Learning can be fun!

by mynk on Aug 27, 2008      Category: Education Tags: fun learning teaching experiments

Education most would agree is the best way to uplift a society but more often than not it is the most boring and tedious thing to deal with. I have a nephew under 4 yrs of age who weeps at the very thought of school. I remember hating school myself when I was that old.

What changed it all for me as a teenager?

My brother got me a book in my 7th grade - Physics Can Be Fun by Y Perelman. I owe my love for Physics to this book totally. An amazing book and a must have for any student. On similar lines there was Mathematics can be fun . The learning by rote in most schools can be such a major turn off and kills creativity in the students. These books make learning so much fun. I shall illustrate how...

I began volunteering with Individuals for Voluntary Activities (IVA) along side my first job. We used to teach at a slum Gurupanpalya on Bannerghatta road. On asking what their favorite subjects were I got history, english, kannada, etc. Very few told Math or Science. I was surprised and got started -

"Do you think you would be invincible if you were invisible?" Unanimous yes! I still remember the look on their face when I told them in theory they would be blind. If they were 100% transparent then their eye lens would not be able to refract any light on to the retina to form an image.

How do you make fire from ice?
Use a concave bowl and get an ice in the form of a convex lens and... :)

Then ask them how a plane flies or how the ball in their favorite game (cricket or soccer) swings (not merely the action reaction spin). Introduce them to one of my favorite principle - Bernoulli's Theorem. It is one that can enthral the kids for a good two hours if you have some simple gadgets to show simple experiments -

1. The toy you get which is shaped liked a smoking pipe whereby you can blow air into it and the ping pong ball stays put over the other end on the jet of air without falling off. Use a water jet if feasible for the same.

2. Take a funnel with a tube attached to it and place a ping pong ball into the funnel. Blow into the tube and ask the kids if the ball will fly. They say yes. In fact ask them to do it and ask them to blow as hard as they can. To their dismay the harder they blow the harder the ball sticks to the funnel.

3. Take a round bottom flask and place it in front of the flame of a candle. Blow on the flask and the flame is put of as if the air went right through the flask. To them it is no less than magic and being able to explain how it all happens gives a real kick! :)

4. Have a simple spray made using two straws at 90 degrees to each other with the vertical one place in a tumbler filled with water. Blow into the horizontal straw and you get a spray of water. Explains the working of most sprays! :)

5. Ask the kids if they have seen dry leaves follow a fast moving car or why their parents ask them to stay away when a train approaches a platform.

Now show the simple theorem explains it all:

Any fast moving liquid or gas creates a low pressure behind.

I leave it as an exercise for the readers! :)

Make a tiny little boomerang and explain how it works. Not all of it I could explain especially so in the local dialect which wasn't my cup of tea! :)

Next week when I pay the kids a visit - they are all wanting to learn more science. We have a session on simiple science experiments in the following weeks and the kids suddenly want to learn more in a subject they found boring!!!

We even went to Balaji Sampath from AID India who uses science experiements to teach kids. In fact they have a kit designed for the purpose if I am not mistaken. You can get in touch with him for further details.

For math it was similar sessions and we tried to get the logic behind most formulae in geometry and otherwise as depicted in this story. The little bit of Vedic Math that I knew interested them a good deal also! :)

My favorite session with the kids was the one on puzzles starting with simple ones like:

You have a rope of uneven thickness that takes 30 minutes to burn completely. How do you use it to measure when 15 minutes have gone by? Then higher versions - 2 such ropes to measure 45 minutes. You get a few giving you the right answer - burn the rope from both the ends. These are the students you wish to spend extra time with and ensure they get better attention if they are brighter.

Asking them if they can cut a whole in a small sheet of paper and pass through it (yes this is possible! :)). Asking them to push a bottle through a tiny hole in a paper and when they give up - merely putting your finger through the whole and pushing the same. This would get them energized enough for a good session. I think puzzles alone would need another story but they can be used for kids of varying ages all attentive for an hour or two easily! :)

This fun stuff ended when their exams started nearing and other volunteers insisted the preparation be done for the exams instead. I really enjoyed the little time I had with those kids... :) Later these same things appealed to a few students at the Spastics society who would not be learning the regular science/math in their special syllabi. They enjoyed it thoroughly too. I gave my 'Physics Can Be Fun' to my favorite kid there... :)

Teaching is an art... beats me - it is the worst paying job in most places. They say God creates life, Doctors help preserve it, Engineers help make it comfortable... Teachers above all make it worth living! :)

I read an article about Joseph Oveges who made Chemistry fun for a boy who later won Nobel Prize for the same. A good teacher, a good medium, can make all the difference! Clifford Stoll in this wonderful presentation speaks of volunteering time to teach kids. He speaks of how they measured the speed of sound/light. Any child can be captivated by such wealth of knowledge - even those who are not able to fully appreciate it. Speaking of theory of relativity to a child would be tough but if you tell it like they say Einstein envisioned it as a teenager - you are on a fast bike and chasing light, come alongside it and view it from front how would it look like and tell that it is not possible as you would get converted to energy at that speed... :)

Access to such information/faculty may not be feasible for every child but if mediums like videos, laptops, etc are used this gap can be bridged. NatGeo, Discovery, Animal Planet, etc. make their programs so interesting. You have fun games that can be great learning tools like

Fantastic Contraption

How Stuff Works?

Who sez learning is boring? It is only our inability to make things interesting. Even my little nephew would agree... :)

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mynk's picture

mynk

Interested in the development sector and hoping to use the skills to create a positive impact......read more

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Comments

Goli's picture

Completely agreed. But when I asked couple of teachers regarding this, they say that the amount of stuff to cover is so much that they dont bother to cover subject in detail. One teacher put it very nicely, "today the breath of teaching has increased but depth is not there".

mynk's picture

The detail is not important here - we are covering Bernoulli's principle in a simple statement (over simplifying) and explaining some of the things that happen around us. Typically, in schools students will just learn some equations and solve problems without really knowing how it can be applied. Like Einstein said - one shud not learn history but learn _from_ history! :)

Badhri's picture

Mynk,
Truly appreciate the time you spent on explaining the experiments. Truly amazing and simple demos! Learn from history or not, I have learned from your post. :)

mynk's picture

I am hoping to shoot a video on a typical session which can be translated and re-used if need be much like - http://ngopost.org/story.php?title=The_Digital_StudyHall

Speaking to Balaji about his science kit also. Wish to have a post on puzzles too or possibly add them here itself. Had attended a session where a French lady took a session on how to teach English to kids without knowing the local dialect. Wish I could get her contact somehow.

mynk's picture

Found this very useful link for anybody looking for educational videos -

http://freevideolectures.com/

mynk's picture

Another interesting concept started by Arvind Gupta -

http://ngopost.org/story.php?title=Science_can_be_fun

mynk's picture
mynk's picture

An ecopy of the book - Physics can be fun - can be found at -

http://www.archive.org/details/physicsforentert035428mbp

This doesn't look very legal. But since the copy is hard to find keep this copy handy.

shamala's picture

Check this out : http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/. Simple toys that teach you physics...

His books are great to own..

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