Teaching Science at Upper Primary Level A Case Study Development of NCERT Science Text Books for Upper Primary Classes
Teachers’ Role in the Modern Context Teacher should appreciate that
Children are not passive receptacles of knowledge, and • Children are active learners, creating knowledge themselves from experiences, discussions and activities
An Agenda for Teachers • Make class lively and learning a joyful experience • Facilitate learning; teach less and observe more • Help children perform activities themselves(not demonstrate • herself)
Create opportunities for children to discuss what they have done, observe and steer discussion towards the desired conclusion • Make learning a joint venture between children and herself: a good teacher has to be a good learner too!
Strategy for Upper Primary Science Textbooks Developed by the NCERT
Proceed From the Known to the Unknown Start with what children know already from their experience; this makes them comfortable. Build on that. Introduce a few simple activities and explain the associated concepts
With this in view, the present Science Textbooks: • Make Use of Children’s own Experiences, or start with some observations or situations familiar to children
Donot attempt to start from the ‘beginnings’. These are usually more difficult at this stage and may prevent children from learning useful things. For example, children can learn the useful skill of reading a thermometer without knowing its construction, or how it works.
As another example, the concept of force is introduced in class VIII without recourse to Newton’s laws. What force can do is explained without using terms like acceleration, or vector.
Introduce chemical changes and chemical equations without teaching symbols of elements and their valencies. A common symbol, H2O, which children may come across in other contexts, is explained simply as another name for water. They are told that they will learn the ‘language’ of chemistry in later classes.
Let children play with lenses and spherical mirrors and learn to form images by them without being asked to draw ray diagrams. Introduction of concepts too early in their lives makes children shun thinking and resort to rote learning.
[In fact, a few teachers being trained to teach from these books, shared the experience that if children are asked to draw ray diagrams too early, they get so occupied with the complexity of drawing these diagrams that they do not appreciate where the images are actually formed in front of the lens or the mirror when the object is moved, and whether these images are real or virtual]
List ‘simple’ activities which can be performed without a “Lab” or a “Kit” by using mostly things lying around and discarded: having done something herself, the child is not likely to forget it soon; the child also feels more confident of her abilities to perform activities.
Choose examples from child’s own environment, and from within her experience. In the Chapter on Pollution of Air and Water, for example, children’s own experience is made the basis to compare the quality of air in places such as parks ,busy roads, residential and industrial areas.
Lay little stress on formal • definitions. For example, it has been thought sufficient at this stage to define acids and bases through indicators and tastes, and not through a pH scale. When there is little understanding of the underlying concept, children tend to cram the definitions without understanding their content.
Do not make statements like ‘Current is flow of charges’. At this stage children do not understand the nature of charges and how they move in response to a potential difference. So, such definitions lead to cramming, while our emphasis is on promoting thinking.
Have language which is simple and direct so that children can themselves read and understand; they can use the books even when the teacher is not present. • Provide opportunities to learn by cooperation, by role play, and from peers.
Minimise information overload by transferring much of it to the non-evaluative boxes. In a Box in Chapter on Sound, for example, a Table gives the loudness of sound from various sources. This is useful information, but children do not need to cram it.
[The reason that these boxes have been made non-evaluative is that teachers are tempted to frame questions based on the information in these boxes. Such questions do not really test the understanding and analytical ability of children. Our aim is to encourage teachers to frame more searching questions.]
Explain how science and scientists work through a few examples. A simple example is the chance discovery of a blue spot around one of the electrodes when Boojho tests whether fruits and vegetables also conduct electricity. He and Paheli repeat the activity many times to be sure of the discovery. Ultimately they decide to report the discovery through a magazine. That is exactly how a scientist works under similar circumstances.
Let teachers have the freedom to replace the suggested activities by those that they consider more interesting and suitable in their situation. They can develop their own activities, too. This flexibility aims at unleashing the creative potential of teachers.
Attempt to teach children the real life skills for protecting themselves, their families and community at the time of natural disasters like floods, storms, cyclones, lightning and earthquakes.
