Making knowledge power

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Source: The Hindu
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
“Almost 150 years ago, everyone in the most remote villages of India would have been able to predict the shape of the moon on a day-to-day basis, because they depended on moonlight for everything at night. Once Edison discovered electricity and mankind no longer has to check the moon everyday, we have lost that knowledge,” says Professor Arthur Eisenkraft, Professor of Science Education, Professor of Physics, Director – Center of Science and Math in Context (COSMIC), University of Massachusetts, Boston. He was in Bengaluru to talk about ‘Problems that don’t remain solved’ at the Azim Premji University. In a free-wheeling interview, he talks about science learning, the use and impact of technology in education and steps to make learning more fun.
He says, “I feel that technology is changing teaching in many ways. I am not saying that teaching must adopt tech tools completely. I think for learning to actually succeed, you need to make science relatable to the students. Usually, information gleaned from a school textbook or teacher remains imprinted in the mind. That’s the reason many people still believe that winter happens when the earth moves away from the sun. If you tell them about the angle of the sun rays and the actual reasons, there is a good chance they will go back to their older theory in a few months.” To correct this anomaly, Arthur says, “It is important to hear out the theory, and slowly explain why it is flawed, to the student. This approach will help in ensuring that the student does not go back to the flawed hypotheses. Prior knowledge often impedes further knowledge.”
He adds, “Science is changing and very vibrant. It is not just a collection of facts. I call facts the artefacts of science. I think as technology grows by leaps and bounds, it is very important to understand that science changes a lot and science education must not involve students merely taking down notes on what someone else thought up.”
Pluto’s banishment from being a planet resulted in a huge outcry a few years ago. Arthur contends, “That’s mostly because Pluto was a very popular Disney character that everyone felt nostalgic about. In biology, if we discover that two animal groups are not related to each other, no one would care much.”
How does one correct the irrational fear of science education that many people have? “It’s all about making people relate to the concepts. For example, I am terrified of cricket, since I do not know the rules. It’s the same with science. Once you understand the rules, you will love it a lot.” He says, “Science can be used in sporting contests also. However, the best cricket players are often not great at physics.” Arthur adds, “Science helps me look at things differently too. As technology grows further, better science education will help mankind develop better technologies. Apart from that, science also helps me pick up pieces of information such as where exactly a rainbow would appear, the colour pattern and smaller details that many others would not know. Everything you do involves some degree of science. It is important that it is taught properly. Learning is hard work and a lot of fun.”



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