It is time to think ‘alternative’

Lock-down as a trigger

The lock-down and quarantined existence over the last few months has given us opportunities to re-evaluate our habits and life choices. I have been continuously reflecting and introspecting. I have re-evaluated many things – my daily routine, my work schedule, my eating habits, my socialising activities, and most importantly, my teaching practices.

I share here, the changes I have made as a teacher.

Tight session plans

At NumberNagar®, we believe strongly in hands-on and tactile learning experiences. However, due to lock-down restrictions, I have started conducting online classes for students of Grade VIII and above.

I have learned that I need to employ a different approach to use session time effectively in an online medium. Here, both the teacher and student need to spend more effort in preparing before the session. Therefore, the contact time needed to cover a topic is lesser when compared to an in-person session.

This preparation time has given me the opportunity to refine my style. Eye contact during virtual sessions is not that effective and there is no way to strictly control the focus of the student. This has prompted me to keep the session plan tight. So, even if we spend less time during a session, the focus is heightened and more results can be achieved.

Well prepared students

As a facilitator of learning, I continuously strive to make my students self-directed learners. This lock-down gave me the perfect opportunity. It has always annoyed me that high school students arrive completely unprepared for class. They expect the teacher to read out the text to them. It is an utter waste of precious time.

Now, I insist that my students study their reading material beforehand. When we meet for the session, we spend time in discussion of their study and questions. Instead of passively reading from the text that the student can do herself, I share critical thoughts and raise relevant questions. I also use this time to help them with specific content that they find difficult. It is a win-win situation, the precious time spent together is used constructively by both of us.

A combination of tight session plan and well-prepared students has helped me achieve in 30 minutes (discussion and questions) what would previously take one hour. Also, the student’s self-exploration is not limited to the session time. They can get more involved and creative in their own learning process.

Using creative methods

A couple of months ago, I had explored a novel concept of 5 senses-5 elements matrix for science learning. I did this with two home-schooled siblings. This creative concept excited my students and me equally, and we have been applying this in almost every session hence. I have only taken in-person sessions for these students. And, before we arrived at the senses-elements matrix, we had spent significant time together to build a relationship. I believed that the face-to-face time and prior relationship building contributed to the success of this exploratory learning concept.

Last month, however, I employed the same concept with a new set of 5 students in virtual classes. I had never met these students in-person before, and I triggered this exploration in our very first virtual meeting. To my delight, I found that my new students were equally excited about exploring Science in this manner. Their enthusiasm has added new dimensions to the exploration. Also, because of the lock-down, their exploration is limited to their households. This constraint has heightened their creativity. They have found new ways to enrich their own learning experience. All I needed to provide them was a trigger and a framework. My initial misgivings were entirely put to rest.

There is absolutely no harm in trying new concepts in different contexts. That is the hallmark of creativity. In fact, exploring familiar concepts in unfamiliar contexts is the roadmap to creativity. I will continue to do this to make my facilitating experience more engaging.

Embracing an ‘alternative’ mindset

Refining just a few habits has made me lean more towards an alternative teaching and learning mindset. Working with students while driven by this mindset makes more sense to me as a facilitator, today more than any other time.

Also, I have started working closely with alternative learning spaces such as Abheek Academy and Amoda in the recent past. These combined experiences have influenced a paradigm shift in my thought process.

The time I got in this lock-down has made me a better educator and I hope this will help me build better learning experiences for my students.

Featured image credits: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Sriraghavan S M

Sriraghavan (Raghu) is an Astronomer by qualification (MSc, Astronomy, Bangalore University) and a teacher by passion. He is a trained counsellor and psychotherapist. His firm belief and conviction to transform the education system in India led him to be an entrepreneur through NumberNagar®. His core work at NumberNagar® revolves around product presentations, academic content, and training. He teaches Maths and Science to young students, rubbing off his passion to them. He trains teachers as well, inspiring them to better themselves. He has taught Physics in educational institutes, during his early career days. He has travelled extensively all over Karnataka, training teachers and popularising Astronomy. He advocates multiple intelligence and is constantly on the lookout for new things to learn. He is ambidextrous and enjoys sketching. He was an avid cricket player in his younger days. He is an enthusiastic biker and uses long solo motorcycle rides as means of reflection and rejuvenation.

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