry has grown around asserting that the end of the Mayan calendar forebodes the end of the world for, as the argument goes, they would otherwise have continued with their calendar making! This is like claiming that a packaged medical product, marked with an expiry date that says ‘Use before…’, suddenly disappears (along with the container) after the expiry date! Here is a doomsayer with precisely such an implication when he merely refers to a ‘suggestion…that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the thirteenth [baktun]. Thus…our present universe…[would] be annihilated on December 23, 2012, when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion’. To quote an expert on this issue, “Contrary to popular understanding, the ancient Meso-Americans, be they Maya or any other group, left no oral or written “prophecy” record about what would or could happen on or about the year 2012 other than a great age of 5125 years would end and another commence.” But who would be interested in these prosaic facts in the face of such cataclysmic claims to both dazzle and frighten the vast majority of believers in apocalyptic stories?
Pralaya, the Great Deluge
The concept of Pralaya (The 2012 event if it ever happens should qualify as a Mahapralaya), loosely translated as ‘the great deluge’, essentially describes the terminal phase of the destruction of the Universe that is supposed to have taken place in the past and believed to take place in future according to Hindu mythology. It is supposed to happen repetitively with a (very long) periodicity, interspersed with the (re)creation of the universe in a different garb. This is often grotesquely (mis)interpreted as a gigantic volume of water rising up to great heights, rushing in ferociously, drowning out the entire earth, and making it extinct. People who subscribe to such beliefs never ask themselves the question as to how this is physically possible when the volume of water in the seas is only a tiny fraction of the overall volume of the earth. As so often happens, this is the result of a totally unwarranted literal interpretation of any mythological event or episode. Indeed it would be a great disservice to subject these wonderfully evocative works of mythology and literature to drab literal interpretations.
Many people argue that the great tsunami that caused such devastating destruction on 26th December 2004 in many parts of Asia, including large tracts of southern coastal India, is the harbinger of a much bigger one to come. In any case, it would be as unpredictable as the last one and certainly cannot cause the end of the world! Even the latest Fukushima earthquake-cum-tsunami disaster of last year doesn’t fit the bill, however terrible it was to the people of Japan.
While the Mayan calendar is a one-off phenomenon, the so called ‘planetary alignments’ have come in handy quite frequently for the doomsayers, especially astrologers. The last two such ‘alignments’ that were supposed to produce cataclysmic effects on the earth were in 1987 and 2000 respectively, but fizzled out like exploding crackers on a rainy night during Diwali fireworks. The term alignment itself is a total misnomer when applied to a planetary system; anybody can conveniently mean anything by this. In 2012, there is no planetary alignment of any significance fitting any description whatever.
One oft quoted claim is; ‘…during this time the two biggest planets in our solar system, Saturn and Jupiter, will be in line with each other. The gravitational effects of the two planets on the Sun will cause it to wobble during it’s pole shift.’ This is such utter nonsense that any schoolboy should see through it. For one thing, any two objects can be in line with each other, Saturn and Jupiter cannot cause any wobble on the Sun any time in any configuration and, lastly, the Sun doesn’t even have clearly definable poles like a planet, let alone be subject to ‘pole shifts’. Another implication that only certain specific planetary alignments cause cataclysmic earthquakes is equally absurd.
Magnetic Pole Shift
The fact that complex geophysical processes in the interior of the earth do give rise to a reversal of the (north and south) magnetic poles of the earth is well documented and satisfactorily explained, but to say that this causes catastrophic consequences to the earth is absurd in the extreme. Such a pole shift takes thousands of years to take place and cannot happen within a matter of days or months as envisaged by the doomsayers.
Rotational Pole Shift
An even more absurd suggestion is that the geographical poles of the earth shift substantially or even undergo a reversal, amounting to a corresponding change in the axis of rotation of the earth, causing cataclysmic changes to the planet. Apart from the question of why this should happen, what is overlooked is the gargantuan amounts of external energy required to achieve anything like this and the source of this energy.
There are different variants of the ‘galactic alignment’ proposition one of which is that the solar system passes through the galactic plane this month (In actual fact it is moving away from, not towards, the galactic plane and the next crossing is due in about 30 million years from now; also, the last such ‘alignment’ was about 3 million years ago – both long spans of time even by astronomical standards!). All these are equally ridiculous and meaningless in astronomical terms and merely represent, at best, an inconsistent use or deliberate misuse of high sounding astronomical terminology. The distances involved are so immensely greater than interplanetary distances that no astrophysical processes of any kind can have any impact on earth which is but one insignificant speck in the vast, incredibly empty, interstellar space even if this space is only intra galactic.
