Sunday 30 September 2018

Speaking & Communication Skills top employer wish lists

Speaking skills top employer wish lists - but schools don't teach them.

A really good article which should open any educator's eyes - especially those of us in the traditional mode where teachers speak and students listen. 

While Al Qamar always emphasized and honed speaking skills , we recognized that children may need to be explicitly taught public speaking and communication.  Hence, this year, we have Future Impact trainers coming in and conducting a Public Speaking class for Middle school and Communications Skills class for Upper Elementary.

Two months into the program, the kids are just loving the fun filled classes.  With ice breakers, games built into a bunch of serious stuff - the kind I learned during my consulting days - kids are already showing increased confidence, public speaking skills and creativity.

One session had them creating ads for a new product they created. An ad for a computer which gives whatever you desire, to a air filled shirt which can make you fly, a book which changes stories depending on the reader - they imagined it all.

Another session, a hot favourite with the ubiquitous bookworms at Al Qamar, had the kids making impromptu speeches about their favorite fictional character.  Mr. Willie Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. Benedict from the Benedict Society and others were featured.

Way to go Vinay & Keerthana. You guys just rock!

Friday 14 September 2018

#International Literacy Day with Pratham Books celebrated at Al Qamar

#InternationalLiteracyDay was celebrated with Al Qamar Academy as one of the #PBChamps. 5 separate sessions at Al Qamar were a part of the One Day, One Story effort from Pratham Books.  The lovely story, A Cloud of Trash, was read out and discussed.

Children loved the storyline - it is something everyone of us can relate to.  The illustrations had them fully engaged as they followed how the trash littering girl transforms into an anti garbage activist.

The older children discussed the points at the back - how we can reduce trash, how we can recycle.  They've been reading the poster which outlines how long it takes for trash to decompose, and its an eyeopener.  

Wonderful initiative - combining two causes close to Al Qamar hearts - reading and the environment!!

Thanks Pratham Books!!

Khadijah's poem in the Robinage

Congratulations Khadijah Abdul Sattar for getting your poem published in the RobinAge newspaper on the occasion of Teachers' Day.  

Upper Elementary Ecology Class - 1

The Upper Elementary kids were sad as their Ecology class in August had been cancelled and were eager for the next tentative date.  As the trip was reschedule they were exhilarated to go to the restored urban wetland again.
We reached there on time and the children were eager to go in. The first activity involved breaking up into three groups  Each group had to measure a 1  x 1 foot plot observe the area and do a survey about the animals and plants found in it.
The children measured and demarcated a 1 x 1 plot and started looking for the animals and plants along with the direct and indirect indications of other animals/insects living there.  One team was assigned a slopey terrain and the kids started to look for the flora and fauna found there.   They took turns to note down the date, start time, temperature, humidity, terrain, and got along with the observations.  They were briefed on how to jot down the animals seen and how to record their number and the plants on their piece of plot.
The kids were delighted to see a lot of butterflies fluttering around the Tridax plants.  They were also enlightened about the Kuppaimeni and its medicinal uses by the PFC member Maya. They also spotted a few bugs and their eggs, an ant colony, a caterpillar feeding on the leaves.  It was really eye opening to know that if the leaves were torn in the middle in patches it was eaten by a caterpillar but if it was torn from the edges to the center it was eaten by bugs.
Interestingly, this group of kids found more stuff outside the plot that within the plot. One of the kids had picked up a 'yanai kundumani' a red bead which brought back nostalgia about my childhood days as these seeds were then used to play "pallanguzhi".  One of the kids told she had seen pallanguzhi being played at her native place.
While engrossed in this activity, they were suddenly distracted by a gliding pelican which soared off to fly away. After all the euphoria subsided, they went back to their observations when they got side tracked again as Mr. Mahesh of the PFC brought a specimen of a worm snake in a small plastic container.  At first, we couldn't spot it but then were able to notice movement of a thin and small creature.  Mr. Mahesh informed that worms contract and move forward while this was a snake as it was slithering forward. It had very tiny eyes, and like one child pointed out, smooth, shiny bright scales that glistened in the sunlight.
After a good engaging 40 minutes, the data jotted on the survey sheets provided, they were now in for a snack break.  After the snack break, the PFC team decided to play the video on their laptop.
The video clipping was very informational.  It showed the different types of forests and the biotic and abiotic factors of a forest ecosystem.  When asked about the layers of forest habitat, pat came the answer from the Al Qamar kids; canopy, understorey and forest floor, as they had done the card material at school on it.  They got to learn about the Lianas, Bromelids, and the animals that inhabit the different layers of the forest.  They learnt about the food pyramid formed by the producers, consumers and the Apex predators.  The next video shown was about the flying squirrel, flying lizard and how they use the patagium to glide from the canopy to the understorey or the forest floor as they do not have wings.  They learned that a patagium is an extension of the skin that helps flying lizards in gliding from a higher level to the ground.  The kids recognized the picture of a tree frog but were surprised to know that a tree frog spends all its life on the trees and has rounded toes to give a better grip while moving around on trees.
As the video lesson ended, they were again taken for a group activity.  They had a white board and pictures of animals.  Each kid was given a picture about which they had to speak a few facts and then fix it on the board at the appropriate layer of the forest habitat marked on the white board.  It was vital information to the children that if one animal is removed from the food chain how the ecosystem comes under stress and how the food chain can come under threat.

