Ideas to enhance learning

Kannan Ramaswamy

Teaching that imparts learning is a challenging task. The real challenge for all teachers at all levels is to find out whether their teaching translates into learning. How do we know whether learning has happened? The answer to this question can only come from cleverly directed investigations. Therefore, I believe such a centre that looks into different teaching methodologies and their effects on learning must be set up in all schools that are serious about imparting useful knowledge to our future generation. A teacher must constantly strive to create an ambience in the classroom that is conducive to learning.

I will give below some ideas that could be used in a classroom environment that may enhance learning especially in science subjects. All of us observe nature (everything surrounding us) and are curious about how things behave/work around us. However, only a few of us take this curiosity to the next level and make systematic observations to probe further about a phenomenon that happens around us. Now let me tell you how scientists go about finding the truths about nature. A scientist makes fine observations and collects systematic data related to the observations, analyzes the data and comes up with a theory that could explain the data consistently. Once he/she is completely convinced about the data and its interpretation, he/she seeks the opinion of other scientists around the world (who work in a similar area) and gets his/her idea certified. Ultimately, the work is published in a journal so that the newly created knowledge can be read by any one. Can we adopt the approach taken by scientists in a classroom to create a better learning environment? I think it is possible. The challenge is to create situations in the classroom that demands scientific methodology to arrive at the final answer. I will illustrate below one such situation.

I encountered this situation while trying to help my son with a school science project. Our project was to make a magnetic crane. The idea sounded simple enough for me to make in a day or two. However, there were some hurdles we had to overcome before we could make the crane that could lift paper clips. Find below an illustration (by Hemanth K Narsetti) which depicts two configurations we tried out to make it work.

batteries The configuration on the left depicts a 9 V, 6F22 battery connected to a solenoidal coil (made out of copper wire) wound on an iron screw. The configuration on the right is similar to that on the left except that the 9 V, 6F22 battery is replaced by a 1.5 V, D battery. Only one of these worked! Some students can be asked to try out the experiment while the other students observe. Once students are convinced that only one of these works they can be invited to propose reasons why one of them works and the other does not. As they voice their thoughts on the situation, the teacher can write these down on the board. Once all the reasoning from the students is collected and written down, the instructor can visit each of the reasoning given by the students and perform simple tests (a multi-meter and a bar magnet can be handy) to convince the students whether a particular reasoning makes sense or not. This process will not only help students understand how to connect knowledge acquired in the classroom to simple applications but also nurture in them a tendency to understand and test concepts with the rigor of a scientist.

I would like to conclude by saying that transfer of knowledge must be such that it lays a strong foundation in students to create new knowledge. Inspired teaching will help students connect the facts that spread across different disciplines and discover new ideas! When a student is able to apply the knowledge gathered in the classroom successfully to a new situation then the teacher can safely assume that some learning has happened due to teaching!

The author teaches physics to engineering students at BITS-Pilani, Hyderabad campus. His interests include research in applied physics and developing class room demonstrations that aids physics teaching. He can be reached at kannan@hyderabad.bits-pilani.ac.in.