Friday 25 January 2019

Grandparent Visit - Dr. Hassina talks about her childhood

Al Qamar Elementary students were delighted to welcome Dr. Hassina Begum, grandmother of Khadijah.

Dr. Hassina spoke about her childhood spent in Ooty. She talked about her school - and her teachers who were nuns - very strict but very caring, how she walked to school daily as there were no school buses or vans. She emphasized the importance of education - how her father paid great importance to learning and how her women family members were among the first to go onto higher education.

Dr. Hassina mentioned the food they ate as children - which consisted of healthy snacks and drinks like ragi. "There were no chips or biscuits then" she said, much to the children's horror! She described how they had chickens in their home and got fresh eggs to eat. And a cow - so fresh milk was available daily. She reminisced how the neighbour's chicken would come lay eggs in their compound.  She talked about the kitchen - how there was no stove or gas and the family used clay and stones to make a stove and wood to burn. 

The games the children played were really fun. The high point of the talk was the real demo of the games - with teachers and students joining in. They played "Pacha Illai". Other games she described were "Current", "Oru Kudam Thanni Uthi", Pandi", "Kola Kolaka Mundrika" "Aadu Puli Attam", "Kannam Muchi" and "Kallattam".

The children just didn't want to let her go and kept insisting that she continue to play with them.

JazakAllah khair Apa for coming and spending time with us.

Thursday 24 January 2019

Ecology Class with a difference - 12

Today was a follow up of the last class we had at the Kovalam beach. Last class we learned about wave currents, marine life and more. However, today is a more detailed description of what you can find in the sea/ocean.

Many sea creatures are mistaken for fish when they are not, especially star fish, jelly fish and cuttle fish. To find weather a creature is a fish it must meet these points.
1-            It must be vertebrates.
2-            It must have gills/fins.
3-            It must lay eggs.                                 
If the sea creature meets any of these points it is a fish. These are some of the creatures we listed into groups.
Sharks- features of a fish
Sea horse- It has a dorsal fin
Clown fish- Features of a fish
Cat fish- Features of a fish
Sardines- Features of a fish
Piranha- Features of a fish
Pom fish- Features of a fish
Mud skipper- Features of a fish

Dolphin- It has lungs
Octopus-Soft body
Jelly fish- Soft body
Crab- Exoskeleton
Bi-valves and univalves- In- animate
Star fish- in-vertebrate
Cuttle fish- Does not have features of a fish

Groups of fish-
1- Jaw less
Jaw less fishes do not have jaws, so they can suck their prey to consume it, they have an adaptation to avoid getting peeled off from the prey’s body and they can produce large amounts of mucus.
2- Cartilaginous
Cartilaginous fishes are flexible and have joints.
3- Apex predators
Apex predators stalk their prey and devour them when least expected.
4- Boney fish
Boney fishes are the basic kind of fishes, the kind that we humans usually draw-

 Ocean layers-
There are different layers on the ocean, each of the layers are categorized by how much light is found there.
1- Pelagic zone (Sunlit zone)
In the pelagic zone it is usually warm so more vegetation grows there, so that means more marine organisms live there. In the pelagic zone a process called counter shading takes place, counter shading means that the part of a marine organism which is exposed to sunlight will be a darker color than the bottom. This way when you look down at the ocean ,the marine organism will remain camouflaged.

2- Meso pelagic (twilight zone)
The mid layer in the ocean is the meso pelagic zone also known as the twilight zone. The reason it is called “meso” pelagic is because this layer is not very bright nor very dark.
3- Ocean floor
The ocean floor is the last layer where it is pitch black, most the marine organisms in this zone have an adaptation to glow, on the ocean floor the water pressure is very intense,so the marine organisms are usually flat. Previously, we learned that where it is bright there is more vegetation, so if the ocean floor is pitch black there will not be a lot of vegetation. Luckily the organisms there eat left overs, this means if a dead creature-such as a shark or whale,sinks to the ocean floor the marine organisms will feed on it.

Water bodies inside water bodies-
This might not make sense the first time you think about it ,but when you look into the facts, you will be surprised. A water body inside a water body is formed when there is too much salt concentrated on an area, this separates that area from the rest of the ocean, because of this the water will look foggy. Many marine organisms look for food inside the salt water body, and will die. There are very rare cases in which an organism survives, but usually the level of salt is too much in that area that the creatures that go inside it will get a toxic shock and die.

