Thursday, August 25, 2016

Collaborative work like questioning and answering, how its even possible in an exam oriented environment in India?

While going through the article,  Learn How to Study Using... Elaboration, it made me think of my past education or even present schooling system in India from my siblings.

It's like turning the education system upside down, just changing everything, from teacher centric to student-centric. But how it will be possible?

Here the reasons that don't allow it to happen because:

1) Exam oriented environment
Exam oriented environment in India, marks means everything, no matter how you secure it, through copying, through cramming, memorizing or any method you like. You are judged through your marks. Even to tackle it CCE was brought. But it has become even a greater failure because of our smart teachers who could circumvent the effort, by distributing marks for free, showing good scores to parents and everyone. The end result is negligible learning due to CCE.

2) Lack of time
Leave about a lazy teacher for a while, what about teachers who genuinely want their students to learn something. To describe a single topic, it requires a scrupulous amount of work and time in the classroom which means lagging behind the syllabus. The question also comes to mind why a teacher will try it if at end students are tested by an hour exam which they have to reproduce what's already written in books. It's just transferring the information from books to answer script, and you are awarded no matter which method you apply to achieve it.

The exams don't test collaboration or questioning skills, it doesn't test the ability to imagine something novel or out of the box thinking.

Even these skills can't be tested through the one-hour exam. It can only be done through projects, a project that requires time, which student don't find because they have to clear entrances and exams.

Some students can say that they are given lots of projects. Yes, they are given, but without purpose or details.

Take the project of collecting medicinal plant photos. Project description ended with a single line. No description of what's the purpose of doing it, why they are doing it. If you ask the student, they will say that they are doing it for the sake of project i.e. because they are asked to do so. The end result is collecting randomly some medicinal plant photos (only photos) from Wikipedia, and then rebuking the teacher in mind for giving the task, as they don't find time to study their syllabus. And finally submitting the printout of photos, which are again thrown to trash after some days.

Here is how the same project could have been interesting, by giving specific details of the project.

1) Collect medicinal plant that you find interesting, about 20
2) Mention why did you thought it as interesting, what is the purpose/use of the medicinal plant you have chosen
3) Choose 3 plants out of it, and discuss that plant in the classroom with as much detail you can, where teacher and other students will assist in inquiry by asking probing questions
4) Note down the asked questions that you did not know, and probe the internet to find answers
5) Next day discuss the newly discovered answers with the classmates and teachers.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Books that promote critical thinking among science students at undergraduate level

Most undergraduate and post graduate books in India are not well written, promote rote memorization, state board books are just full of errors, you can't even read a page while solving problems without finding errors in the answers given.

A book is not a book, if any statement you pick, does not say something useful, does not allow you to think. In the age of the internet, where data is enormous and easily available, we need a method to extract knowledge from these data.  Books allow presenting information in a form that  we can understand, grasp it as it is written in a concise and precise manner.  We need books that allow not filling the vessel but kindling the flame. Books that promote critical thinking.

Here are some the books which our students and especially teachers need to follow and should be in every library:

Conceptual Physics, by Paul G. Hewitt
The book is very well written, the book almost relate everything in physics with real world examples. You will understand physics intuitively rather than just with formulas and equations. Also, it has a practice book equally important. This book is right for understanding physics at the undergraduate level.

Feynman Lectures on Physics
This book also allows understanding physics more intuitively, without giving lots of equations and formulas.

Fundamentals of Physics, Halliday & Resnick
The question of these books are of gold standard, that promotes critical thinking, but as the questions are difficult to solve it requires teachers who can explain to students by breaking down the problem into simpler understandable steps. Also requires more personalized approach, so that every student tries and succeed to solve it, rather than one or two students in the class.

HC Verma- Concepts of Physics
This book is similar to Fundamentals of Physics, with too good questions that promote critical thinking.

Chemistry a Molecular Approach,  Nivaldo J Tro
Very well written book, NCERT chemistry book can't even be compared with it. Not a single statement in it is meaningless and gives chemistry in concise and precise manner.

Organic Chemistry as a Second Language, David Klein (First and Second Semester)
Author has terrifically written the book on organic chemistry. You will understand organic chemistry like never before, and no need to memorize just the equations and reactions day and night which are just a junk for students.

Campbell Biology, Reece, Urry, Cain et. al.
In India, biology is taught in most horrible manner. Biology means how much memory you have, how much memorization you can do, not how much you understand the subject.
This book addresses the problem. You will understand biology and connect it to the real world. The diagrams in it are also wonderful. The questions in it promote inquiry and critical thinking.

