Video Games – Child’s Play

This post is a summary and a reflection of my thoughts on this week’s #ptchat. Gaming has evolved over a period of time and has now become an integral part of childhood.

The #ptchat convo began on an apprehensive note with tweeps expressing their concern over the degree of violence in games. As an ex-gamer I have seen and played many such games. These games do have a serious impact on kids. As @StressFreeKids mentioned, these games have physiological and psychological effects on them.

Violent Video GamesParental guidance is extremely important when it comes to selection of games for kids. Games do come with warning stickers but who reads them. Many parents don’t know what these games contain. Parents must look for the ESRB rating on games before they get them for kids. Sometimes kids bring game discs from their friends and even these must be checked by parents before they let them play.

ESRB Labels


However, not all video games are to be shunned. Video games can prove to be an excellent resource for developing many skills. In my opinion, these games can be used as a dynamic tool to enhance creativity and learning skills in kids. Video games are not just any visual medium, but it is that which can be controlled by the kids. Game-based learning is now gaining momentum and I have observed significant improvement in learning, understanding and retention abilities in kids. I’ll be sharing my experience on gaming and learning in subsequent posts.

Agree/disagree with me? Do share your views with me here.

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 21:49  Comments (2)  
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Mobiles are as important as Math!

I’m back to the blogging ways after a long hiatus. This post is a result of a stimulating #edchat this Tuesday on m-learning. We shared a lot of ideas on what teachers should learn and unlearn to promote m-learning. I had a discussion with Chris Franzen (@franze98) in this convo and got to know that not all kids belong to the realm of “digital natives”. Although I’ve never come across such a situation, I feel that this is something serious and requires our attention.

Anyway, the focus of this post is on a tweet directed to me by Chris Franzen which I quote here.

which is more important learning to read & do math or to use a mobile device? chicken & egg right? #edchat

In my view, teaching kids to use a mobile phone is as important as teaching them math. With the world heading toward collaborative learning, I feel that teaching technology is essential for the students to keep in pace with the ways of the world.

Kids learn to text, play games and connect with people by observing others. The same strategy can be used to teach them to use mobile devices as a tool for education. Gone are the days when smart phones were exclusively used by businessmen. With the prices of mobile phones and data charges coming down by the day, it is only a matter of time when everyone has a smart phone.

In my opinion, mobile learning has the following advantages

  • Connecting to students is instant and easy
  • Students love new technology and can get addicted to education
  • Use of multimedia for effective instruction
  • Miss the concept of missing tests
  • Encouraging the students to collaborate with their peers at a global level.

Got more points to add to this list? Got anything against this post? Do share your views and ideas with me.

Published in: on October 31, 2010 at 06:08  Comments (6)  
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Project Based Learning for Homework – Hakuna matata!

After a stimulating discussion at this week’s #ellchat and with the great links provided by @cybraryman1, I would like to dedicate this post to PBL as an alternative for traditional homework. This post is also an extension to my earlier post on homework (here).

Traditional homework has caused so much misery so far in terms of its length and worth. Teachers need to grow out of archaic ideas and become innovative. A lengthy homework is not only discouraging but is also a meaningless. Shorter versions of homework focused on learning, in my view, are more effective. However, even these cannot be used for evaluation as I feel it is quite an unreliable method.

Homework can be used as a tool for meaningful evaluation if we adopt PBL. Homework can be given in the form of a project. This method, I feel, has the following advantages:

  • Practical application of the theoretical concepts.
  • Students will actually know what they are doing. Evaluation can be done based on the assessment of their project work and its presentation.
  • Involving parents. I’m sure parents would love to see their kids “enjoy” their homework and human curiosity would involve them too.
  • PBL homework can be given as an individual task or as a group work. This promotes interaction, exchange of ideas and formation of new questions; in a word, collaboration!

I tried PBL for homework this week with my camp students and they reminded me of their homework before I asked for it the next day. Not just that, they loved it and wanted more (click here for a slice of it). We ended up extending the science lab workshop by a day with their parents coming in too!

Let’s get innovative! A perfect world beckons… Hakuna matata!

What do you think?

