Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Fun learning: Make science, maths funny to learn

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Chemistry, mathematics, physics and biology... If your son or
daughter feels these subjects are boring and dull, it's not the fault of your
child. The lapse lies largely with the primary teacher. Scientists and learning
experts argue that nothing is boring to the brain in the world of learning, and
whether or not a student likes a particular subject depends on how
interestingly or boringly it is taught to him or her.

A little bit of history intertwined with interesting anecdotes and illustrations
and how it helps us in daily life makes any academic subject as lively as
watching a favourite cartoon or a funny movie.

"Create interest in students about the subjects they feel boring," says senior
scientist Dr MN Khaja. "Tell them small historical stories associated with the
given topic. Do not be monotonous. Crack a few jokes in between the lecture.
Come out with illustrations. A student will not grasp a subject unless he or
she feels it interesting. Activate the brain," adds Dr Khaja, who has been
guiding students on genetics.

Dr Pradeep Kumar Srivastava, joint director, biochemistry lab of Central
Drug Research Laboratory, argues that the best way to teach students is to
make science fun to learn. Dr Srivastava has been advocating a new concept
of learning called scientoon, teaching science through cartoons and
illustrations.

"Scientoons and Scientoonics" impress upon the minds of the students.
"Using a mixture of cartoons and anecdotes, I have been explaining the most
complex of theories and problems in the most simplest and humorous way.
Students from other countries too are attracted to science thanks to
scientoons.

Explaining further what scientoon learning is, Dr Srivastava, who is currently
in Hyderabad, says scientoons are the cartoons, based on science. "They not
only make you smile and laugh but also provide information about new
researchers, subjects, data and concepts in a simple, understandable and
interesting thought-provoking way".

Realising the importance of "imaginative" teaching to create interest in
students in the so-called dull subject of chemistry, the International Union of
Pure and Applied Chemistry has declared 2011 as the "International Year of
Chemistry". The IUPAC plans to involve students the world over including
India through a series of novel yet simple experiments, like purifying water at
one's school or house, how chemicals react, molecules bind together, energy
is converted and metals get their malleability and ductility. The students
themselves will do the experiments.

The IUPAC's concept of making chemistry a fun to learn has been well
received by learning experts in the State. S Srinivas, a teacher of over two
decades, says metallurgy, for instance is a subject that is sure to trigger
yawning, and it can be made quite interesting too.

"Students will learn metallurgy with much enthusiasm if they are told that
aluminium was once costlier than silver and how rulers had sported
aluminium buttons on their coats, throwing away gold and silver ones.
Napoleon had once hosted a party for the nobles. He served them food in
aluminium plates while his soldiers had to be content with the silver utensils.
Napoleon had in fact sported aluminium buttons to his coat," Srinivas
observes.

Scientists point out that different regions of the brain are involved when a
person lets loose his imagination. Students should be allowed to imagine.
Their thoughts should not be limited to the four walls of the class room or the
pages of the textbook, points out eminent physicist Dr Mani Lal Bhaumik.
"No question is silly. Teachers should clarify the doubts and answer the
questions of students, however small they seem to be," he points out.

The prefrontal cortex of the brain gets activated if you are dealing with a big
mathematical problem. Hippocampus and amygdala are emotional and
memory regions of the brain and they make imaginations highly colourful.
Interesting anecdotes trigger these sites in the brain and make students
understand the subject well - whether they are the complex molecular
structures in chemistry, the difficult Kreb's cycle in botany, the mysterious
genetic code in animals, the troublesome trigonometry or the abstract laws of
physics.

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