Natural and generally unpredictable disasters like earthquakes, typhoons/tornados/cyclones, and the more infrequent tsunamis, etc., cannot possibly spell the end of the world even if they all occur simultaneously at their destructive worst. Despite the large scale localized disaster they often lead to, they are little more than pinpricks to the earth as a whole. However, if anyone is caught in an event like this on the projected doomsday, it may certainly spell the end of the world for him, but it would be a far cry from being the end of the world for humanity as a whole.
Black holes in space, be they ‘ordinary’ ones or supermassive galactic nuclei, are among the most bizarre objects known to astrophysics. Gravitationally they are so strong that they can attract and swallow up any object that gets close to it. No wonder some of the doomsday scenarios are associated with them. Their proponents envisage collisions of black holes in and around 2012 resulting in the ‘ejection of massive gravity radiation creating imbalance in our entire galaxy…’ with the hapless earth naturally swallowed up in the process! As to why these black holes should collide with each other is anybody’s guess.
Another black hole scary scene was conceived around the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the gargantuan particle collider near Geneva in Europe which was prominently in the news earlier this year for the discovery of the famous Higgs boson [See my earlier blog post: 52) The Exasperating God Particle – Missing piece in a cosmic jigsaw puzzle (Jul 12)]. The rumor mills ground up a doomsday scenario in which the LHC would go berserk and produce a mini or micro black hole that would swallow up the entire earth! Of course the LHC is incapable of anything so fanciful.
Colliding Extraterrestrial Bodies
The doomsayers need nothing as exotic as black holes to finish off the earth. More mundane things like colliding extraterrestrial objects should suffice. A host of such objects in near-earth space are supposed to be on course to collide with the earth and any one of them should be able to complete the job! Chief among them is the mythical ‘twelfth planet Nibiru’ that has a long history and hallowed presence on the doomsday stage. So is the so called planet X. At the very least, a stray asteroid or comet is considered sufficient for the job. Needless to say, they exist only in the minds of dedicated hoaxers with a fertile imagination, capable of capturing the attention of the gullible who are prepared to believe anything but the hard truth that no extraterrestrial object heading towards the earth, however elusive, can go undetected years or even decades in advance with the modern tools and techniques of astronomy.
Yet another disaster scenario is that the earth will be wiped out by a supernova suddenly erupting nearby. The ‘ripe’ candidate for such an event is the red supergiant star Betelgeuse that is about 640 light years from the earth in the Orion constellation. Before this happens we could expect to see the appearance of a ‘second Sun’ in the sky, a phenomenon that is so popular with doomsday hoaxers that it has now become something of an annual event. It ignores the astrophysical fact that there is no reliable way of predicting how red giant stars behave at the end of their life cycles. Betelgeuse poses no conceivable threat to humanity now or indeed within the next million years.
2012 the Movie
Hollywood has always had a fascination for sci-fi disaster movies where the imagination runs riot and rationality of any kind is the worst casualty. Much of the 2012 doomsday myth has been fuelled by one such movie, the 2009 production simply titled ‘2012’, perhaps distinguished for its high technical quality, but little else. It was successful in stirring up a frenzy of fear among the viewers that has continued to this day. Only the end of the world next week or the end of calendar year 2012 should bring any relief from its pernicious influence.
The doomsday predictions are not just harmless pranks by any means and have already had some grave real-world consequences. People who take these seriously (there are lots of people who do so all over the world) have been leading frightened and tortured lives, often rationalizing that it is better to end their own lives before the earth comes to its predicted end. Indeed there have been numerous instances of people, especially young and innocent children, actually carrying this out.
I have been approached on numerous occasions over the last 2-3 years (ever since the disaster movie ‘2012’ made a splash) by people of all strata in society asking me what I had to say about these dire doomsday warnings. Most of them have not been convinced by my dismissive attitude to their apprehensions. They seek a scientifically reasoned response from me and when I say that there is little or no science behind any of the claims they feel let down. However, I have had better success with groups of students whenever I have addressed them on these issues.
