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So a fellow colleague of mine shared this with me. My first thought was “I could use this with my kids for inquiry!”

I am in the process of modelling inquiry with my kids by asking them to ask a few questions a day (or maybe we could start by a week). I was a bit disappointed that none of them had a questions they wanted to ask passionately. This gave me all the motivation to get them to start asking questions. I know Singapore is not going to produce any major inventor anytime soon, but if no one asks questions, they won’t be many for sure.

So I hope this video could be a starter for my students. They can get questions from their daily play or from a youtube video a friend shared. Hopefully at the end of the week, we can decide which questions to tinker with. Anyway, here are my questions after watching the video:

1. How does putting a bottle make it any brighter than simply cutting a hole in the roof (you cover it with a transparent material to keep out the rain of course)?

2. What is the bleach for?

3. How does this link to reflection and refraction (well I teach this, so it must be good to make some connections)?

If all goes to plan I really want to model the process of inquiry. I hope to look at a few questions, search for answers on the internet, paraphrase some of these answers to get my head around it and then generate many more questions.

It seems a bit odd to start asking this question after teaching for eight years. But I have found myself asking this question more and more recently. The content of my teaching has been my focus these past eight years. The syllabus of the GCE ‘O’ Levels (5058 and 5116, I even remember the codes) was the go-to document.

Three years ago, I became aware of models of teaching and ICT tools. Looking back, I dabbled in a bit of Socratic teaching, Knowledge Building, Inquiry using Bybee’s 5E Model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate) as well as ICT tools like the Knowledge Forum, online mindmaps/concept maps, Edmodo, wikis, google sites embedded with youtube videos and other applets.

The environment shapes our aspirations. I think the process of writing my research paper on inquiry and my attempt to put this into practice in the classroom has given rise to my desire for my students to learn inquiry, or to break it down further, the ability to look at phenomena, generate questions, make a hypothesis and go about attempting to make scientific explanations of these phenomena through experiments. The process also means they have to look at internet information, evaluate these sources and use these with understanding, relevantly and responsibly. Embedded in this process is collaboration, as they learn to look at each other’s work and constructively build upon them. Recently, as I mentor some students in working on a Physics visualisation project, I have also decided to incorporate self-directed learning for them as well. This involves having learning goals as opposed to performance goals, being aware of how they should go about achieving those goals and what checklists to have in the monitoring of their own progress.

In a nutshell, I want my students to learn how to inquire, collaborate and be self-directed learners. There you have it, I am glad writing has crystallised my thoughts.

What I want my Boys to Learn

So I was talking to my missus today about what our boys should learn, either through school or outside(or in spite) of school. These are what we came up with.

Essentials

1. Deep love for God and people 

2. Ability to express oneself (the missus thinks we need both Mandrin and English)

3. Ability to read (cannot decide if he needs to read Chinese as well)

4. Numeracy (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division)

5.  Social skills (ability to say sorry, give way to others, forgive, lose gracefully, engage in a conversation naturally)

6.  Hard work, perseverance and self-discipline

7. Curiosity

I will probably come with a Good-to-Have list tomorrow.

Torn

I was sitting down with J.  He had approached me for help with his studies. We were solving some sums on electricity. It was leisurely. I had no meetings, he had no lessons. He was irritating me with his blatant disregard for norms. He did not write any units and did not include any symbols, just a long string of numbers and their mathemtical operators. I knew he got the concept right. But he would flunk his tests. Did he understand? Yes. Could he express it? No.

J was a misfit in our educational system. He was curious, vocal and passionate for things that stirred his inteests. Wait a minute. Isn’t this the qualities of a model science student? No, not in our system. He could not sit still in a class of 40, slept when the teacher droned on, refused to do what the rest did. I wondered if he would be better off doing what he liked best outside of school. I wondered if he would learn, not through school, but in spite of school.

I am torn. While not all my students are like J, I recognise that as individuals, I need to capture their imagination. I need to allow them to think, question, get stuck and stick at it even as the clock goes ticking by and the assessment date draws nearer. I need to let them learn at their own pace. I am not sure if I can stand this tension much longer.

School for my Boys

I was talking to my wife today about how our sons will grow up and learn in school. I just watched this video today about how kids learn to add. It was so complicated and they were only 7 years old. The teachers were fiddling with this interactive white board while the children looked on.

I wonder if my son will learn through school only,learn from school and outside of school or learn in spite of school. Right now I am contented he can read and can count. Will he dream in class? Will he long for the bell to ring so he can get out into the real world?  

All these learning theories swirling in my head, I wonder if they will do my 2 boys any good? For some reason after watching a video on changing education paradigms, I find myself thinking if my idea of school for the past 6 years have been wrong. Increasingly, it should be about getting students to get excited in class so they can leave it to learn more.

I asked my son what he likes best about school. He said “Art”. “What do you do in Art?”  “Paint lor…”.  Then he said he liked ” dramatic”. “What’s that?” He said, ” kitchen, then you cook for customers.” I think pre-school is more interesting than primary and secondary schools.

Google Rocks

I have done learning journeys(LJ) for six years now. They come in the same package: visit a place, listen to a talk, walk around, fill in a worksheet and you go home. Tried and tested.

Today’s LJ was a visit to an orchid farm. There was a talk. The students were sitting down quietly. As we were walking, one student said ” it was **** boring.” I asked him, ” Isn’t this better than sitting in the classroom?” He said, “no, we get to play in class.” Then we looked at the orchid plants and there were some CDs hanging above. “What was it for?”, they asked. They had suddenly sprung into life. None of the students could get the right answer. I was wondering why they came alive. It cannot be the prize. Which boy wants orchids (they were offered orchids as the prize), they were not very glam. Then it hit me. The question itself was interesting, it piqued their curiosity. There were all kinds of guesses, chased away flies (they obviously didn’t realise flies pollinated some orchids, the lady just mentioned in the talk), to reflect light (this pleased me as I taught them how a CD works by reflecting light but please…how much light can it reflect, ok we are getting there..). 

One boy whipped out his handphone and googled the answer: it was to chase away birds. He got the answer.He raised both his hands in triumph and shouted, “Google Rocks!”.  He got the flower. He wanted to give it to me, which was my point, it was not the prize.

How do you engage students? By giving them control over what they learnt. By giving them opportunities to make meaning of what they hear. It is not telling them facts (maybe telling them how to get it, but then they already do, the Google did it). I think since it is post-exam, they should be entitled to some choice about what they learnt.

How would I have done it? I would have asked them to bring their handphones, taken photos of orchids, ask them to post it up on a wiki and answer the following questions:

1. Why did I choose this flower? (it is good to value student personal choice)

2. What special features did this flower have? Or maybe, what adaptations does it have to help it survive?

3. Label the parts of the flower in your picture. What does it mean that it is bisexual? How is this an advantage?

4. The lady said the orchids photosynthesise at night? Why is that odd? How is that possible?

I just realise you cannot prepare all these questions in advance, so they have to be dynamic.

Which flower did I like best? The drakaea(picture below). It tricks the wasp into mating with a part of the flower that looks like its counterpart and in the process, the antenna of the wasp picks up the pollen. Isn’t that cool? Why didn’t my students find it cool?