I have been teaching for more than a decade now. Before starting my formal teaching career, I taught my friends during school days. It continued in my college days. So, when did the decision to make teaching, a career happen? I don’t know the specific answer to be honest. I think it was during my time at Madras Institute of Technology, Anna University when the decision was made. As a Master’s student in Aeronautical Engineering, some of the professors blew my mind. The teaching was so good that we didn’t use textbooks for some subjects! Being a premier engineering institution in Tamil Nadu with rich history, the professors were vastly experienced in their respective domains and their preparations were meticulous. But what made them stand apart was their teaching methodologies.
Know the 'application' upfront
The observations I made during that time as a student, helped immensely when I became a college professor. Let’s dig into one of their methodologies...
When a new topic is started, my professors don’t start the topic immedietly. A deep dive into the applications of that topic will precede the actual topic itself. This made a whole lot of difference to the students. If she knows the applications upfront, the student will be hooked. She will invest herself in learning the topic. She knows we are going to apply this, so better learn it properly, NOW. Following this technique extensively, I have gained the attention of the most detached students in my classroom. Ideally, a topic should begin with naming some of its applications. Then the actual topic. End it by applying it to a real-life situation.
Calculus - A very important tool that can be applied to all real-life problems. From the motion of planets to the flow of blood through heart valves; From ocean waves to economics; from electrical circuits to skyscrapers. Its application is ubiquitous. How did I start the topic for my students?
Let’s consider we are climbing a mountain. As we climb, the altitude is going to increase. Changes in altitude will affect changes in temperature, pressure, and density of the air around us. Also, we should remember that temperature changes will affect air pressure and density. Now the picture becomes complex. This is where calculus comes in handy. It can connect the changes in one variable with changes in another variable. And nature is full of variables interlinked with each other. This is the reason why calculus is omnipresent.
A student reasoned that algebra can do this. Why do we need a new tool? I retorted that algebra can link one variable with another, not changes in one variable with changes in another variable. After a brief back and forth, the issue was settled. He was sure of the need for calculus. The whole class was in rapt attention until this point. Most of the students were curious to know more. This is when I turned to the board and began teaching the actual topic.
Can we do the activity?
Our textbooks make the error of placing the applications at the end of a topic. A simple naming of the applications won’t kindle the interest of the student. They should know how the application is done to get involved. In school science and maths textbooks, a section called activity is mentioned throughout the book. Our schools should become diligent in doing those activities to make learning enjoyable. Once it becomes enjoyable, retention of the topic will be inherent. If we bring a culture of doing things in our schools on a regular basis, this will lead to entrepreneurship in our society. Entrepreneurs will create jobs, which can create keep poverty at bay. As Dr. Abdul Kalam said,” India has enough scientists. It needs entrepreneurs”
India: A Technology Producer
India today sits at the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution. We had been consumers of technologies created by other countries in the first three industrial revolutions. If we place application-oriented learning as the fulcrum of our education system, it can do wonders for our society. We will produce innovations and products for the world in the future.
Parents and students can make this strategy work for you very easily. A simple Google search will give tons of applications for any topic. Take an application you want to know about and dig deeper. Learning will become enjoyable, unforced, and imbibed in your routine. Teachers can slowly train themselves to implement this strategy and they can see phenomenal results in the medium term.