Going beyond the Sounds and Sights of ‘Knowledge’....
For most of us, knowledge means that which is written or illustrated in books (and other written/spoken material on internet or other media). When the written knowledge is about an object or a phenomenon that we have never experienced (which a lot of what is written in books is), we often start taking the memories of the words (its written forms) and their pronunciations as signs of acquiring knowledge. For example, for many of us, NaOH means “en-ae-o-eh”, and not a solid which looks white in colour, which easily becomes wet in air, which feels slippery if you hold it in hand and can cause burning sensation if held for too long, etc. The same happens for knowledge represented in the form of diagrams or other symbolic structures. For example, by ‘atom’ what comes to our mind is a ball or a sphere, or by ‘force’ we remember an arrow drawn around an object. Those who have studied advanced chemistry know that atoms are rarely present in spherical forms, and force is more subtle than an arrow. But since these symbols/diagrams are useful in many situations, we start taking them to be true pictures of reality or absolute knowledge. Our exams also test our ability to memorize the sights and sounds of the textual or symbolic knowledge.
Here we would like to differentiate “sights and sounds of knowledge” mentioned above from our visual and auditory memories/observations of the physical world and phenomena; which (when analyzed by the human mind) lead to creation of “primary (or naive) knowledge”. Cumulative primary knowledge of one or many individuals, after rigorous analysis and validation across systems, may lead to established knowledge. It may not be possible for any individual to learn or even access all the established knowledge in a discipline, but it is very much possible for an individual to understand this process of one’s own knowledge creation (which leads us to the core of Science and Mathematics), and use it actively to enhance our learning.
For most of us (as learners) the knowledge which is useful for understanding the world around us, and which enables us to solve real life problems, is that which has become internalized.
In this knowledge, we have an acquired “feel” or a mental perception of what the object or phenomenon of study is, either through a real experience or mental visualization of how it might look, how it might sound, how it might behave or interact with other objects, etc.
The journey of transforming a standard textual/symbolic knowledge into internalized knowledge requires much more than reading, writing or memorizing the knowledge.
In the realm of science and mathematics, it first involves most importantly “observing” the world, objects, their behaviours in detail; then trying to identify patterns that can be seen across different objects/situations or consistently over time; and checking if the patterns we observe are always valid (or there are exceptions). The study of patterns can also help us to imagine/visualize/predict the behaviour of new objects/systems that we have not yet seen or experienced. Further, discussion of the observations and patterns with others can refine our understanding because of critical evaluation and addition of other ways of understanding our observations. The discussion leads to a shared understanding of the object or system among a group of people, and generates the standardized knowledge among the group; and eventually standardized knowledge of the global communities.
Thus Observation, Exploration/Analysis and Discussion form the three pillars of our efforts at Vigyan Pratibha!
In 2017, before starting the Vigyan Pratibha program, we conducted a survey in some schools with Class 8 students. As a part of the written survey, we asked students what questions come to their mind regarding Science and Mathematics. We expected conceptual clarificatory questions on various topics from their books. To an interesting surprise, we received questions like “Who made Science?” “Who created Mathematics?” “How did the great scientists think of making maths?” Further many students also wanted to know, “How can I stop my neighbours from fighting with each other? How can we clean the garbage piling near my house?” In one of the later discussions during a students’ camp, a girl of Class 9 was very perplexed about ”How scientists know for sure that the knowledge they are telling us is correct and not false?” In one of our student camps, we found a Class 8 girl showing us a very elegant explanation of “Why square root of 2 must be an irrational number”.
Contrary to our typical expectations, these instances show that high school students (at least some of them) are deeply moved by problems of their surroundings and expect science and mathematics to help them solve these. Many of them on their own engage with the questions and process of knowledge creation, and its validation. Some of them are keen observers, and can recognize complex patterns. However, many times they do not know how to translate their experiences, observations, ideas, curiosities into the standard words or language of science/mathematics; and vice versa.
