Saturday 25 August 2018

Ecology Class with a difference - 4: Walk through a real forest

Another absolutely fantastic Ecology Class with the Pitchandikulum Forest Consultants.

This time the class was a walk through the Guindy National Park (GNP) one of the few urban National Parks in India.  We were very fortunate to be led by Mr. Bhaskar of the GNP itself.  

The walk started with Mahesh and Krishnaveni outlining all the rules and regulations - no noise, no littering, no plucking, no frightening animals, walk in a group etc. These rules are really important for children to understand and follow from a young age to develop concern and respect for nature.

We talked about the direct and indirect signs of animals. The children volunteered different indirect signs - a feather, a nest, etc.  We also discussed the difference between in situ and ex situ conservation.  The park, Mahesh, pointed out was a in situ conservation zone.

Mr. Bhaskar gave a small talk to the children. "There are 4 different trails in the park - 2 for the deer, one for anteaters and one for jackals." he said.  He mentioned how the forest officers and assistants walk through the park, maintain water holes (which have been manually constructed), track animal populations etc. He talked about the research work conducted by the park.  He hoped that many of the young children will eventually take up Conservation as a career.

The first thing spotted was a large termite hill. Mahesh explained how termites build the anthills and why they make so many holes.  Next to the hill was a large tamarind tree. Krishnaveni asked the children to identify the tree, which some did.

Just as we set off, we saw a blackbuck staring at us down the road. It quickly bounded away as the children's excited chatter reached his ears.

Walking down the Blackbuck trail, a child suddenly spotted hoof marks - an indirect sign of an animal.

Another child found scat. Mahesh identified it as a palm civet's scat.

Mr. Bhaskar found a stick insect crossing the road. The children were delighted to see this insect and how it ponderously made its way across the road.

The children spotted many anthills and termite hills. They saw nests in trees. Butterflies abounded.  While Krishnaveni pointed out the different kinds of plants, especially indigenous ones, Mahesh talked about the evidences of animals.  One curious sight were holes dug into the ground. "Probably a jackal" said Mahesh. Krishnaveni picked up different seed pods and identified them. 

We finally reached a beautiful pasture with swaying grass. "This is the place that blackbucks come to graze and run" explained Mr. Bhaskar.  
A child found a small waterhole in a corner.  As they looked closer, they spotted a tiny star tortoise struggling to climb out of the water.  Mr. Bhaskar identified it as a 2 month old baby. The children were simply delighted to see this creature in the wild at close quarters.

On the walk back, we took a different trail and spotted many curiosities.

Broom grass with an abandoned ant nest, which had been taken over by a spider and then again abandoned. We could still see the remains of a butterfly entwined in the web.

A lime tree had several leaves sewn together by weaver ants. We marvelled at this animal's skill.  

The high point was finding jackal scat on the road. Close examination showed bits of fur on the scat. "It probably ate a squirrel" explained Mahesh.  

The walk was absolutely incredible.

After a short snack break, we entered the Snake Park to attend a talk by Dr. S.R. Ganesh, Dy. Director & Research Scientist. Dr. Ganesh told the children about the multitude of snake species in India. He specially dwelt on the Big Four - and how their venom affects the human body. He talked about the process of making antidotes.

While the children were all ready to continue the class for the next 4 hours, we teachers decided to come back and do the rest of the park in the next class.  

A big thank you to the Forest Warden Madam for giving permission for the walk, to Mr. Bhaskar for taking out his valuable time to interact with the children and to Dr. Ganesh for giving a very enlightening talk.

A big shout out as usual to Krishnaveni, Maya, Mahesh & Radhika for organising this wonderful class. 

Truly the kids are getting an unparalleled environmental experience.

Montessori Maths - Is there a divisibility rule for 7?

While I was presenting the divisibility rules and how to arrive at them and the kids were marvelling at the simplicity of it and having fun arriving at the rules. We did the rule for 2,3,4,5,6 and then 8. One fourth grader couldn't understand why 7 has no rule. 

