Thursday, 26 May 2011

Workshop Day 1

            Today was the first day of the three-day teacher workshop “Building Concepts in Science with Hands on Activities” which approximately 45 biology, chemistry and physics high school teachers attended.  Dr. Jolly gave the opening talk, which described India’s current educational strengths and areas for improvement.  Some of the statistics were pretty dramatic- literacy for India’s 1.2 billion people, is only approaching 70% (but rapidly increasing).  Currently, only 7 out of 100 people in the age range of 17-23 years are in college.  India has about 350 universities but it’s estimated that they would need 1500 to meet demand!  The progress in education is incredible (some of the test scores I talked about yesterday are proof of that) but there’s obviously a lot of room for improvement!
            Then she presented a brief summary of the physics education research- the importance of having “hands on” and “minds on” activities that explicitly confront student’s “naïve conceptions” with multiple representations of laboratory experiments, simulations and discussions.  I want to get a better idea of how familiar or unfamiliar this information was to these high school teachers but the day was so action-packed, it was hard to fit in extensive conversation external to the activity at hand.
            I did talk to one graduate student in elementary education, who is wrapping up his a year as an ad-hoc professor specializing in the physics aspect of science education for primary teachers.  From him, I did get some idea of how foreign this technology was to the average Indian.  I asked if the elementary education majors got to use this innovative science teaching labs and he said they would be so overwhelmed with the technology, that the educational benefits would unreasonably delayed.  It was fun talking to him about his graduate school experience- the University of Delhi only allows PhD students 4 years to finish their work, which I think would be helpful for motivating some US students who drag their research on for eight or so years.  He marveled at being able to enter the hostel area as we went to the mess for lunch, and started to talk about how strange it was being a male faculty member at an all-female institution where all full-professors are female.  I was very interested to hear more about that, especially after my yearlong mentorship with a male teacher at an all-girls college in the US, but a flurry of activity postponed that conversation to another time.
            I did get a slightly better idea of the how to earn a degree in secondary education but then I got de-railed talking about their children and one woman is visiting her daughter in DC, then they are going to tour the West Coast.  It was nice to give someone else travel recommendations for a change!
            There was parallel sessions divided by section on how to use Pasco and Vernier software for real-time data collection.  It was fun to be surrounded by teachers exploring this technology for the first time, and exploring the distance/ velocity/ acceleration graphs of anything they could get their hands on- balls, carts on tracks, newton’s cradle, a pendulum, mass on a spring and more.  And then a group session displaying the multi-disciplinary uses of this technology- sensors for taking pulse rates, biomechanical grip sensors, force places, calorimetry equipment, gas pressure measurements and more. 
            Even though most classrooms don’t have access to this equipment, Dr. Jolly constantly asked teachers to come up with related pocket-experiments that could be done with little or no expense.  She shared the equipment she developed 20 years ago with the international collaboration for low-cost, locally constructed real-time data collection equipment, which had similar an interface with equivalent capabilities for a cost of around $30 USD (as opposed to at least $100 for the commercially available options) and compatible sensors for less than $1.  She says it’s not worth trying to market it as a commercial product, because its nearly impossible for an educator to keep up to date with the constant advances in technology.  However, I was very impressed, especially because much of the programming and development of the interface was done by enlisting the aid of undergraduates.