This ended our class for the day.  The children thanked the PFC team and all rushed back to the bus buzzing with knowledge gained by hands-on experience.  The assignment given to the kids was to read books about different types of animals living in the forest habitat and how humans affect a forest.  Looking forward to the next stimulating class inshaAllah.

Ecology class with a difference - 5th class

Ecology classes with PFC continued with the latest session focussing on reptiles.  The children were taken to the Snake Park at Guindy where they saw snakes, played games, and generally had a wonderful educative session.

Here's a recap of the class by Shahana Shameer, Grade 6 who has blogged this:

Ecology Class 5
On this day we learned about snakes and some other reptiles because we went to the Snake Sark. (What else would we learn in that park other than about reptiles and snakes?)

Alright, so first we lets get started with our 4 big snakes in India. So the 4 big snakes are:
1.    Spectacled Cobra
2.    Common Krait
3.     Saw Scale Viper
4.    Russel’s Viper

Do you know why the Spectacled Cobra is actually called Spectacled Cobra? Because it has 2 dots on its back and they look like specs. Spectacled; Specs, get it? Okay lets move on.

And if you are wondering why are these called the 4 big snakes? Why are they known as 4 big snakes? They all ARE dangerous but the reason why is because they are responsible for causing a great number of significant deaths in India. Of the big 4, the common krait is more responsible for more deaths and then Russel’s Viper followed by Saw Scaled Viper and at last, the Indian Cobra.

Also do you know why it is called the Saw Scaled Viper? Because when there is a predator, the Saw Scale Viper rubs it’s tail on the ground to scare it away and it makes a cutting saw sound.

The Russel’s Viper is found throughout India and of course it is venomous. It grows to about 3 ½ ft. It feeds on rodents and gives births to 6-63 young!
The Common Krait feeds on small animals and grows upto 3ft.

Alright, so there are 4 species of Cobra in India.
  • Spectacled Cobra
  •  Monocled Cobra
  • King Cobra
  •  Andaman Cobra

I already told you about the Spectacled Cobra and so now I will tell you about the Monocled Cobra. And if you know the word Mono means 1. And the Monocled Cobra has only 1 dot on it back unlike the Spectacled Cobra, it has 2.

The Andaman Cobra gets its name from where it lives, The Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The King Cobra is special and also known as the Indian Cobra. It is the only snake that eats other snakes. And sometimes even it’s own species, The King Cobras!