Let's derive it she said. And here's what she did
Every thousand to be divisible by 7, needs a 1 more.
Every hundred gives away a 2 to be divisible, ie 98 is divisible and 2 is left over for every hundred. So the hundreds digit*2

Every tens digit leaves a remainder 3. So it's tens digit*3
And the units are taken
(Notation - + Has. - needs)
So every thousand needs a 1, then ten thousands need ten, 8 hundred thousand will need an 800 and so on. This makes it very difficult to test beyond the thousands digit, so the test fails, she concluded.

I was amazed and took her work to our dear colleague who despite her  professed math phobia, saw further patterns and pointed it out. Why do ten thousands need ten they may need only 3..Ah!!

On discussing this possibility with my 4th grader, she immediately saw the pattern and comes up with this..
(Notations: + Has. - needs)

And so on in the same pattern
So all the negatives add up and are subtracted from the positives. If the result is divisible by 7 the number is divisible. If not it's not divisible.
 Phew these kids blow me away! And now she wants to test her idea.. Stay tuned

Montessori Math - Divisibility rule - A teacher's story - Part 1

I give them a really really huge number and ask them if it's possible just by looking at the number to tell me if it's exactly divisible by say 2 or 3 or whatever is the rule we are doing. Not to divide but to simply say if it's divisible,ie leaves no remainder. They are bummed by the sheer size of the number. 

Then we say let's take a number which is small n easier first to work with. They give me a thousands (4 digit) number

We use the Montessori dynamic material. 

We take a 1000 cube and ask if this can be given  equally to two people?

If 1 thousand can be given, any number of 1000s can be given hence 1000 and the digits above it don't matter as they are all divisible

Same we do with one hundred square and hence any number of hundreds

Same with ten bar.

So we are left with the ones. Only they matter

Now they check with the ones they have. And we keep reducing/ adding a one and seeing. They see the pattern of evens ad odds

Then we take a 1000 digit number and present and arrive at the rule. Now they look at the huuuge number and with a smile are able to check it. They then ask for more numbers

They do ask me what's the point of checking it, but not dividing. I tell them it'll help then solve work faster when they can first check

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Haj - Learning by doing

Its every Muslim's dream to perform the Haj in their lifetime. They strive hard to learn the different rites associated with the pilgrimage.

Al Qamar students learn about the different steps from a young age by enacting the activities at school. 

The boys all dress up in ihram - the two pieces of white unstitched cloth. They do struggle to keep the whole thing together, a little nervous at first and then later with confidence. The entire show is managed by the older 6th graders, especially the House Captains.

The girls deck up in fancy abayas looking quite the young ladies.

The room resounds with the Talbiyah  as children start the walk to "Mina".  There waiting for them are tents prepared by the 5th graders. The children fill into the tents and continue the Talbiyah.

Next, the children file out and go towards "Arafah" where they stand and make dua.

Then they go to "Muzdalifah" where they pick stones for the Jamarah.

At the Jamarah, they form orderly lines and perform the stoning ritual, gently assisted by the older children.

Finally the children go out to perform the Sa'ee - the run between the "mountains" of Safa and Marwa, in imitation and honour of our matriarch, Hajira AS's experience.

The activity is rounded off with tasty dates which they gobble down enthusiastically.

Monday 20 August 2018

Independence Day celebrations

Despite the rain and showers, Independence Day was celebrated with great enthusiasm.

After the flag hoisting and national anthem, the children of various environments presented a cultural program.

Asad spoke about the history of the Indian flag.  
Asira also spoke about the freedom movement.  Some Montessori students were dressed up as famous freedom fighters while others sang patriotic songs. 

The Annual Prize giving ceremony also took place.

The event was attended by students, teachers, staff and parents.

Montessori prepares for Independence Day

Montessori prepares for Independence Day:

Flags made with masoor dhal, sago and moong daal - with beautiful results


Montessori landform lesson

Little Montessorians learning about land and water forms - in a way that they'll always remember.

