Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bannerghatta National Park visit!

White tiger

Bear near the van

Plant name - Birds of Paradise

Recently we visited Bannerghatta National Park in Bangalore. It is some 30 kilometers from the airport.

What the place offers
The park maintains the natural wild habitat for the wild animals. The animals are freely moving and not enclosed in a cage. Lions and tigers cross your vehicle and if you are lucky perform some stunts for you as well.

The park has three sections: - Jungle Safari in enclosed vans, Butterfly Park, Visit to the zoo.
Jungle Safari is two types -
Jumbo Safari which means that the van will cover the complete jungle area and tread the regions of big black bears, tigers, lions, bisons, sambhars, elephants, etc. It costs Rs.125 per head and Rs. 50 for children (above 12 years)

Tiger Safari which means that the van will pass through only the tigers, elephants and bears regions. This safari costs Rs.75 per head.

Still camera and video camera are separately charged.

Both the safari end at Butterfly Park. This is a beautiful park recently constructed with a nice eco-system for the butterflies. It claims to have some 2000 species of butterflies inside, but we got a chance to track only 4 or 5!! Anyway, it is still worth visiting this place because of its coolness, quietness and beauty. Do not miss this.

The zoo is free viewing.

There is elephant riding as well. But it is not worth the ride as they charge some Rs.25 - Rs.50 for a small round. If you want to have just fun ride, go for it. Do not have much expectations though!

The best time to visit is during the morning hours. Plan to reach BNP by 8:45 or 9:00 A.M. Purchase the tickets for the Safari that starts at 10:00 A.M. Spend one hour from 9 to 10 A.M. visiting the zoo as all the animals and birds in the cage will be in the active mode. If you plan to go after the safari, it will be afternoon and the animals sleep in the cage. You will get all sleepy animals in the pictures.

Return to the queue line for Safari by 9:50 A.M. so that you get into the first bus. Safari will end at Butterfly Park. You can spend as much time there as you wish. You can do some creative photography there under the shade of trees, flowers around, and the hills at the back-drop.


Carry your hats if you are going during the summer months. Wear sports shoes as it is easy to walk along the pathways. Avoid high heels, ladies!!

As for food, there are some stalls for snacks and drinks. But there are no restaurants for having lunch. Best thing to do is have some sandwiches and cold drinks there and have your lunch inside the city.

Of course, you can carry you own food. There are sit-outs inside the zoo where you can eat your packed food. Pack your food in dabbas and bring paper plates and have a nice picnic in the zoo park.

Do not bring plastic bags there. Plastic bags are not allowed for the safety of the animals. Bring paper bags or you can collect some at the entrance itself.

Good water and lavatory facilities for everyone.

Do visit this wonderful place and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Second graders writing english paragraphs!!

This is a real story in one of the private schools. Venue is second standard. The classroom has 30 students with one teacher.

The students are all busy copying long long sentences in their notebooks from the black board. When the notebooks were observed, it was found that half the students were finding it difficult to write, some notebooks were just scribble pads and a few had written very neatly. Now, what were they writing.

"Q: How many days are there in a week?
A: There are seven days in a week.

Q: How many hours are there in one day?
A: There are 24 hours in a day.

blah! blah! blah!"

So, one of the student was asked to read what he has written in their notebook. And as expected, he rattled the first question with the answer. Now, a small test was done.

The board was cleared and then the following words were written: days, many, there. And then was asked to read what was written. To everyone's surprise the child could not read at all. Randomly students were asked to read, and most of them could not read at all, the others struggled with one or two words.

Now, if one analyses this situation, it reflects on what kind of primary education is imparted. The students were actually drawing the alphabets rather than recognizing the letters. They were drawing 'A', 'B', .....'Z'.

This happened because in schools, students are taught to write first, then read, and lastly listen.

Infact, it should have been the other way round.

First the students should develop listening skills. Then recognizing the alphabets, reading small words, then forming short sentences with those words. And finally, writing what has been learnt.

The sad part is the most important things that should have been done in the formative years of a child is emphasized in the later years, when s/he is already pressurized with learning other skills.

Child is always curious and ready to receive information. Our only responsibility is to provide that information in the form that they will understand quickly and emphasize it to be reinforced for retention.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Marking a science paper Dilemma

I had just started teaching 4 years ago. That time I was teaching General Science to 6th graders besides Mathematics. It was first term examination. It was the first time the students were facing an exam paper with mostly application and understanding problems. Of course, while designing an exam paper, we have to keep 35-40% of knowledge based questions for slow learners. I was given the previous years papers of the school, which much to my dislike, were all knowledge based questions. Questions like "Define....", "What is ...". But one or two questions like "Explain how this process happen", "Why ....." kinds.

