Saturday, September 02, 2006

August 27: I hate chemistry

except it is a lot more interesting and fun when I have to teach it in French to 7th-10th graders.

Lesson planning sucks though. I spend hours reading in French and then reading a 9th grade American textbook that my uncle gave me to get teaching ideas as well as to get more clear and simple explanations. I spend most of my time reading and am left with empty pages that need to be filled with notes that the students will copy from the board as well as scriptings of what I am going to say.

Last week during practice school I taught 30 7th graders about the composition of air and 25 9th graders about the electrochemistry of copper sulfate. the 7th graders didn't understand fractions or percentages or even French and the 9th graders didn't know 18-20=-2. I clocked in 10 hours of teaching and probably over 20 hours of lesson planning.

This upcoming week instead of 1 hour chemistry classes, I will be teaching the typical 2 hour chemistry classes. Can you imagine a room full of 14 year olds for 2 hours learning chemistry? I definitely need to brainstorm up activities.

As I have only recently experienced teaching sciecne to kids who will never see a lab, who will likely never have a science job, who will never have a need for the periodic table, I have learned that my teaching philosophy is to teach kids how to think, how to problem solve, and how to use brain power. Kids here just regurgitate memorized facts.

In theory this philosophy sounds great. In reality it is going to take a lot of work. In a culture with an oral tradition and with a collective based society rather than an individualistic society, I have to find news ways to teach and new ways to test.

In the educational system that the French left, reading is what leads you to success. My students copy from the blackboard letter by letter. My highly educated host family looks at the pictures of the French magazines and comic books I brought. I spend evenings in the dark with my family exchanging stories about snakes and about our past injuries. My students cheat freely on exams with the subconscious ingrained ideal that helping your neighbor is more important than your individualistic grade. It is more important to look after the well-being of the community rather than each individual's success.

I have watched my host brothers study past 10 pm under kerosene light, a group of them huddled around each other helping everyone understand. There is definitely a desire to learn. Yet there are huge gaps between everyone's reading and math levels especially between boys and girls.

What can I do to bridge the need for teaching the basics with creating a challenging learning environment for the others?

What teaching and testing styles can I use to facilitate learning in an oral and collective based culture?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


One of the few things I remember from anthropology about oral cultures is that memorization is keyed to rhymes or rhythms. For example, poems with a regular meter, or commercials' jingles. The rhythm helps recall the content.

In northern India, the Upanishad holy books were passed - orally - from father to son via long rhythmic songs. The boys eventually learned the entire thing, thousands of words long - verbatim- , through chanting and singing alone.

Another example of this are the schoolyard songs we all learned: "London Bridge is falling down.. falling down.. falling down.." These rhymes are passed from child to child and have remained unchanged for over 200 years. Just passed word of mouth between children.

I suspect that one of the reasons rap music is so popular is because the US has reasserted oral culture characteristics, largely thanks to television and radio. Lord knows our literacy rates are falling.

I can only imagine that teaching kids to think for themselves instead of reciting facts, is quite difficult. I wish I had any sort of suggestion for that.

The bedbugs though, apparently they get their moisture through their skin.. they have no drinking apparatus. You might be able to reduce their presence by airing out your bedding every day. Creating a dry environment in your bed, instead of trapping your body's moisture between the sheets when you get up. But then, perhaps you don't use sheet. How hot is it at night anyway?

Be well..

PS. blog about what you eat sometime!