‘Chemistry is a mystery’ is the most common statement I have heard when I mention that I am a chemistry teacher. It has forced me to innovate and hence, evolve my teaching style, so that I may be able to disprove this statement. Some of the untraditional methods, I have used to teach the subject, are dramatization, role-play, games (computer-based and otherwise), besides the new tools like EBLs and ABLs. They have had a great impact on my students’ learning. This article is an insight into how we as teachers can empower ourselves with ‘simple yet innovative’ techniques that can be used to make intense topics simple for our students.
Innovation in teaching is probably an overly used term, as it seems to be the requirement of the day. A lot is being said and heard about the ‘present generation’ learners. However, I don’t see a big difference in the ‘learners’. They are and were the same, but the environment in which the present generation is growing is completely different from what we grew up in. There are far more distractions; technology has taken students by awe; content/information is available in plenty, hence motivating students towards regular academics is a big challenge. Under such circumstances, any content delivered to them will be received only when packaged attractively. Hence, innovation is the key. ‘Innovation’ in education is probably ‘unconventional approach’ to regular academics. “What can be unconventional about Mathematics or Science?”, may be a valid question. Here is where, a teacher has a role to play. Modern tools and individual skill coupled with ‘out of the box’ ideas will not only lead to innovation, but also increase teacher participation in student learning.
In my journey of over eight years I have tried to make this subject called ‘Chemistry’, student-friendly. As a student myself, I was never threatened by the volume of learning associated with the subject, so it took me sometime to understand how my students could not learn. An analysis of my students’ perspective, made me realize that, they were dealing with something that is present all around, but they cannot see, like atoms, molecules, energy, bonding etc. and hence the complexity was just building. I realized that I had to adopt techniques so that I discouraged students from by-hearting textual content and reproducing them for the ‘vital’ marks. I would resort to a simple activity of letting students model as electrons in atoms to demonstrate the difference between an atom and an ion, or let them model as atoms to conceptualize bonding. I found it simple as there was no requirement for a specific resource and it allowed spatial cognition. I found the role-plays or dramatization extremely useful in many aspects like organic chemistry where the arrangement of atoms has to be explained. I recall a play- ‘Tale of 4 Cs’ staged by my students, wherein they scripted a play, made art-works for the same, directed it and presented it in front of an audience. The play was unique as it essayed the tale of 4 carbon atoms, detailing the formation of all compounds from them. The 20- min stage presentation involved a lot of practice, reading of concepts and immaculate planning for stage arrangement. It may not have been the ‘perfect’ play, but the learning associated with it in the course of the scripting or art-work planning or stage setting would remain indelible. Also, they enjoyed the planning sessions which were different from the regular chalk-board-talk sessions. A student remarked “Ma’am, are we done with the chapter? It is so easy? ” The happiness I felt after hearing the remark made me learn a very important truth as stated by E.M.Forster- “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches one nothing but the shape of the spoon”.
Try out- ‘Guide your students to dramatise, Nerve Impulse transmission in humans or the Tyndall Effect.’
Games are what children enjoy and if that is a part of learning, then it acts as a vital factor to how they have learnt. Much is being discussed world over about the potential of computer games as digital learning tools, in the pedagogy of Gamification. I had designed an entire lesson in the form of a computer-based game wherein, students were allowed to learn through PowerPoint presentations and videos and assess the same by winning the game that followed. I planned the activity (like a Bingo, crossword, snake/ladder) in GAMIFYING THE CLASSROOM such a way that, winning the game was mandatory for students to proceed to the next learning. This, I felt would give a sense of achievement to the learners and keep them motivated. Gamification need not be technology-dependent. Games like scrabble and trade can be implemented in Science learning as well, where the boards and the cards can be redesigned to suit the learning. For e.g.- A metal-nonmetal trade game can be designed, where the winner is the one who makes the most money with the trade of the said metal or non-metal. Professors in the School of Information Sciences and Technology, The Pennsylvania State University have suggested that we need to adopt untraditional teaching methods in schools, as it is not uncommon that students possess more advanced computer skills than teachers in today’s classrooms. In a particular case study, with the Learning Enrichment Center/Gifted Support Program (LEC), a programme part of the State College Area School District (SCASD), students took the role of learners and designers and the LEC teacher worked as a facilitator instead of technology expert in the process. They capitalized on the fact that students master more advanced computer skills than their teachers and a role-reversal helped pave way for better learning. We can teach from our experience, but we cannot teach experience.” ~ Sasha Azevedo. These words simply summarize the need for students to be a part of the learning and experience it. Educationists and researchers have constantly laid stress on ‘active learning’ for which teachers have to evolve to be facilitators. Rich subject knowledge is critical to being a good teacher, but involvement in students’ learning is extremely important. Hence, we can give quick tools to our children which will remain with them and help them in understanding how to learn. A mad-ad activity, in my experience has been a lovely tool to learn the ‘uses’ of substances, or a puppet-show can be effective to understand differences between things or to understand the advantages and disadvantages of substances. In each of the activities, the teacher involvement ends with identifying the groups of students and assigning responsibilities based on their skills and strengths. The rest will be achieved by students. The difference in a quality teacher and an average teacher comes in the readiness to innovate and evolve to involve in their students’ learning. I sense that the inertia comes from the fact that most experienced teachers belong to a generation where students learnt easily and also ‘did well’ in academics. (Where ‘did well’ = ‘marks scored’). But, today’s generation is bound to seek information from various sources; hence they require that ‘teacher’ to motivate them to learn the subject, which they otherwise drop in due course of time. All improvement in the education sector can bring true improvement in students’ learning with a small change in the teacher mind-set. In Einstein’s words- “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”. But, it is time we question ourselves if we harbor a hidden fear that we may not have a job at all if our students are empowered to learn on their own.
Proceedings of the 38th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences – 2005, ‘Students as Teachers and Teachers as Facilitators’
The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning: A Summary for the Education Endowment Foundation, Professor Steven Higgins, ZhiMin Xiao and Maria Katsipataki School of Education, Durham University