By Ishaal Azeez, Grade 6

Thursday 17 January 2019

Learning Decimals using Montessori's Decimal Board

The fifth graders  had an introduction to decimals. Using the decimal board they understood the place value of a tenth, hundredth, thousandth etc. Soon they were trying out all sorts of fractions and turning them into their decimal forms. A 29 hundredths would  be 2.9, 0.209, 0.029 were the various guesses. Wait that would be 2 tenths and 9 hundredths which is 0.29 they realized when they used the material.

Someone popped a question with a denominator other than multiples of 10. 

They worked with 1/2 - 0.5- that was easy. 1/4- 0.125, they kept halving the fraction to reach 1/64 - which gave a decimal in the millionths.

The next discovery was 1/3. They were delighted to see a never ending pattern 0.3333333...

2/3 gave a 0.6666666...

"What's this Aunty?? "

I was delighted. You'll have stumbled upon a special set of numbers- repeating decimals!

The next idea was to hunt for more such numbers. Let's try 1/7 was a suggestion, 1/9.. let's see where it goes

Now a bunch of girls is having fun dividing large decimal numbers  - "Fearsome Fractions" to see the long chain to decimals it produces.

I'm having fun each time a new Montessori Math material is introduced. It brings out so much potential.

- Rafia Riaz

Quadrilateral Game

We played this amazing game to learn quadrilateral properties. It is a game board of 6 rows* 6 columns. Each box mentions a particular quadrilateral property which the student has to build. The start is a square on the pegboard. The kids then stretch one or more vertices to match the quadrilateral description in the box they arrive at after throwing a die. The lesser the number of vertices changed determines the winner. Kids kept checking if the existing quadrilateral matches the description to score a zero.

There were interesting questions/ googlies.

A quadrilateral with no reflection/ rotation symmetry. Does a parallelogram have a line of symmetry parallel to it's side.. Along it's diagonal... They then formed a parallelogram which had reflection symmetry along the diagonal only to find that it's a rhombus and that it doesn't work for a parallelogram which is not a rhombus.

 Having got that insight when they arrived at the question- a quadrilateral with one diagonal as a line of symmetry, they knew it applies to only a square or rhombus, and rectangles and other parallelograms are disqualified.

A quadrilateral with exactly one angle greater than 180. This question surprised one team as they were thinking only of regular quads. They then did a quick subtraction and understood the remaining 3 angles need to be acute, and then stretched the band into an arrow- head.

One team of girls managed to fit the initial square into whatever properties they arrived at and hence the score on both sides were zero even after 10 chances!

On the whole the class had a fun time playing the game over and over again and learnt the quad properties with ease. A learning experience I hope which stays a long time. Psst.. The teachers played the game as well. It was addictive. The fifthers too found out about the game and tried their hand and it.

An extension was to write 2 new descriptions of quadrilaterals which could be included in the game grid.

- Rafia Riaz

Monday 14 January 2019

Dairy workshop at The Farm

The trip to The Farm was looked forward to as the kids knew that they may see a lot of animals and had expectations to pet them. 

But the surprise came when we reached there and were informed that every kid will milk the cow today.  Oh! What an experience eliciting mixed emotions of fear and joy at the same time. 

We met Shalini and Arun who gave us an overview about the day's activities.  We were then led by Arun who explained to us the routine at the farm and as all his cows had gone to graze we were glad that one cow was kept so we could milk the cow.  First the calf was allowed to drink the milk and then every child had the opportunity to milk the cow, the only caution being not to go too close to the hind legs as the cow may kick if she gets startled.

We were then to witness the making of paneer and Mr. Arun patiently answered all questions as they came down by buckets.  How many liters of milk is produced in a day, how is the milk put to use, how much of paneer is made with what quantity of milk, how is the paneer used, what if there is excess of milk, is there a shortfall of milk, how do they manage all the day to day functions, etc. 

Finally, around 16 liters of milk was collected and we saw how fresh paneer was made by adding vinegar which elicited the inquisitive mind of the children.  Again after all questions were satisfactorily answered we had the opportunity to experience the transcendent taste of fresh paneer.  

We then moved on to the main restaurant where Shalini was to brief us about other things.

