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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Learning in interesting ways

The education system in Malaysia has gone through a lot of changes over the decades. Under the British rule, all the school subjects were taught in English. After the nation gained independence, they were all gradually taught in the national language, Bahasa Malaysia (sometimes also known as Bahasa Melayu - why can't they make up their minds?). In the last few years, the government decided to revert back to English particularly to teach specialized subjects like Mathematics and Science. Apart from the language medium, the education ministry has also revised the syllables significantly. From what I heard, students today are learning less than previous generations, a statement we can easily verify by comparing the textbooks used now and last time. Well, I don't know how the education system will end up but we must continue to have teachers who can inspire the students to enjoy and love learning.

It has been a long time since I left my secondary school. Back then in the 80s, we still have a number of Indian teachers who were brought over by the missionaries. They were very devoted teachers. I remember one occasion during one of our Friday assemblies where one of our mission teachers was giving his farewell speech presentation. He had a huge built and was also our school discipline master. I would step aside timidly whenever he walked past because he looked fierce and serious all the time. Let's call him George. After his speech, George started singing his farewell song! And as he emotionally recounted how he planted this huge, huge, old tree in front of the headmaster's office, tears started to roll down his cheek. He was sobbing uncontrollably and took out his handkerchief to wipe his tears away. Wow, I never imagined a big and tough guy like him could get so emotional. That was something I can't quite forget.

Learning from nature's beauties

I am glad I had good teachers to teach and guide me well. When I was in form six, a biology teacher explained to the class how scientific facts are established - it is a process the begins with postulation, which is like a proposal, I guess. Some criteria has to be met before it is promoted to a new level called hypothesis, I think, and so on, until it finally becomes a law. For instance, in physics, you have Newton's Law of Mechanics which consists of three laws (1) Inertia - the tendency for a mass to stay in the same state, stationary or moving(2) Force equals to mass times acceleration, F=ma (3) Action equals reaction. These laws were established after observing how everyday objects behaved and meticulously conducting experiments to arrive at some useful conclusion.

The point is, my teachers managed to bring the science subjects to life and made them so enjoyable. At least to me. I don't believe in learning through memorizing and studying for exams (unless you just want to get the cert). If you do that, you will miss the great experience of meaningful learning. One way to make the subjects alive is to read about the discoverers themselves.

I think my worst experience in learning science was in my lower form. I didn't really enjoy the way science was taught. One example I can remember off my head was how the teacher explained that in our solar system, there were only the nine planets (moons, comets and asteroids) and empty space in between. Just vacuum. No question about it. That kind of approach in teaching certainly does not promote inquisitiveness and instill the spirit of learning. You must realize that there is no end in learning. For example, we now know that space isn't really empty after all. There are streams of particles flowing out from our sun, escaped gas molecules from earth, radio waves transmitted by our stations and the satellites and perhaps aliens (hahaha). Space is not really a flat plane but can be bent by gravitational forces - like a wrinkled tablecloth.

It is also important to read good books. I read the physics textbooks written by M.Nelkon and P.Parker (or Parkson, cannot remember...sounds like Spiderman) over and over again. I also had this thick biology book with the Rafflesia plant on its front cover. Later in life, I also read fiction and non-fiction books written by the sci-fi maestro - Isaac Azimov. Can you believe that he had written 500 books in 50 years (I think)? Once you pick up his book, you never put it down until you reach the last page. I don't think you can get that much pleasure from reading those summarized version of textbooks called "Buku Panduan".

Scenic La Jolla Cove

So, how do you learn in interesting ways?

Maybe a good example can be gleaned from the following story taken from my hero Feynman's experience.

'During walks in the woods with my father, I learned a great deal. In the case of birds, for example: Instead of naming them, my father would say,"Look, notice that the bird is always pecking in its feathers. It pecks a lot in its feathers. Why do you think it pecks the feathers?"
I guessed it's because the feathers are ruffled, and he's trying to straighten them out. He said,"Okay, when would the feathers get ruffled, or how would they get ruffled?"
"When he flies. When he walks around, it's okay; but when he flies it ruffles the feathers."
Then he would say,"You would guess then when the bird just landed he would have to peck more at his feathers than after he has straightened them out and has been walking around the ground for a while. Okay; let's look."
So we would look, and we would watch, and it turned out, as far as I could make out, that the bird pecked about as much and as often no matter how long he was walking on the ground and not just directly after the flight.
So my guess was wrong, and I couldn't guess the right reasons. My father revealed the real reason.
It is that the birds have lice. There is a little flake that comes off the feather, my father taught me, stuff that can be eaten, and the louse eats it. And then on the louse, there is a little wax in the joints between the sections of the leg that oozes out, and there is a mite that lives in there that can eat that wax. Now the mite has such a good source of food that it doesn't digest it too well, so from the rear end there comes a liquid that has too much sugar, and in that sugar lives a tiny creature, etc.
The facts are not correct. The spirit is correct. First I learned about parasitism, one on the other, on the other, on the other.
Second, he went on to say that in the world whenever there is a source of something that could be eaten to make life go, some form of life finds a way to make use of that source; and that each little bit of leftover stuff is eaten by something.
Now the point of this is that the result of observation, even if I were unable to come to the ultimate conclusion, was a wonderful piece of gold, with a marvelous result. It was something marvelous.'



must said...

Have u try the
Physics Bookstore online bookstore


I get all my textbooks for this semester from this bookstore. All are
brand new textbooks and half price and discount textbooks and cheap textbooks.

Good luck and wish some help.

hehe ^_^