From Curiosity To Concept On Board Creativity
by P. R. Guruprasad
"We seem to be born with curiosity, 'a need to know,' although in unfavourable circumstances this can be stifled."
Tizard and Hughes (1984)
Year 1983. Ethiopian highlands. A rural senior secondary school that catered to students coming from very disadvantaged backgrounds. I was teaching physics to Grades 11 and 12. The school was situated on the national highway connecting the regional capital town of Debre Berhan to the national capital Addis Ababa. The landscape was picturesque, reminding me of the 1960's popsong "Green Green Grass Of Home" by the legendary Engleburt Humperdinck. The people were friendly and hospitable. The school had all the necessary infrastructure such as good buildings, well stocked library, physical education room and a staff room. It had a science laboratory good enough to teach most lesson concepts using whole class demo.
I had to teach "latent heat of fusion" to the usual 20 or so students much less in number than the actual class strength perhaps due to their long walking distance from their home villages.
Well getting to the concept that I was to teach, I have always carried the impression that high school physics textbooks don't go beyond a description of "latent heat of fusion." I think that the concept needs more: an explanation such that students understand the concept. This article outlines how I tried to build the concept by scaffolding students' line of thinking.
I first presented the process of melting [of ice] as a whole class demo and asked the students to watch the "show." The process is depicted as in the following fig:
I was delighted to witness the height of their curiosity as the ice was melting. When all the ice had melted and the water began warming up, I asked them to ask any questions about what they saw in the "show." After a few minutes of the crucially important "wait time," they came up with surprise questions such as, "There was something unusual happening in the thermometer for some time, why was that so?" Infact I longed for this curiosity question to come from them. After about 10 minutes scaffolding, they themselves were able to reason that the thermometer didn't show any rise in temperature during melting because all the heat that was given to the ice was taken by ice itself (the selfish "monster") without giving to the thermometer. [Only when heat is given to the thermometer, it can show any temperature rise].
Once the classroom interaction reached this stage, it was easy for me to let students know that this "hidden" heat [which is not read by the thermometer] is known as latent heat. [This is one of the numerous physics terms which has a prevalent usage in communicative English, an advantage to physics teachers].
Hence the point is: Scaffolding children's line of thinking at the right time can be immensely useful in teaching concepts provided appropriate situations are created in the classroom. Thus my students' curiosity didn't kill the "cat" but instead ignited their creative potential.
Whatever be the outcome, learning to ask questions is crucial - an inquiring mind makes for an independent learner.
de Boo (1999)
De Boo N (1999), Enquiring Children, Challenging Teaching, Buckingham: Open University Press.
Tizard B and Hughes M (1984), Young Children Learning: Talking and Thinking at Home and at School. London: Fontana.
P R Guruprasad [Email: firstname.lastname@example.org]