Saturday 29 December 2018

TEDEd Club @ Al Qamar Academy

Thrilled to announce the start of the Al Qamar Academy's TEDEd Club as by Allah's grace our application to TED was accepted.

Am also very grateful to Jb M.G  Dawood Miankhan Sahib and the management of Quaide Milleth International Academy of Media Studies (QIAMS) for kindly giving permission for Al Qamar TEDEd Club to learn video recording and editing - skills they would need for creating the final TED talk.

11 students from Grades 4-6 have signed up as members.  The first session introduced students to TED talks. They viewed two fascinating talks and got to brainstorm what makes a good talk, what are great ideas worth sharing and what prevents ideas from spreading.  The club members got a chance to practice their public speaking skills by giving one minute talks on why they want to join the club.  I was impressed at the self confidence and spoken skills of the children.

Looking forward to the rest of the sessions where children will decide a topic for a talk, do research, write the speech and finally record. 

Green Dreams - a student startup venture

The Entrepreneurship Club at Al Qamar has come a long way from the time it started in July. The  group of 7-10 students are participating in the School Enterprise Challenge, a global business planning and execution competition which guides students through the various stages of running a sustainable business. Students have to design a business around the 3Ps -  Profit, People and Planet.

Business Idea

The team started off with brainstorming what kinds of business it wanted to run. After narrowing a long list down to the top 3 ideas Candle making, a medicinal plant nursery and scrapbook making, the students conducted an online survey to get a sense of what would work. The overwhelming vote was for a medicinal plant nursery - an idea which intrigued the surveyed group. The students articulated  a business goal of helping people find natural alternative care for common ailments while reviving traditional knowledge. The students called their business "Green Dreams".

During this process, Br. Siraj Samsudeen, a corporate consultant, conducted a Business Planning workshop to help students identify what makes a successful business. "Its about meeting customer needs, and not what you want to sell."

After several group discussions and brainstorms, the students submitted a formal Business Idea document which enshrined all their ideas.

Business Planning

Next, the team had to go through a 8 week training program on how to complete business plans. They learned about conducting market research. The team conducted a second survey with detailed questions about which kind of plants people wanted. They even interviewed potential customers in depth to understand customer needs.

The students  learned about understanding their own business space which involved doing a SWOT, competitor and customer analysis. They realised a key point - their own customers could become competitors. They brainstormed marketing strategy - from defining their product, coming up with pricing, creating a list of promotions and figuring out places they would sell - a throwback to the 4 P's of marketing. They narrowed their product mix to 6-7 plants in two categories. The regular priced plants were to be sold in recycled plastic jars and bottles. The premium products were to be sold in coconut coir pots.

The students had to create a Financial Plan which detailed their costs and potential revenue. The applied for a startup interest free loan from the school - which was approved. The amortization costs were included in their Financial Plan. Next came the Operating Plan with a brainstorm of startup and periodic activities involved in running the business and creation of an organizational chart with roles and responsibilities.

The entire process gave the students an excellent overview of running a real business.

Annual Plan

Green Dreams was formally launched during a parent meeting with great success. With aggressive marketing tactics and personal promotions the team reached 84% of their monthly target in the first sale itself. The balance was made up during the next meeting. In January, they plan to now conduct sales at the beach - a popular go-to spot for the neighbourhood people

Meanwhile, the team received its first feedback from the the SEC group and they were thrilled to bits:

1.    We were impressed with the clear, detailed presentation of your market research analysis. You clearly have a strong understanding of your customer base and have shown that there is a considerable market for your product/service. Congratulations on your high level of analysis!

2.     You have done a great job when analysing and justifying your 4Ps of marketing (Product, Price, Place, Promotion), indicating a high level of awareness of your target market. You have a clear description of your product/service, its use and the place you will be selling at, and a carefully considered pricing strategy, along with innovative promotion techniques. Well done!

3.     Can you think of more creative, innovative and entrepreneurial ways of raising the start-up capital you need? You can find lots of inspiring fundraising ideas, tactics and strategies in our dedicated Start-up Capital Guide [available to download from our website].

4.     Overall, this was an excellent Business Plan that you have created! We really enjoyed reading about the sustainability and return to your cultural roots that inspired your business idea in the first place. As another suggestion, we recommend making sure to find another way to earn the start-up capital. You could explore using the school loan as a back-up plan, since reducing your costs incurred will allow you to generate profits more quickly. Good luck with your business!