Published in: on October 16, 2010 at 22:20  Comments (1)  
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Discover it for yourself!

This is quick post on my experience at the holiday Scilab camp at office today. Yesterday, I was demonstrating concepts of Newton’s laws, air pressure and the Joule-Thomson effect with balloons. At the end of the session, a couple of them (10 year olds) approached me and asked me if there is anything more that can be done with the balloons. I gave them each a couple of balloons and asked them to discover it for themselves.

This morning, both of them came to the camp and reported their results to me. One of them had blown the balloon till it exploded. When I asked him as to what he learned, he told me that he was able to understand that the rubber balloon had a certain amount of strength and the excess amount of air pushed it beyond its limits causing it to burst. He has just discovered the phenomenon of tensile strength for himself! The other told me that he had tried filling the balloon with water and placing it in a bucket of water. He said that he was surprised to see the balloon bobbing upon the surface of water. He has just discovered the phenomenon of buoyancy for himself!

Their observations were remarkable and following a round of applause, we spent the next 20 minutes discussing their results. It will be quite hard for them to forget the concepts which they have discovered for themselves. This post is a stepping stone to my next post on implementing PBL in homework.

Culminating this post with a fantastic TED talk by Diana Laufenberg

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 13:53  Comments (3)  
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Bilingual Education – My Take

I was having a chat with my brother (also an anxious father) about my nephew’s education. We happened to discuss the importance of language in education. My brother felt that his son should learn the basics of mathematics and science in his mother tongue (Tamil). He stressed the importance of knowing the mother tongue and the need for fluency in the same. Although I agree and appreciate the importance of the mother tongue, I feel that such an education might place the students at a disadvantage when it comes to the global arena. Education in regional languages, I feel, will limit the ability of the students in terms of resources and their ability to interact at a global level with their peers. Since English is the agreed International language for communication, I feel it is only wise to pursue technical education in English.

The problem today is that English receives so much attention that the mother tongue gets sidelined. Some of my friends, born and brought up in Tamilnadu, can neither read nor write in Tamil! Their vocabulary is also very limited, complemented with pathetic grammar.

Parents often become overzealous when it comes to the foreign language that the mother tongue is neglected.

I realized the importance of such a method when I was involved in a social service program with a Government school to train students for their school-final examinations with Tamil as the medium of instruction. I had never studied technical subjects in my mother tongue and took a couple of days to acclimatize myself with their books by comparing and learning the Tamil equivalent for technical terms in English.

On a separate occasion, I was invited to present a guest lecture at my alma mater. I was the second speaker of the day. I noticed that my audience consisted of students whose mother tongue was Tamil and were halfway into snoozeville by the end of the first seminar (a bullet attack). I opened my talk in Tamil and found that I had the audience with me. I spent the next 30 minutes, presenting my talk in English and Tamil. Although my Professor felt it a little unconventional for a guest speaker to be addressing the students in Tamil, my objective was acheived. At the end of my presentation, I had a large group of students with their notebooks, wanting to clarify their doubts and a few of them still do so through phone/mail.

I feel that it is only correct to strike a balance between English and Tamil. Along with making the mother tongue a compulsory subject, inclusion of basic mathematics and science concepts in the language lessons under the prose section would be of great benefit. By doing so, I believe that the students, apart from being introduced to technical terms in their mother tongue, tend to correlate and understand them in a better manner.

What do you think?

Teaching in the Student’s Language

About a couple of months back, I was teaching one of my GCSE students about the applications of electromagnetic radiations. However, the student was confused with the different types of electromagnetic radiations and their applications. He complained that the names were “too techy” for him to handle. That evening, I was chatting at my gaming alma mater and suddenly realized that I was talking about electromagnetic radiations without realizing it! In my subsequent class for that student, I opened the topic with a discussion of his favorite action game. He was excited and described his favorite game to me in great detail with all the cool gadgets that the hero had. I asked him to make a list of those on the board, following which I related them to electromagnetic radiations. Here is a part of that list:

  • Night vision goggles = Infra red radiations = Can see in the dark
  • Heat seeking missiles = Infra red radiations again = the heating effect results in heat signatures.
  • Biorifiles with green goo that kills the enemies = Radioactive gamma radiation (The green goes gamma!)
  • X-ray glasses = X-Rays = Has penetration power used for detecting broken bones
  • HQ communicator = Microwaves = For mobile phone communication
  • Radar = Radio waves = For radio wave communication

I even managed to get some gaming videos from YouTube and used them as a supporting material to explain how the electromagnetic radiations work.

