Monday 26 November 2018

Lower Elementary excursion to THE FARM

Lower Elementary excursion to The Farm on OMR today. Absolutely wonderful experience - walking through paddy fields, petting a baby lamb, feeding a horse,  watching a turkey....

Sunday 11 November 2018

Ecology Class with a difference - Class 10

Today, it was yet another delightful class with PFC for the 6th graders.  It was about wetlands.  Earlier, they learnt about the terrestrial and aquatic land forms.  Now, what are wetlands?  Is it just a land that is wet or is there more to it?  Wetland is a place where the land is covered with water either permanently or seasonally due to the monsoon.  The two main classifications are inland - where land is covered with freshwater,  or coastal - where it's covered with sea water or a mix of fresh and seawater what we know as brackish water.   
The principal feature of a wetland is the flooding or saturation of soil.  This flooding or saturation leads to low oxygen environment in the soil or what is called an anaerobic soil which is less fertile and acidic.  Due to the anaerobic soil, the layer of dead plant litter on it does not decompose quickly.  This partly decomposed plant matter formed on the acidic soil forms  peat which is also a cheap form of fuel.
Wetlands have a unique and diverse flora and fauna which adapts to the flowing or stagnant water, acidic, and anaerobic soil.  The different types of wetlands are swamp, marsh, bogs, and fen and the vegetation, soil, and water movement for each classification varies; examples being the Pallikaranai marsh, the closest to us, the fens of Estonia, the biggest bog being the West Siberian lowlands covering 2.745 million square kilometres.

We learnt that trees abound in swamps and grasses and sedges are more in marshes.  Bogs predominantly contain a layer of sphagnum moss while fens support all types of flora from grasses to sedges, herbs, shrubs and trees which in turn supports a variety of animal species that thrive in such productive habitats.
Krishnaveni along with Mahesh described in detail the different fauna of the wet lands.  The life cycle of a dragon fly tells us that they lay eggs in the water. The egg hatches to a larval stage called nymph and there is no pupa stage.  Once the nymph comes out of the water, it molts out into an adult dragonfly - it is most vulnerable to predators at this stage.  Another stunning creature was the water strider which creates ripples on the surface of the stagnant water in the wetland so all the dry leaves move away from the surface of water to the sides.
It was an astounding experience to know about the ecosystem engineers - the hippopotamus, how they eat on land and poop in water bringing nutrients to the water enriching the plant and animal life there.  We got to know how they create spaces in and around wetlands leading to the formation of new habitats.
We watched a video clip on a beaver dam.  It was breathtakingly impressive to see how a beaver builds a dam across a river to create deep calm waters to build its home.  The dam slows the flow of water spreading  it across and down the river bringing in more silt thereby creating an ideal habitat for wetland species. 
We now saw how frogs are different from toads.  The frog is an excellent jumper with long legs and a soft, moist skin.  Also, they lay eggs in clusters.  Toads have warty and rough skin with short legs ,and they lay eggs in straight lines.
We now know how the birds found in wetlands like pelican, spoonbill, stork, and avocet have long, slender beaks with thin, long legs adapted to the habitat and food they eat like fishes, crustaceans, shrimps and other micro plankton.  The avocet sticks its head underwater to catch the crustaceans and bugs with its long, sharp upturned bill.  The best part was about the beautiful flamingos and how they are called the filter feeders which means they take in food and water.  The water is then expelled out.  They eat crustaceans, snails, algae and even diatoms.  We also watched a video clip on the mudskipper fish  which lives in the wetlands and the cat fish and climbing perch fish.  It is astonishing to know how these fishes adapt to the harsh environment of the wetlands. 
The children got an extensive details on the plants that live in fresh water wetlands known as hydrophytes or water loving plants and their different adaptations.  They have big leaves that float on the water and have a waxy coating on them to keep them as dry as possible.  Another interesting feature was the presence of aerenchyma which are air filled cells in the leaves, stems and roots of such plants for adaptation in waterlogged environments to provide them buoyancy.  Krishnaveni presented a cross section of the lotus stem where the kids could visualize the aerenchyma. Algae are also abundant in wetlands.
Next, we got to learn the layers of the coastal wetlands - the closest plants to the harsh conditions of shoreline water being Rhizophora or the red mangroves which have stilt roots for stability and to get oxygen, the next layer formed by the Avicennia or the black mangrove which have breathing or pencil roots also know as pneumatophores, then comes Laguncularia or the white mangroves occupying higher land than the black mangroves with smaller stilt roots, the last being the buttonwood or mangrove associates, an example being Portia tree known as "Poovarasu" in Tamil, very commonly found locally.  The mangrove leaves are adapted to excrete salt from its under surface.
After gaining this stupendous knowledge, it was time for a snack break as the kids became restless sitting for an hour and half soaking all the information.  After the break, it was time for the most exciting part - the walk - to take a look at the mangroves in the brackish water and the flora of the freshwater wetland, both of which are available at the Adyar Eco park.  It was explained to us by Krishnaveni and Maya that this restored wetland was not a naturally formed wetland but a restored urban wetland. Yet, we were able to see the long grasses growing close to the water along with the sedges and then the other trees.  We also observed the agile water strider moving swiftly across the water surface.  We were able to look at the Avicennia's roots with its pneumatophores and the mangrove associate Portia tree.
We assembled again for a short session on a platform in the serene atmosphere of the Poonga.  This session was a real eye opener for all of us.  The children were given two maps of the Chennai city one from 1815 and another from the 1980s.  They were asked to trace the Adyar river on both the maps.  We could see on the old map Quibble Island, a river island formed by the encircling Adyar river abutting the beach.  But the recent map did not have the island and what remained is only the Adyar creek.  The next thing to be traced was the Nungambakkam Tank and Spur Tank.  All that remains of the Nungambakkam tank is Tank Bund Road while the spur tank lake now exists as Chetpet lake which is dry most of the time.  The biggest of all water bodies was the Long Tank, which does not even exist anymore on the map, all due to the post independence development of the City.
Krishnaveni then gave data on how the city has grown and how the water bodies have shrunk.  Maybe because the growing city needs more land for housing.  The Pallikaranai marsh shrunk from 235 sq km to 50 sq km in the 1980s and it is only 5.5 sq. km today.  About 90% of the marsh has shrunk at an alarming rate due to the creation of residential areas around it.  Chennai had over 300 water bodies but it's saddening to see the sorry state of the city today. 
It was now time for the kids to leave back to school and the insight gained was how the city has expanded but at the expense of its water bodies.  The question now is not who is to blame for this but how shall we contribute to the protection of the environment and the ecosystems of the city along with its progress and expansion.  It was heartening to see the children interact with the PFC team confidently and how they could recall some of the information they learnt earlier and how the PFC members encouraged the kids to analytically think before answering the questions put forth to them. We need to sensitize the children to value the education they are getting, how they are fortunate enough to learn this hands-on while there are few who don’t get such opportunities, and some who don’t even know that this is real education. We need to engage and involve the children in environmental issues and to encourage them to find sustainable solutions to the modern age problems.