Genetics A Conceptual Approach, Benjamin Pierce
Even though it's not for undergraduate students, but a must for undergraduate teachers. Teachers should follow the book and come for an inquiry-based lecture.

Molecular Biology of the Cell, Alberts
A must for undergraduate teachers. It has also got a problems book which contains gem like questions, which needs to be discussed among the students at undergraduate level.

Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry
It's another book, which lazy teachers are scared of. But without making an effort to understand biology, how will a teacher promote understanding among students?

Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology, Martinin, Nath
Meticulously well-written book of anatomy and physiology, which an undergraduate teacher must follow.

Molecular Biology, Rober F. Weaver
Another phenomenal book that teachers at the undergraduate or above must follow. If you want to teach a student, why scientist think DNA exists,  this book is for you. The book is completely experimental based and gives details about how scientists reached a particular conclusion.

Finally, OpenStax books for Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Maths and other..
These books are open source, peer reviewed so, you can contribute to it by providing errors or suggestions, written in a manner that increases curiosity and the book that improves all the time.

India needs to scrap out all the books that do not promote critical thinking/ understanding  and bring international quality books to the libraries. We want our kids who have the ability to think, not memory storing machines.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

In order to understand a student understanding, ask how they are imagining things?

Aphantasia, is about not able imagine the image vividly, does it trouble to create new imagination?

I have always a difficulty from childhood, for recalling the image vividly, I can’t get into details of the image. In order to remember a person's face, I need to meet up with the person again at least 3 or 4 times.  Even I have trouble in navigation. But all the issues are based upon generalized context, but there are exceptions.
For example, I will reach the place second time again without trouble, if I  think of/ paid attention to the landmarks, I can recognize the person with his/her face again, if I think of or paid attention to the details of his/her face while the meeting.
But in common I usually can’t recall the faces vividly,  but many have a very excellent capabilities imagining person's face or knowing the direction of a place which they have visited just once.

I scored  22 out of 40 in the test of Aphantasia.

But does that mean, people with aphantasia are less capable of imagining something new?

Imagining something new means imagining that does not exist, that we don’t see usually through our eyes. It is similar to our dream, which is not vivid, yet they are novel. It’s about seeing something, that other person don't visualize it.

Take the example of explaining a chemical reaction of cellular respiration. The reaction may seem trash at the first glance which you have to memorize, but when you start imagining it differently, it's no more a trash and you will understand it better.

Let's start imagining these statements:
Enzymes called dehydrogenases remove a pair of hydrogen atoms (2 electrons and 2 protons) from the substrate thereby oxidizing it. The enzyme delivers the 2 electrons along with 1 proton to its coenzyme, NAD+. The other proton is released as a hydrogen ion (H+) into the surrounding solution.

In order to understand such statement, we have to completely depend on our imagination. We have to imagine a dehydrogenase, for some, it may be a rough structure in mind, for some it may be just a kind of object.
Then from it 2 electrons and 2 protons come out, we have to imagine a hydrogen atom with a proton and an electron.
How will a student imagine proton and electron in hydrogen?

That depends on the previous knowledge of the student about hydrogen, of example I imagine proton as in the center, electrons revolving around it, but what if a student don’t know the structure of it properly, he/she may imagine, two pieces of some kind of objects called electrons and other two pieces of object called protons which is hydrogen coming out of it, which will be a kind of faulty imagination.

Next, we have to imagine the substrate, which is given in the diagram, we can imagine  glucose as molecules. When you say about glucose, what picture comes to the mind, for me, it may be the cyclic structure of glucose or a glucose packet,  and then the statement says the substrate is oxidized. How will a student imagine it if he/she does not know what oxidation is? Maybe he/she will skip the oxidation part from imagination. For me, it's removing of the electron.

As you can see only one sentence requires a prodigious amount of imagination, even though we can do it very quickly, but if our imagination is incorrect, so will be our understanding.

In order to understand what misconception a student holds, or to understand their understanding we have to understand how they are imagining things. This can be done by asking questions to students to speak about their imagination in details. How are they imagining things?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Making an effective Parents Teachers Meeting in India: Comprehensive ideas to get started

1) Parents Participation : One of the major challenges that need to be overcome is the lesser engagement of parents. Do most parents attend parents teacher meeting? What are the reasons that a parent don't appear in the meeting (in private or govt. schools)? Reasons can be many such as lack of time, uninformed about the meeting because the invitation is not done properly or ignorance towards the education of their children as in the case of govt schools.
So how can we deal with it?

