Tuesday 31 July 2018

Timetables vs Self made Plans - Montessori scores again!

One key way in which Montessori schooling differs from traditional schooling is the level of control the students have over their learning. 

Lower Elementary students planning their work
In a typical school, children are subject to a timetable - set by the "powers that be" - which is pretty sacrosanct.  A kid cannot, for example wander off and do division sums when its time for English. Or continue writing a story, when its the Science period.

Observe the concentration though they're in the playground
In Montessori, there aren't fixed timetables. Instead there is a three / five hour work cycle - in which children "work". Otherwise known as study.  The difference - they choose what they want to "study" or work on. It could be writing a poem, working with grammar, learning the lifecycle of a swan, painting a picture or doing multiplication.  And each child could be doing something different. 

A fundamental part of the daily routine is planning the work. Work planning done by children themselves.  "What would I like to work on tomorrow?" "What's the further work I need to do in Maths?" "I think I'll write that story and do the continent work".  At the end of each working day, children ponder and plan. And note down a list of work they would like to do on the next day.  The Montessori adult (teacher) may give inputs.  

We plan under or on top! 
Next morning, the children walk in, consult their plan, and start working.  The plan isn't cast in stone, it may undergo modification. But a guideline, created by the child, is present.  Through the day the plan guides the children and helps them make choices.  The independence and self control over the learning process does away with the problem of reluctant learners. Handing control back to the child helps them feel responsible for their own learning.  

Planning is a vital life skill for every adult. In Montessori, it starts in childhood itself.

Friday 20 July 2018

All classes visit a restored urban wetland

All classes at Al Qamar got to go visit a restored urban wetland right in the middle of Chennai.  

Learning about the rivers in Chennai

The goal was to introduce children to natural beauty and local flora, fauna, wetlands and forests.  

Tracing tree bark
The Pitchandikulum Forest Consultants conducted an orientation walk where children learned about estuaries, backwaters, mangroves, tropical dry evergreen forests and local fauna. 

Enjoying the natural beauty
The children loved the wonderful learning activities organised by the educators.  They enjoyed the pristine surroundings in the calm and peaceful walk. 

They realised the importance of working to preserve our natural heritage.

Seeing the mangroves

Nature walk for Science class

The 3rd grade went for a nature walk today to learn about trees.

They learned to identify the acacia,  wild baadam, neem,  gulmohar, copper pod, mast tree etc. They saw how the bark, leaves and flowers were different even for these trees. They collected all sorts of leaves, flowers, seed pods. 

Then they made bark rubbing by tracing the bark's pattern onto a piece of paper. This was a new skill they learned. 

Coming back, the children had to arrange the leaves from the smallest to the largest - a trick question - how do you place the gulmohar's compound leaf? They had to sketch and label their leaves in their workbook.

I was truly impressed at the way they talk - plastic bag  recycling, leaves decomposing, etc etc. MashaAllah

Thursday 19 July 2018

Ecology Class with a difference - 2nd class

6th graders from Al Qamar Academy have their ecology classes  not in a classroom but at a restored urban wetland, taught by educators from the Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants. The year long program aims to introduce the children in a hands on way to local flora, fauna, rivers, wetlands, estuaries and forests through guided excursions and activities.

The day started with a simple game children usually play- current pass. Through this, students got an idea how a sick tree or a healthy tree communicate with each other. At the end of the session, the activity's relevance was established by explaining how mycorrhiza (fungal system) aids in communication in a forest.

The class started with an introduction to the different kinds of forests and how biotic and abiotic factors are really critical.  The children saw samples of the energy web and the different layers in a forest. Botanist Krishna Veni and Wildlife Biologist, Mahesh beautifully elaborated the details.

Then the children were assigned a 1x1m plot to measure and demarcate. They had to observe the different kinds of plants and animals they saw in their quadrant.  Children observed ants, beetles, butterflies, caterpillars, bugs, dragon flies, bees, and wasps.  Krisha Veni taught the kids the botanical names of the little plants and even made them count the number of grasses.  Like real researchers, they had to note down the date, time, temperature, humidity and weather conditions in their observations. The activity concluded with each team making presentations of what they observed.

The children trooped back into the Education Hall - a large beautiful room with a traditional style tiled roof, naturally cool and very peaceful.  Mahesh reiterated the concepts they had learned through the class. A nice activity was where each child was given a picture of an animal and they had to guess and place it on a drawing of a tree - with the canopy, understorey etc.  Krishna Veni helped them recognize how each animal has its specific biome - where different components are interconnected.

The final activity was beautifully evocative and the learning through it will be deeply embellished in the children's minds. The children made a circle - they were different components in a forest - sun, mongoose, butterflies, tree litter, pond, frog, fish, civet cats etc. connected with each other symbolically through a rope.  Mahesh then started telling a story - how humans came and decided they loved the civets and poached them. Painters needed mongoose fur, an industry needed water from the pond, two cities needed a road through the forest.... Soon each strand of the rope fell down and then there was no real forest any more.

The activity made a deep impression on the children's minds. This was when the educators introduced them to the idea that packaged foods - made with palm oils contributes to cutting forests. How plastic covers are polluting the forest. How paper waste cuts trees.

The children discussed how they already recycle at school, how they are conducting a paper drive to recycle paper into pencils, how they will try their best to stop eating junk food.

If education should be the lighting of a fire in a child's mind, then this is the way to do it.

Thanks a million, guys! You totally rock.

Thursday 5 July 2018

Ecology Class with a difference - 1st Class

The Environment Education class for Grade 6 this year is being taught by teachers from the Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants. The course covers Chennai's rivers, forests, estuaries, wetlands, flora and fauna.Filled with excursions, the idea is to give a hands on feel for local ecology with the secondary aim to sensitise children to environmental issues. 

 So these kids are heading to an actual restored urban wetland for classes on site. What better classroom can you ask for?

Au Revoir

  Au Revoir  The crucible moment came for me when, 16 years ago, I pulled my 7 year old son from school. Once again. Thrice in four years. W...