Friday, August 26, 2016

Students and lecturers of India should be asked to review research articles

Peer-review increases critical thinking, questioning, and reasoning skills among research faculties should be given in projects to earn credits, not just for publishing paper, in universities

A peer-reviewer decides and introspects the authenticity of the article. Finding the error in a technical article requires rigorous effort and knowledge about the subject. Also, a peer-reviewer contribution is outstandingly important and shouldn't be ignored when compared with the author.

Post-publication peer-review and pre-publication peer-review, both can be given to research faculties, so that they can earn credit for it.

What projects can be given to students at elementary schools and undergraduate or higher  level?

Let's talk about a project at undergraduate level:
After a particular concept of a subject is taught, e.g genetics, students can be asked to review an article searching the database such as PubMed using the keyword.

Let them describe a particular article in the class.

But to describe a particular article, guidelines should be made.

How does a debate happen in schools in India?
Most of the debate that happens in schools are not debate. Only you will find the nervous speaker (student) giving the speech and other students become almost passive, no participation at all. Teachers judge students based upon how efficiently he/she has spoken in confidence, how was his/her accent, almost no credits for what he/she spoke on the topic or how much knowledge he/she has or gained about the topic. Also, when in the stage, children forget about what to speak in nervousness and are disqualified.

Here are the changes we should make:
1) The discussion should be inquiry based in a trivial manner, the way students communicate with each other when not in class.
2) No judgment for asking stupid questions, as long as it is in the context of the subject.
3) Students should be taught what probing questions are, and should be encouraged to ask such type of questions.
4) The student can use the written article paper to describe it.
5) The teacher should make sure that all participate in the discussion, and share question and answers with each other.
6) There will be many many questions which students wouldn't know, sometimes nor the teacher. These questions should be noted down on paper by a student.
It's a general tendency of our students to expect our teacher to know everything, and teacher also pretends to know everything by ignoring the questions asked or sometimes they again counter question the students to harass them so that they stop asking. Such a perception is too harmful hinders the growth of both teacher and student.
7) Next, homework should be to find those answers by both student and teacher, and discuss it in next class.

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 http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/7/7-1,  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 with concrete examples rather than just with abstract formulas and equations. Also, it has a practice book equally important. This book is right for understanding physics at the undergraduate and high school 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 high school 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 and high school teachers. It has also got a problems book which contains gem like questions, which needs to be discussed among the students at the undergraduate and higher secondary 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 http://www.bbc.com/news/health-34039054  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?