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October 08, 2014

Government teaching training workshop

Isai Ambalam School has been partnering with the government schools for many years now. Their partnership has been useful for the school in spreading what they learnt and to review any training material that is received by the government schools. They are also informed of any ongoing teacher training. Last month there was a government school teacher training for 6-8th graders math teacher. These are the grades that I have been working with for the last year or so. Subash suggested that I attend the workshop and (if opportunity presented itself) train the teachers. At that time I wasn't very convinced exactly how an opportunity would present itself. I skipped the first day of the three day workshop. But, Kavitha attended it and built a rapport with the coordinating trainers who thought it would be interesting to have me there the next day.

I took along all the TLM that we had used, pizza party, dienes blocks a mini weighing balance and also some of the computer related stuff - geogebra and scratch programs made by children.

The teacher training happening was interesting, on the one hand teachers were told that they need to connect what they teach with everyday life of children most of the time was spent on providing teachers tit-bits of trivia that would help them make the classes interesting e.g. different antiquated units of measurements used in India for land measurement, their conversions (beyond cent, acre and hectare), the number of years it took to build certain temples and some puzzles - two numbers multiply to give a third number and all the digits need to be used only once. Finally, we got to using 10- 5 to get certain numbers and there were many possibilities and I started having fun :).

The teachers were curious as to who this new kid on the block was and I got my turn. I gave then a background of the work with low cost materials as well as the computer based stuff that we had done in the schools and let them choose what they wanted me to talk about. The teachers wanted to see it all. In the first day, for the rest of the morning, I presented the work of the children (on scratch), the tools we used and how we can creatively combine the tools e.g. the denise blocks along with a weighing balance. I also talked about how many of the areas are connected to each other and that they could be linked to each other when they are introduced. They asked for another session the second day to concentrate on areas that they had difficulty with primarily fractions, place values, decimals and algebra.

We talked about fractions can be introduced with pizza party games and addition of at least a set of 10 fractions can be explored with this without formally getting into it. They progressing through equivalent fractions and only then moving to LCM. I also showed some of the work the children had done in explaining how fractions can and cannot be added. The teachers seem to find the approach different and interesting.

The teacher were quite surprised with the work of the children on scratch and while this was appreciated and four teachers even copied the software and the work of the children to view it for themselves at home. They made it amply clear, that they did not consider it possible to take this to their children even though they had a computer lab and an instructor.

The teachers showed most interest with use of materials like the denise blocks, in volume measurements (cc = ml, how much is 1L in number of cubes), algebra and a mini weighing balance. The idea of introducing place value by weighing bunch of blocks on one side and a set of tens and ones on the other to show that the decimal system is more convenient (for humans).

However, when it came to using a program like Geogebra some of the teachers were up in arms. Why would we teach four digit multiplication if it can be done easily with a computer? Good question, why do we teach children four-digit number multiplications? These discussions helped me get deeper into the purpose of math as interpreted from the NCF 2005 document. If 4 digit multiplication is taught it is to help the child's procedural mind. We also talked about the idea of an approximate solution and a feel for the numbers that children do lack which would certainly be worth working on.
Of course, its also a tool that can help in developing an intuition into something that would take them much longer to do e.g. discovering the relationship between the radius and the area of a circle, or a series of lines like x+y=constant.

Given the apparent confusion of children between fractions and percentages/decimal I walked them through the method of looking at the denominator to estimate 50% (1/2 of the denominator), 10% (.1 of denominator) and 1% (.01 of denominator) to compare and build up the numerator. But, by an large the teachers had difficulty in grasping it and told me that even though they had difficulty and children are unable to get a handle on the sense of a fraction it was out of syllabus :). Ah well...

It was nice to see that the teachers were able to notice what the children had difficulty with and when they felt that someone could help them help their children they were quite involved. Teacher training is a mandatory program and teachers get back by taking 1 hr tea breaks, but the same teachers moved their lunch by almost 45 mins to accommodate my session which I much appreciated.

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