Inform that the school is not the only source of knowledge, there is much knowledge to be gained outside the school that should be appreciated. For example, in the Chapter on Forests: Our Lifeline in class VII, a character, called Tibu, is introduced. This person is a tribal and has not been to school. But he has acquired a vast knowledge of wild animals and their habits and habitats by living close to them. He shares this knowledge with the children when they go for a visit to the forest. Children appreciate this contribution to their knowledge.
Attempt to sensitize children to issues related to 1. Religion. Children of all religions and groups are shown working together.
2. Gender. Girls are shown participating in all activities along with boys. More importantly, problems faced by girls and women, such as the adverse sex ratio, holding women responsible for giving birth to female children, the burden of collecting water falling solely on women, have been brought to the notice of children.
3. Environment. Concerns such as deforestation, soil erosion, pollution, use of plastics, acid rain, etc., have been expressed to draw the attention of children towards degrading environment in the hope that citizens of tomorrow will behave more responsibly.
4. Health and Hygiene. Importance of healthy food, regular exercise, personal hygiene, sanitation at home and outside, clean water, etc., have been highlighted. Health hazards associated with the misuse of antibiotics have also been brought to the notice of the children.
5.Water scarcity. It is a major problem that the world is going to face. It is already a serious problem for us. How people cope with this problem, how water can be conserved by adopting less water-consuming practices and how wastage of water must be avoided, are some of issues discussed. A few case-studies of successful voluntary action have been included.
6. Energy conservation. Energy crunch, another serious problem that our country, and the world, face has also been highlighted. As an example to conserve energy, the use of CFLs in place of electric bulbs has been emphasized to reduce consumption of electricity.
7. Differently-abled persons, such as visually impaired or hearing impaired persons. It has been explained that these persons may have other abilities enhanced which enable them to lead meaningful lives. We should not pity them or ridicule them. We must treat them as normal persons so that they can maintain their dignity and become useful members of society.
8. Superstitions, prejudices, myths and taboos. One of the goals of education is to remove ignorance and the attendant superstitions, prejudices, myths and taboos. We have used all opportunities to explain how ignorance gives rise to practices which make the life of people miserable. The hope is that knowledge will help eradicate such practices and beliefs.
9. Their social responsibilities now and in future as citizens of India. For example, they are urged to give way to an ambulance when they are on the road. As another example, they have been asked to keep with them always the essential telephone numbers which may be needed during emergencies in their localities.
Connection with life outside the class room has been made through Non-evaluative Boxes, 2. Extended learning, Case studies 3. Exercises, and 4. Highlighting social issues
Projects and Activities under Extended Learning have been specially designed to increase the interaction of children with the society around them and to come face to face with some of the problems it faces, hoping that as adults they might strive to solve some of these problems. Two examples illustrate this:
In one of the Projects children are asked to collect information about the types of fuels people use in their area, hoping that they realize how poverty drives people to use polluting fuels like the cow-dung. • Elsewhere, they have been asked to design posters for a campaign to conserve water.
Attempt has been made to foster habit of enquiry through questions such as the ones posed by Boojho and Paheli • Special attention has been paid to the development of skills like reading scales, data presentation in the form of Tables, and making graphs.
Special care has been taken that the children in their formative years do not develop practices that may harm them academically in later years. These practices are fostered unwittingly by the carelessness of authors of many books.
For example, electrical circuits in many books tend to place the key always at the same fixed position, say next to the positive terminal of the battery. The result is that the children start believing that that is the correct position for the key, whereas the key can be placed anywhere in the circuit. Not only has this point been emphasized, we have also made conscious effort to place the key in different locations in our circuit diagrams.
Exercises given at the end of chapters areof varied types and difficulty levels. They require application of learning to unfamiliar situations. These include also the open-ended questions, which are aimed at stimulating thinking, enhancing the power of expression, and to discourage rote-learning.
Use better printing and colour illustrations to make the books attractive to children. • Provide addresses of websites where material for further reading, better illustrations and animations are available.
Include interesting stories, facts, anecdotes and case studies so that children enjoy going through the books. • Issue cautions, where-ever necessary, to prevent accidents in the classroom and outside during the performance of activities.