Why it pays to make lessons interactive and fun for teenagers

Flicking through last Friday's Weekend supplement of The National, I enjoyed reading Ali Al Saloom's "Education is key to growth of the nation". He mentions how tedious he used to find memorising the contents of his textbooks, but that now the Abu Dhabi Education Council has introduced an education plan focused on exploration and experiment. This is a fantastic step forward for teenagers in the UAE.

Teenagers are at a delicate stage of their lives. We are self-aware, mature and independent thinkers - when we are not sitting with glazed eyes for hours on Facebook, that is. We will rebel if we are subjected to mind-numbingly long, boring lectures or forced to read dull textbooks.

We won't fancy staring at something that doesn't even have any pictures in it, thank you very much. This is not because we are lazy, but because we want to probe, question and do something more intellectually stimulating, using our vitality for more noble pursuits. At least, that's what we tell ourselves when we can't be bothered to revise and would rather text our friends. On the other hand, most students revel in "hands-on" activities and experimentation.

Dissecting a sheep's heart teaches us a lot more about the cardiovascular system than reading about it. The forensic unit in chemistry became a murder mystery when we were given different bottles of white powder, supposedly found at the crime scene, and asked to identify which compound they contained. It's nothing short of a Harry Potter-esque potions lesson, when you dissolve the powder in water, daub a wire loop with the solution and hold it in a Bunsen flame. If the flame suddenly turns a glittering lilac, you know you have got yourself some potassium ions. Sheer magic - if you've done it right and managed to make it work.

The NCIS streak continues into biology; collecting minute samples of plant DNA, we replicated it several hundred times to amplify it into large quantities of DNA material. Do the same for a smudge of blood at a robbery site and you can identify your criminal.

However, things don't always go according to plan: we were simply heating up a beaker of water in physics once, having left in electrodes that somehow ended up bright pink. It's satisfying, however, to be able to explain it away - we'd managed to carry out electrolysis.

We occasionally take the practical opportunities we have in our schools for granted, even grumble sometimes when we are forced to walk all the way across the laboratory to fetch our lab coats and go through the trouble of buttoning them up. By the way, I'm quite proud of my lab coat; I've dyed it orange and drawn a "corrosive" symbol on the back with permanent marker. There's nothing more pleasurable than having younger students gape at you - enviously, I hope - with your safety goggles and scalpel as you emerge from a science lesson.

The writer is a 17-year-old student living in Dubai


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Industry: Refurbished electronics
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Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

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Industry: AI
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