A Lake

An island in progress

Finally an island

Sunday 19 August 2018

Independence Day MakerFest Competition

After the flag hoisting and the cultural program, Al Qamar had an interhouse MakerFest competition.  12 teams from the 4 houses participated.

The challenge was to build a bridge using only newspaper and tape with a span of 1ft. The bridge could be freestanding or supported by chowkis.  And it must take a load of atleast 200gms.  The bridge which could take the highest load would win.

At first the teams were flummoxed! How can a weak material like paper be used to make a strong bridge which would take weight.  Then the brains started ticking.

One team made triangular supports and a ramp.

Another had a complex set of supports under the ramp.

A third tried to make thin rolls of paper which would be the bridge. 

Another team made a T structure.

Remember these are 4-6th grade kids. Getting a feel for a real engineering design problem

Finally the axiom, simple is best, won.  The all girls team simply rolled up all their paper into a thick wad and taped it.  The structure held about 3.4kg of weight before we stopped measuring- there was no space to further balance the weights on the bridge.  The judges felt, this bridge could've gone upto 4.5-5 kgs.  

An exciting event which enthuses kids for science and its applications.

Independence Day Art Competition

To celebrate the Independence Day, Al Qamar Lower Elementary had an art competition where children had to draw their idea of "My India."

I thought the topic would be difficult for the 2nd and 3rd graders - how do you translate an idea of India and what it means to you into a drawing?

But the children really came up with wonderful stuff.

The winner was a lovely piece of work titled "Great Indian People Tree."

The 2nd place went to another thoughtful piece contrasting old and new India - from a child's view. The old was green and blue, and even had a lion! The new - a modern house, with a smokestack next to it.

The 3rd place went to a drawing of a forest with a road running through it.

I was zapped at the perceptiveness and deep thinking of these young 3rd grade children who could then render their ideas into concrete drawings.

Art with an eco-purpose

Having a real cool art teacher is a bonus. Having one who integrates art with an environmentally consciousness is just out of the world.

Afrin, a mom in our school, is passionate about "Go Healthy, Go Local, Go Green".  So when she decided to do the weekly art class for the 3rd graders, we were delighted.

Afrin's class has learned how to recycle newspaper into coasters and pencil holders.

Learning About Plants - Grade 3 with the HBSCE Small Science curriculum

Learning about trees and plants is far from the boring exercise in regular schools.  With the Small Science curriculum, the entire learning for grade 3 is down outdoors - by examining trees and plants

After the nature walk in early August where children saw different kinds of trees, today, we have them examining plants more closely.

First they had to be blindfolded and examine different kinds of leaves.  The children touched, felt the texture, the size and edges of leaves. They crushed the leaf and smelled it. Using this information, they identified the leaf.  Most children easily identified Omum and Aloe vera.  Even Gulmohar was easy but they had forgotten the name. "Its the g,g,g one, Aunty!"  For some reason, they kept saying "Neem!" at the drop of a hat. I think that's the name they're familiar with, but haven't quite internalised the shape/ smell of the leaf. 

Then the children lined up to see how many children were needed to hug the large wild baadam on campus.  They stretched, tried their best, but none except one, could hug the tree by themselves. It took two children to hug the tree.  Some children were resistant to the idea of hugging a tree - they were chary of potential insects on the tree.  

Next, the children broke up into teams of 2 to examine the different kinds of barks.  They noticed how the three wild badaams on campus had different bark - one was quite rough and dark, while the other two were smooth and light coloured. "Why, Aunty?" "We'll have to find out." "Maybe this tree is older" thought one child.  The chidlren noticed how the bamboo bark was completely smooth. They had trouble identifying the colour of the bark as yellow or green or a mix.  

Finally the children had to find insects or plants on the trees.  They saw a crow's nest high up on the wild badaam. I showed them a neem where ants have made homes - large holes where the bark was completely eaten away.  The children saw a wasp, but not exactly on the tree. They saw a squirrel, crows and different kinds of ants.

