The lack of science laboratories in our schools was something I noticed often, during my 13- year tenure as a primary school teacher. As a science graduate myself, I know how interesting the subject can be: it unravels the mysteries of nature; provokes thought; encourages students to look and think in different ways. Unfortunately, however, this subject is taught only theoretically in most schools. It is impossible to ignite interest in science simply by reading the textbook. Scientific theories must be observed, and experienced. I have always felt that if students are not just to understand but to remember, scientific concepts need to be explained with the help of practicals and experiential projects.
So when I was appointed as a Science teacher in ZP School no 5 in Lanja tehsil, Ratnagiri, in September 2014, I was ready with a plan.
I was to teach the 6th and 7th std students. First , I made a list of all the experiments given in their textbooks, and then I listed those experiments that were necessary to help students understand various concepts. Though our school did not have a laboratory, I was determined that my students would conduct all of these experiments. Using my own money (about Rs 8,000), I bought a range of materials – burners, test tubes, different acids, litmus paper, and so on.
With the necessary precautions in place, we were now ready to conduct the experiments. The students were thrilled to see these objects that they had only read about or seen in illustrations. They were excited, and waited impatiently for the Science period. Soon they were handling the equipment and materials, and performing experiments through which they could verify and prove the scientific rules and concepts in their textbooks. Rote learning, or mugging up content, became unnecessary. They had found a different way to learn.
“Sublimation” was one of the scientific concepts they learned about through experiment and observation. As we know, when solids are heated, they turn into liquid and when liquids come in contact with heat, they turn gaseous. We watch these transformations take place all around us, in our daily lives. But there are some solids that turn directly into gas when heated – this being the process called sublimation. To observe this, we heated up some “navsagar” (ammonium chloride), and saw how it turned to gas. Then I asked the students to name other substances that followed the rule of sublimation. After thinking it over carefully, they named two – camphor, and naphthalene mothballs.
Our students now conduct all sorts of experiments. They enjoy finding out the characteristics of a magnet, observing the transition of heat, the changing colour of litmus paper when dipped in acid or alkali. When teaching them about acids, I encouraged them to use natural acids from their environment like yoghurt, lemon juice, tamarind pulp. This added to their confidence in going beyond the textbook. It gave me great pleasure to see their expressions of joy and awe when, for the first time, they looked at amoeba under a microscope. The study of Science became, for them, truly experiential as we followed the constructivist principles of learning.
Students are, I believe, afraid of exams because they do not revise regularly, and depend on rote learning. But as our students learned to understand the subject by questioning and experimenting, their dependence on rote learning went down. I began conducting a small written test as soon as I finished teaching each chapter. In this way each student got to revise the chapter individually and immediately, and it became easier for them to deal with the tests for larger units of the syllabus. Soon, the students were themselves reminding me that it was time for their test!
Over the past three years, our school has undertaken various initiatives to help students develop a scientific outlook. Since October 2015, we have brought out a monthly bulletin called ‘Vidnyan Amchya Lekhnitun’ (‘Science through Our Writings’). This has information on the physical sciences, health, nutrition, the environment, current scientific events, the birth and death anniversaries of scientists that fall in that month, and their discoveries and inventions. The students gather all the information for the bulletin. We also publish a science manual every year, which has interesting information about science and related events.
The students are proud to see their names published in the bulletin and the manual. But not all students read these, so we also have a special Science session daily. Teachers answer questions related to scientific stories and happenings, and encourage students to ask questions to do with anything about which they may be curious. Even the 2nd and 3rd std students ask questions.
Another novel initiative in our school is a competition on ‘Vidnyan Kathakathan’ (‘Science Storytelling’). When presented in this manner, students grasp the significance of the story immediately. The competition accepts only stories with a scientific outlook that are true to scientific principles. The students borrow books from our school library and from my personal collection for their research. At the event where students read out their stories , I draw out the crucial point or principle of each story, and reiterate the importance of having a scientific outlook. This competition, too, has helped make our students more confident, while improving their oratorial and performance skills.
When we noticed how reluctant students were to draw science diagrams, we came up with an idea that we called, ‘Rangoliche Rang, Vidnyanacha Sang’ (Science with the Colours of Rangoli’). As part of this activity, each student draws a different scientific diagram on the school floor every day and fills it with rangoli colours. This activity has become so popular that we have noticed even some perpetual latecomers coming early to school!
Every Saturday, we have a ‘Supplementary Reading in Science’ hour. To add to the books we already had in our library, we ordered more books – on great scientists and their discoveries, the animal kingdom, health, nutrition, the environment, and amusing scientific tales. The students soon became engrossed in reading these books.
We have quizzes, puzzles and games through which we try to make Science attractive. One day, I decided to introduce my students to the world of snakes. I first read and gathered information from a variety of books. Then I classified the poisonous and non-poisonous species found in the Konkan region and had an image of each printed on A4-size paper. In this way, I was able to dispel students’ misconceptions and superstitions about snakes, such as: not every snake is poisonous; a snake does not hold a grudge; it does not have a “nagmani” (precious stone embedded in its forehead). I also spoke of how snakes are helpful to farmers, how to identify a poisonous snake, the first aid to be given in case of snake bite.
Today, my students no longer regard Science as a dry and uninteresting subject, but as one that teaches them something new and fascinating every day.
Blog & photos: Vaishali Kadam, Teacher, ZP school no 5, Lanja, Ratnagiri district
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team