Simple Science

Why do all things fall on the ground? Because of ‘gravity’. Why does water level rise in a thin tube? Because of ‘capillary action’. Why does the sky appear blue? Because of ‘scattering of light’.  Why does the earth revolve around the sun? Because of ‘taperu’. Wait! Did the last one not make sense? Think of a ten year old to whom ‘gravity’ or ‘capillary action’ sound as absurd as ‘taperu’ does to you. The textbooks, notebooks, classroom walls and blackboards are full of ‘new words’ for children. We are sure increasing their vocabulary; what about understanding? Sarit, Aavishkaar’s founder and Science lover, believes Science is for those who do not understand complexities! And hence, Aavishkaar tries to make it understandable to the extent our grandmothers get it. 🙂 Removing jargon and simplifying the language lies at the core of Aavishkaar’s philosophy.

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In everyday relationships, one would question veracity and hence authenticity of a person without lucid statements. Similarly, we know if one is trying to hide behind jargon without a real explanation, they are probably not revealing the complete truth. One possibility could be they don’t understand either. According to an Arab proverb, there are four kinds of people: those who don’t know that they don’t know; those who know that they don’t know; those who don’t know that they know; and those who know that they know. People trying to hide behind fancy terminology probably fall in the first category! People who do not know they don’t know are in-trouble because they will never try to find out. This could also be the reason why most people including teachers and hence students think seasons are formed because of the distance of the earth from the sun, or the phases of the moon are because of earth’s rotation, or because of ‘machchu,’ who cares, right? 😛

Besides eliminating jargon, there is a dire need to clarify misconceptions like these. We wonder why students and teachers developed these misconceptions in the first place. Taking a deeper look at the textbooks, it appears they explain the ‘what’ of everything rather than the ‘how’ and never the ‘why’. When a teacher was asked to explain the phases of the moon, they wrote, “when moon is completely invisible, it is called ‘no moon’ and when it is fully visible, it’s called ‘full moon”. If asked about the relative positions of the sun, moon and earth that explain the so called ‘phases’, we would lack clear answers! Also, fun fact: we can actually never see the full moon from earth. Could you deduce why?

Have we only been mandating beliefs instead of building actual understanding for our kids? Most likely, yes. Not only that, the gaps also accumulate till the child starts to believe no real understanding exists and takes on to the memorization technique trying to cater to the pressure of scoring well in the exam. Students have more difficulty with the concepts in grade 7 because they did not adequately understand in grade 6, and so on. The gaps in understanding accumulate, making learning more and more difficult over time.

 Teaching in the students’ mother tongue has been discussed among the education community for long. “Our language is the reflection of ourselves, and if you tell me that our languages are too poor to express the best thought, then I say that the sooner we are wiped out of existence the better for us,” wrote Gandhi in his Nai Taleem. The NCF (2005) advocates it and textbook writers are asked to write in the students’ mother tongue. Translating textbooks does not seem to have solved the problem and you will know why after looking at the list of ‘key words’ from a Science textbook written in Hindi:

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This is one kind of problem where words completely unheard are used to teach students. They might have never used or heard these words in life. And look how much we have resolved by translating textbooks!

The other kind of problem is where we use certain words constantly, but have no real understanding whatsoever; everyone’s favourite being ‘energy’. We use ‘energy’ in so many different contexts and situations and we are barely wrong. It somehow manages to fit every situation. See if these sound familiar-

  • I am full of energy today.
  • Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed.
  • E=MC2
  • There is so much negative energy in this place.

Can you guess what it means taking cues from the sentences above? So the next time you don’t know the answer, try saying ‘energy’ and you will most likely be right! What is energy though? All that is not matter is energy. And what is matter? Well, does it really matter? 😉

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