As usual, both the printed and electronic media have played their part in spreading and perpetuating the irrational, the pseudoscientific and the grossly unscientific and cashed in heavily on the present doomsday myth. A routine Google search of the internet will throw up huge amounts of supportive information on every nonsensical claim that is doing the rounds. Most TV channels and their presenters not only report them dutifully without batting an eyelid, but also hold lengthy discussion sessions with assorted ‘experts’, including the ubiquitous and indispensable astrologer. Every doomsday scenario is dissected threadbare and discussed as seriously as the latest political crisis or economic scam in the country. Often they do let sane voices speak up, but somewhat patronizingly and only to project the ‘other’ side of the story.
The role of the once respected History (TV) Channel is particularly disturbing. Recently it has degenerated and “become a place where various doomsday scenarios are presented, looking like documentaries, and giving the impression that the science behind these shows is well-accepted. In reality these shows are apparently nothing more than vehicles for book sales for the various authors and ‘independent researchers’ that the History Channel has chosen as their Prophets of Doom.”
Why do people believe in such outrageously nonsensical doomsday scenarios even to the point of being skeptical about perfectly rational arguments and scientific evidence to the contrary? It is a rather complex question requiring a deep psychological study of human behavior. To some extent the answer can be found in “Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time”, a famous book by Michael Shermer, who is the founding publisher and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine (see: www.skeptic.com) and the director of The Skeptics Society. It is essentially a survey of a range of irrational human behaviors, with an analysis of their empirical and logical flaws. It delves into the difference between science and pseudo-science supported by numerous examples from everyday life. The present doomsday scare represents an excellent example.
It must be admitted that the doomsday phenomenon is more of a western malady, with people in countries like India showing a surprising degree of intellectual maturity. In recent months, some religious leaders in India have started discounting the widely publicized doomsday claims and trying to allay popular fears. Even astrologers have started singing a more restrained tune. Faced with the prospect of yet another fiasco with their public utterances, they are distancing themselves from the Mayan calendar, truthfully claiming that it is not in consonance with their own. They are now pushing themselves into the background, content with providing ‘private consultations’ at a vastly expanded scale to disturbed clients who have started flocking to them in rapidly increasing numbers. It looks like they will have their cake and eat it too. It should be a lot easier to secure an appointment with a noted brain specialist than with one of these worthies.
All said and done, December 21 may still not see the kind of mass hysteria that many rationalists and law-and-order authorities fear.
On that fateful day exactly a week from now, I am due to visit an educational institution not far from Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the subcontinent that was ravaged during the tsunami of 26th December 2004. I have been warned not to go too close to the sea that day lest I be washed away by a much more devastating tsunami, indeed a pralaya, which someone I know very well thinks is bound to happen that day! I shall certainly heed the warning if only because I won’t have the time to go near the sea that day.
I have just received reliable information that, due to unavoidable reasons, the End of the World has been postponed! The revised date is yet to be announced!
Yet Another Confession of a Science Teacher
N. J. Krishnan is a former Head Master of The Valley School and a teacher of Physics and Mathematics. He also established and headed the Teacher Resource Centre in The Valley School.
This article was published in the KFI Journal - Jun 2008, Issue 12
I am sure all of us have had occasions when we have felt a sense of dissatisfaction; days when we wonder why we are doing what we are doing, days when we wonder whether it is any use at all, whether teachers have anything to do with the learning of the child. Maybe, we wonder, there is no point in what we do; maybe one is better off doing something else. Fortunately, for me at least, this does not happen often.
Rereading Colin Foster’s article, ‘Confessions of a Science Teacher’ in Volume 10 of the Journal of Krishnamurti Schools recently, I could instantly identify with much of what he had to say — the lack of engagement, the feeling that even students who were engaged did not see the point of it. Colin Foster raises three issues (he calls them the ‘hidden curriculum’) that he suggests are implicit in the teaching of science — particularly when this teaching is designed to terminate in an examination. I summarise them into three aphoristic phrases: ‘science is content’, ‘science is eternal truth’ and lastly, ‘science is non-contextual’. There are three closely interconnected attitudesat work here. The underlying assumption is that what you think about can beseparated from how you think. There is then the immediate corollary that ourthought is not conditioned by our beliefs.
Anyone who has any idea of the history and development of science would immediately see how muddleheaded this is. That science is essentially a creative process rooted in the culture where it grows, is evident to most people doing science.
