Monday 29 October 2018

Green Architecture - a talk for Al Qamar students

Today Upper Elementary & Middle schoolers attended an amazing eye opening talk on green architecture by Jaideep Vivekanand, Co-Founder of Green Evolution.

Jaideep started with contrasting traditional style homes with modern, ubiquitous glass framed sky scrapers.  Through the conversation, children realised how eco un-friendly modern buildings are, how they inefficiently consume resources like electricity and water.  Their ecology classes with the PFC group and the background from the Small Science program have already provided a firm basis for them to comprehend fairly complex ideas like waste water treatment, electricity conservation, water harvesting etc.  However, today's talk integrated all this background into understanding how to build sustainable buildings using all the eco friendly ideas.

Jaideep talked about and showed beautiful visuals from the newly constructed The School campus.  He outlined how every aspect - water conservation, natural lighting, eco friendly tiles and bricks, solar panels for generating electricity, has created an amazing concept school campus. He discussed how daily operations also continue with this green focus.  The children were simply fascinated - especially with the library.  They bombarded him with questions and comments - they were fully engaged with his talk.

Well after Jaideep left, kids were discussing how they would build their own models of eco friendly buildings.

Talks like this are critical for sensitizing young children to both ecological problems, but more importantly to the solutions which can be implemented, and how, eco friendly is cost effective, natural and healthy. Thanks a million, Jaideep for taking time off to come speak to the kids today.

Friday 26 October 2018

Math thinking - with puzzle cards

We routinely put out Math puzzle cards for our Upper Elementary kids to try.

The purpose is to get them to enjoy maths, think, and experience the satisfaction of figuring out a solution. The focus is not on "correct " answers, but to develop and  express mathematical thinking. Kids formulate their answers and have long discussions with  the teacher adding to the enjoyable math experience.

This was the current week's card:

One 5th grade child made a list of numbers and sorted them into "cans" and "cannots". She observed a pattern. She saw that each odd number could be expressed as a sum of consecutive numbers. Then she saw that some of the even numbers - she called them "doubling numbers" 1,2,4,8,16....  cannot be represented as sum of consecutive positive integers while all other even numbers can. She reasoned - "2 is a 'cannot ' number, and the rest are its doubles. So even they can't be sums of consecutive numbers"

(Handwriting in pen is the teacher checking her solution)

Pretty cool huh?

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Observing tiny creatures - Small Science Grade 3

We got back to 3rd grade Small Science after a long hiatus, started on Chapter 4.

Today, I tried some techniques to help me improve class management. Small Science classes are typically held outside in the playground – under trees, sitting on the ground. Despite the lovely ambience, the noise levels are high – vehicles going by, kids playing, crows cawing.  Moreover, the children seem to get easily distracted. 

We went outside. They were taking a long time to settle down and groups kept chatting. I started talking softly keeping my voice low.  The girls, who were sitting really close by started paying attention. I continued by reminding them of our class groundrules – listen to others, raise hands to speak etc. Slowly the boys realised that the class had actually started, and started listening.  I read out the first part – Apu & Mini’s story. Now all were listening – possibly because my own voice was deliberately low and they had to pay attention to hear. 

Then I divided them up into groups – using the old A,B,C, D technique.  2 boys and 2 girls per group. Random choice. They got up and sat in their new groups.  “These are going to be your groups for the rest of the chapter. Each group has to work as a team. You will conduct experiments, do observations and even work together on the workbook.”  Now came the experimental part, the one about which I still have mixed feelings – “I will give points to groups, or take away points depending on your behaviour, following groundrules and completion of work.” They sat up – the mantle on responsibility, the sense of group feeling suddenly dawning.  They paid more attention. “The group with the highest points is going to have an ice cream party!” Now this was a great incentive. There was pin drop silence.

I asked each group to read Section 1 of the textbook chapter 4.  Then a volunteer from each group had to stand and explain what they understood – and what each group had to do.
My colleague and I reused small paint bottles to store honey, sugar, cake and biscuit pieces. Each group got a set of these 4 items, along with some chips. 

