Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Teaching Science

When someone hears that I am teaching in Thailand, they normally assume that I am teaching English. When I first came here, that was the case. I was teaching English from 1st grade to 5th grade. It's now been nearly two years since I switched to teaching elementary school science.

Technically, I still teach a lot of English, as so many science terms are constructed from different prefixes and suffixes, and derived from other words. And, teaching in a bilingual school, I am required to teach in English. Explaining "photosynthesis" to a student is actually easier though than explaining why we have make "dog" plural, "dogs", when we talk about things we like. I mean, there is a big difference between "I like dog" and "I like dogs". The first one sounds like we like eating dog meat!

So many things we say in the English language that I never really thought about since I just grew up hearing and talking a certain way. When you have to teach it though, it's a different beast all together! And without having the Thai language ability to explain in Thai it is even more difficult.

Anyway, teaching science is interesting, especially when you see the students catching on and when students start explaining to each other, in English, the meaning of something like photosynthesis, hibernation or covalent chemical bonds.

This month, between 2nd and 6th grade, we have been learning about plants, animals, classification of living things, plate tectonics, volcanoes and the inner workings of earthquakes. A pretty good palate of scientific fun stuff.We also delve into forces (gravity, magnetism, etc.), electricity, weather, light and sound, basic chemistry (acids and bases, periodic table)as well as all things space. One thing that I'm surprised is not in the Thai curriculum is dinosaurs and fossils. There is only a brief mention in our lessons of fossils when it comes to fossil fuels as a source of energy, but otherwise no T-Rex, no brachiosaurus, and unfortunately no pterodactyl!Here are some pictures of my 5th graders doing classification drills on the board, a race actually. Remember how to memorize the 7 different classifications of living things? You know Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species? I think we memorized using the mnemonic "Kings Play Chess On Fiber Glass Stools" when I was a kid, but I know there are many many different variations. "Fine Glass Surfaces", "Fat Guys' Stomachs", etc.Now, "fiber glass stools" is a little difficult for a Thai 5th grader to grasp so in our class we came up with a new one. Kwan is a common girl's name here in Thailand. So we memorize with "Kwan poured chocolate on four good students". Now, outside of "spices" instead of "species" and "phlem" instead of "phylum", my 5th graders can all recite the classifications! Yay! That's a first...100%.Some still have a little difficulty when we break the animal kingdom down, for example, into vertebrates and invertebrates, and then vertebrates into classes such as mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians...but I just have to keep drilling them and making sure that they take their books home and read!What other mnemonic devices did you use in school to memorize things? We had some wicked ones in Accounting...

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