By Sindu Aven, Head – Academic, Design & Content, Zee Learn
Although laboratories have been associated with science subjects historically, the national focus on activity- based learning encourages us to think about using laboratory methods for priority areas like Mathematics, language and Social Sciences. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) mandates schools to have labs for varied subjects like Social Sciences, language, Mathematics, Bio-Technology etc. Goals of laboratory classes may differ according to subjects, but they overlap over the objective of providing opportunities for experiential learning. Our future labs will, therefore, need to focus on creating more opportunities of experiencing the subjects studied even within the budget constraints and large class sizes. Judicious use of technology can help us kick start this process.
The focus in science education in schools has been evolving from the activityobservation- documentation framework to a more inquiry-based learning approach for developing scientific literacy. Instead of simply conducting a pre-identified activity, students should be encouraged to create explanations of the outcomes of an investigation by using evidence and logic. The future science labs will have a greater focus on the learning process along with conducting experiments. Online laboratories and experiments are useful in capturing the entire learning process without significant additional teacher intervention for individual students. Any number of students can dissect leaves and animals or mix hazardous chemical in online simula-tions without requiring a scaling up of the actual facilities and minimising system errors in experiments. Questionnaires with immediate feedback test their evidence and logic as they use pre-defined formats to build their reports. An online repository of experiments can be linked according to concepts so that students can perform related experiments or activities even if the rest of the class is not. Such relevant application assists students to move from guided activities to independent exploration and testing of laws and rules. The ubiquity of next generation computing devices has already transformed the experience of using computers has from click to touch. With the immediacy of touchscreens and the portability of tablet devices, discrete lab activities managed by lab instructors can be transformed into complete learning experiences leading to greater concept understanding with individual attention to all lab participants.
While planning for the labs of the future, we have to ensure that they provide answers to the problems of today
In Mathematics, the use of technology can transform the learning experience as well. The CBSE manual on Mathematics lab shows how simple paper and charts can be used for introducing object-based application of mathematical principles and application of geometry in real life. However, using the many available software and simulators we can make our Math labs truly futuristic. Free and open source software like GeoGebra offers online activities that join geometry, algebra, tables, graphing, statistics and calculus. There are other geometry, algebra and graphing software that can be leveraged for greater application of mathematical principles. Integration of Mathematics and subjects like graphic design and music should be explored to make the Math lab an experimental one. An effective mix of computer-based applications and hand-held objects in Math labs can increase the areas of application immensely without requiring considerable expenses. Networking with experts and practitioners online can augment the expertise of laboratory instructors and it will also allow them to explore the application of Mathematics principles in various fields.
The concept of Social Science and language labs in schools is still a nascent one in India. A language lab is less of an experiment lab and more of an activity lab where students develop their speaking skills through listening to audio clips and recording their own audio for the teacher’s review. As effective communication skills appear increasingly important, we see the emergence of finishing schools for engineers and managers in many Indian cities. A language lab helps reduce the need for such later-day interventions by honing speaking skills at an early age. Social Science labs in schools, on the other hand, offer opportunities for exploration and analysis. The Social Science lab of the future would rely heavily on multimedia. A collection of films and documentaries can bring alive the issues, cultures, communities and events from textbooks. A Social Science lab can remove the perceived dryness of the subject and engage students in topics of human interest. Apart from exploration, reflective use of technology also helps students develop media literacy through critical thinking and directed analysis of the practices in the popular media. Social Science simulation software is not useful at the school level, but students can be made familiar with the various survey mechanisms essential in Social Science study through online survey tools.
While planning for the labs of the future, we have to ensure that they provide answers to the problems of today. From heavily guided activity centers for a limited number of experiments, they need to become safe zones for independent exploration and application. From the isolation of schools, they need to make avenues for working on issues relevant to the community outside. Above all, an inquiry-based and experiential pedagogy needs to be adopted so that students can formulate their own ideas about the subjects taught.