April 2018
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  1. Teaching Science

    To make a student a scientifically literate citizen (NPE, 1988), there is need for the learner to

    • understand and apply basic concepts of science.
    • learn skills of gathering information.
    • develop desirable attitudes and value appreciation for truth and objectivity.
    • nurture creative talents.
    • learn scientific method and apply it in solving problems and making decisions to improve everyday living and environment.
    • promote the use of technology.

    This change in emphasis would require a learner to

    • investigate.
    • develop observation skills.
    • record observations.
    • structure, organize and communicate information.
    • hypothesize.
    • collect and analyze data.
    • draw relevant inferences.
    • design solutions and act accordingly.

    The best way to achieve this goal would be to adopt an activity-based guided discovery approach. Activity-based learning makes science more interesting, motivating, effective and meaningful. This provides plenty of opportunity for thinking, reasoning and looking at science in its totality as a highly rational, intellectual, problem-solving human activity. This would help in developing qualities like self-confidence, curiosity, initiative, inventiveness, self-reliance, persistence and skills of innovation to solve problems in real life situations. The sequential development of concepts can then be carried out through these scientific processes and skills.

    Activities can be of two types—

    1. Primary resource type
    2. Secondary resource type

    In the primary resource type of activity, the child is directly observing the materials. For example, trees, insects, local weather, etc. In the secondary resource type activity, material is not directly available. For example, things living under water, mountains, climatic conditions in different places, etc. In such cases information is presented to the class in the form of charts, pictures, models, graphs and tables. Secondary resources cannot substitute primary resources in their educational value (a model of a fruit is no substitute for the fruit itself). The child, as far as possible, must be exposed directly to various facts of his/her environment.

    Activities can also be classified as—

    1. long-term activities
    2. short-term activities
    Prior identification of such activities helps in planning. Consider an example. The concept of germination of seeds, if developed through an activity, requires observation for about a week. In this case the activity should start a week before the concept is actually discussed in class.

    Consider another example. The concept of changes in climatic conditions is to be developed. Children should be encouraged to keep a record of changes in weather from newspaper/TV/radio reports. This recorded data could be used for discussion at a later date.

    Short-term activities are those that can be performed without any prior starts. For example, solubility of salt in water or parts of plant.

    For secondary resources, models, charts and tables would be used. Care should be taken that every model/chart is used to help in the class discussion. Model-making becomes a wasteful effort if it is not used to discover something.

    Let us consider the unit on shelters. One favourite and simple activity is to ask children to construct houses. No doubt children enjoy cutting and pasting but if we end up with say 20 houses, all made with the same material and looking similar, the educational objective is lost. One may argue that the children’s motor skills are enhanced. But one should remember that we are talking of a science class not a craft class. This activity would be more meaningful if the 20 houses were made using different materials (some with mud and some with sticks, etc.) and /or with different designs. Then the teacher can focus the students’ attention on these differences to initiate a discussion.

    Before we proceed further, a point must be clarified. An ‘activity’ is defined as any transaction, with or without materials, in the class or outside which improves the child’s thinking, encourages the child’s curiosity, and makes the child use previous knowledge. Under this definition teacher-guided discussions are also activities (this is not to imply that one could get away with only discussions).

    Discussions are generated only when children have directly or indirectly interacted with their environment and have raised a number of doubts. Discussions are made to clarify these doubts.

    Role of Teacher. Keeping in view a child-centered approach, the teacher is said to have taken up the role of ‘facilitator and guide’. This means that the teacher would stop acting the role of an ‘answering machine’. To the extent possible, information must not be given by directly the teacher. Consider this illustration.

    Student: Sir, how does the plant get its food?
    Teacher: It gets its food by photosynthesis.

    This is exactly the type of answer a teacher must not give. What then should the teacher do? The alternative suggested is as follows.

    Teacher: How do you think the plant gets its food? How can we find out?

    This way of throwing back the question to the child encourages the child to assume responsibility for his/her learning. This, we believe, reflects the true spirit of a child-centered approach. Suggestions from students must be sought to set up the experiment, the observation to be made and the data to be inferred. The teacher should then help the student set up the experiment, make observations and draw conclusions.

    Group Activity. Ideally every student should perform the experiment individually. But for practical reasons and for encouraging cooperation among students, small groups of students could perform the experiment. The size of the group can be decided thus.

    • the total number of groups should not be very large.
    • the group size (number of students in each group) should also not be large.

    This ensures that every child gets a chance to do an activity. The choice of the members of the group should be done in such a way that there are bright, average and below average students in each group and overall the groups are equivalent to each other. This maximizes peer group influences and also helps in setting parallel experiments (for example, if we are to study the conditions affecting evaporation, one group could take up the factor of temperature, while the other concentrates on surface area and so on). Group discussions after parallel experiments are very productive and save a lot of time. Group leaders may or may not be chosen, but by rotation every member should get a chance to present the information obtained through their experiments or observations, to the rest of the class.

     -Dr Rajaram Sharma , from http://www.science.ratnasagar.co.in 

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