The Green Dreams team has to now run the business successfully for 3 months before submitting an Annual Plan.  Make dua for this gutsy group.

Friday 21 December 2018

UE Ecology Class #4 Visit to an animal Shelter

Today's ecology class was one on contemplation of how to be humane, compassionate and merciful to our fellow creatures.  Our kids need to be sensitized to the issue of abandonment of pets and I am sure the kids felt a tug at their heart on seeing the condition of the animals today at the animal shelter.

It was disheartening to see the state in which some of the animals were, abandoned, sick, traumatized, attacked, maimed, paralyzed and vulnerable.  We were briefed by Shravan about these animals, how he provided medical attention, returned them to their territory or put up for adoption, a commendable job by his team and him.   

The children had a lot of questions as to why the pets were abandoned, why are the stray dogs returned back to their territory, who adopts them, what is that thing the dog had around its neck.  Shravan patiently answered all their questions and also described that the E collar is put so the animal does not bite where the injury or stitch is placed.  (I wasn’t  surprised to overhear  a fourth grader describe to his friend about the Elizabethan collar and its use before Shravan explained it as I knew they pick this knowledge from the books they read). 

Shravan told the children that pets are not commodities to be bought in a store.  They are living creatures and when a pet is got, it becomes family and must not be abandoned. 

Dogs are territorial creatures and the stray who has been on its own will be distressed to live in an enclosure no matter how spacious it is.  Another aspect for returning the stray dogs is they have survived alone for a considerable time and are brought here only because of an accident so they will be comfortable to go back and can fend for themselves whereas a pedigree dog would be unable to survive on its own and forage for food.  If an animal leaves the shelter, there is space to take in an additional animal in its place.  But sadly, he needs to keep in mind his resources, funds, and space constraints in taking the animals and sometimes refuses to take more animals.

The kids were distressed to see the injured, whimpering and whining dogs, monkey, cats, camel, cow, calves, kittens and pups.  They were also scared the dogs would bite them but all fear was blown away when they walked past the dogs to touch and feed an injured pony, feed a recuperating camel, a cow and the pinnacle was to see, hold and pet a kitten.  The vets were kept busy on their toes today because of the number of animals that came in to be taken care of.  We saw how the vets were 
providing the necessary medical aid. 

We met Ash who has come to help at the animal shelter and lives in California and has adopted abandoned animals as pets, 16 in total, cats, umbrella cockatoo, yellow crested cockatoo, grey parrot and many more.  Some of the kids interacted with her and understood how she had gone to the US for higher studies but found her passion in animals and is doing her Veterinary Medicine after changing her career.  She was left speechless by their questions and level of understanding.  She couldn't believe they are fourth and fifth graders and appreciated how smart they were.

The kids returned with their hearts filled with love for animals and the conviction to not tease, taunt, hurt the stray animals or abandon pets. 

Upper Elementary Ecology Class #3 MCBT

As usual the trip to MCBT was an exciting and much looked forward to event.  We met Anjana at the entrance at the start of our trip. The kids were given the basic rules of not reaching out or extending  hands into the enclosures, not to touch animals unless allowed, etc.

Mr. Sekhar who has worked there for over 30 years was our guide.  He informed us about how the MCBT came into being and that now they have over 16 species of crocodiles out of the 23 that are found all over the world.

We first got to see the Mexican giant musk turtle, then the Indian tent turtle (the shell resembles a tent), next the Travancore tortoise, and then the northern river  terrapin.  Sekhar Anna informed that the river Ganges turtle has a soft shell and is the biggest in India.

We next were amazed to see the two green anaconda snakes received from South America approximately 9 feet long.  We moved on to feast our eyes on the Gharial, Tomistoma or the Malaysia Crocodile, Salt water crocodile, Mugger or Marsh Crocodiles basking in the sun all this along with the knowledge bites flowing in from the PFC members. 

The children learnt about the Osteoderm which are bony structures below the Croc's skin which act as solar panels taking in the heat.  It was surprising to see the crocs lay still with their mouths open.  ahesh pointed out to the kids that the Croc's tongue is attached to the roof of its mouth, the reason they were unable to see the tongue, and that they let-off the heat through their mouths.  We were dazed to find out that the Croc on an average has 4000-5000 teeth in their whole life.  They lose teeth and get new ones all their life. 

