Saturday, January 14, 2017

All books that don't meet the learning criteria must be taken off

Textbook must cover six fundamental instructional strategies, defined by rigorous research.

1) Pairing graphics with words
2) Linking abstract concepts with concrete representations

Why we face difficulty to remember abstract concepts?

"What Makes a Great Question?" rubric
Why, how, what if, how do you know

What if and why not
helps you to find alternatives to a solution

4) Repeatedly alternating problems with their solutions provided and problems that students must solve.
5) Distributing practice
6) Assessing to boost retention

Detailed explanation of the strategies is given here, NCTQ learning about learning

The problem with our education system:
Most (99%) books referred by our teachers (whether its schools or higher education), not even meet a single criterion, most importantly posing probing questions and linking abstract concepts with concrete representations, which are the foundation for learning and comprehension/understanding. 
The result is the student just try to score marks by repeating facts without being critical about it.
The bad books are the main reason why we have bad teachers and bad students. It's not that teacher doesn't work hard, they just don't teach which meet the criteria, so that learning happens.
It's not even fault of the administration, they put the books in the library what teacher recommend to them, and also naive students prefer books recommended by teachers.

Some of the books that previously recommended that meets all the criteria are:

Conceptual Physics, by Paul G. Hewitt
The book is very well written, the book almost unraveling 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.

Chemistry a Molecular Approach,  Nivaldo J Tro
Books with lots of diagrams, probing questions, all abstract concepts are represented with concrete examples and analogy, repeatedly alternating problems with their solutions provided and problems that students must solve, regular assessments with right questions.

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.

Here are some of the more features that a book should contain:
1)After the text has explained a concept, it must give few questions on the particular concept in the same place. The questions should be prepared in a manner that, it checks the understanding of the concept, not recall of the concept.
2) Questions should be probing, also many questions should be graphics/diagrams with texts. Most books that are recommended usually don't contain visual questions. For example, if you look our books of biology, very less visual, and almost no probing questions are present, do compare with questions of Campbell Biology, Molecular Biology of the Cell, how they bring probing questions with visuals in them.

Question from Campbell Biology

3)Books should be written that respect the time of students based upon their course time.
4) Books should be written in a manner that they talk with the students, not throwing information like short notes.
5)Questions should have relevance to real problems, concrete situations, application based, not all hypothetical questions detached from reality.

6) Questions and distractor in the case of MQCs should be very clear, that checks the comprehension, without creating confusion. Many times questions are written in a way that is just difficult to understand, you can't even know what the question is actually asking, so how can you even try the question even if you understood the concepts.
7) Each question in the textbook should have its purpose, problems shouldn't be designed just for the sake of doing it, it should improve the understanding of the concept at a deeper level, eliminate misconceptions and fix concept into memory.

8) Real photograph and funny cartoons in explanations and questions (e.g. in case of representing resistance as zigzag wire, it can be represented as bulbs)
9) Scientists interview or how they discovered a particular phenomenon along with their real photographs
Venkatraman Ramakrishnan interview: Nobel prize for chemistry for work on ribosome structure
"I remember reading a Scientific American article about the use of new physical techniques – including neutron scattering – as a method for unraveling the structure of the ribosome. I was fascinated. I knew ribosomes were a big fundamental problem in science and this was a method for chipping away at it."
Proteins carry oxygen in our blood, form antibodies that fight microbes, and even sense light inside our eyes – and each protein that makes up a human is manufactured in a ribosome inside our cells. Each of our genes codes for a particular protein and the ribosome takes that piece of DNA code and uses it to assemble chains of amino acids until a protein is formed. "That is the central dogma which explains how information stored in our DNA is transformed into the proteins that make up a living being," says Venki.
10) Posing a probing question before explaining the topic.

11) Books should include questions that address life skills like collaboration, and 21st-century skills like the ability to analyze and interpret data. It must have questions with section for data interpretation and analysis and questions for group work along with conceptual, mathematical and review questions. 

12) The author should have the liberty to include new relevant chapters, innovate in their subjects and shouldn't be hitched by the syllabus of the board. Students learning according to recent technology is most important. The author should only take that into consideration, not preparing them for syllabus or entrance. 

e.g. Writing mathematics book linking with programming.

Students should be taught according to the availability of quality material not according to the syllabus. A syllabus without quality material is meaningless.

13) And last, books should have least mistakes, in texts as well as questions.

Lecture of the teacher reflects the book they follow. So it's most important they know which criteria a book should meet, and how learning happens.
Students should also be made aware of it, how learning happens.

Books that don't meet the criteria can be known with 10-15 mins of reading and turning pages.
The best, urgent and top most thing our education ministry can do is take way and stop referring all the books and resources that don't meet these criteria.

What are the innovative books that every teacher/student must read in order to become an efficient teacher/student?

Why ncert and other state board books are just toxic junk for our students?

International books are expensive, what the solution?
The solution is to ask the author for low price edition book. A low priced international edition book in India usually costs around Rs 500. For two years one has to spend about Rs 400 for 4 books of NCERT. But single Rs 500 will do, as the international books are written for two years.

Why rewriting ncert science books is not the solution?
To produce such science books it requires rigorous research for many years. Indian authors alone can't reproduce such books in such a short period of time. It also requires collaboration with other researchers throughout the world to write such kind of books.

