14 July 2016: Day Twenty

Last night, Satyam prepared this so that the rain water wouldn’t flow into the Asha courtyard. With this now, they can also arrange a classroom outside in the courtyard, rain or shine.

In the morning, the students of class 8 got to spend some time on the computers learning the Logo language. They were taught to use the 4 basic commands (forward, back, left, and right) and were guided to make a simple square. Very soon, they were making houses and other things. It was fun to watch them and also see how they slowly got more and more confident. Two people were sharing one PC and they would take turns to work on Logo. This was an online Logo environment. Everyone really enjoyed working with it – though most of them struggled with figuring the correct angles to use to turn the turtle. I encouraged them to draw their final picture on a piece of paper, and use their knowledge of triangle inequalities and properties to come up with the angles. After some time, they did get the hang of it.

Afterwards, Dhiraj, Satyam (both student employees), Kajal Ma’am, and I had a group conversation on their views regarding technology in a classroom environment, as well as how they all felt about the tool. All of them are teachers, and they teach students from classes 4 to 8 every day.

“I [Satyam] want to use tablets when I teach in the class, and I currently do not use them too much. I want to find an application that will help the children learn in a more interesting way. I don’t need a tab for math, I can teach that on my own. But otherwise, I would love something like YouTube or Robomate that will have lecture videos. I would find showing lecture videos very useful. Teaching the concept is one thing – but after that, I like to show a video of the new concept in action. Like a real-life demo of the topic the learnt. It makes no sense to only teach new topics and not give examples of it to the children. I like to use videos to give the examples.”

“I [Kajal] love using google search – there is so much more that I learn every time I google, because I get more than one link, and just the process of going through so many different links makes me understand what I am searching for better. Also when I want to teach science experiments, I always go to YouTube. We do not have a science lab at Asha, and many of these students do not get to see a science lab in school too – so they really enjoy watching such videos on YouTube. Whenever I need to find such a video, I just google it, and I get this full collection of videos from which I select a suitable one. Over time, I start to know which links are better than others. But I love googling still because you never know what new link may come up.”

“I [Dhiraj] love Google Maps – it’s probably the best app in my opinion to teach anything like History or Geography. Oh, and also Google Earth. Just think about it. You can go to any place in the world, zoom in, see a street view and even move around and look all around you just by dragging your finger around the screen. It is very comfortable to use too. So I like to use Maps and Earth whenever I teach any of the Social Sciences. I can even show things like the height of Mt. Everest. Yes, now it looks cooler on VR, but using it on tabs is any day more convenient, because unlike VR, we have the entire world mapped, and we can move around with our finger more comfortably in my opinion. It is very convenient. Also Wikipedia – wikipedia is awesome! It gives me, as a teacher, a good background of information whenever I want to explain a topic to the students.”

Dhiraj: “I really like to use some kind of technology in my classroom. No matter what you say, teaching just with a whiteboard and a textbook does not feel complete, because it is static. With technology, like a tablet, the job of a teacher becomes much easier, since she now has this extension of support that helps her to present more interesting content to the students. It makes the teaching more dynamic and interesting. I think it is very difficult for a student to get a full interesting learning experience if there is no technology in the classroom.”

Kajal: “Every child has seen or owns a TV. They like to watch motions and moving scenes – so whenever you show a visual video of a piece of text that is in the reader [textbook], you are immediately making the child enjoy the learning experience more. I think it is very powerful that I can access all these videos by doing a simple google search. Sometimes you find new things that are so cool, and you never even imagined you would have found something like that!”

Satyam: “When you show a video of something like environmental pollution – you need to show a video about it. Because sometimes just reading about it can get very dull. So it is very important we can show some kind of other visual representation of that content to help the child understand the relevance of it better. Kids also listen when you show them a video or something on a TV.”

Next, I described our content curation tool and asked them how they would use it, if at all.

Dhiraj: “Oh yes, I would love to use something like this. So many times, googling in class gets very cumbersome and time consuming. Especially when you have more students – I would imagine this kind of tool would be more useful in bigger classrooms than the ones we have at Asha. As a teacher, you can be under pressure to not hold the entire class while you wait for a google search result screen to load. The fact that I can select and make a lesson plan the weekend before classes helps take that time spent in class googling outside. So when I want to show something, I only have to search through a smaller list.”

Kajal: “Say I am going to teach about Environment Conservation next week in Science. We talk about types of conservation methods, different pollutants, etcetera. I would definitely have time on Sunday before class to actually run through google and pick out the pictures and videos I want to show. After that, if the app allows me to have this feature where I can just put all this content like a PowerPoint presentation, then during class, I can just move through them like one slide at a time. If I have such an application, it would be very cool!”

