Wednesday 28 March 2018

Open Day - an eyeopener for adults

Lower Elementary students putting final touches
Open Day is an annual exhibition at Al Qamar where children showcase projects they've chosen and done independently. Projects range from Science fair investigations like the efficacy of Neem toothpaste, to psychology studies "Do girls give negative feedback differently", art projects - "Abstract Art", History of Biryani!" and many others.   Open Day @ Al Qamar started in 2011 when the school started showcasing the students' projects for parents, friends and other community members.  Over the years, the number of projects being showcased has gone up astronomically as all students from Lower Elementary upwards strive to participate. 

Open Day is different from exhibitions at most schools in various ways. 

First, for instance, Open Day projects are a culmination of the skills acquired by each child during the year.  All year round, children have learned to work independently in all areas - whether it was solving math sums, completing the Small Science workbooks, writing stories, conducting experiments. The children put these skills to use and conduct an end of year project.

Secondly, the project topics for Open Day are, by and large, independently chosen by the children themselves.  The project topics themselves reflect the diversity of thought. Where one child may be passionate about birds in his backyard, another is crazy about Math puzzles. A third is pondering about how to make Al Qamar a green school, while a fourth wants to tell the world about her favourite books.  Children are encouraged to really explore topic areas and be as funky or whacko as they want.

The most important differentiator is the fact that these projects are done independently by the children themselves.  While students may read reference books at home, all the writing - from the draft to the final chart - is done at school.  Students discuss their ideas with teachers, help finalise the questions they plan to answer in their project, get assistance with spelling, grammar, punctuation, but the work is original.

Understandably, children find the research hard, really hard. They are expected to go refer to books, not one, but many. They have to find people who may give them information. Sometimes they have to go visit a museum - like one student recently who went to the Camera Museum om the ECR to get information.  Incase of science fair investigations, children have to follow the scientific method to develop hypotheses, conduct the experiment and analse the results. Internet research is a last option if no other resource is available.

Teachers keep an eagle eye out for evidence of plagiarism - any text that seems copied straight out of a reference book has to be replaced by original explanations by the student.  Students are constantly told that their mistakes, errors and shortcomings are more valuable than copied but perfect work by another.  When it comes to making models, the same rule applies. Children (depending on their age) have to make their own models.  They make take adult help when using tools, but the design,
execution has to be the child's.

Children often collaborate on projects - or simply lend a hand to a friend struggling with his project.  This increases the sense of teamwork. Moreover it encourages children to consider their own peers as valuable resources rather than competitors.  Its a delight to see the enthusiasm, passion and care the children take over Open Day projects. Its a huge learning for adults that children should be allowed to drive their own learning.

All this takes a lot of brain work  - and hard work.  But children develop confidence in themselves as they overcome difficulties, realise their own potential and direct their own learning.  And learn a life
lesson - they believe they can do anything! And that is the essence of schooling.

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