Life after 4pm

During my pilgrimage earlier this month, I happened to visit a village called Thingaloor, in the Thiruvayaru district in Tamilnadu (too small to be recognized by Google maps). It is a village of about 50-60 huts and houses the famous Moon temple. I had to walk for about 4Km from the highway to reach the village temple.

Road to Thingaloor

It was a beautiful Friday evening and the children were playing on the streets. As I was walking towards the temple, a group of kids stopped me and wanted me to take a picture of them. I took their picture and we sat down by the fields and the following was our conversation (translated from Tamil, the local language):

Myself: Do you all go to school?

Kids: Yes. We all study at the village school of Thiruvayaru. We are students of class 3 and 4.

Myself: That’s wonderful. So what did you learn at school today?

Kids: We learned to sing some songs, learned the Tamil alphabet and about seasons.

Myself: Very good. What do you do after school?

Kids: We walk back to our village and play in the fields.

Myself: Does your teacher give you any homework?

Kids: What’s that?

Myself (a little shocked): Don’t you have to do some studying after school to revise your lessons?

Kids: Why should we? We learn at school and play at home. Our teacher insists that we should concentrate on our lessons in our class and play after school.  He has never asked us to study. We don’t have our own books to study either.

Myself: So, are you able to remember what your teacher taught you?

Kids: Yes we do. We see what we learn around us. Our teacher taught us about the climate of our district today. Our parents are farmers and we can see and feel it around us. Why do we need a book for that?

Myself: Have you seen or used a computer?

Kids: We’ve seen them in movies. Computers are used by rich people who go to office and are busy. How can small children like us in villages use them? We don’t need computers.

I then showed them a video on seasons on YouTube in my phone. They did like it but felt that it was no big deal as they were in physical contact with what they learn.

Any thoughts?

The group of kids that got me thinking 🙂

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Importance of Ed Research – A New Hashtag?

Last night, I was participating at the weekly #gtchat convo where we were exchanging great information about best sites and tips on finding scholarly research online.

Current research, in my opinion, is our window to the world. We gain knowledge of what’s happening out there and what more could be done to improve things. Moreover, staying updated also saves time and prevents us from reinventing the wheel. I was glad to meet people who were passionate about keeping themselves updated with the current global scenario.

Twitter has always been my favorite place to learn and discuss various topics. Last night, I realized that there isn’t much discussion happening with respect to educational research. We share our views and experiences on twitter but what about all the research articles we read? Sharing and discussing research articles on twitter and on our blogs will, apart from enriching our knowledge, transform the social media into a rich source of credible information.

So here’s the deal. I propose a new twitter hashtag #edres where we can post research articles and have a discussion on them. If the topic gets too hot there, we can shift it to one of the regular ed hashtags for a full length discussion. #gtchat tweeps are already in action, considering the idea of a separate gifted research hashtag (#tdres or #gtres). What do you think? Please leave your views in the comments section.

Learning Objectives on Paper and in Practice

I have designed a number of e-learning modules for school kids and I usually devote special time and care in highlighting the learning objectives. I also had a chance to witness many presentations and the learning objectives slides are either skipped or they are read out to the learners in a rather listless manner. I was a little annoyed to see the slide which was written with so much care receiving so the little attention. My learning objectives slide looked something like this:

Learning objectives on paper

I discovered that my learning objectives looked as they are supposed to—on paper. These learning objectives appear to be more like instructions. This slide seems to have an element of restriction attached to it which automatically disconnects the learner from the topic.

I feel that such bulleted lists of learning objectives should be for the teachers’ eyes only. Using such bulleted lists in class not only wastes time, but also leave the students clueless of what they are about to encounter for the rest of the class.

Students can be presented with the same learning objectives in a different way such that this slide actually helps them to connect themselves with the presentation. Mind mapping is one of the techniques which I feel, is an excellent tool for presenting learning objectives. I have observed that these maps improve knowledge retention and promote appropriate recollection and application of the acquired knowledge. The advantage with mind mapping is that it can also be used in classrooms which lack technology. These maps can be sketched on flip charts, blackboards, etc. I have presented the same set of learning objectives as a mind map here:

Learning Objectives in Practice

Could you tell me something about it?

This is my favorite, and hence the first question I ask my students before getting on with the lesson. Prior knowledge of the subject is something which is very common with today’s students. The teacher no longer holds monopoly of facts in the classroom. Students have access to enormous amounts of facts and data with the click of a mouse. The teacher must utilize this in their favor in order to facilitate a constructive learning environment.

It is important for teachers to know what the students already know about the topic. This not only saves time, but also sustains the students’ interest in the class. Moreover it provides ample time for the lessons and a little more time for activities which enhance the learning experience for the students.

