“If you think education is expensive, try the cost of ignorance.” – Derek Bok, Former President, Harvard University
Under a similar motivation, a series of pedagogy workshops for science teachers of Maharashtra state government schools and District Institutes of Education and Training was conducted in the winter of 2016. About three hundred and fifty science teachers teaching 9th and 10th standard students participated. Under the aegis of the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shikshan Abhiyaan (RMSA), Government of Maharashtra, it was organized by the Centre for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education (COESME) at IISER Pune. COESME has been set up with the help of a grant from MHRD under “Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission for Teachers and Teaching (PMMMNMTT).
The pedagogy workshop was research based, consisting of tools that recognise, refine and reward research activity in a classroom setting. This does not imply novel research. These tools teach science and mathematics by enabling students to arrive at scientific concepts on their own, and cultivate problem solving skills. Imagination observation, logic, critical thinking, experimentation, interpretation and analysis are critical components. This approach has many names: Research Based Pedagogical Tools (RBPT), Research-Based learning (RBL), Problem-Based learning (PBL), project learning, “science in the real world” etc. In an inquiry-oriented classroom, the teacher is a co-explorer - one who cultivates curiosity and challenges students to think, explore and ask questions. Students are encouraged to “think out loud” as they share, debate, and collaboratively build understanding. However, it takes time to practice, and a shift in teaching strategies, to create a classroom where inquiry can flourish.
The reality of the situation was very promising, as the teachers were upbeat despite belonging to schools that lacked facilities on many fronts. Many schools didn’t even have proper classrooms; however, teachers did conduct basic science experiments. The training began with a session on ‘Observing and Describing’, conducted by COESME experts Apurva Barve and Madura Joglekar. They used a chocolate to delineate observations for the process of identification. This activity helped the teachers communicate what they observe without being biased or being influenced by a pre-conceived notion. For example, many teachers said that the toffee was coffee flavored, instead of saying that there was some flavor in there. The take home message was that knowledge is achieved through systematic observation that triggers inquiry.
We got a lot to learn from the other trainers, for example, they taught us how to make a gradient chart without using any instrument: use of a spot tile of a dye with measured diluent. Use of everyday objects for learning the scientific principles of chemistry: surface tension by using soap solutions. The language of communication was simplified: “gene” became “januk”. Teachers were able to correlate the basics that they had learnt as a part of their bachelor in education degree. Neeraja Dashputre (Assistant Professor, Chemical Education, IISER Pune) used an example of the various additives on plant growth while Jaiprakash Dashputre talked on electromagnetism and encouraged the teachers to draw the diagram of a magnetic field using a ruler and a pair of magnets. This provided an insight into the diagrammatic representation of concepts that are based on experiments. Vivek Ponkshe, educator from Jnana Prabodhini emphasized on the need to facilitate the thought process of students and support active reasoning – “Allow them to ask questions than ask them to arrive at a one correct answer; encourage all their responses to be valid, probe for clarification and evidence.” Vivek suggested a “rough-draft” sort of thinking, revised whenever a new piece of information is added as being vital to the process of science.
Children need time to try ideas, make mistakes, ponder on them and discuss. They need to be given space to explore their local phenomena maybe within the framework of the curricula. The workshops for teachers emphasized how using research as a pedagogical tool deepens content understanding.