We were gathered around a huge table and we saw two pots placed there.  Now it was time to churn butter from fresh cream.  One child held the pot while another churned the pot with cool cream in it.  They took turns to churn vigorously hoping to see the magical transition of cream to butter.  The pot was passed around the second time for churning and then within a few minutes we saw the cream thicken.  Then Shanti akka churned vigorously and Voila! there was butter.  We were reminded by Shalini about the tongue twister Betty Butter had some butter…… and she told that the butter thus churned may be slightly bitter and needs to be washed with water and so we saw the butter being washed two or three times with water and all water drained. 

We then were presented with a pot of thick yogurt to taste and it just melted in our mouth tantalizing our taste buds.   Shalini then went on to explain to us about cow and buffalo milk and their difference and about the ghee that is made from it moving to further explain the process of making cheese using Rennet and the different types of cheese and aging of cheese. 

She mentioned that Rennet is used to make yogurt in packaged yogurt while at home culture or yogurt starter is used to make it and it is a probiotic. 

We again tasted mozzarella cheese with its sublime taste lingering in our mind.  We learnt about cheddar cheese, blue cheese where Penicillium culture is injected into the cheese, parmesan cheese, and the oldest cheese being the Monterey jack.  We were given the different cheese to hold and feel their texture.  Having learnt all of that we were to return back to school but we had a surprise blessing come our way.

As we were getting ready to leave, we saw a set of ornithologists at another table chatting.  They walked to us and asked us if we would be interested in seeing a sleeping Indian Sops owl on a nearby tree which they had photographed and had focused on their spotting periscope.  We all took turns to look at the owl on the periscope and then spotted it on a branch sleeping.  They also showed us a picture of the paradise flycatcher they had spotted early in the morning and briefed us about the difference between the male and female bird.  Now it was indeed time to head back to school.

- Naqeeb Sultana

Visit to a Village

The excursion to Siruthavur village, organised by Dakshinchitra where the brochure had read "A visit to our roots - a village visit" that got us excited although most of us visit our native "Ooru" for vacation.  We met our guide Mr. Ramachandran, a local of the village and a government school teacher. 

Once a teacher always a teacher.  Mr. Ramachandran taught the kids the five landforms in Tamil and made the kids repeat after him explaining the landforms 
1. Kurinji - Mountain and surrounding regions
2.  Mullai - Forests and surrounding regions
3. Marutham -  Fields and surrounding regions (predominantly the villages)
4. Neithal - Seashore and surrounding regions
5. Paalai - Desert regions

We started our trip from the enormous village tank, the source of water for the villagers which maintains the ground water table and helps in rainwater harvesting.  Next, he described to the children that the raised platform we saw under the peepal tree (arasamaram) is where the villagers gathered to resolve their issues and disputes by talks and discussions evoking a picture of the panchayat in our minds. 

We saw a herd of cows lazing nearby and were encompassed by a strong odor of dung and learnt how cow dung along with five other ingredients is used to prepare panchakavya, a special tonic used as an organic spray to promote growth of the plant system around.

Next, we walked on to meet Smt. Shantakumari who worked as a government school preprimary teacher now involved with many SHGs.  She graciously greeted the children and prayed for them. 

The children then visited a typical village house with a tiled roof which keeps it cool.  The "thinnai" (verandah), we were apprised, was a symbol of the traditional Tamil hospitality as it was made for common purpose of the travelers where they were offered food, drink and a shelter to stay at.  The house design included a muttram (center point) with rooms surrounding on all four sides used for different purposes like storage, personal use, bedroom, and for prayer.  The teak pillars supported the ceiling.  Each house had a traditional kitchen area with the grindstone (ammikal), pestle and mortar grindstone (aatu kal), rice pounding stone, etc.  It was remarkable to note that every village had their own organic kitchen garden with plantain trees, Moringa or drumstick tree, guava tree, mango tree, sundakkai plant and many more plants.

The next stop was at another teacher's house to see the intricate and elaborate kolam she had put and the kids enthralled her with their enthusiasm for making kolam messing her kolam a little in the process which she did not mind and was very kind to provide a bagful of kolam powder for the kids to work with.

We then walked on to see some fields being tilled by a tractor picking up a lot of little wild flowers and feasting our eyes with cows, calves and cart loads of hay as we walked past the tranquil village streets and the curious villagers glancing at a noisy, euphoric bunch of kids from far off.  We did speak to some of them who were eager to know where we came from and which school we belonged to.

