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 🙂

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.

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.

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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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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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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Inclusion Classes – Another Opportunity for Multimedia… and Us?

This post is in response to the discussion on inclusion classes on #Edchat yesterday. As @thenewtag pointed out, inclusion classes should be looked upon as an opportunity and not as a struggle. I feel that multimedia support in inclusion classes would improve the effectiveness of this concept.

A teacher should look towards creating a congenial learning environment for all students. The main idea behind setting up inclusion classes is to bring students with special needs into the mainstream and help them gain knowledge and confidence. Also, an inclusion class will help the normal students to appreciate those with learning disabilities.

I had some discussions and did some reading on this and was able to observe that in most cases, the special ed teacher and the standard teacher worked on different tracks. This creates a rift not only in the delivery of the instruction, but also creates a rift among the learners and hence the purpose of inclusion is defeated. A synergistic approach, coupled with immaculate planning is hence warranted here.

Seeking Aid from Multimedia – A Good idea?

I my opinion, multimedia can serve as excellent tool in sealing rifts in inclusion classes. The following are my viewpoints on multimedia inclusion. If you want to add more points, agree, or disagree to my views, do leave a comment about it.

  1. Multimedia-based lessons might impose a certain degree of compulsory coordination among the teachers as they have a common media to support their lessons.
  2. Visuals and sounds not only enhance the learning experience of normal children, but also have a profound effect on children with learning disabilities.
  3. A multimedia lesson holds the attention of all the learners onto it and can ensure uniformity in the content delivered.
  4. The teachers can act as facilitator team in guiding the learning process of the students with multimedia.

What do you think?