Anyway, so my paper was one of the first kinds that students were appearing. There was this student who had answered all the tricky questions correctly. I was really so happy and excited correcting his paper. But excitement was short-lived when I saw the last answer. In the science paper, there was a question to draw a diagram of the digestive system. And this student had drawn all organs correctly, but instead of liver he drew lungs with alveoli, the air -sacs, and trachea. He, being very good at drawing, did an amazing amalgam of both respiratory and digestive organs! Thus, I did not give him any mark for the diagram.

Then came the result day when the students and parents are shown the answer booklets. This boy's mother comes with the answer booklet to ask me the reason for no marks for the diagram, the same assorted digestive-respiratory system. I explained her the reason. She started her parental negotiations for increasing marks. She said that he had drawn the stomach correctly, and pancreas correctly. I told her that pancreas are not above lungs! But she would not stop the negotiations. I told her that if today I give him marks, he will never learn the difference between lungs and liver. Now, that he lost a full score in Biology, he will remember it lifetime the position of lungs and liver.

Still the lady persisted, that give 2 marks out of 5 to my son so that his percentage will increase. I was getting a little annoyed now. I told her once and for all, that I will not increase the marks. I being a teacher will always want my students to understand what they are learning, writing and if decide to memorize, then to do with complete understanding. Just rote-learning is not going to help your son at all in future.

I guess, some people cannot be convinced with any amount of logic. Somehow, I managed to keep my cool and did not budge from my stand. Finally, she left. Many times parents come with such stuff when we have to decide the firm path.

What is your opinion? What you would have done?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Clockwise and anticlockwise concept

Recently I was posed a problem of teaching clockwise and anticlockwise problem to students who have never seen a clock.

I may not be wrong in presuming that majority of people have seen and used a simple water tap. I would ask the students to think how do they open the tap and close the tap.

The students will try imitating the act in the class. There lies the concept of clockwise and anticlockwise.

You open the tap in anticlockwise direction and close the tap in clockwise direction.

I would give students some bolts and screw drivers to tighten the screws on the door knob. Ask them to observe the direction of the screw driver motion.

Thus, you tighten the screws by moving the screw-driver in clockwise direction. To loosen the screw, move the screw-driver in anti-clockwise direction.

These two examples will give good sense of clockwise and anticlockwise direction to those who have never seen an analog clock.

I feel it will also give a new insight to people who have never observed or given attention to such small but very common actions of ours in the daily life!!!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Are children really difficult?

I face this question many times, whether children are really difficult to handle?

For any teacher in todays world, the best student definition is, "a child who does his/her work in time, work is impeccable, scores highest grades, well-mannered and respects elders!!!"

Any child whose behaviour is slight deviation from this definition is a difficult child. Just because they are not able to understand this deviation, the child is termed "difficult".

But I strongly feel that this is where a teacher is required. An ideal student will excel with slight guidance anyway. It is these so-called difficult children who really need a good and wise teacher's assistance in moving towards the best fit line - ideal definition.

I know a 1st grader whose teacher would complain that he is very mischievous, creates lots of noise and has influenced the other students to this extent that the other students do not fear her anymore!! I was aghast at this complaint of a teacher about a 6 year old boy.

All children are curious and if you expect them to sit on one chair in one position for 5 hours of the day, the children are bound to be restless. Besides this discomfort caused to these poor kids, they are expected to assimilate whatever is taught to them. God!! this is like the worst torture on these little angels!!

You ask them to learn the capitals of cities. They do not understand what city is, but yes make them learn capitals of the cities. You ask them to recite rhymes, of which they understand head nor tail! Then ask them to learn tables of numbers from 1 to 5. What are these tables, they understand nothing, but yes the best child is who can rattle off these tables like a parrot!!

What do you expect at the end of all this? A restless, disinterested child whose energies are being curbed rather than being constructively channelized.

Then the teachers complain to the parents. Rather than complaining, the teachers and parents must formalize strategies to be implemented in the class and at home both in order to put the child in the right groove without troubling the child mentally, physically and emotionally.

I do not feel this is impossible, only if the parents took more responsibility and interest in their child. Even parents feel that now our child is going to school, so our responsibility is over. How can that be over? If we bring a life into this world, it is our responsibility to nurture this life in the best possible manner for the self-reliance of this life. Mind you, responsibility does not mean providing material comforts, but spending more quality time with the child.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How to divide by zero?