When a King Cobra lays eggs, it keeps them in a nest to incubate unlike the other snakes they cover it with themselves.  It takes 2 months for the babies to hatch. But the King Cobra leaves the nest before a month, why. Because it doesn’t want to eat it’s own babies. 

Now what is the difference between poison and venom?  Would you call a snake poisonous or venomous? Why?

1rst  lets know the difference between poison and venom. Venom will only work when it reaches our blood so it has to be injected or somehow reach your blood circulation. Now poison has to go to your digestive system. And if poison goes to your blood, nothing happens and if venom goes to your digestive system nothing will happen. (unless you have some medical issues, it may react) So you can drink venom!

I will tell you about a snake that you might have something in common with it. And not a lot of people have this. Albino snakes and Albinism. Albinism is a rare phenomenon where body’s melanin pigment gets lacked or below normal in their DNA. People people might have it. You know when people have dark colors and they may have patches of white or pick on their skin. Just like that an albino snake is total white so it makes it hard for itself to camouflage. And also they are non venomous.

How do non venomous snakes catch prey? They just gulp it down. Literally! Their body stretches like elastic. When we try to stretch are mouth it hurts because we have a specific  bone and snakes don’t. And the body gets bigger and fatter as it gulps down stuff.

Now I am going to tell you about some snakes you may have not heard of.
Wolf snake
Ø Nocturnal
Ø Feeds on geckos and skunks
Ø Lays 5-7 eggs in the month of December to January

Rat Snakes:
v They act and look like Spectacled Cobra because it will make it’s predator scare away. And Spectacled Cobra is one of the big 4.
v Non venomous
v Grows to about 6 ½ ft.
v Lays 8-22 eggs
v Feeds on rats, frogs and lizards
              Australian Green Python
§  Non venomous
§  Kills prey
§  Tree dwelling
§  Found in tropical evergreen forests
            Common Vine Snake
·       Found in India except northwest side
·       Grows to about 3 ½ ft
·       Feeds on lizards and small animals
·       Gives upto 23 young ones
·       Mildly venomous

Now I will take a break from snakes and talk about other reptiles.

  • Crocodiles, Alligators and Caimans together are known as crocodilians.
  • Crocodilians are represented by 23 species

  • Are a species of crocodile.
  •  Size upto 23 feet.
  • Snout tip for males and beak like structure.
  • Feeds mainly on fish.
  •  Lays 7-60 eggs
  •  Critically endangered species
  •  Hind leg is long.
  • Hind=back      Fore=front

Marsh crocodile
  • Throughout India
  •  Grows about 13 feet
  •  Feeds mainly on fishes, frogs, birds, snakes and mammals
  •  Lay 12 clutches, each about 10-50. In a year.

Nile crocodile:
  • Found in rivers of lakes and swamps of Madagascar
  • And can feed on large and small animals.
  •  Man killer

 Siamese crocodile are of course found in the Siamese River and north east Asia.

Indian Flapshell Turtle
  • Fresh waters of Inida and other parts of South Asia.
  • Feeds on small fishes and tadpoles.

Indian Black Turtle
  • Found in freshwaters of the Indian peninsula and northern eastern India.
  •  Feeds on veggies and animal matter.
  •  Grinding teeth. 

  • Crocodiles can grow teeth until they die.
  •  Crocodiles have little tears that buterflies drink.
  •  Frogs can jump to 30 ft. (13-15 times t’s own size)
  •  Some frogs are able to freeze as solid and are able to survive.

Organic Terrace Garden grows and develops

Learning should be holistic - not divided into silos. A well designed activity involves learning language, maths, business, craft skills along with whatever was the main purpose of the course.

The Organic Terrace Garden is one of the Project Based Learning modules being implemented for the 6th grade this year.

The children's team has grown and currently harvesting ladys' finger, greens, tomatoes, brinjals along with a few traditional plants.  

Initially they simply tied their produce with a jute string and sold it.