The kids were educated on differentiating between a gharial, crocodile, and an alligator.  Our next Croc was the Morelet's crocodile where we saw the mound nest with the info  from Mahesh that Crocs have hole and mound nests.  The eggs hatch and the young ones make a pipping noise (replicated by Mahesh) and the mother then with her hind legs digs them out.

We next moved on to see the spectacled caiman from South America where an adult can grow up to 7 feet.  It was a visual delight to see the largest gharial at 17.68 feet.

Now it was time for the Show and Tell.  We saw the Star tortoise, going over the differences between the tortoise and turtles.  Anjana informed us that Start tortoises are called the fire fighters of the forest as they are omnivores and feed on decaying food as well as the dry leaves of the forest floor which prevents a forest fire from spreading.  The shells of the star tortoise are streamlined and the upper hard surface is called the Carapace and the bottom is the plastron.  We touched both these surfaces and felt the difference.  Anjana enlightened us on the fact that the male has a dented plastron.

Next in line was a dwarf Caiman where an adult can grow up to 3 feet long.  Anjana informed us that the osteoderm is found on the back of a crocodile but the dwarf Caiman has it even on its sides for protection.  Their undersurface was soft and smooth and is made of keratin, the same substance our hair and nails are made of.  She also informed that in some places crocodiles are farmed for their skin and meat.  They belong to the alligator family and their nostrils, eyes, head are in same line as they are ambush predators.  The ambush predators require reduced energy for hunting.  The nictitating membrane covers their eyes.  Also, they have pressure spots around their jaws.  The tail is in proportion to the body size for swimming.

Another unique feature of these crocodilians is the eye-shine.  They have a membrane in the retina called the tapetum which reflects light when light is shone on them and the eye-shine is helpful in population count at night.

Anjana then went on to tell the children about venom and poison.  Poison is ingested while venom enters the blood stream and is present in the venom glands and such creatures have fangs like snakes.  Non-venomous snakes have teeth. 

Snakes have displaced jaws and do not have eyelids.  They shed their skin and eye caps once in a month and it is made of keratin.  The green anaconda unlike other snakes has eggs in a pouch and then give birth to young ones.  With the show and tell done it was time for further walk down the MCBT enclosures.

We saw the fresh water crocodiles and we were updated as to when and how much the staff feed these crocodilians with fish and meat of around 5 to 7 kg every week for one reptile. We also saw the yacara caiman next.

We were enchanted to see the Aldabra giant tortoises from Africa.  Their life span is 150 to 200 years and the ones in MCBT were 22 years old is what Sekar Anna told us.  

We then moved to see the Water monitor lizard and then the iguana.  We learnt that the iguana has a third eye which senses shape to foresee aerial predators.  We saw the male had a beard, false eyes and folds of skin under the neck to store fat and use when no food is available.

We then went to see the komodo dragon, another magnificent lizard that has venom in its tongue and bites its prey and follows to eat them when they die.  They grow up to 9 feet and have a life span of 25 years. 

We then saw the reticulated python in its enclosure the longest snake which can group to 39 feet and that signaled the end of the tour of the MCBT.  It was time to head back to school with all this newfound knowledge and an experience of a lifetime.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

"How to make your children future ready?" Talk by Vinay Pushpakaran

"How can we prepare our children for an uncertain future?" is a question on every parent's mind. If I expected a talk on reskilling children to future proof them against the AI onslaught or picking areas which will explode into relevance, I was much mistaken.

The talk focused us back on what are permanently relevant skills for all generations - life skills.  

"Children have to learn to collaborate and be team players." was Vinay's first advice as this is a skill which is critical at all times. "There is no profession where collaboration isn't involved." He talked about how parents can actively inculcate collaborative working in their children by involving them in decisions and chores.  

"Many children say they "can't" do something - they have to learn problem solving skills." was the next advice.  Vinay talked about what roles parents can adopt to help the children, develop a problem solving mindset. "Our natural tendency is to dive in  and solve the problem for a child", but this is counter productive.

Children also have to learn communication skills - they have to learn to talk through their issues and problems. Here too, parents play a vital role by role modelling. "See how we explain any point to a colleague or boss. But with our own child, we brush them off." 