Vigyan Pratibha is an effort to create spaces with the school systems, where interested students can engage deeper with the content of science and mathematics by experiencing the processes which go behind creation and change of this content. These process cannot be always experienced by only reading and writing, but would require talking with each other, asking questions from elders and community members, thinking about some questions to find your own answers and discussing with classmates, or sometimes making some things with your own hands. The opportunities of discussion and also writing your own answers (which are not going to be assessed in any examinations), allows students to enhance their vocabulary, their language expression and well as communication skills.
This process is not easy, and requires efforts by teachers, school systems, as well as the students. But it is not impossible. Learning resources created under Vigyan Pratibha can help in creating and sustaining “Science Circles”. The goal of these Science Circles should remain clear: It is not to (just) gain more knowledge, but ‘to go beyond the sounds and sights of knowledge that you have gained (memorized) and play (or sometimes wrestle) with the knowledge till it becomes your personal.’
What Vigyan Pratibha is NOT!
Aiming as we do for better engagement in science and mathematics, we are consciously aware that:
Vigyan Pratibha is not another source of information or activities about science and mathematics
In today’s age, there is no dearth of information on various topics in science and mathematics - be it books or the Internet. Even on the Internet, there are multiple channels through which this information is available - as text, videos, or social media posts. Vigyan Pratibha cannot possibly provide more information than these sources. Our Learning Units are not a collection of information about new phenomena or new activities/experiments for children to perform. Many of our Learning Units are based on simple and apparently “ordinary” observations and try to take students on a journey to make sense of them. This journey does include activities and experiments, but the focus is on the sense-making, rather than just performing the activity. However, by not focusing on memorization of information, Vigyan Pratibha also does not underestimate the importance of different types of information or facts. Correct information is a part necessity for meaningful understanding of all phenomena. Unfortunately, a side-effect of the development of the Internet and social media is that we have a concoction of information, misinformation and disinformation at our fingertips! How can we demarcate these? By going deeper into the nature of concepts and their interconnections, which make the foundations of knowledge of science and mathematics itself, and consequently information, VP aims to help students in the long run, to understand how to find the credibility of “information” that is seen, read or heard.
Vigyan Pratibha is not an evaluation tool or program
The target student population for the VP program does not need any other prerequisite other than pure interest to work with Learning Units. It is not specifically aimed at any ‘category’ of students such be it ''well-performing'', “outspoken”, “weak”, “shy” and so on. It rather aims to reduce these barriers in a classroom by providing avenues where students of diverse abilities and understandings can bring in their own ideas and experiences with natural phenomena, and refine their ideas as well its expression through interactions with other students and teachers. With this end, activities in our Learning Units cannot and should not be used as a measure for evaluation of learning in students.
Vigyan Pratibha is not a preparation tool for certain competitive examinations
Our Learning Units as well as other programs of VP are not designed to train students for any competitive exams. Rather the goal is personal and intellectual growth of students. As a result, students may perform better in some exams, but not necessarily in other. Most importantly, students would be more empowered to use science and mathematics in real life situations in personal life and in future careers. Ability to correlate multiple observations, identifying patterns and meaningfully using them - a skill developed from Vigyan Pratibha is important for understanding real-life situations and real life problems in science and technology and society.
Aspects of Quality Learning in Science (An article by Prof. Arvind Kumar)
The new Vigyan Pratibha (VP) project aims to facilitate high quality learning of science and mathematics by school students at the secondary stage (Classes 8, 9 and 10) by encouraging their deeper engagement with science and mathematics than is possible in traditional classroom and laboratory teaching.
In this article, we attempt to identify and elaborate on the different aspects of what might be regarded as ‘quality learning of science’.
The twelve key aspects/dimensions of quality learning in science suggested below derive from current perspectives of science education the world over as well as HBCSE’s grassroots experience in science education over many years. These different aspects are not strictly independent; they overlap considerably and ideally should reinforce one another. Importantly, they are conceived to apply to all stages (elementary, secondary, and higher stages) of education. They are also common to all different subjects of science: physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, environment, etc.