By Naqeeb Sultana

Ecology Class with a difference - Class 9

Today we basically learned about insects and different types of insects.

Insects have been one of the most successful animals on the Earth.  They have 6 legs and exoskeleton. IF they do not have 6 legs then they are not insects. We think any thing small is an insect but no they need to have 6 legs.

Then we said well what is the difference between endoskeleton and exoskeleton. Exoskeleton is the skeleton on the outside while endoskeleton means the opposite. SO we made a little list to look at it briefly.

 Exoskeleton: Insects, spiders, crabs etc.
Endoskeleton: Humans, Birds, Fish, reptiles e.t.c.

The body structure of the insects. It has a head, thorax, abdomen. If the insect has wings they would be on the thorax. And their 6 legs, 3 on either side. Head has eyes and some times brain because most of the time it is in the thorax. And abdomen has the digestive system.

Now how do they breathe? How does their respiratory system work? Insects have holes that are like pipes to breath its called their Tracheal System. And because of that they always remain the same size.

Do we have anything common with insects? We may not know it but we do. They are:
  • ·       Social
  • ·       Live in colonies

When I am saying colonies for insects I am talking about termites. They have the most voguish colonies on Earth as an insect. So, as we know they live in mounds which they make by mud and saliva. And the they have very clean and complex houses. You know what wonder of this world were inspired by these houses? The Egyptian Pyramids. Can you believe it? Humans inspired by a tiny insect. There are many termites in a mound between 1 million to 1 crore. Since there are so many termites,  a lot of heat is  produced . That’s why they make the holes. It’s their ventilation. The African termites can make a mound so big that sometimes it can be taller than a giraffe? Truly splendid? I think so.

Then we learned about other animals. Like honeybee and fireflies. They do something called the waggle dance which basically is a dance when a bee wants to show where the food is, it dances in a shape of 8 and depending on the sun it sees the angles and then waggles. Isn’t that impressive too?

After that we went on a walk where we spotted many different kinds of insects.  

- By Shahana Shameer, Grae 6 

Saturday 10 November 2018

Student Entrepreneurs

Proud owner of a decorated basket and reused glass jar.

Sold to me by CMC - the 6th grade "Car Making Company" which is selling craft items to raise capital for their new venture. BTW technical drawings of the car design are also in progress.

Meanwhile, the 6th grade Organic Terrace Garden is minting money wih its produce. This was sold to me for Rs. 42/-!!

All conceived, conceptualised and executed independently by the kids - teachers are only the target customers.

Kids blow me away with their creativity and initiative.  This is payoff for the Al Qamar model of education which lets kids be free from mindless brain numbing work and allows them to actively engage and use their minds to follow their passion .

Empty wallet but full heart!

