What’s in a name?

A teacher entered into a classroom.  After the usual greetings  of “Gooooooood Mooooooorniiiiiiiing, Sir”, the class settled into another class! This was a substitution class for the teacher, so he was not under any pressure to complete syllabus.  So he thought “let me check the awareness of the class”.

He started with a simple question – “Do you know what is common amongst these three: Carbon, Nitrogen and Photon?”.

I am sure, you the reader will have already gone back in memory to get the answers.  Some of you know, with lot of practice, how to relate and connect.  So I will assume that you have got the answer.

Similarly, our teacher also got many answers,  but one of the answers proffered by a girl amused the teacher and that took the class through a round-about turn.  So what was the answer our student gave?

She started to speak but then lost her voice in the noise that ensued in the classroom.  She fell silent.  But our teacher had noticed her hesitation.  He made a mental note of it. He allowed all standard answers – amongst the same that are running in your mind – to go through after a certain debate.  Then, when the entire class had exhausted itself by arguing, he called upon this hesitant student to share her answer.

She hesitated but with a shy smile on her face said, “They are all products, Sir”.  Noticing the special attention she had received, her other friends shouted, “So what?”.  The teacher persisted and asked “Is that so?”. She continued boldly, encouraged by the teacher’s support, “They are all products, i.e., they are the names of  brands.  Carbon is the brand name of Maruti Suzuki’s Zen car.  Nitrogen is the brand name of a cycle manufactured by Hero and Photon is the brand name for the wireless internet connection service offered by the Tata Group”.

Now, the teacher was surprised at this out-of-the-box thinking.   Everyone started laughing at this crazy answer.  As I mentioned earlier, teacher was only substituting and he did not have to teach in this period!  So he proposed to the class, “Why don’t you actually continue this as a game?”.

Students saw this as an opportunity to play rather than learn.  They all said in one voice, “Yes, Sir!”.  The teacher warned that it was not sufficient to just tell the name but they should also briefly explain the related science.

The teacher started by saying, “Let me start with an example, and you can add on to it.  There is a Visa Credit Card whose brand name is Electron.   Electron is a fundamental particle.  It is negatively charged and has a charge of 1.6 X 10-19 coulomb.  It has a mass of 9.1 X 10-31 kg.  According to the Rutherford’s model of an atom, electrons rotate outside the nucleus in an atom.”

He then asked for volunteers to continue in this manner.   One boy said animatedly, “Sir, There is Bajaj – Pulsar.  Pulsar is a vehicle.  It comes in different sizes – 150 cc, 180 cc, 200 cc and 220 cc”.  Everyone nodded.  The teacher smiled and said “Good! Very good!  But cc is not the size, but instead represents the volume of the piston in any two  wheeler.  Now, what is the meaning of Pulsar?”. “Ok!  Pulsar is a rotating neutron star (typically with time periods of 1 millisecond)”, another student offered as an answer.

The bell rang and the teacher got ready to leave the class. The class enjoyed this game and said they would come prepared with more such lists in the next class.  The teacher nodded but wondered whether that would ever happen in the busy schedule of classes. He also pondered, “If every discussion in the staff room revolves around syllabus completion, we will never have this session again”.  “Did we learn anything new? Did it help the students’ learning? Or did they just have fun?” were his continuing thoughts as he made his way back to the staff room.

So, readers, there are two exercises for you.

First, what would you do in such a situation?  Would you support this teacher’s method?  Do you think that every classroom session should be conducted like this? Will this ‘play’ help  students? Do you think the students learned anything?

Next, can you name other brands and/or products that might be of help to this special teacher? (Clue: Look around – be curious).

– Dr. Srivatsa S K

Director, Research & Development

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3 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Thanks, Prashant, for an insightful comment.

    We, at BrainSTARS, are trying these approaches (mentioned in the article) so as to enthuse children to keep abreast with the knowledge that is overflowing around them. Many of us are users of all kinds of technology but fail to understand the functioning of it all. Even the basic science concept behind the working of these gadgets has never been clearly understood or not felt required to be understood. This way, everyone around is ‘hand-waving’ and lot of jargon is floating around.

    On the last count, definitely the issue is much bigger with the numbers you have mentioned. It requires a different approach and there, I agree, government support is indispensable. Our hope will be, the little that can be provided to them, let it be the most creative.

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  2. Hi Vatsa,

    Fun article. Great reading. For your first question my answer is as follows. Teaching, I believe is an art. It is not a skill everyone is born with. I would support such a teacher. No doubt about that. But the question is who needs to support and how it has to be done. We in India lack a system of nurturing teachers. To some extent we have developed systems which nurture researchers but that is not the case with the teachers in the primary as well as the secondary school levels.

    We have teachers, we have students and we also have schools. What we do not have is an environment, which encourages teachers who are passionate about teaching. Passion is an abstract term. It again depends on many other stuffs in our society. For instance, why does anyone become passionate about playing guitar ? Its a very difficult question. We can say that the person developed his passion for guitar from his father who too is a guitar player. That makes it easy. If nobody in his family ever played or liked music then we fall into the trap of tracing the origin of passion.

    Coming back to nurturing people with passion for teaching, who is supposed to do it? I think it has to be a multi faceted approach with few key stakeholders. Government support is indispensable. We need visionary policy makers and leaders. Secondly, middle class people or the civil society should press for an overhaul of teaching practices. People in general should ask questions and press with their legislators. When too many people press for the same thing, then policy makers will take a good look at the necessary reforms.

    Finally, the above factors are only for middle to lower middle class people. We have nearly 300 million or so of people who are unlikely to send their children to schools because of desperate poverty. For them, it is entirely a different ball game. For them I guess something will be better than nothing.

    Prashanth

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    1. Dear Prashanth,
      Thanks for taking the time and giving us your valuable comment. We agree completely that nurturing teachers is extremely important and at the moment it is neglected. But we are trying to encourage the teachers and students that we come across to think out of the box and use creativity in their class rooms.

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