Syllabus are different that of books, what to do?
Science is same everywhere. Even if you travel any part of the universe, science will remain same. You can still feel newton forces in any part of the universe. If we want international standards, why can't our syllabus match with international standards? If we want to show some scientific data related to the Indian context, that can be provided by supplementary books. Also, books are not the solution for everything. We have to shift to project-based learning, where students can fetch required data of interest from the internet.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What are the problems with grades?

The problem with grades:

1) Grades are an oversimplification of achievements that say very little about it. They are just numbers which say nothing about what you know or about your working skills.
2) Grades are often biased and are done based upon the context of questions. Sometimes questions are not well made, most often they are just repeats of previous year questions. Because of this they really don't check the critical high order thinking of the children.
3) Malpractice. It is also rampant in our education system.
4) Too much of psychological pressure from parents, teachers to score more, that leads them to depression and sometimes even they take drastic steps like suicide.
5)Grades shift the goal from learning to just marks, which can be achieved by many many means with our inefficient education system.

6) No grades are given for effort, grades are given only for solving hypothetical book problems.
I have seen many students struggling in our education system, trying too hard. But they are never encouraged but discouraged due to low marks. Even an illiterate can solve real world problems. Students who are given high scores are not solving any real problems. So how they are different from those who take a lot of effort? The brain can be trained by our environment if a teacher uses right methods to teach. Students who are unable to score less are not trained in that way, sometimes even not genetically wired to solve the problems in context. But 99.99% of us can solve real world problems. This is the reason we are surviving, otherwise, we would have dead or extinct.
In order to solve big problems, we have to think about it, take effort on it. Just solving hypothetical problems within seconds in not going to help. Students should be taught to learn from mistakes and take risks, not avoid mistakes. Learning from mistakes means thinking more deeply and hard, changing unworking strategies and doing things in a smarter way, so that they become more and more effective learners with time.

7) Grading makes students in competition mode, not in collaboration mode.

In ecology, competition arises due to limited resources. And this is applicable to everywhere. There is an interspecies competition and intraspecies. Competition helps in load balancing as the resources are limited. Species don't survive because of intraspecies competition. They survive through collaboration not competition

e.g. small fishes stay in school (shoaling) to protect themselves from large predators.

Intraspecies competition starts when their count can't be supported by the available resources even after the interspecies competition. So intraspecies competition only leads to decimation.

With collaboration, all types of difficulties are fixed. Competition is beneficial only when it helps in decreasing the scarcity of resources, not increasing. E.g. In economics, when there is demand/ scarcity of a resource, different suppliers compete with each other to meet the demand. Even that requires collaboration i.e. collaboration of people of the suppliers. Different suppliers are analogous to interspecies competition.

Yes, we have limited seats (actually limited number of seats in good colleges). But that can be fixed by increasing the number of colleges that bring excellence in education, not mediocrity. Again it requires collaboration, not competition.

So with grading students stop to collaborate, don't help each other and become selfish.

Problems with classroom grading:

1) Teacher biases. While grading in class they give marks more to the students they like and less if they don't like or thinking they are incompetent.
2) Regular exams without proper feedback. Many schools and colleges are obsessed with anytime regular exams. They think, more they conduct exams, more students will read, out of fear. But if you look at statistics, those who score well always score well, and those who score less always scoreless. Many who are unable to tackle these exams just bunk classes out of fear.
If students who scoreless are not improving, what's the point in the exam?
The reason behind scoring less is they simply try to rote memorize the notes which they themselves don't understand. Also, too much of pressure on memorization, as they have to remember all formulas, reactions, and many questions that only require just memorization without any thinking to get the answers.
And also they don't give any specific feedbacks. Just marks and answers, many a time without answers in the case of short or long answers that lack any specific one-word answer.  For example, compare and contrast, writing paragraphs for a topic etc. They just cut marks without giving any proper reason to it. When you ask for the reason, they just reply, you should have written it little better. Also, some illogical reasons like, it's not required to write such a long answers.
Also, it doesn't matter whether a child does the problem set again which he/she was unable to solve.
Assessment needs to be done in a systematic manner, not like anytime exam. Also, exams need to be personalized, repetitively giving them solved and unsolved problems, first clearing the fundamental concepts, then going to the advanced application based questions, not giving both types of questions in a single exam. New information/knowledge is built over using previous information/knowledge, not in a haphazard manner.

Problems with the final state board and center board exams:
1) Exams are conducted after two-year end in case of 12th board. So, mostly many students just don't read in the first year. All most all are less accountable (students and teachers) in the first year than the second year.  But the problem is most concepts of the second year are linked with the first year course. So students just can't cope up in the second year.
Even in engineering colleges and higher education, students don't learn the whole semester, collaboration among students only occurs before the exam night (cramming) where the topper explains the other students.
2) The difference in difficulty level, courses of studies, materials in different boards, also different marking schemes. Some boards are liberal in marking while others are not. Content and quality of the books also greatly differ. So the result is some are more fortunate and others are less just by the board they choose.
3) The opaqueness of the marked answer scripts.  Marked answer scripts are just not publicly available. Teachers do, don't check the scripts properly and have their own biases, also don't know the answers. For example, simple handwriting can bring an impact in the marking. So forget that your marks are authentic without error.
Also, many topics in literature are just qualitative with no perfect answers, difficult to quantify with grades. Even it is true for other subjects based upon questions.