The children recorded their observations in the Workbook.  At this stage some are struggling to read and comprehend the questions and require guidance. However, once they have understood what's being asked, they get down to the work, oblivious of the surroundings. 

The children love this class - their first introduction to the wonders of the Small Science program.

1st Student Research presentations - Astronomy

Want to learn about Georges Lamaitre? Or formation of a star? Nebulae? Galaxies that eat other galaxies? Well come on over and attend a research presentation by Upper Elementary at Al Qamar.

Research forms an integral part of Elementary work. All the work in done in school, and independently by the students.

This year, the 1st research presentation was on Astronomy.  The 4th & 5th graders worked together to do research on various topics like the Big Bang, Lifecycle of a Star, the Solar System, the Planets, Galaxies etc.

The teams worked hard, pulling out all encyclopedias and books on astronomy from the in-class library, poring over the books, making notes, having animated discussions.

Finally when they had finalized their drafts, they were issued chart paper to make the final versions.

On the day of the presentation, all the teachers were shooed out of the classroom. And a sentry was posted to ensure that they didn't sneak in.  I heard a lot of crash, bang, furniture moving, voices raised in argument....and wondered "What on earth is happening????"

Finally we were invited into the presentation room.  The room had been darkened. In hushed whispers, we were told to be quietly seated.  All the teams had ranged themselves around the room.

Suddenly, a loud bang, as a balloon burst. "The Big Bang!" Then fairy lights, a cool blue, came on. "Light was created!" A crisp confident voice went on to inform us about how the Big Bang took place, 14 billion years ago. How stars were created from the dust and residue. How elements were formed, giving way over time to heavier elements.

We learned about how nebulae give birth to stars, how stars grow, become giants and then finally die.

We learned about our favourite star - The Sun.

We learned about how galaxies are light years away from each other. We learned about our spiral galaxy - the Milky Way.

We learned about the various planets, the rocky ones, the gas giants, asteroids and meteors.

We learned - as in the teachers learned, while the children taught.  Amazing and beautiful!

Looking forward to the next presentation on Early Earth.

House Captain Elections - A lesson in workings of a democracy

Elections for House Captains were organised with a double purpose of also giving students a feel for how democracy works.  

6th grade students nominated themselves for the post of House Captains.  They designed their campaign posters and ballot symbols.   

Campaigning happened in full swing and the school corridor walls were plastered with posters urging voters to vote for them. The candidates also grabbed every opportunity to give speeches and persuade juniors to vote for them. One disgruntled 4th grader complained "They bothering us, keep telling us 'Vote for me, Vote for me'. I can't even do my work in peace!"

As in any vibrant democracy, poll code violations also happened. I got confidential reports about bribes being offered - going price is One Chocolate, One Vote. Apparently another offered money. I heard about some threats too! However, as I pointed out to the voters, the secret ballot ensures that his/her vote was completely secret and s/he could vote for anyone they liked.   

Siblings played different roles. In some cases, a younger siblings reached out to their peers to convince them to vote for his/her brother/ sister. In another case, a sibling was found campaigning against his sister.

The actual voting took place via secret ballot - aka Google Forms. An indelible ink was used to identify those who had already cast their votes.  The younger children were initially puzzled with the mark and then delighted.  "I voted today!" was the triumphant claim which many parents heard in the evening. The candidates themselves discovered that they could actually vote for themselves - a surprise. Despite reminders against them, unauthorised exit polls happened feverishly - with many gathering information to predict who the winners would be.

The role of Poll Officers was the only role given to teachers. 

Finally in the afternoon, results were declared along with percentage shares of the winners.  The loveliest part was how the unsuccessful candidates genuinely congratulated their peers who had won! A true lesson in democracy which we adults would do well to imbibe.

The day ended with me telling the House Captains the importance of their roles, and how "with great authority comes great responsibility" ("Batman says that!" said one thrilled Batman fan!) and how the general public must cooperate with the newly chosen leaders.  

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...