Group A went to the back of the school. They emptied their bottles on the boundary wall, next to an old neem tree.  Lucky guys – the tree was home to several large ants.

Group B put out their stuff next to the fish tank.  Then they squatted down and started watching. 

Group C were in front of the gate.  Like patient scientists, each child sat next to a particular item to observe it carefully.

Group D went near Montessori. They dumped their bottles all in one pile. 

I gave each group a magnifying glass with the commitment they would ensure it was returned to me correctly placed in its box. Each group was told they had to observe very carefully and quietly by sitting still.  To my complete amazement, they actually managed to sit still and focus.  Then the excitement started. “Aunty a big black ant came. It just sniffed and went away.” “A fly came”. “The big ant frightened all other ants away”. The ants carried the chip to a hole, but the chip got stuck – it was too big for the hole.” “Then what did they do?” “Many ants came and bit it into small pieces.” “How are they carrying the food?” “In their hands, they’re rolling it.” We were lucky to see a large ant carrying a small black ball like object – rolling it along. “Aunty – look crows came!! They’re gulping our chips!”. “Aunty- Fazal & Afeef ate the biscuit themselves!”

They did get bored after a bit – it’s a lot to expect 7-8 year olds to silently observe for more than 5 minutes.  But that’s the very skill we want to inculcate. Reminders to observe helped. Calling them “scientists” helped – they were thrilled with the accolade. 

We came back into our groups to discuss our observations.  Each team had 2 members come up and talk about what their team saw – I tried to ensure that all kids got a chance to speak today in class.

Then came time to answer the questions in the workbook – an exercise that takes hours usually and fraught with frustration.  This time, each team could work together, but the leader had to ensure that all the team members finished the work.  Contrary to adult expectations, the kids did not simply copy from one another or dictate answers.  There was actual discussion.  Midway, children went off to observe the status of their food – and this led to more excitement. “Look Aunty, many ants have come. They’ve made a line” “They’re bumping into each other” “They’re going over the wall.”

We discussed why the first ant simply came, walked around the food and went away “Maybe it didn’t realise it was food.” “Maybe it didn’t know its home” were some of their guesses.  We also discussed the different types of ants they saw – small red, big black and all variations in between.

To my great surprise, the children completed the workbook questions they were assigned, the team leaders checked and made sure everything was complete, collected the books and submitted them to me.

In conclusion – what worked well was that kids were given clear directions, given responsibility for their teams and that they managed to work together. 

Monday 22 October 2018

Communications Class for Upper Elementary - What I learned

Upper Elementary students have a Communications class every week - run by FutureImpact.  We decided to offer this class to help children develop not only better communication skills - vital for the 21st century world, but also improve their interpersonal skills.  Kids do fight, bicker, call each names, grab stuff, and can be generally very self centred.  However, they need the tools to cope with strong negative emotions and learn how to get along with others.

At the end of the class, they have to write down their reflections. Here are some excerpts:

“Today we learned a precept. Being Imaginative and creative. (By the way, if you don’t know what a precept is, it’s a rule). We were split into four teams. Each team had 4-5 people. There were 4 papers stuck around the classroom and the teacher had written a question on it.  For instance, one question was “Why are the stars bright?”. Each team had to write 2-5 answers. We only had 2 minutes to do that. After 2 minutes the teams had to switch to another paper. After all the teams finished, they had to make a drama or speech about our answers.
You have to cooperate with your Team. Never fight with your team members. I learned a lot in this class. Whenever a team member speaks, you have to listen to them. Not just teams, anyone who gives a speech. You might learn a lesson.
A very good class. I learned a lot just from games. Literally, games! You can learn boring things as fun games. I can’t wait for the next class.
Thank You! 5 Stars."
Grade 5

"What I learnt:
In this class, I learnt that we do team work and not be bossy so that teammates can also be happy.  That’s not the only thing. We need to be kind to everybody so they return to us in kindness. And to cooperate in the team."