2) Meeting Guidelines: In order to make the meeting productive, there needs to be everyone participation. In a usual meeting, parents sit as a passive listener most of the time and  a bunch of teachers give oration about education. But, such situation should be discouraged in the meeting. The meeting is about discussing problems faced by students and even school and how it can be solved by the involvement of parents. So, before we convene a meeting even, a lot of work has to be done about specifics of questions that need to be talked in the meeting.

So, here is a rough example sketch that can be done to confront these issues.

The first step is identifying the problem faced by the kids which need to be discussed with their respective parents in the meeting. The problem can be particular to a student, or a common problem faced by students. If the case is first, sometimes it needs to be solved without making it public, so personalized parent meeting should be done. But if it's a common problem, it can be done in the public meeting.

So, the question is how to identify the problem faced by kids? Its is the toughest job that needs to be done. One of the methods can be an inquiry and in-depth observation on a student.
Let's analyze a statement
"Student is doing badly in chemistry" This is a very generalized statement you will often hear/perceive from teachers when the student get failed in tests.
But the statement lacks any specifics about the student inability to score marks.
To find the specifics, the teacher needs to take help of inquiry and in-depth observation.

So, let's make an example inquiry section to find specifics.

Does the student understood the concepts of the topic? Again, how to know it. By asking some conceptual and simple questions about the topics to the students.

So, what if he/she could answer the simple questions? If this is the case, then exam questions need to be analyzed like what questions were asked in the test and why he/she was unable to do it.

What if he/she couldn't answer the simple questions?
Again, a common perception among teacher is the student is less intelligent or not working hard. This is the conclusion reached by most teachers for not doing well in exams.

"Less intelligent": a very generalized way of defining intelligence. The teacher needs to work on specifics. Is his/her memory less than other students? How to test it, whether his/her memory is less?If the case is memory shouldn't exam pattern be improved? In which way, he/she is less intelligent. Is he/she able to do calculations properly to reach the solution? Was his/her approach to the problems correct?

Next perception, he/she is not working hard. Have you inquired properly to reach this conclusion? How do you know if the student is unwilling to tell you, or he/she is even unsure about it? Even if the conclusion is true, how to motivate them to study, so that it doesn't become a burden for them. Many students feel studying as punishment for them. Why do they feel so? How to make studying more entertaining to them?

It was an example of studies, but there are many other issues that can be discussed with parents, such as school fees, child abuse, sexuality, bullying, environment and limitless issues.

After teachers have identified the problems and thought of some kind of solution, then the meeting can be convened with parents to inquire them and discuss with them.

List of questions or topics should be decided before the meeting which needs to be discussed.

Technologies can also be used to track and speed up all these procedures.

What technologies can we use?

Making a central website to put questions in public/private and their solutions.

Even if the parents are not willing to come they can either post their questions or suggestions on the website or give the question to their children, which can be uploaded to the website. This will make them participate virtually.
Encouraging students to put their problems on the website, keeping their identity anonymous or hidden from the public. And making it obligatory for the student to put at least one problem/suggestion on the website.
Deciding the theme of the meeting which needs to be discussed and posting it.
Convene the meeting with parents through technologies like SMSing, email etc..
Then again posting conclusions of the meeting after it is done. Also posting personal replies on the website about the solutions of the questions.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How can central open schools such as NIOS can make a revolutionary step in the field of Personalized Education?

Most schools are overloaded with students. Usually, a single classroom in popular schools in your locality must be having more than 30 students in a particular class.
To give students a personalized experience, it’s all most impossible for these schools.
So, students rely on personal tuitions to meet the requirement of the students. All most all parents that have a good income, provide personal tuitions to their children.

So, what role NIOS has to play?

NIOS can promote mini-schools with 10-20 students in class with laboratory facilities and required teachers. They don't need to have all the classes for Std 1 to 12th. Any particular class for a startup would do, based on teacher availability. But for it, a lot of processes has to be done by NIOS.
1) Designing Curriculum 
Design the best curriculum from Class I to Class 12 with book recommendation, training teachers for best practices of teaching that works (with giving complete research and statistical data of its working)
2) Conducting Exams
We cannot rely on these mini-schools for conducting exams. So, NIOS should start conducting exams per semester, from Class I to Class 12. Per semester is important, to make students more accountable to their studies.
The exams must be very transparent, like using Aadhaar Card for authentication, scanning of the answer scripts.  Handwriting checking can also be done, to know the student is an authentic examinee.
The exam can be conducted on Sundays, Saturdays and holidays in different schools/classrooms. Also, the examiner should be randomly selected, so that parents or anyone don’t know who will be the examiner before the exam. Conducting a transparent exam without malpractice is the key to the success of this whole procedure.
3) Giving feedback and results of the Exams
Giving a detailed feedback by looking at each answer of students, where students are lagging behind, how they can be improved, etc. along with the marks provided. For it, a website can be made for uploading the feedbacks and answer scripts.
4) NIOS can charge the required amount of fees for this process.

