A washing machine can illustrate dispersion by centrifugal force,
Clothes show how to distinguish between natural and synthetic fibres,
Lemon juice brings acid to life;
While television helps to explain how electromagnetic waves work!
Lines stated above are examples of how things from everyday life could and should be used to illustrate different scientific principles taught in schools.
Linking science to everyday life has been an important theme in the science education system. With decades of work gone into bringing this perspective inside classrooms, still, educationists face numerous obstacles in their path.
In my interaction with a group of science teachers during a capacity building workshop in Chennai this month we discussed some of these obstacles. We tried to find out ‘why’ the execution of these scientifically proven ideas such as ‘concept learning’, ‘science for all curriculum’ etc. do not achieve success at a larger scale.
We talked about the lack of resources to conduct experiments, lack of teaching time, structure of current reference material, and in some cases even the lack of proper infrastructure as few of the many barriers a teacher might face in real time classrooms.
If we hold these above-mentioned points true in a government or private low-income schools, then what holds back better schools to successfully amalgamate the everyday science with school science?
Why students and even adults have created this barrier in their understanding of science at school and working of outside world?
With these questions in mind, I tried to go a step further and came across an old and interesting research paper by Glen Aikenhead (1999). The author of the book, Bridging Cultures: Indigenous and Scientific Ways of Knowing Nature, tried to embrace these obstacles from the perspective of cross-cultural phenomenon.
Treating schools, where science is taught specifically as a subject, and everyday life as two separate worlds, Glen conceptualised the movement of students between the two worlds, as cultural border crossing and explained the cognitive conflicts arising from it in terms of collateral learning.
In easier terms, he tried to see the process of learning science from the perspective of a student and explained the difficulty a student might face cognitively to make a connection between the sciences they observe through personal or community experiences and principles they learn in schools.
Authors specifically talked about the acquisition of the concepts, where students face conflict with their indigenous norms, values beliefs and conventional actions.
Taking formation of rainbow as an example, author explains how in schools students learn that the refraction of light rays by droplets of water causes rainbows, but in some African cultures, a rainbow signifies a python crossing a river or death of an important chief.
Imagine the thought process of student while he tries to understand the two reasons for same phenomena!
And this is just one of the many examples!
For students to comprehend facts such as shape of a star is not what he has learned till now or the place we live is Earth and it’s rotating are mind boggling!
Glen tried to explain this clash inside students’ mind in terms of collateral learning. He talked about how different students deal with these clashes differently with some learning the concepts in a parallel manner without mixing them up, others end up having both ideas clash and resolved at same instant whereas, others losing one understanding without the creation of new one.
To help students in the smooth transition between these two worlds or create a deeper understanding any teaching methodology or curricula depends on how effectively students move between the two worlds and assistance they receive in making those transitions. The more students feel the ease, flexibility and playfulness in the process of acquiring new knowledge, the smoother the transition between the knowledge and the application of science becomes.
So, let’s take a step back and do a little bit of our research,
Study your students,
Look where they come from,
Try to observe their understanding of a phenomenon,
Explain them the scientific way of thinking and not science principles,
Show them the application of science and help them explore the world with the collateral way of learning.
A learning where they ask questions and build their own reasoning without getting lost in the transition between the world and school.
By Ritika Shukla – Educational Specialist
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