Gearing Up For The Future - Active Learning By Talking

The transition to online classrooms, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has changed the dynamics of learning completely. Traditional classroom routines involve the teacher as the sole speaker and very little room for discussion. The teacher would prefer to be the only one talking and the students are expected to listen with rapt attention. Educators are now coming to the realisation that the traditional approach does not allow room for independent thinking and children are used to being told what they should do and how they must understand a concept.





The need to move away from the traditional classroom concept

Online education has made it hard to stay focussed. Distractions are within hands reach. It is easy to tune into music or perhaps even watch something else while the teacher teaches online. The fact that numerous possibilities exist creates a feeling of distrust between the teacher and student thus making education futile.


Fast forward to the future, the skills required in the real world are the ability to improvise, listen to others, respond, show empathy towards others such as giving a quiet person a chance to contribute to a group discussion, performing non-routine tasks and above all collaboration. All of this require the ability to work with different kinds of people. Traditional classroom model leaves very little room for developing these skills.


An interesting project undertaken by the Government of Sikkim to help primary children to be well equipped with knowledge of math as they prepare for higher classes led to a new approach to teaching math. Swati Sircar in her article Rewriting Math Textbooks in Teacher Plus, May-June 2020), illustrates how Math has now become a subject that is discussed by the students while the teacher looks on, playing the role of a facilitator. He or she encourages the children to think in different ways to solve a problem and gradually guides them towards the right answer instead of giving them a direct answer. The newly created textbook for primary school children in Sikkim, has stories, puzzles and games to facilitate this process of learning. One of the classroom videos from the pilot project of the textbook showed children playing with a game in the textbook during break time without being exquisitely told to do so, suggesting that children to the concept almost immediately. If this can be done in the field of Mathematics, the same concept can be applied across subjects.


Math has now become a subject that is discussed by the students while the teacher looks on, playing the role of a facilitator. He or she encourages the children to think in different ways to solve a problem and gradually guides them towards the right answer instead of giving them a direct answer. If this can be done in the field of Mathematics, the same concept can be applied across subjects.

Solving problems in real life scenarios where even Google can't help find the right answer!


"Why do we need to do something that is relevant to grownups? We are still in school." This was a fantastic question that a 14 year old from the Young Executives Club Talking Circle asked me when we did our very first problem solving activity based on a real life problem scenario. This student's question is a very relevant one that leads to another very pertinent question- "Is school education only about grades or is it a preparation for the future?" Continuous assessment programs give room for exploration and finding answers independently while working for assignments and school projects. Children today are fortunate to be able to easily find answers to difficult questions thanks to Google search. While this facility is incredibly useful in expanding one's knowledge and understanding, a little extra muscle is required when it comes to solving dynamic real life problems. Especially those for which, there is no documented answer already. One needs to be able to improvise, think on one's feet, talk with others and then resort to the necessary action.

In order to discover scenarios in which even Google cannot help because the problem in hand is unprecedented and there are no known answers, we took the problem of the ship stuck in the Suez Canal earlier this year. This real life problem opened up a number of less obvious aspects such as what are the financial implications of this incident and why the problem had a time sensitivity aspect. Different students approached this problem in different ways. While some of the students questioned the cause of the incident, others dived in trying to find solutions to release the ship. Well for an unprecedented event such as this one where a large container ship was stranded with no port in the vicinity meant that there was no equipment available to release it. It was causing a traffic jam on the sea! We know of traffic jams only in our cities! What could be the right answer? This led to brainstorming. Suggestions such as "Why don't we use oil to reduce friction and release the ship?" led to further discussion about how this could be a disastrous idea as this will require a lot of oil and potentially oil spill in the water. "That could impact marine life," pointed out another 14 year old.


Well for an unprecedented event such as this one where a large container ship was stranded with no port in the vicinity meant that there was no equipment available to release it. It was causing a traffic jam on the sea! We know of traffic jams only in our cities! What could be the right answer? This led to brainstorming.

What happened during in the group discussion above was also a form of teamwork. They learnt to listen to each other, respond to another member's opinions, disagree politely with a well thought out argument, thus sometimes convincing the group even to take the right step forward. In this respect, it was ok to Google to find information that could serve as an evidence to support a convincing argument but beyond that the focus was on original ideas and perspectives. These children worked in an imaginary sphere. There were no implications if they don't solve the problem fast unlike the people involved on the ground. But what these kind of exercises do is to give the children an exposure to real life scenarios and get a chance to think, collaborate and try to come up with solutions that their intellect allows them to reach sans any pressure. Imagine what would be the effect in the long run, if this happens over and over again. Not only would they be more knowledgeable but also driven when the need to solve a real life problem arises. Children who have the opportunity to be involved in such group discussions repeatedly will be able to tell themselves that they have brainstormed over so many real life problem scenarios. They need to apply those lessons and simply believe in themselves to find the way forward. They need to be able to think and express themselves, collaborate with others and not just be a passive audience.


 



A large kitchen catering to corporates is an excellent place to learn about life skills such as improvisation, quick thinking to solve problems to ensure on time delivery and the importance of effective communication in team work. Read more about our conversation with Ms.Asha Malini, Director, Corporate Catering Division, Nala Veg. 


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