If this is done, students will get a personalized education and a more transparent process of evaluation of their skills.

Some of the questions may be how there will be the quality assessment of these mini-schools?
So, a ranking of mini-schools can be done based upon the results, as semester examination is not conducted by them, the ranking will be most transparent  and competition will be another factor, as students/parents have true freedom to choose their classes.
What about students of below poverty line?
Mini-schools can be supported by govt aids, who include students from below poverty line. To avoid abuse of it, only good ranked mini-schools should be given a chance or their affiliation should be canceled if students don't score well in exams.
Consider the situation, if students got passed in 5th Class, and the institute doesn't provide 6th Class and unable to find an institute of 6th Class nearby. What he/she would do in such situation?
Presently we already have many coaching institutes, by making them an offer of open schooling, they surely will want to get affiliated and meet the requirements of laboratory etc. So, this will be a very rare case to happen.

This can be a revolutionary step that can work with the private-public partnership and a better approach for handling quality education than state run or center run schools.

So, it only requires a proper iterative pipeline, well-designed website for maintenance.

How practicals are done in India? How should it be done through inquiry-based approach?

Practicals in school and colleges are all about writing records. They spend most of the time on writing records, drawing fancy diagrams without even knowing anything about what they are writing/drawing.
Teachers also award students whose records are only visually appealing, not on the content/or not whether students have understood what they are doing.
e.g. recently I heard from a student that teacher managed to throw the notebook because she was writing in a rough notebook.
So, classes are all about writing records that teacher dictates with giving a very little practical knowledge

I even don't blame the teacher. He/she does the same thing what she/he has been taught in her/his times of college. So it just a repetition/ritual way of doing things what has been done since the inception of colleges.

So, how it should be fixed through inquiry-based approach?

It can be fixed by bringing a change in curriculum.
Let's look at the syllabus of practical. Just one or two lines statements of each practical.

Neither there are any good practical books, which gives complete detail about how practical should be taught? (not how it should be done?) Most practical books are written like notes, from which students can learn nothing.

So here is an example how practical should be taught, or books should be written? Please do look at it thoroughly:
Mixing sugar and water, what happens to sugar:

Teaching about surface tension and statistics(Classroom Strategies for Inquiry-Based Learning,

Monday, July 18, 2016

How should teacher selection be done in a transparent manner in India and keep them accountable?

Mostly in the current procedure, a teacher is appointed by entrance exam or a bunch of questionnaires by senior faculties or administrator. (Keeping all different kinds of corruption or lobbying that takes place aside)
But this process does not guarantee a good teacher. A modern educator should have many other psychological, pedagogical and leadership skills/features that are not tested in this procedure. The current procedure only tests the amount of subject knowledge/information they have, which can only be used as the first line of defense to get a good teacher.

So, instead of selecting a single teacher from the interview, 3 to 5 etc. teachers must be selected and should be given few classes to teach the students. These classes should be recorded, and voting must be done by students and faculty members based upon the questions asked in the voting.

The questions can be such as does the lecturer/teacher increases curiosity on the subject, do they understand the subject properly, and many other practical questions that need to be asked about the lecture based on research that works, with trial and errors.

One can escape the first line of defense due to many loopholes, but no way on the second step. You will be always be assured a good teacher if done properly.

Do look at the page what a modern educator should be...

How to keep our teachers accountable for excellence in education?

Here again, the role of technology (camera and microphone) will  assist. Instead of tracking teachers all the time, recording needs to be done on weekly basis. Then, the recording that contains voice should be uploaded in a central database repository, where the video will be available for feedback from the public. The video should be available only for 3 months for review, after that, it can be deleted to save the memory space.

What the benefit of doing it weekly?
It provides freedom to teachers, as they are not tracked all the time. Also, keeps teacher accountable as they have to study and do their homework on the continuous basis and then come to the class.
It provides a ceaseless feedback system between students, teachers, and public, all participate in the education system of the country.

Also, there should be guidelines of the website repository, about what type of feedback can be given e.g. public needs to be polite, and whenever they criticize, it needs to be constructive so that teachers remain emotionally supported and there is always room for improvement for teachers rather than thinking about perfection.

Teachers who perform better (as it will help in identifying best teachers), can be used for making MOOCs for other teachers and students. Other teachers will learn the teaching habits of good teachers and we will have more course materials.