He got an A in his subsequent test.

I’ve realized that teachers, apart from being creative in their approach, must also keep themselves updated with the current trends that interest the students. Their language changes almost every day and teachers must look to update themselves with the same. I’ve tried a lot of other methods too, including movies, songs, TV shows, etc. In the last two months, I was able to observe that this method not only helps them remember things, but also helps in developing a great rapport between the teachers and students.

Published in: on September 26, 2010 at 10:22  Comments (4)  
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Picture Perfect with PechaKucha

In this post, I thought of sharing my views and experiences with PechaKucha – An antidote for death by PowerPoint.

Here are the rules of the game: PechaKucha (The 20-20 version of PowerPoint) is a rapidfire, but effective method by which 20 images are shown, each for 20 seconds. Text may be used but the usage must be highly limited. The beauty of this method is that your speech is restricted to those 20 seconds as the slide transition happens automatically. This means that your entire presentation will be 20 slides x 20 seconds = 400 seconds, or 6.40 minutes! The speech part hence needs some careful planning.

Although this technique was originally invented for architects, this is one of the most popular methods in PowerPoint presentations. After watching a series of beautiful PechaKuchas, I finally decided to try it out with my students. I prepared a PechaKucha for a science lesson and explained the concepts in 6.40 minutes. I was able to observe its effects in three phases

  • During the lesson the students were more attentive and receptive
  • The student’s retention power was enhanced and I was able to observe this in subsequent testing
  • Compared to my usual classes, the PechaKucha sessions had the students to come up with more questions and ideas

Although I haven’t tried this method for high school students, I am eagerly looking towards testing this method for more complicated topics for higher classes based on my experience so far.

Have you used PechaKucha for educational purposes for students of primary, secondary or high school levels? If so, I request you to share your experiences here.

Happy reading!

Why Death by PowerPoint?

Throughout last week, I’ve been investigating on open source whiteboards. During this, I happened to do a lot of reading on presentations and happened to stumble upon the concept of death by PowerPoint. After a brief hunt, I was able to observe the amount of hue and cry made out of this issue (which I don’t blame). I was also able to observe a good number of my friends (online and offline), squirm at the mere mention of the word “PowerPoint”. We have seen and experienced the “how” of death by PowerPoint through our numerous bad experiences with terrible presentations. It’s high time we examine the “Why” of this issue.

In my opinion, the fault lies entirely with the presenter and not with the software. Some people have the notion that anything created with Flash, or some other rapid elearning tool,  can be extremely engaging. Although I appreciate the capabilities of these tools, I feel that the potential of PowerPoint is greatly understimated. Even the most advanced software can be used to create a miserable presentation. Hence it is entirely in the hands of the creator. We should hence look to correct our approach to the software. The software is a mere tool which gives us what we give it. If we feed it with nonsense, that’s precisely what we’ll get out of it.

This problem has another serious dimension when it comes to developing content in PowerPoint. Many teachers I’ve encountered favor the “traditional” approach to PowerPoint. When I asked them the reason for such an approach, one of them replied: “You have the boxes in PowerPoint, I just fill them up with pictures and text.” Basically, I don’t understand the logic behind calling this the “traditional approach.”  Rather than calling it traditional, it would be more appropriate to call it the “lazy approach.”

Another aspect that kills a PowerPoint presentation is the length. During my college days, I had the misfortune of attending a guest lecture by a doctor from a leading hospital in Chennai. His presentation was 165 slides long with 90% of it being bulleted text (about 10-12 points a slide)! The presentation (I would rather call it reading and skipping) went on for about a couple of hours and at the end of it, none of us had the clue of what hit us in those 120 minutes!

