Sciences beyond silos

It’s been a summer like no other (although perhaps one should be more circumspect about claiming any kind of exceptional status for anything) – heat waves and unseasonal rain, wars and food shortages, people escaping conflict and hardship in multiple countries, and a viral pandemic that refuses to end. The summer is supposed to be a time for us to take a break from things, to recharge and relax, so that we may re-enter our classrooms and offices with a fresh reservoir of energy with which to fuel our ideas. But these days, it seems like there is little or no respite from the world even when there is a break from our work routine. Depending on the level to which we are tied to our phones or other networked devices, we might wake to notifications from a news site or an enthusiastic WhatsApp group. You have to consciously disconnect and turn away from the continuous demands on our attention.

For Teacher Plus, every summer presents us with the opportunity to delve into one curricular area and explore it in depth and breadth. What new ideas can we bring to the teaching of a subject that we may have been dealing with for years, even decades? How can we make it more contemporary and relevant, bringing in content and perspectives that connect it not only with the real world, but with other disciplines? How do we re-think our pedagogies and position the various topics in a rapidly changing world?

These are the questions that drive each of our special issues, and this time, we brought in a long-time contributor and friend of the magazine, Geetha Iyer, to help us put together an issue on general science. Why general science, you might ask, particularly given that there seems to a move toward more and more specialization in both academia and industry? The truth is, while specialist (deep) knowledge is crucial, the big problems of today require also the ability to integrate knowledge and tackle questions with a broad perspective that sees the interconnections between both problems and their solutions. Such thinking needs to be cultivated in school. So even as children attend classes, do their homework, read textbooks, and take their examinations in a siloed, subject-wise fashion, they need to understand that every subject relates to the other when it comes to the real world.

As a result, we have close to 30 articles – practically a medley – that offer frameworks, explore new ideas, and help think through challenges in the teaching of science in an integrated way. It is an issue that is designed to appeal to teachers of science and other subjects, and we hope it will excite conversations between and across the subject divisions.

We do hope you’ve all had something of a holiday, and will use this issue as a stimulus to do some new things in the classroom!

Guest Editorial

Can science be learnt differently?
Geetha Iyer

A new curriculum, incorporating the principles outlined by the New Educational Policy 2022, is getting ready to be rolled out by the NCERT. No matter what the policies and principles are, subjects studied have not changed; do not seem to change. The middle school years will see children studying general science. This special issue on general science education, examines various facets of learning science in the three designated years. Educators and others interested in education have shared their views on how general science can be learned, the scope of learning and the challenges that learners can be introduced to.

A significant part of this issue is the voice of students, teachers and parents expressing their views. Ardra’s (one of our writers) interviews were quite revealing. Children expressed their wish to learn more about space, rocket, satellite, astronomy, etc. Almost all of them voiced their interest in wanting more laboratory work. As a new curriculum is being put together, this teacher’s remark assumes significance, “More than the syllabus, what should change is how learning happens.”

That is what this issue is about. How can general science be learned differently? What are the various ways in which knowledge of the sciences can be acquired? This issue has many ponderables for the teacher, student, and parents. Who is a scientist? The one who experiments in the laboratory or the one who toils away in her field, or both? What do we know about scientists, and does the history of science not have a role in the general science curriculum? Does dialogue not have a role in education? Can a classroom become a place where students are encouraged to ask questions? Questions drive the learning process. Just as lab experiments, so also tinkering with everyday materials can provide a rich experience to students, especially in the cognitive realm. We hope these topics will help enrich the general science classes.

I personally believe that learning from nature, through observations of the small and big, rooted and moving is a process that will go a long way in sensitizing children and attempt reflection, an exercise sadly lacking in education these days. One of the teachers told Ardra how taking kids out for fieldwork is near impossible due to the numbers – a problem no education policy so far has provided an answer to. Perhaps stamps as a hobby can step in to enthuse students, or the citizen science programmes can be of help in finding a way to resolve the problem. The experiences shared by educators from Auroville is another way to become involved in fieldwork. An oft forgotten fieldwork that can be easily carried out is star gazing, sky watching. We hope this issue provides assistance to teachers wanting to involve themselves and their students in fieldwork.

There are also topics that look towards the future. We have now seen what the black hole is like. The frontiers of science learning are among stars, planets, satellites, the space, artificial intelligence; topics that have already begun to attract kids. The issue also talks about the Indian Olympiad programme, which is an opportunity for students to start their journey towards realizing some of their dreams.

From the soil that gives us our food to the sun that warms our Earth and bodies, learning sciences in the middle school can be a fascinating journey. We hope there is enough in this issue for teachers to let their students’ imaginations run riot, weave dreams and then go on to achieve them.

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