Grade 4

"First we did a quick reacap of what we learned in the previous class.  After we finished, we played a game. In the game, we were divided into groups and were given a question. Our team’s question was “Why are leaves green?” We had to think out of the box and write an answer. Then Aunty told us we had to make a skit or play or something about our question.  We did a play. Hanan was the teacher and she taught us a poem. Then we asked a question “Why are leaves green?” She showed us a video (imaginary) in which I was a leaf. After the video ended, I asked silly questions and had a tantrum! The other teams performed their plays. Aunty said she like ours the best! In this class I learned about imagination and cooperation."

Grade 5

"We played a game today.  In the game, we learnt how to cooperate.  We also learnt to be polite, grateful, not to hurt others' feelings, we should make them feel happy and have fun.  We should not talk to the audience in a play.  We should not hurt the team members.

Earlier also we played games and wrote letters.  I also learnt about precepts and the first precept was kindness and being compassionate and considerate.  I also learnt to be helpful.  We learnt to play without being harsh to others and not to blame others saying it's their fault because we lost.

I also learnt to show gratitude to others."

Abdul Muiz
Grade 4

"We did a skit about a teacher named Mr. European Onion, and three students – Hamdan, Sara & Zoya. We were discussing about stars. Mostly, everyone wrote jokes like, “When the universe got pimples and it became the sun and the moon. They married and got baby stars. 
I learned to cooperate with other members. And that a presentation doesn’t mean only humour. It also means sensible things. And we have to always be polite to other people, even strangers."
Grade 4

I think the class is already having a great impact! Thanks Keerthana & Vinay

Sunday 14 October 2018

Are teachers essential for learning - a class debate!

Felt very very actualized.

In the English class we had a debate on "Is a teacher essential for learning."

As in any debate, there were groups For and Against the motion.

And they spoke well, gave good insights, handled rebuttals.

Then I opened it up for a vote - "Are teachers essential for learning". I bypassed their clever lawyer like definitions - Nature is a teacher, the tree is a teacher. I wanted specifics. Only regular classroom teachers. Or people in similar teaching positions - tuition teachers included.

The overwhelming vote, 16-0 ' "No teachers are NOT essential to learning!"


My kids believe they can learn themselves. Teachers are just resources. These kids, young kids, Grade 6, have realised something which even college kids struggle with - you can learn yourself. You can be an independent learner. You aren't dependent on some adult to teach you. No spoonfeeding needed. Whoa! This is what we've been planning to inculcate since the beginning of our school.

Global Math Week & Exploding Dots

Being the Global Math Week where millions are working on Exploding Dots,we introduced the Upper Elementary kids to the exploding dots and then we had explosions in the classroom. Kapow!

They quickly picked up the various machines and had fun exploding dots. They were pleasantly surprised to see the 10-->1 machine gave the same code as the number. The brain machines are churning now..

Some kids logged on for the Exploding Dots Islands and quickly worked their way through them.  

Others used vertical spaces to write and work out. Some in teams, and some individually.

Another 5th grader experimented with 1>1 dot and found its an infinite loop - Hence the "infinity" symbol in her notebook.

Another creative soul, a 5th grader, wrote an adventure story with the exploding dot experience as a background "Help Crack the Code...the Lab counts on you!"

Waiting for more insights from the Lower Elementary group and the 6th graders. This is another innovative way to learn Maths in a exciting, thinking way.  Begone ol' boring technique ridden mysterious math. Welcome to FUN!
 #gmw2018 #explodingdots

Ecology Class with A Difference - Class 7

Today we learned all about watersheds and a specific watershed.

