When students hypothesize, test and taste science!

When changes are felt all over, science education was not unaffected by it, particularly the assessment part of it. After working in IB schools for almost 6 years, I have realized that exam system seldom achieves the “all around development” goal of education. In exam oriented system slowly but surely everyone reaches to the stage where information is simply poured in the child’s brain and child on the day of exam simply has to take it out as it was poured.

If a child successfully could do that he / she is termed as “intelligent”. If child doesn’t do that he / she is forced to do this either by parents or by external pressures as peers, relatives, friends or schools. Unfortunately over the years, science education which has experiments at its core, have totally been ignored. In India, in a class of 60 students, 2- 3 students who are good in calculation or in memorization skills are presumed to be intelligent. And others who lack these qualities are cruelly termed as ordinary or incompetent, a dangerous precedent. Unfortunately, that  “Every child is special”, so poignantly portrayed in  Aamir Khan in Tare Zameen Par,  still finds no takers in exam-oriented & result-focused schools.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

All students having different capabilities are asked to face only one test which generally checks their memory and seldom their understanding.

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Does compartmentalized and robust examination system really stimulate the child’s curiosity to learn more? 

I strongly believe that students irrespective of their abilities of memorization and calculations, are curious. But this curiosity is very often killed by examination pressure.  How come exam will be the only medium in evaluating student’s learning process? Let me share my experiences with my IB board grade 9 class. While learning the menstruation cycle in the Reproduction unit in Biology, students were asked to do the research on techniques used by pre-Industrial Revolution era women. Students were supposed to find out the ways and also the science behind them during 14th or 15th century when menstruation pads were not invented. After 2 days of such fact finding mission, students (in the group) had to present it to the class. The requirements of the presentations were already handed over to the students. So they were clear in what would be expected from them. This is where History and Science intertwined nicely. Through such assignments, students automatically learn skills like time management, analytical thinking, team work, creativity and so on.

Here, one of the striking features of this approach is students and teachers can together decide the experiments which are to be carried out. This is empowering. Students from grade 7 onwards, need to write a hypothesis before conducting any experiment. A bold step forward for scientific literacy. 

In my grade 8, while learning the microorganism yeast, we (students and I ) decided to to make bread using yeast to counter-check if it is really used in making bread or not. Hypotheses were the most important part of this assessment. All students were asked to formulate their own hypotheses for bread making activity and they were also told not to worry about the final product. Even though, hypothesis is not proven, that is still correct since getting only positive result is not what science really is. The pointers for evaluation were: formulation of hypotheses, team work and analysis of the hypotheses.

The art of doing science & its proof is in formulating a hypothesis (yes, students made their own hypotheses), testing it and finally tasting it too! For students, science came alive as a challenging and joyous subject! This approach, I guess also provides students to accept or reject an opinion in a constructive manner. Teacher has to constantly think creatively for her lesson plans, assignments keeping in mind the larger goals of mentoring them towards a thinking, responsible, principled future real-life problem solvers. Every unit in every subject in IB has a global perspective and there lies a creative challenge to make her classroom engagement interesting.

[And also, check this link]

A dynamic learning approach discussed here would not be the ultimate solutions however it can be a meaningful effort to achieve real objective of learning. A learner-centered, exam free approach can surely stimulate the individual to learn more. Sample these questions I got from them:

[1] How does food travel in the body of astronauts in the space station where there is no gravity? (Unit: Digestive system)

[2] If someone tickles us we laugh however if we tickle ourselves we do not feel to laugh, why is this so? (Unit: Senses)

[3] We listen our recorded sound we feel strange, however others don’t feel it any different, and why is it so? (Unit: Sound)

[4] If a mosquito bites a HIV infected person, can mosquito be HIV infected? (Unit: Diseases)

These are just few questions but questions like these show that students are always curious and the onus is on us to keep that spark ignited. Supporting classroom environment and joyous learning experience will surely help to achieve this. A dynamic learning approach makes students confident & ready to take on (academic) challenges.

Sandip Kulkarni teaches at Nazarbayev Intellectual School Astana, Kazakhstan www.nisa.edu.kz

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