If science is content and is immutable then by definition it is eternal, true and non-contextual. By similar processes of immaculate logic we can start with any one of these aphorisms and arrive inescapably at the other two. The fallacy of this circular argument is precisely that it is circular and it is not the logic that is at fault so much as the premise.
Curricula tend to ignore this, and the student as well as the teacher are caught in a trap that appears inevitable and false at the same time. The strait-jacket that the curriculum appears to place on the teacher — and the student — makes exploration of these assumptions seem impossible. The student no longer engages with the subject; and looks at the subject, at best, as a stepping stone to a career where this engagement has no role to play.
It is only in the last few years that I have been working with younger children, formally and informally, and I find to my dismay that this disillusionment with the learning process and the separation of the learning at school from the ‘real world’ appears even earlier. It is clear that the curriculum and its constraints do cause a speeding up of this separation but the infection sets in much earlier. What is it that makes children believe that they cannot do science, that it is too difficult? I think the issue here is not just the subject and its content but how it is to be done and the demands made on the child. I believe there are multiple issues here. Is mathematics necessary for understanding school science?
The first strand is the belief that mathematics — its grammar and its syntax — is difficult and the sciences, in particular physics, are inextricably linked with mathematics. Even we teachers see this as being true. When I started teaching I would insist that mathematics must be taken as a subject if one wished to do physics even though most examination boards do not require it, and a number of children wanting to do medicine do not see the point of learning mathematics as they do not require it later. I still think we must do it, but not quite for the reason I believed in then. I used to insist then that physics is taught in the language of mathematics. I am not so sure now.
Physics is a way of looking at the universe and trying to understand it. What does this mean? One could go on and on but essentially, it means to observe, abstract meaning and generalise from limited observation, to predict cause and effect, validate such induced meaning and build on a series of such meanings. When we start to do physics we start from certain axioms and move on from there (the existence of space, time and matter are taken as self-evident properties — we do not spell it out consciously but this is implicit in that the learning of physics starts with measurements of these quantities). At every step, we observe the real world and try to make sense of it by abstracting only those aspects that we see as significant and ignoring others, either to simplify or to extract some meaning. In doing this we try and define aspects of our observations as convenient tools for later use.
Mathematics is a valuable tool in this exercise but it is quite possible to understand significant aspects of physics with very basic mathematics. I must add that there are sections in physics where our normal language quite fails us and the only way in which we can comprehend it is by using the tools that mathematics provides. However these are aspects which do not normally impinge on our day-to-day living.
The invaluable learning that anyone acquires in appreciating this process is not the facts or the models, but a way of thinking. It leaves one with a respect for rigour and a sense that everything must be explained within the parameters and axioms we use. We cannot ignore paradoxes by saying that these are ‘exceptions to the rule’. If an explanation cannot explain what we see, or if there are exceptions to the rule, we must assume that our explanations are wrong or are not general enough. How does school science connect with the real world?
The second strand relates to the cry we have heard from so many children, ‘I cannot understand it. I cannot relate it to what I see. As it is taught it has no relevance to the real world. I do not have to use it to deal with the real world.’ This is a very real problem. How do we relate the idealised, nonrealistic content of physics with the real world? When I say that every object continues to move with uniform motion I am saying something that seems obviously untrue. When I say that things fall with the same acceleration, it is not what we observe if we drop a stone and a piece of paper. If physics is an explanation of cause and effect, some of the causes are not clear — gravitation, electromagnetic force and so on. How do we explain to the child that our explanations are idealised and we need to see them as approximations in understanding the real world? How do we show that physics is useful? I think these are real issues that need to be addressed. Is there a way by which the child can recognise that doing science is a creative process that is aesthetically as satisfying as any of the arts? Can we show that it is rooted in the culture and history that we are a part of, that the ideas of model building and the approximations we learn here are relevant to so many other things, that the rigour of thinking that is acquired here is invaluable everywhere?
Here I would like to indulge myself in a piece of conceit. I would like to imagine the corpus of learning as a magnificent structure of which we have some glimpse, some understanding and that it is our responsibility to be a guide — a tourist guide, say — who hopes to interest some of the visitors into staying back and immersing themselves in understanding or being with this wonderful edifice. We can choose different strategies.
The first would be a dry as dust recitation of the facts and figures. They would all be very true and correct but can never give us a feel for the beauty. No catalogue can ever make anything real, can ever make us understand the blood and sweat and tears that went into the making, can ever get us emotionally involved.