Well let’s ask ourselves a question. What is a watershed? A watershed is a landform/landscape that helps collect water. There are parts of a watershed, a ridge, where the water separates  usually it is the top of a high slope and on the top the water goes in different directions. Furrows are lower areas were the water goes through. And last but not the least, the stream. It is the runoff of the water. Now of course our endpoint. It is where the water is collected by the watershed and it ends there, nothing happens with it. There are components in a watershed but not all of them have the same ones.

We did a nice exercise where we crumpled paper and marked what we thought were ridges and furrows. Then we sprinkled water to see if our guess was right.

Next, we studied Chennai.  In our Chennai city we have  4 big watershed but that doesn’t mean we only have 4 watershed, we have many micro watersheds. But we really have 4 big ones. And 3 of them are named after the river that passes through it. The 4 watersheds are Cooum, Adyar, Kosatheliyar, and one that is where our school is, Pallikaranai. And what makes them seperated? The ridges, it’s like their border. Then we talked about the components of the Adyar watershed which are Eris, wetlands, farmlands, forests, lakes, and storm water drainages. We took chits and then opened it to look what place was it written on there and that place would be on the map. 

And we finally found out that the Adyar watershed wasn’t a healthy watershed. And an Eri was turned into a ground for motorbikes! I don’t think that is healthy.

Finally we took a walk around the Adyar Poonga to see different watershed and parts of them. As it had been raining, we easily saw furrows and ridges with water running through. That was cool! Ofcourse we saw other stuff - a large and a small snail, mushrooms - stuff that reminds us that we are really blessed to be having such a class in such a wonderful setting.

Saturday 13 October 2018

Science Investigation - Growing your own plants

Grade 3 started conducted investigations on plants as a part of the Small Science curriculum.

The children had to first go find seeds in their kitchen.  We informed the parents through Whatsapp about this task, telling them to show the children the various seeds, but not to give away which would sprout and which wouldn't.

Children brought various kinds of seeds - moong, tuar, chana, methi, sago, coriander, mustard, apple seeds, lemon seeds, sundals, wheat, rice (processed), chia seeds etc.  We "planted" these in paper cups with damp cotton wool.  It was important to write down each child's name and the name of the plant on each cup for identification purpose. There was an interesting discussion on the names of each seed in Tamil, English or Hindi.

As a class, we also took three large trays and planted a "farm" - 3 different kinds of seeds - mustard, moong and chana. So children could see how a large number of plants grow.

The children drew the seeds for the 1st day in their workbooks.  Most children are resistant about drawing - they feel their artistic skills will be judged. So it was important to reiterate that the drawing had to be accurate, rather than beautiful.

As many children didn't know the names of various pulses and grains, Teacher Murshida bought various kinds of these and made little ziploc bags with identifying labels.  This really helped the children. 

The children observed their plants over the next few days. There was not much on the 1st day. But on Day 2, kids could see small shoots emerging.  We "sacrificed" some seeds - I opened up the seed to show them the shoot inside. They were really excited!! On Day 3 hey also observed how some plants had grown big, some were just sprouting, some were not sprouting at all and some had developed fungus. I made them smell the cups too - they hated the rotting smell. 

On Saturday, we had no school for children, but did have a Moms' Meeting. Kids instructed their moms to water their plants, and to take pictures using cell phones for the kids to observe the changes. 

On Monday we examined each cup and discussed the futher changes. Some plants had grown beautifully long, but thin.  Some were completely rotten. Some were the same. 

I asked them to guess why. "We gave too much water." "I forgot to water." We discussed how the rice they brought wouldn't sprout because it had already been processed. The date seed would take a long time to sprout.  The apple seed had actually sprouted but then it died.  

The moong had developed beautiful roots and root hair. As they've been working on the Parts of the Root in their Elementary Montessori curriculum, they could identify the root, root cap, root hair etc.

We wrote down our observations.  The children had insightful comments - about whether the plant had sprouted or not, what was its colour, how large was the stem, how many leaves it had etc.

The workbook question which asks children to compare and contrast (2 similarities and 2 differences) is often a googly for kids. The concept of what is "similar" is sometimes hard for them to understand - whereas they can quickly note the differences.