Another aspect of such pre-quizzes is that they help in clarifying the misconceptions the students might be having about the concepts in their lessons. Such sessions make the students not just answer the ‘what’ of it but also the ‘why’ of it. A pre-quiz not only grabs the students’ attention but also implants an element of curiosity in them which would insure better attention and consequent retention of the concepts.

The teacher, apart from conducting such pre-quizes, should insure proper motivation and appropriate feedback to the students. If done properly, such sessions would result in the voluntary effort by the students to read more about the topics after school and come up with more questions. This will ultimately lead to the stage where students begin to synthesize their own questions and answers, realizing inquiry based learning (Ah… That’s my favorite word!)

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 22:18  Comments (2)  
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Simple Testing Games for Young Learners

This post is dedicated to classrooms which are shielded from the influence of Web 2.0, technophobes, and those who want to take a break from the LCD screens.

I like these games in particular because they are very simple and moreover can be applied in any subject, ranging from mathematics to social sciences to languages. While theoretical subjects can capitalize on these games to improve the knowledge of the learners, languages can focus on the speaking skills, fluency and vocabulary aspects.

Although, I’m writing this with young learners in my mind, these games can also be used for adult learners. I’m listing some of my favourite games in this post.

Just a Minute (JAM)
In this game the learner is given a topic and a minute’s time to speak on it. During this one minute, the flow should be consistent and there must be no interruptions in the flow of ideas. The students can be allowed to choose the topic by drawing lots which makes it even more interesting. I would suggest reserving 5-6 minutes every class for such a session to recapitulate the day’s lessons.

Shipwrecked
This is one of my favourite role play games. In this game, the students are organized into pairs. The scene of this game is set on a sinking ship with just one life jacket. Each learner is given the role of a character/object. They must speak for a minute highlighting their positives and why they deserve the life jacket more than the other.

Word Tail
This is a class activity where the teacher initiates the word tail with one word and selects a student to say a couple of sentences about it. Following this, the student gets to extend the tail by selecting a related word and posing it to his/her classmate. The word tail can be extended as long as the teacher wishes to. I like this game because, it often goes beyond the realms of the textbook and you won’t believe the connections which the kids make with just a few words from their lessons.

What’s the Good Word?
The teacher thinks of a word and gives a clue. If the student guesses the answer with that clue, they get 3 points. If they don’t, the teacher gives a second clue and if the student gets it right, they get 2 points. If they don’t get it after the second clue, the teacher gives a third clue and if the student gets it right, they get 1 point. The rule is that only single words can be used as clues, unless you want to use a proper noun. When the student gets the answer, that student can think of another word and pose it to their classmates.

Wordfire
The teacher opens the game with a word and selects a student. The student must come up with a related word and point out to another student who must come up with another word that relates to the one said by the first student. This is a rapid fire game and each student gets a maximum of 5 seconds to come up with a word.

Got anymore games? Do share them with me!

Published in: on December 6, 2010 at 22:28  Comments (3)  
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M Learning – Why don’t we take it?

M learning is one of the most promising areas in today’s educational scenario. It has been praised for its time efficiency, reach and convenience. Moreover, as I had mentioned in my previous post on mobiles, m learning promises to be an extremely child-friendly technology and will lead them where we want them to be in their own way. However, we are unable to embrace this technology wholeheartedly. After interacting with many educators, I was able to identify 3 reasons for the apprehensive outlook:

  • Fear
  • Attitude
  • M learning development across multiple OS

With respect to fear, many teachers are scared of using technology in class. They feel that they might be embarrassed in front of their students if they project their inability to use technology. In my view, this is no excuse to shy away from m learning. Teachers must change their outlook toward integrating tech with education. Teachers must step down from their “platform” and mix with the kids and learn technology along with them. How can a person be a good teacher if he/she is not a good learner?

Attitude is another great cause of concern which hinders the growth of m learning. Many teachers are content with the available resources and say that if these were good enough for them in their days; it should be good enough for them. This is unfortunately not true. Kids of today are living in an entirely different environment and are digital natives. Teachers must aspire to embrace change and adapt themselves accordingly for the learner’s sake.

Although the third point is not directly related to teaching this is another cause of concern when it comes to developing m learning tools. M learning tools of today lack compatibility with respect to multiple platforms. There are many m learning applications for iOS and not a fraction of it for other operating systems. Since iphones are beyond the reach of many, in terms of economy and preference, m learning is still under the covers. Development of learning materials compatible with multiple OS should improve the reach and appreciation of m learning.

Will you take m learning?

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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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?