The Sound of Teaching in Nepal

by Chadd McGlone, Executive Director of T2TGlobal

If travel to faraway places is on your bucket list, you can’t go much farther than Nepal. Known as the gateway to Mount Everest, Nepal contains eight of the world’s ten tallest peaks. Landlocked between India and China, it is so unique that you can’t sync your clock with Nepal time by adding or subtracting hours. For reasons that would make an interesting math problem, Nepal Standard Time also shifts by minutes. These were some of the fascinating facts I learned about Nepal during my recent trip.

Two mathematics educators, two interns and I spent eleven days visiting schools and universities in Kathmandu and Pokhara. We made presentations to groups of education leaders, led workshops with mathematics teachers and professors, and observed numerous classes. I was struck by how much value all of these educators placed on mathematics education.

prayer flags

The wind blows colorful Buddhist prayer flags in Kathmandu

A Place of Peace

Another characteristic of the country was the emphasis on spirituality. A sense of peace seemed to infuse my surroundings no matter where I went. This was especially true in Pokhara, where meditation centers and yoga studios occupied every corner. In Kathmandu, many streets are adorned with prayer flags that flutter to the mellow tones of metal objects called singing bowls.

Imagine how an upside down bell would sound if you didn’t have to keep ringing it. A store owner was kind enough to show me how this works. You start by placing the bowl in the palm of your hand with your fingers outstretched. The bowl must rest securely on your flattened palm while its sides are free to vibrate.

Holding a small wooden mallet, you gently tap the side of the bowl to warm it up. Then, maintaining an even pressure, you rotate the mallet around the rim of the bowl, finding the rhythm, speed and pressure that allows the bowl to produce the best possible tone. If you press too hard or move too quickly, the bowl will quit responding and the sound will vanish.

It occurred to me that playing a singing bowl is an analogy for teaching mathematics. The first step toward transformative instruction is to provide an environment that optimizes student learning. This optimal setting is a stable foundation with room to build knowledge. Next comes a task that prompts student learning. Like tapping the bowl to start the process, good tasks provide motivation and secure engagement.

Intern Sadie Buxton listens to a student’s response to a math question

Finally, like rotating a mallet around the rim, teachers supply continuous, gentle pressure. They listen to their students to gauge understanding, providing more or less support depending on what they hear. The also drive the process along, slowing down or speeding up, based on students’ feedback.

In Your Classroom

If you’re a teacher, then try incorporating a little bit of Nepalese culture into your next lesson. Think about the wisdom of the singing bowl—

  • Create a foundation for your students
  • Allow them room to direct their own learning
  • Provide a task that will motivate and engage them
  • Stay tuned in to your students

You don’t have to be a music teacher to have a classroom full of harmony!

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