Finally, children have to develop empathy. This is a really important skill and outlook. Again, the parents' have to model empathy themselves. How they speak to the child, how they listen, how they guide. 

Vinay's talk was absolutely brilliant and an inspiration to all of us parents.

Vinay is the founder of Future Impact. With over 14 years of corporate experience, he is an entrepreneur, experiential learning facilitator, marketing consultant and coach. His special are of focus is communication, Public Speaking, Leadership, Soft Skill, Team Building and personal effectiveness trainings.  He can be contacted at

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Nature Club started in partnership with YouCan

As part of the Youth Conservation Action Network (YOUCAN) fellowship driven by Ramnath Chandrashekar, an established environmental conservation educator and filmmaker, and his team,  we set out to begin a new journey as environmental educators to establish a strong connection with our learners at the Al Qamar Academy.

The 6-month long programme is going to help us focus on some of the pressing challenges in the current environmental domain, from problems arising due to increased deforestation and over use of natural resources, depletion of forest cover for human uses, to issues with plastics and garbage, and the way we take our environment for granted.

Since at Al Qamar, the students are already aware of the above topics, thanks to the curricula designed by the school, we found it easy to initiate our first nature club session with the enthusiastic group of students from grades 4, 5 and 6, on 8 Dec’18. 

The day started with a small introduction. We asked them what they understand by the word 'nature', to which they replied saying various meaningful words: from carbon dioxide, oxygen, green, plants, trees, a group of poachers, food web, pollution, to ecofriendly, and man. They also understand how we all are interdependent on nature. It was good to see them appreciate the value of being part of the environment surrounding us. 

They were equally enthusiastic about making the planet a better place, which, according to them, is why they were keen on becoming part of the nature club that we’re planning to form in the school.  

The students participated in an activity, which we named as ‘nature bingo’, where the students got to interact and know their peers better. It also helped us know about the depth of knowledge those students have as well as made us realise the immense potential they can have as the leading lights in future. They are filled with ideas which one can find through the way they ask questions.

Our objective of this programme is to make those students think about the various simple ways through which we can reduce our dependence on nature.

The students loved the documentary – Save our Sholas – that was screened during the latter part of the session, followed with a brief Q&A where we got to test their extraordinary observing and thinking abilities.

Until we meet again, for the next session, the students will be working on finding a name for the nature club and also writing a short description or drawing on the forests in Western Ghats. This activity will give us insights to what the kids visualise about these forests.  

Note: The nature club sessions are being conducted by educators from YouCan who are working professionals in Chennai.  They are fellows of the YouCan programme. As part of the initiative, they are currently working as co-teachers at the Al Qamar Academy, focusing on raising awareness about eco-literacy. Their main objective is to educate children about nature in the simplest ways possible. 

Report about Bay of Life excursion

 At Al Qamar, students have to write a report for every excursion they go on. This forms their personal learning record.  All work is completely independent and kids have a wide latitude in whichever style they want to adopt. Here's a sample. #creativity  #ecology #schools

#creativity  #ecology #schools

Monday 10 December 2018

Ecology Class with a difference - Class 11

Another super Ecology class for 6th grade today. This time the classroom was the Bay of Life at Muttukadu. 

Children saw the estuary- how the river meets the sea, understood how winds move the seawater to create waves,  how tides happen.

Then they saw the tide pools and rock pools to understand the various kinds of flora and fauna that live in them.

They loved the hermit crabs of different sizes, saw how a box crab breathes, how the structure of the crab leg tells if it's a burrower or not.

The children explored the tide pools, rock pools, sand dunes, the shrubbery. They waded in the tide pools. Climbed dunes, rocks.  

Truly this was absolutely the most fantastic Ecology class so far.

Friday 7 December 2018

Nanowrimo winners honoured

Nanowrimo winners honoured today at Al Qamar.  MashaAllah.

With 55 kids writing 176000 words,  all of us are just totally amazed, stupefied, delighted, bowled over, astonished, pleased, ........ Can't stop the adjectives ...From Montessori all the way to 6th, our students wrote wrote and wrote ...

Titles like "Anoriya", "Glass" "When the sun rises" and the draft novels themselves are a testimony to the children's unbounded creativity.

Congratulations to the kids!  You did it!!!!

Nanowrimo is the National Novel Writing month. The Young Writers program has the children writing a draft novel and meeting a certain word count goal within a month.

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...