We next walked into a government school  with the children preparing for their exam but it was amazing to watch some of our kids overcome the language barrier to interact with those kids.  We interacted with the teachers then and got to know that just this year the school introduced the grade 9 and due to space constraint the principal gave his office for their classroom and shifted his office to the corridor.  We were told that some children attended school and only got one meal a day provided free at their school.  The cheerful and smiling faces never gave a hint of their deprived state and gave us hope and a sense of gratitude for the blessed state we were in.

It was break time and the kids were overjoyed to taste fresh tender coconut water with cream and the taste so enticing that some kids went on to take 2 to 3 tender coconuts.  We were thankful for the generosity of the villagers.

Our next knowledge bite came about irrigation and the four types of irrigation.  We saw the canal water for irrigation coming from the lake.  We then went to other paddy fields to see water gushing out from a powerful pump fixed to large well, borewell irrigation, to irrigate the lush green paddy fields.  It gave us an ecstatic feeling to be surrounded by the green paddy fields all around us. 

The next spot we were taken to was the rice mill of Mr. Krishnamurthi Chettiyar, an honest and humble farmer who owns 35,000 hectares of paddy fields and supplies the market with the rice from his fields and mill at a fair price continuing the legacy of his family who have done this for generations.  We were enlightened about raw and boiled rice and saw the tanks where the paddy is soaked and the enormous boiler where rice is boiled, dried on the raised floor and finally taken to the mill for dehusking.

We witnessed how the rice was dehusked and collected to be packed and taken to the market.  Ms. Lakshmi and Mr. Ramachandran thanked Mr. Chettiyar for allowing us to visit his rice mill and honored him with a shawl for his service to the community.  We then thanked Mr. Ramachandran for taking the time off his work to take us on this educative tour of the village and the paddy fields.  We walked back to the magnificent tank from where we started our trip and got onto the bus to rebound to our school.

- Naqeeb Sultana

Wednesday 9 January 2019

Al Qamar at MTA Conference at Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education

Very happy to share that a paper written by Al Qamar teachers "Teaching Inquiry Based Maths: An Anecdotal Case Study" was invited for a poster presentation at the prestigious "Mathematics Teachers Association Inaugural Conference held at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, Mumbai on January 3-5 2019.

The paper, written by Rafia Riaz & Aneesa Jamal was an insight into how Montessori & Connected Maths curricula are used to teach Maths in an inquiry based way. The paper outlined the resulting benefits from such an approach which include a deeper understanding, developing a problem solving approach and children making math discoveries on their own. Each point was supported by anecdotes from the classroom.

The paper was well appreciated by the visitors. They were astonished at the kind of questions asked by young children. One visitor was delighted that we were using Montessori material. Another inquired about the use of puzzles to develop strategic thinking. Several were interested in the Connected Maths curriculum.

The conference had many eminent speakers from the field of Maths teaching. The key takeaway for us was the fact at Al Qamar is already implementing a number of the recommendations by top educators - focus on deep learning as opposed to Maths, learning concepts vs technique, de-emphasing the pressure of curriculum completion, use of concrete material etc.

Conferences like these are a huge boost to our work.  It was a tremendous honour for a micro school like ours to be selected for a poster presentation on our innovative math teaching.

Tuesday 8 January 2019

Nature Club Meeting #2&3

In the 2nd Nature Club meeting, we discussed the assignments that were given to students in the first session. Some students came up with paintings and a few came up with write-ups and poems, which were wonderful and highly creative.

After the discussion, we formed 5 teams and asked the kids to come up with a name or logo for the nature club and asked them to conduct a poll in their team to select one name and logo.

The kids came up with some interesting names for the club like: Wood owls, Natures beauty, The forest rescuers, The Green club, Nearness to nature… 

The other activity was to pen down the list of forest products (Edible and Non - Edible) that we are dependent on. 

In the third session, we played a short documentary on 'Kudremukh' called 'Mindless Mining in Kudremukh', wherein we tried to draw a close line between the previous talks on the rich biodiversity of the Western Ghats and how one of its ranges, i.e., Kudremukh was being devastated by continuous iron-ore mining activities. 

The students understood the harmful effects of destroying the land areas in Kudremukh and how a chain of events followed because of the issue, ultimately affecting irrigation and therefore human lives. 
Next, we moved on to initiate the nature board that will have paintings, poems and newspaper articles contributed by students. They'll be maintaining it. 

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...