One day, while I was taking a mathematics class of grade 6, a student gets up and asks me in a curious and innocent tone, "Miss, till today we have divided numbers by non-zero numbers. I was told once by a teacher in 4th grade, that we cannot divide by zero. But why cannot we divide by zero? I do not understand."

I was surprised that this child had been thinking of divide by zero since 4th grade. At that time, I had to take a decision whether to discuss with the whole class or explain only him. Since, it was the last few minutes of the period, I promised him that next class I will discuss this the first thing. But before leaving, I asked the other students to ponder over the problem and discuss their finding amongst themselves before we meet in the next class. He had twinkle in his eyes that his question is finally going to get answered. Another thing I observed that he was happy that his question got acknowledged and given importance!

I had my next period with his class after lunch break. I kept thinking as to how best explain him as well as the whole class without confusing any one of them. The bell rang to mark the end of the lunch break. I went to the 6th grade and found all the students seated on their seats quietly and eagerly waiting for my arrival. I got a grand welcome by these eager young eyes. I thought that today I have a great responsibility to fulfill.

I first asked them whether they had spent time discussing amongst each other. They said that they finished their lunch in 10 minutes and spent the rest of the lunch break in discussion. Many gave the response that the answer will be zero. I asked the child who had posed the question to explain his thoughts. He said that, "zero times any number is zero. But that way I get remainder as the same number, so I get confused."

So I started from the same thread.

I asked students to tell what is 6 divided by 2. All of them in one voice said 3. So now I asked them what does 6 divided by 2 actually mean? There was silence.

I drew 6 apples on the board. Asked them to divide them into groups of 2. One child came up to the board and drew boxes around the apples to represent the group. Then she counted the boxes and found that there were 3 boxes. Slowly, they started understanding the meaning of division.

Next, I asked them to divide 10 by 5. Some students shouted the answer as 2. I was surprised to see that the others were thinking on grouping objects.

This time I asked one of the child to describe how he grouped. He drew 10 cones on the board. And then drew two boxes around 5 cones and wrote there are two groups.

Quickly, the whole class was able to grasp the concept. Then we tried some more division problems mathematically and by grouping.

Now, divide 14 by 6. They drew 14 objects, draw boxes for every group of 6, and found 2 were left out. Hence they understood the meaning of remainder.

Then, I wrote 4 divided by 0.

I drew 4 trees. Now asked the students to form groups of zero trees.

They spent some time thinking and how to form groups containing zero trees. I observed their work on their respective sheets. All were trying all combinations to draw a box that will contain zero trees.

Then finally, one child stood up and came to the board and drew an empty box. He said that, "Miss, this box contains zero trees. But how do I explain from this 4 divided by 0?"

I asked them if any one was able to form groups. Many looked puzzled. I asked them if they understood the meaning of an empty box that was drawn on the board by one student. They all understood that zero trees means no trees. Thus, the box is empty.

So, I told them that how many such boxes can you draw which contains zero trees?
Some said 10, some 20 and some said many. I asked them, I can keep on drawing these empty boxes and still have groups of zero trees. They all agreed. Does that mean I can draw infinite boxes and still have groups of zero trees? They all agreed.

I asked them what they understood by infinite. Immediately one child got up and said infinite is lots of many... Then one child answered something which cannot be counted. Bingo!!

"That is your answer to 4 divided by 0. You cannot count the groups. Hence any number divided by zero is infinity. Your remainder is 4."

One child asks, "Will that mean that 28 divided by 0 is also infinity?" I asked him to draw 28 objects and group them again with zero objects. He understood.

Just 2 minutes before the bell rang, some children come to me and said, "Miss, we never understood division. It is the first time we really understood division. But we are still not confident about divide by zero." I asked them to just focus on the division part that they have understood, the divide by zero concept we will discuss at a later stage.

After the class, I went into a pensive mood. Only if students at primary level understand the concepts then their secondary and higher level mathematics will be more seamless. Immediate reaction will be to blame the primary teachers who did a sloppy job and kept promoting confused students. But on further thinking, I do not feel that it is entirely the teachers' fault as well.

Then who is at fault? Are the curriculum designers to be blamed, who have made a packed curriculum that leaves no scope for creative and effective teaching? Is the school management, who has packed the timetable with so many activities that the teachers are stressed out planning? Are the teachers entirely to be blamed for producing ill-informed students at the end of each academic year?

I guess all of the education community has to share the blame. What do you feel?