Thursday 1 November 2018

Fun With Geometry in Upper Elementary

Upper Elementary children are working on 2D & 3D solids and their properties.  After each presentation or lesson, the  teacher asks the students to "record their lesson". In Montessori, recording a lesson means a child reflects and writes down what they just learned - not from a blackboard, but from their own understanding and their own mind.  Kids display a lot of creativity when it comes to recording lessons. 

Saleem drew whatever a shape reminded him of. Cloud is a figure, pizza slice is a polygon, a waffle has crossed polygon pattern inside: Muhsin went on to write a story. He's in this story writing mode Masha Allah.

Then there was a class on polygons and figures; and classifying them as convex, concave and closed. While some described the things around them as these categories, another wrote a story about polygons, a cute little animated representation of the lesson including a fun activity was the icing on the cake.
For consolidating the learning on 3D solids, we introduced the Jodo- straws, a lovely material from Jodo Gyan in the environment for kids to have fun with polygons and shapes. It was an exciting hour of discovering the various "gons" and "hedrons". 

While the girls patiently tried their hands at the tetrahedron, octahedron, icosahedron, dodecahedron, rhombic dodecahedron, the boys had fun making polygon cars, brigdes, eco- friendly polygon houses.

Then we've been also introducing geometric solid puzzles - a star shape, tessellations.  Kids wander around pick a puzzle and then get absorbed. 

They experiment with patterns. Struggle with a puzzle to figure out how to reassemble it once they've dismantled it.  Kids have made some wonderful observations and have deep questions "What shape will form inside the solid?" "How many faces will it have?"

When given the freedom to express the work presented in their own styles, it unleashes the creativity in kids.And stays with them for a long, long time. 

By Rafia Riaz

Upper Elementary Ecology Class #2

Every time there is an Ecology class with the PFC, the Upper Elementary kids get really excited as to what new things they will be learning or seeing.  On arrival at the restored urban wetland where the monthly class takes place, the kids were happy to see the familiar faces of Mahesh Anna, Krishnaveni, Vaishnavi and Maya Akkas and greeted them enthusiastically.

After the exchange of initial greetings and pleasantries, the children now split into two batches were taken to the nearest patch of plants and asked to spot some insects seen there.  They excitedly found a lot of insects there like butterfly, dragonfly, and moths.  The class took off by drawing their attention to identify insects by their features like having six legs, a pair of antennae, wings, etc., and how millipedes and centipedes were different from insects.  They were then taken to the communication center and while walking to the center were shown lots of pictures of insects cut out on stone and displayed at the pathways.

At the communication center, they watched an educational video on bees and butterflies and cross pollination.  The parts of a flower were drawn on a board by Krishnaveni and explained to the children.  Though they had learnt about the parts of a flower but having not reviewed it recently took them some time to re-learn the terminology. By the detailed drawing, they understood how pollen from a flower stuck on the bee's body was dropped into the style of another flower, reached the ovules, and fertilized it.  This phenomenon was known as cross pollination.  The fertilized ovules then became seeds of the fruit that developed and the seeds when dispersed grew into new plants.  

Next, the discussion moved to how bees helped pollinate almost 80% of the food that the world produces.  Also, they were told how the proboscis or sucker of a butterfly was long and adapted to suck the nectar of flowers like periwinkle with a longer stalk while the bee had a short sucker.  On further questioning, the children realized that the world without bees in it will have no trees at all.  Then, where shall we get our food without plants.  Some suggested that there still were milk, eggs and meat available to eat but quickly became aware that without plants there would be no food for the animals whose meat they planned to eat.

Having learnt all of this they now moved to the next activity.  They had to dissect a flower to check for the ovules.  They were provided some periwinkle and hibiscus flowers and Voila! with a magnifying glass they could all touch and see the ovules that they had seen on the board drawing.  Again, a recap on the parts of flower and cross pollination followed by another fun activity.  They had to cut out paper insects that kept them engrossed for a while. 

Having completed the paper cutting activity, the children wanted to further explore the place.  The walk now was focused on spotting the insects that they had learnt about.  They observed some butterflies which were identified with the help of the butterfly chart carried by Vaishnavi Akka.  As we walked further, they were able to see how an insect had laid eggs on the leaves, how some butterfly eggs on the tree bark had hatched and broken out of the web.  We then got to see a huge caterpillar happily chomping on big leaves camouflaged in the foliage.  They also spotted a ladybird and some millipedes on the leaves.

After completing the walk, the children were shown specimens of a peacock flower that had developed into a pod after pollination with its dry petals sticking on the stalk of pod.  They could see the different development stages of the pod that grew from the flower and as the pod's size grew, the petals shrunk further and had dried off. 
As all good things come to an end, the class for the day had come to an end and the children ran off to the bus to get back to school with the hope to come back again and explore it further with their Anna and Akkas who opened a treasure trove of knowledge for them.

- By Naqeeb Sultana

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...