Then they started making paper bags with waste paper.

Finally they've started issuing "bills" complete with the CEO/AEO/ MD's signatures.

They're learning to plan, work hard, solve problems (mealy bugs for instance), organise input resources, market their produce. They're also planning to blog their experience - so others can replicate the model. 

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Daan Utsav Prep : Student Leader Conference Held

Daan Utsav, a festival of giving, is celebrated all over India in the first week of October.  People from all walks of life participate - doing their bit to spread happiness.  

This year, Al Qamar decided to hold an outreach and planning conference to motivate schools and kids to participate in Daan Utsav.

Representatives from Grades 5-7 from seven schools including Al Qamar, attended the Student Leader conference.  The conference was organised as a World Cafe, a wonderful format for holding large group discussions and brainstorming sessions.  It was a fantastic student led conference with adults as observers. 

Here is the report by Anam Fathima, Grade 6 who was the reporter for the occasion:


The speaker booms out; "Take your seats. The event is about to begin." Seven different schools are about to begin a World Cafe; a brainstorming technique. The method consists of a number of tables starting with at least four tables with four or more people  at each table. Each of the tables are provided with a chart; on which to write ideas, markers & pens, snacks and notepads. In this case there are six tables with five people at each table. The teams exchange tables at each round to share ideas, usually one of the previous team member has to be left behind as a host.

The World Cafe is about to begin. The situation is tense. The topic question is "What Can We As School Students Do On Daan Utsav?". The Teams are discussing. Team One is on the lead with the first idea. Team Two follows with more ideas. Team Three is catching up.  "Teach poor children" . "Give the maids a day off". "Donate medicines" "Clean streets".  Charity Drives are coming up.  "Make the charts nice, colorful and messy, don't worry about handwriting or spellings" , are the instructions. The Teams are now up to the challenge. "Last one minute." booms the loud speaker. Last  minute changes are being made. The charts are full to bursting. End of round one.


The students are feeling full now,and are eager to begin round two. The students briskly go back to their Teams and decide who is is to be left behind. The Teams have now exchanged tables. At Table one sits Team Two, and at Table Two sits Team One, and so on.  The Teams are ready to begin now. A hushed silence falls over the students while they await for the topic question excitedly. " And now, the second round's question is What Problems Will We Face " , booms the speaker. Teams are giving out ideas at top speed. " We can't go because of the Dangers", says Team Two. Team One and Team Two are in the lead with the most ideas. Team Three is catching up, though. The boys are in a frenzy with ideas spilling out.  "Last one minute" booms the loud speaker.  Last  one minute ideas are coming up. End of round two.

The Teams are now much used to the procedure and are now awaiting the last and final topic question. Team 1 has gone to Table 4, Team 4 to Table 1.  Teams 2 & 5 also switch.  The Teams have come up with yet another batch of ideas, such as "use public transportation.", "Convince your parents to let you participate if you promise to get good marks",  "Go visit neighbors instead of complete strangers" . End of the World Cafe.


Each group comes up and presents all the charts made at their table, albeit by different groups.  They have to know all that went on previously at their table.  Each child from the other schools has to speak. Initially nervous, the children soon gain confidence and outline the ideas generated.


The Teams are asked now to go back to their own schools and discuss what three ideas would they like to implement at their own schools as leaders. They are also asked to give a presentation on it. The Schools are discussing what to take away and are preparing for their presentation. "We can donate our old, unwanted things", says one school, "Give away our textbooks & stationery" says another.  "Put piggy banks in all our classrooms where children can donate money which can be given away." "Plant trees during Daan Utsav", "Clean the road outside our school", "Buy a package of monthly needs for an orphanage or old age home", "Make and distribute paper bags", "Gift plants"

And many more ideas....

At the end our Correspondent encouraged each school to take the ideas back, meet with their principal and ensure that the ideas are implemented in Daan Utsav.

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...