Dhiraj: “The only worry I have with depending to such a large extent on a tablet application is that the tablets have a limited battery life, and for many of the tabs we have here, the run out of battery in the middle of class, if we don’t charge it properly before class. Digvijay or someone is usually in charge of seeing the tablets are charged, but many-a-times, we struggle with ensuring that all the tabs are charged. Playing videos eat the battery life. Even using the wifi is heavy on the battery life.”

Kajal: “I also see a slight problem with using technology in the classroom. Many times, when kids watch videos that are on the same topic as what they’re studying in their textbook, there is still some disconnect, and the video content may not be exactly what is in the book. Sometimes the approach to a topic is different in the video, or sometimes the video is more high- or low-level than the textbook. So we have to deal with these things, and as a teacher, I have to step in to fill this gap in knowledge or understanding between the textbook and the video.”

Dhiraj: “Since we have computers and tablets here, sometimes kids get carried away and they get addicted to playing games or they generally get distracted. Sometimes, I can see some of them getting overly dependent on the tablet or PC – yes this happens! The simple fact that they can easily access an answer to a question via a google search itself makes them feel like they do not have to worry at all about any question they may have. They are sometimes overly confident that they can easily get an answer to something, and in my opinion, it sometimes makes them lazy. They can even start studying less. And sometimes, they start respecting the teacher in the class less. They pay less attention and the novelty of having a teacher can get destroyed. Especially with the teachers who are slightly soft-spoken.”

Kajal: “If the kids have a computer class coming up, they will get impatient for it, and they’ll put pressure on the teacher to end this class fast – and their attention is elsewhere for the entire class. So sometimes, the PC is so exciting that it makes them lose interest in the classroom with the teacher. And you should see how their faces (especially with the young kids) brighten up when I bring in the tablet to the class.”

Satyam: “In the future, I would like to see something that takes VR and similar things to the next level. I’m getting this idea from the hologram-hack we made yesterday evening (which, by the way, we spent the entire of last evening having fun with). With VR and touch screens, we can see all around us, but I want there to be something where we can also touch and play with the article/object. I can’t explain it properly – but I’m thinking of something that I can also touch and feel and maybe interact with, and not just view in a 360 degree view. You get what I mean right?”

In the afternoon, I did one run of the Expeditions VR trip with Rekha Ma’am with the class 6 students. She has been following the lesson plan we made at the end of last week, and it is going great so far. I also had a chat with Sanjana Ma’am. (A reminder – she is a volunteer, middle-aged lady who runs a beauty parlour.)

“You know, I have not been receiving the job satisfaction I had been getting as a teacher. I have a B. Ed. degree, and I hadn’t been teaching for a few years, which is why I really wanted to do this work now voluntarily. But to be very honest, for the past few days, I’ve been feeling very depressed after seeing nothing moving forward with the children. I see that there are things inherently wrong with the system and the state board, and not with the students. The students are very smart – the other day I gave them a test, and they got around 80% and above, but if you look at their textbook, you’ll see how sad it is. One of the boys’ school English teacher has told them that the phrase ‘key to’ means a ‘bunch of keys’, instead of it’s real meaning which is ‘a means to something’ like in ‘the key to success is XYZ’. And that’s not it. See what the textbook gives as an answer to the question ‘Why is Mercury not visible in the night sky?’”

“The other day, I tried to explain how the food chain worked by giving an example, and now whenever I ask the children what the food chain is, they will cite this one example only, and not give me a more high level and broad explanation. (This is after me stressing that the example was merely to explain the higher level concept.) See Aditya – I’ve taught in the ICSE board all my life, and I am used to a certain level of interpretation, but here it is starting to get very difficult for me to (A) come to terms with this huge understanding gap, and (B) come to terms with the terrible state of the curriculum and public education. I actually prepared this apparatus with 2 plastic bottles [she showed me the apparatus] to demonstrate air pressure to the kids, but now I’m hesitating to show it to them, because I do not want them to treat this one example as the very definition and meaning of ‘air pressure’. It’s difficult for me to come to terms with this kind of state of affairs, and as a result I’ve been not receiving too much of a personal satisfaction off late. I was just talking to Rekha Ma’am two days ago saying that I am thinking of leaving. But I’m not going to do that yet – I still want to give this a shot.”
The classroom setup outside in the courtyard. These are the desks that were donated by Kendriya Vidyalaya.

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