“I didn’t know Sal trees had flowers”
“How can snakes have a backbone, ma’am?”
These statements were part of my conversation with my student a few weeks ago.
As fate would have it, I’m teaching IX & X grade Biology this year. My last serious academic involvement with Biology was in my XII grade. After that, it has been many stimulating discussions and debates with my Biologist colleagues in the recent past. However, this is the first time I’m teaching Biology. I don’t have a Biologist’s experience of the subject, my perspective is a Chemist’s. So, this teaching assignment has given me an opportunity to learn Biology from a fresh perspective.
The students I teach to, do not require to be taught the content as such, they are covering that in school and they are also more than capable of independent reading and comprehension. What I do,is engage them in discussion – ask them questions, insist that they find the answers themselves, allow them to explain and teach the concept to me. In this manner, I find myself being a true facilitator and this has given me a glimpse into my students’ thought processes.
In one such session, we were discussing 5-kingdom classification and I asked my student to think of all plants/trees that he knew of and then classify them as monocots and dicots. He was allowed to use any reference or resource of his choice to complete this assignment. He knew the basics of which features to check for classification and the rest was up to him. He made a list of more than 30 plants and trees and classified them as monocots and dicots, independently. By the way, none of these examples appeared in his text book. In this whole process he learned that, among other things, Sal trees had flowers. Following this conversation, I also actively noticed for the first time, flowers of Teak trees in my garden.
In the same lesson, when discussion turned to vertebrates, he was stumped as to how snakes can have backbones. This led to an exploratory and humorous conversation on the nature of backbones.
In his imagination, the picture of a backbone was etched in the form of the human spinal column. I have to admit, I had not asked this question to myself before. I just accepted that reptiles are vertebrates and therefore they all have vertebral columns. Thanks to him, I was encouraged to learn more about the backbones of different vertebrates. Below is a picture showing the skeletal structures of some reptiles.
These children are used to only certain methods of teaching and learning, they are used to getting answers to their questions. Their questions leading to more questions, and the compulsion to think independently and sustain a conceptual discussion is a new experience to them. I see them smiling and laughing a lot during these discussions, so I believe they are enjoying the experience. Whatever said and done, I am thoroughly enjoying and learning immensely from this experience.
-Dr. Soumyashree S., Co-Founder, President-Research & Development BRAINSTARS