The second strategy would involve the enthusiastic guide in waxing eloquent on his interests. He would tell the visitor everything he knows, bury her in facts and figures, overwhelm her with his emotions and exhaust her with his passions. Would it work? In a soil already prepared and waiting, maybe. It is, however, more likely to put off the person, scare rather than attract. It also has the great danger of possibly making the visitor believe that the vicarious knowledge she has acquired is true learning and understanding.
The third possibility: give the visitor space to look around; point out some of the interesting aspects, suggest the interesting lanes and by-lanes she can take to explore the edifice — preferably by herself. Give her the time and space to do so, but also provide her with the certainty that you are available when she needs you. Be with her when she needs you; let her loose when she does not. In this lies the possibility of true involvement and understanding.
What is the role of a science teacher
Ranjani Ranganathan is a science and mathematics teacher and works with IT for Change.
“Choice of subjects to teach is not entirely involuntary in this school,” joked the veteran Physics teacher. We were discussing the possibility of my moving to High School to teach Physics and Math. Let it be known that I was formally trained to teach junior school and primary school children.
I was as much of a greenhorn as you could possibly find among teachers. My only credential for teaching science and math were my long forgotten transcripts from my undergraduate degree. My transcript showed that I had survived two years of serious math and science; the only visible damage was to my cumulative grade point average.
But, I did not go too far with my protestation about the lack of my competence to teach Physics. And the reason was not only that the school really needed a science and math teacher. It also had to do with my desire to engage with serious science again. Not to mention the ego trip it gave me. So, my career took another turn and I became a Physics teacher. I was to teach Physics for Class 9 and 10 and Math for Class 8. As one of my friends helpfully commented, “I can’t believe they have trusted you with three high school classes and an exam class at that!” I can assure you no public speaker felt more fear than I did on my first day of class. I was armed with my notes and my interest in teaching Physics. And the sinking feeling of what will I do if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to; which was an all too likely possibility. And that I would make a fool of myself – so much for my ego trip!
But that did not happen. They asked me many questions that I could not answer well. Somehow, I did not come across as incompetent, though. So, I hear you ask, what happened? I am not sure, but I dare say all my misgivings came from an exaggerated sense of my importance. Of course, the teacher matters; but not in the way I had thought.
Then what is the role of a science teacher?
Well, I think the first thing to remember is that an opportunity to teach Physics means an opportunity to learn it well. And that is what I did. And I had a great time, learning Physics, without the stress of having to worry about what dent it would have on my grades. Of course, my students had to worry about all the good stuff like marks and exams. The next thing is that you need not have all the answers. I did not realize it when I started, but I think it would be quite a sad state of science teaching if you went in front of your class and said “Bring your questions on – here I am!”. At the end of one year of teaching, I still tie myself into knots on the seemingly simplest of topics before I go into a class but we have a good time in the class anyway. I think this is what happens. While I think I am confused, and in fact I am, what matters for the students is the level of engagement I have. And since I realize only too well how confusing things can be, in an almost bizarre way, I can make the class easier for them. And of course, the role of the Council in making Physics easy cannot be underestimated!
Another big “Aha” for me was this. No matter what I do, some topics will remain difficult and misunderstood. The DC motor is doomed, indeed, in school. This is not an indictment of the capabilities of the children; nor is it a license for me to goof off. It is just an “as-is” statement. There are several layers of understanding; unravelling and understanding again associated with any concept. And many Physics ideas remain in the lower levels of understanding for a long time. They remain there, till the student rediscovers her interest and explores it with a greater level of maturity, possibly as a teacher. And it is important to not take it too personally if Physics is not a favourite subject for many. This insight freed me tremendously from the pressure I was subjecting myself to – no pun intended.
Lest I sound like I have given up on teaching Physics in school, I must hasten to add this. How the teacher presents science in school has a direct effect on how the student views the subject later on. This is true, I am sure, of other subjects as well, but is critical for science and math. What matters is the teacher’s attitude and approach to learning and teaching. Of course, at least part of this statement is motivated by self-preservation interests. Regardless, I do think qualifications are not the only things that matter. And if I have done my job well, at least some of my students may revisit Physics later in life and grapple with concepts that they thought they had understood!
So, you think I have got it all figured out? You wish. I am supposed to teach Class 11 Physics next year. It is de ja vu all over again…..