Contextual Clarity Before Curricular Concept
by P. R. Guruprasad
South Africa. 1992. I had to teach "Electrolysis" to my std. 8 children in a rural high school. My difficulty was to make them understand the flow of ions in the electrolyte. The class strength was large (more than 40). After contemplating over the problem, I decided on a role play that was enacted by children [under my direction] as follows: The space filled by the teacher's table was the `electrolytic liquid' with two tall students standing on the sides of the table as the electrodes. Beautifully decorated African masks were used for ions [The masks come in a spectrum of colours but we chose only red and black for simplicity and to be in line with conventions in electricity]. Students enjoyed the African drumbeat used as background music when `ions' travelled in the electrolyte.
India. 1998. I was to teach "Circular Motion" to my std. 9 children in a high school which saw me more as an administrator than a physics teacher [something which isn't new to many school principals here in India]. The intended curriculum [the syllabus] didn't go beyond `that' of the concept. While the textbook did say "how?", it was in a historically traditional way not different from the way many of us had ourselves been taught ["Consider a point P going around a circle..."]. This meant once again that I had to deviate from the convention.
I entered my class, a group of very cheerful and enthusiastic boys and girls who had always been interested to "do" physics with me. They all had a wristwatch each. I asked them to observe the movement of the tip of the second's hand. This was more user-friendly to them than an alien point "P" mentioned in the textbook. With this as the curtain raiser, it was very easy for my students to learn concepts such as angular displacement, angular velocity etc. as they could actually see the movement, hence record, calculate etc. I found them doing some physics which was fun and homely. [Here, I am not getting into the interactional strategies, which should be apparently obvious to all the fellow teachers of secondary school physics].
Thus I had always experienced that contextual teaching learning is very rewarding in the sense that even abstract concepts can be made to be concrete. As far as I can see, one of the most important advantages of such contextual teaching learning approaches is that they warrant the use of `association', the primary ingredient of learning, which can cut across a range of disciplines from paediatric linguistics to adult education.
"The meaning of any fact, proposition or encounter is relative to the perspective or frame of reference in terms of which it is construed" - J S Bruner (1996).
Ref: J S Bruner: The culture of education, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1996.
P R Guruprasad [Email: firstname.lastname@example.org]