So this time I put the large "farm" trays in front of them for this question. We observed and found 2 similarities between the moong and methi in one classroom, and moong and chana in the other.  The direct observation and group discussion really helped children understand the activity.   The children noted that the horse gram took longer to sprout, the moong sprouts were longer and had many leaves.

This is a wonderful curriculum - which teaches children important science skills - experimentation, investigation and observation.  They also learn that science is not fixed in stone, but evolving. That there can be "wrong" guesses - and that's perfectly okay! Its a mindset that Small Science develops, which will help children in the long run.

Learning to read - First Sounds activity

Phonics is a very beautiful way to teach children how to read. However, even within that, activities have to be made interesting for children to enjoy and imbibe the learning.

One lovely activity is for children to find different objects in the environment which begin with different sounds.

The children lay out the sandpaper letters. Then they go around the environment and find objects beginning with that letter.

Here is some of their work - letters and the objects they found - H - Hundreds, C- Colour Tablets, F - Flag, G - Globe, etc

How cool is that?

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Al Qamar kids visit an old age home for Daan Utsav

Al Qamar students went to visit Vishranti, an old age home in Palavakkam today as a part of Al Qamar's "Rent A Grandkid" scheme for the Daan Utsav week long celebration.

It was a mind blowing experience for both the old ladies and the young children.Children interacted with the ladies - "What's your name?" "What did you eat today?" and more. 

The ladies were delighted to meet the kids. One old lady wept. They narrated their stories - how they've been left here,  some despite having families who are well off.

Our kids carried gifts of provisions for the Home. They came back "loving their grandparents" even more. Surely they wouldn't want such loneliness for them.

Vishranti itself was amazing - clean, neat, with good amenities,  round the clock nursing etc.

Wonderful effort from young children who went to spread happiness as a part of Daan Utsav - the Week of Giving.

Sunday 7 October 2018

Ecology class with a difference - 6th Class

After having learned about Forests, our Ecology classes with PFC have moved to Water.  As children have already covered a lot on properties and importance of water in their Small Science classes, the teaching moved onto deeper topics.

Here's the blog written by Shahana Shameer of Grade 6: 

Okay so today we learned about….. water. On the way to the classroom, we stopped by the wetlands. We had to observe whatever we saw about the water. We saw fish, water birds, ripples in the water. 

So imagine you are falling off from Angel Falls and you are flown in to a river as a drop of water and then you end up in Pacific Ocean. And then you make realy beautiful carvings. They..ugh! The sun is bright. You are getting  what? Evaporated? And you are a cloud.  These are all the things that may happen with the water. Its the water cycle!

We  looked at maps of old Chennai and current Chennai. We saw the water bodies what has changed. A lot of water bodies just aren’t there anymore.

We learned about big dams. Did you know dams have a negative impact on the ecosystem.  So when a dam is built that area behind it gets flooded. And all the animal there die. And there are special trees – mangroves - that fish lay eggs near it. And because of the dam, those special trees can’t grow because of the water that can’t be reached. And because the trees won’t grow, the fish won’t feel safe to lay eggs because it thinks it won’t be protected. So even the fish population goes down. And the other fish that feed on that fish will starve and die and it goes on. And what is happening over there? The Ecosystem is getting ruined.

Now the question is how will we store water now if there are no dams well we can use the Eri system. So the Eri system where you dig up a whole acre of land like a dent in the ground. When people dug Eris in the olden times in Tamil Nadu, (they did not have dams) they used their hands or simple tools to dig it unlike today when we use machines. When we dig, what do we get? Silt. People used that silt on their fields for agriculture. 

The way Eris are structured, is on one side there is Bandh like a closing so it won’t go to other places and if it is over flowing, it will flow to another Eri by a creek. And so every Eri will be connected. Now since every creek will be connected to some Eri and finally it will flow into a river. So help to not make dams! Please…….

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...