29 November 2011

Science fiction as a tool in teaching science

Though we are flooded  with education technology tools to help us reach children in their classrooms, appropriate fiction has always been an effective tool in classroom interactions.

The role of science fiction  as an effective aid in teaching abstract concepts is well known. I remember having used films such as `Fantastic Voyage' based on the popular novel of the same name by the Russian American writer Isaac Asimov, when teaching human biology at the middle school level. In fact I read translated versions of Fantastic Voyage and many other science fiction stories in Tamil language magazines way back in the early '60s when I was a school boy.

Arthur C Clark and Isaac Asimov were two of my most favourite authors. As I grew up, I read the original English versions of such works. I also liked to gift away some of these novels to people like Arun, brother of my divorced wife. Arun not only shared my interest in science fiction but was also an excellently mannered young man, whom I continue to respect.    

I had the pleasure of using several science fiction films and videos to teach curricular subjects. When teaching in remote villages in Ethiopia and Bhutan, I had to rely on science fiction material very much.

In Shire, Endasellassie in Ethiopia, I felt the need to build a collection of appropriate science fiction materials for use in my classes in a situation in which there was absolutely no chance of using any laboratory. Once I had requested Mr Arthur C Clarke to let me know of any sci-fi resource for use in classrooms for which he was kind enough to reply as shown in the following scanned copy of his letter to me:

I continued reading his books, watching his films and using them in my classrooms until I came to know that he was an atheist.  I think that any person will be able to function normally only if she or he believes in God.

26 November 2011

Samskrit classrooms and Seshaachaarryulu

This afternoon I happened to watch 'Gyan Dharshan' programme telecast by the Educational Broadcasting Division of our National TV. It was a Samskrit language class for high school students. Though I am not well versed in the language, I like the language very much and follow the contents to whatever extent possible, because the language evokes a spiritual feeling in me.  

As any good classroom, this classroom also consisted of interested children and a dedicated teacher engaged in meaningful interactions (unlike in most school classroom settings in which curricular subjects are taught with the only aim of achieving `marks' in the `Board exams').

But paradoxically, when students answered their teacher's questions, they did so without following the most fundamental manners of getting up from their seats.
This problem is not due to the teacher or the taught; it is due to media personnel who  are not qualified to assess classroom quality from a proper perspective.

I think that stakeholders involved in production  of such programs should ensure that all requirements of quality are met before our local programmes are aired.

The best language teacher (and a poet) whom I have ever met is Mr Seshaachaaryulu (fondly known as `Thitta kavi'). He taught Telugu and Samskrit at a high school where I also worked. Whenever he taught samskrit, his classes sounded like temples.

I remember quality rich Friday evenings which I spent with this nice gentleman at his home (located a few kilometres away from Vijayawada) and the inexplainable joy which I derived by having the Darshan of deities in the Sree Rama temple, puja activities of which I think, are performed by him or by his male relatives.

I also remember his taking me to visit nearby Kondapalli village, known for its traditionally  hand made dolls. It is also an unforgettable experience.

A Kondapalli doll

20 November 2011

Off the beaten track: Musical rendezvous

After several weeks, I happened to bump in to a softrock music material on the internet a few minutes back and read some write-up on Mary Hopkins, one of my favourite singers. The write-up took me back on a nostalgic journey through the late '60s  to Mary's melodious rendering of Those were the days. It was released in 1968 and remained among top ten hits for several weeks in BBC's `Top Tweny' programme in the late '60s. 

13 November 2011

Reading habits in children

However fluent we may be in English, some times it so happens that we don't get the right word when we communicate to others. Many of us encounter this problem when we are out of touch with the language. This difficulty is more pronounced if we don't read regularly. 

If you talk to youngsters of today, you can easily find that they are relatively far more precise in what they want to say or write; but the problems is that they find it difficult to use appropriate words.  As teachers and parents would know, this problem is due to lack of reading among our children.

When we were young, we used to read good books, magazines and columns meant for children in  magazines in different languages, regularly. I remember reading `Young Folks' League' by Aunty Wendy in The Illustrated Weekly of India and childrens' magazines such as Kannan (in Tamil) and Chandamama regularly. We used to eagerly wait for the newspaper wender to  drop these magazines at our doorstep. Besides these, my father used to bring many childrens' books for us to read and my mother used to read and explain stories from our English textbooks in an interesting manner. I vividly remember my mother explaining `The ugly duckling', a popular Danish fairytale which was included in our English textbook.

Unlike today, almost all contents in our English textbooks were value oriented.  Our textbooks contained goodies from different countries such as Denmark in the above example. Of course, there were a lot of rich culturally rich value based material such as Raamaayanam,Tirukkural etc. from our own country.   Besides, we used to spend a lot of time in well-stocked libraries under the supervision of dedicated librarians at school.

Years later, I tried to make school libraries and computer labs accessible for students duing tea breaks and lunch time when I worked as school principal, by expecting teachers to sit there and monitor what children did, so that children wouldn't misuse the opportunity. However, some of my colleagues didn't like the idea because they didn't want to sacrifice their free time; thus the idea never took shape).

I am glad that a few NGOs are trying to revive the trend in schools according to an article which I read this morning.

I think that it is a moral obligation for schools to develop reading habits in children. No formal classroom lesson can be as effective as a good story for our children to enjoy and follow values in their own lives. 


09 November 2011

Off the beaten track: Krishna Consciousness and George Harrison

I have always liked many of the songs written and sung by The Beatles.Their music had a profound influence on tens of thousands of youngsters in the '60s. I was one among them. This evening, I happened to read an interesting interview by George Harrison about Krishna Consciousness. 

Off the beaten track: Digital communication on dignified desktop

I have been using yahoo mail for many years and the social networking site facebook for a few years. While it is beyond any shadow of doubt that such sites are very useful, they cause problems, at times.

Like most people of my age, I was brought up by strict parents who always expected a high level of discipline from their children. This has had a profound influence on my mindset. Naturally, I have carried forward my sense of discipline in my work as well, particularly as a teacher and school principal. I think that there is nothing wrong in children being modern as long as they are within limits of decency. I am glad that children and parents with whom I worked in different countries, liked my line of thinking. I think that a sense of discipline is a basic requirement for human development.

This evening, when I liked to check my yahoo mail, its homepage displayed an obscene pic with caption. I don't know as to how others would perceive it. I found it very uncomfortable. Immediately on seeing the pic, my first reaction was to close the webpage. 

I had a similar experience when logging in to my facebook account, a few weeks back. I got my facebook account deleted. 

I wish that sites such as yahoo mail and facebook, which are of course very userfriendly,  transfer news items and commercials containing obscene pictures to some other page from their home pages so  that they can be user comfortable too.

About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.