The concept of death by PowerPoint, in my opinion, can be zeroed down to two aspects:

  • Creativity
  • Presenter’s attitude

Presenters, more importantly teachers, must aspire to be more creative when it comes to developing content in PowerPoint. Before going on with a presentation, take a couple of minutes to think about the worst presentations which you have experienced and compare your creation with that.

A presentation by Karl Kapp, which can be seen here, has some excellent ideas for creating more engaging and useful content with PowerPoint.

PowerPoint slides are visual aids for the learners and not for the presenter!

Do you agree/disagree or have more points to add to what I’ve said, do leave your comment for this post.

Here is another interesting video on what not to do with PowerPoint:

Happy reading!

Tired of the Yellow Wall? The List Buster is Here

Well, this was quite sometime back: Everyday when I entered my office, I was welcomed by a wall of post-its hanging on my board. They got so random that I was unable to fathom which of them came before the other. I then used to spend time organizing my post-its in a chronological manner, which never lasted any longer (2 days was my best record). At one point, I was too scared even to look upon the yellow wall.

After many months of missed schedules and excuses, I happen to chance upon the concept of mind mapping. After some googling, I visited the library and was lucky enough to lay my hands on Tony Buzan‘s Mind Maps at Work: How to Be the Best at Your Job and Still Have Time to Play. Now that I’m done with this book, I’m eager to devour the contents of his other books too!

Here are a few points, highlighted by Tony Buzan, which I feel makes mind maps superior to lists:

  • Our mind works on the big picture and not on bullet lists (like this one)
  • Our mind makes associations in the form of images and not as words
  • We are sensitive to colour and mind maps tap that potential of ours
  • Mind maps help in long term retention of facts/tasks/objectives, etc

Now it’s just one colourful mind map in the place of the countless post-its. W00t!

Why don’t you give it a try?

Here is a short video of Tony Buzan talking about the concept of mind maps

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 02:01  Leave a Comment  
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Imposter Syndrome – My Two Cents

This post is to reflect some of my experiences and thoughts on imposter syndrome, which was discussed in great detail on yesterday’s #gtchat. Imposter syndrome gives a feeling of aloofness due to a lack of sense of belongingness to the peer group in terms of views and ideas. This phenomenon is independent of age. Christine Fonseca, in her post, has pointed out three basic factors which contribute to imposter syndrome. Although self esteem and praise contributes to imposter syndrome, I feel that giftedness forms the root for the other two. Giftedness leads to high self esteem and praise.

I had a gifted student last year in my key stage-level science class. I have the habit of asking the students for their take on a topic before I get into it in order to know their level of understanding. During such sessions, I noticed that she would keep mum and wouldn’t utter a word. In spite of me posing her with direct questions, she didn’t utter a word. I didn’t understand this at first and later, when I interacted with her, I was able to understand that she was scared that she might be wrong and that her classmates might look down upon her as a dunce! As I had discussed in yesterday’s #gtchat, a friend of mine has the same problem. We used to present seminars at our department and he would always come to me saying that he is going to blunder with it and always wanted me to go ahead with my presentation first.

With reference to gender differences, I feel that imposter syndrome is more common in women than in men. In India, it’s always been a trend that girls outshine the boys in academics. In this process, they develop a sense of self proclaimed responsibility (perfectionism) and seem to shy away from others. However, as Seabury School had mentioned, these people look to setting others’ expectations low to avoid feelings of failure, disappointment. Another phenomenon which I have observed is that these imposter syndrome people have the tendency to form their own small groups celebrating their habit. This not only worsens their condition, but also spread it to others.

However, I should also say that some of my gifted friends are real fun to be with. They have an air of confidence and warmth which attracts people. They become the centre of attention wherever they are. Such differences, I believe, are due to the lack of self realization in some gifted individuals. This is where these gifted individuals must be made to realize the importance of opening up. This can be promoted by allowing them to participate in “balanced” group discussions where the moderator sees to that every individual has contributed evenly to the discussion. They must be made to understand the importance of participation over winning. As Pierre de Coubertin said, the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle,the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

I have few other incidences of imposter syndrome, which I have reserved for the subsequent posts. I’d also like to hear about your experiences with imposter syndrome.

Published in: on September 4, 2010 at 21:53  Comments (4)  
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