Tuesday 31 March 2020

Letter from a teacher to her students - in the days of Lockdown

Salaam 6thers

It's been a long time since you all had anything to do with English or IS. So I suppose you're all having a blast.  I just wanted to let you all know I'm alive and active.
My life has been full of fun and excitement with my 5thers.
But even I need some challenge in life. So I thought I'll just say hello to you all.
I miss the strong fragrance of attar that sets my nostrils and the whole corridor ablaze. I miss the girl who likes me and wishes to know if I like her. I miss telling her that I like her sometimes a little more than adirasam and sometimes a little less than biryani. I miss my clown and I miss the dramatist and playwright. I miss the ratty lyricist. I miss the poetess and I miss my artist. I miss my sportster and I miss Ms. Scribbler. And most of all I miss the I-am-done lady.
Otherwise life is fun guys. Stay tight and pray right.

- Naqeeb Sultana 

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Children's Writing - The Mysterious Room

It was a room of unimaginable treasures - unbelievable treasures. I opened my eyes wide to take in the vast amount of information. In the middle of the magnificent room, a snake stood majestically, like a cobra a few seconds before attack. It’s red eyes shimmered like the sun, while it’s body - streaked with shades of blue, yellow and green - was smoother than glass, and shinier than polished sapphires. The four colorful walls that enveloped the room were covered in carefully framed portraits. There were at least five of each on each wall. The portrait which caught my eye was at the top of the eastern one. It was a painting of a forest in the black night, alive from every corner. There were lions, cheetahs, tigers,wolves, foxes, and other creatures - recognizable and unrecognizable to me - while the lonely night sky was dotted with sparkling diamonds, and whizzing meteors. On the floor was a flat rectangular box. A cloud of dust rose as I slowly lifted the lid. Inside, wrapped with a clear sheet, was an old-fashioned tea-set fit for kings. There were four cups with wide, circle, mouths,made from white exquisite china, decorated with red wavy borders all along the top of the cup. In the middle, a red and white kettle with a long, curved spout - exactly like an elephant raising its trunk high in the air - was placed on top of four glittering saucers, plated with authentic gold. Gold! So much gold was scattered on a shelf in that room. There were five ingots, along with ornaments, watches, keys, and other things - all from gold. On the same shelf was a fat cylindrical container. Upon opening it, I saw sheets of paper scrolled up inside,yellowed with age, containing delicious recipes, which made my mouth water as I read them. I looked around. I had checked everything except a small grey box, lying on the circle table with the snake. I opened it. There was a glass bottle with around 20 small white pills inside it. Out of sheer curiosity, I prised open the box and swallowed one of the pills. The world around me started to get dizzy. I felt faint, and suddenly collapsed to the ground, dropping the bottle, which smashed to pieces. The pills scattered everywhere. I heard a sharp cry from down. I tried to get up and leave the room, but the pill was overpowering me. The last thing I heard was footsteps thudding up the stairs, before I lost consciousness completely.

Safwan Samsudeen, Grade 7

Monday 16 March 2020

Online classes - the first experiment

"World is going Work from Home and Al Qamar is going Study from Home. Classes happening for 7 graders on Zoom now. I think they're enjoying it. Alhamdulillah" was the feedback from one of the parents as we launched our 1st online class today.

One of the advantages of being a micro school is the ability to respond rapidly to changing ground realities and adopt new methods. In this COVID-19 ridden world, working or studying from home may increasingly become the norm.  However, children's need for interconnectedness and camaradrie is given short shrift in these new circumstances.  Having online classes - to primarily address this need, rather than curriculum coverage, is an important response.

We tried out Zoom today for an English class. Initially, as kids signed in and joined the classroom, there was silence and tentative comments. This was more to them exploring the new medium. Being the net savvy generation, they figured out the mechanics before I could say "Salam". I guess the special favourite was the private chat, because I could see random, meaningless messages popping up on the Group chat every once in a while - nothing different from the side conversations or scrawled messages that happen in a real classroom.😏  But they were engaged - speaking or typing up responses. 

We use the flipped classroom model - where children pre-read the lesson before coming to class. So we could dive straight into the discussions.  In the lesson on "Travel and Transport", we discussed the merits and demerits of different forms of transportation. Obviously COVID-19 came up as a huge disadvantage for public transport including planes.  Then we moved onto brainstorming the three places in the world they would like to visit. And the reasons why they would want to go there. From Switzerland for its chocolates to Antartica for the cold, they had it all there. 

We doled out the assignments - to be submitted via Google Forms - with real drop dead deadlines. We discussed a potential timetable - how they need to reserve the morning for uninterrupted work or more online classes and the afternoons for completing assignments. I know there will be challenges and disruptions when kids have to stick to a self imposed schedule, but there's great learning in that. With a future of home based work coming up, planning, self drive and self discipline are key life skills.

All in all, the online class could not replace the vibrancy of a face to face class.  Partly due to the newness of the medium, partly due to the distractions of private chats, frequent disconnection/ reconnection issues, clarity of audio etc. Also, not everyone has easy access to computing resources - I'm not sure how many used a mobile to participate. 

However there are a few reasons on why I'm optimistic this method will be a reasonable short term substitute for a face to face class. One, by 7th grade, Al Qamar kids are used to self learning and self discipline. They have worked independently and need little adult supervision or explicit teaching. At Al Qamar, a teacher's role is of a facilitator, rather than a deliverer of knowledge. There is minimal hierarchy and everyone's point of view matters.  Hence the children could pick up the key points, refer to their text and add their thoughts to the discussion. 

Another contributing factor has been the small class sizes at our school, which have enabled us to have focussed and engaged discussions in the real classroom. This has a potential to translate into the virtual classroom once the technical hitches are overcome. A virtual class in larger class sizes would be reduced to a teacher lectures. Class management would also be a challenge.

Looking forward to how the Math and Science classes go. Stay tuned.

Sunday 15 March 2020

Teaching Arabic - the Montessori way


"Indeed we have made it an Arabic Quran that You might understand "
 .Al -Zukhruf. 43-3.

Muslim parents hold enormous responsibility in bringing up their children according to the guidelines of Quran and Sunnah.  It is very essential to impart the learning of Quran and Sunnah from young age, as this is the time that a child is the most impressionable and a child's brain functions spontaneously in acquiring everything which it is exposed to.  Learning Arabic is an integral part of gaining the knowledge of Islam, as Arabic is the language of Quran and the language of Hadith. Introducing Arabic in early childhood also helps a child develop more positive attitude towards it. 

In the Al Qamar Montessori environment, we introduce Arabic as a second language. We provide a conducive environment where the child learns the language comfortably.  The child learns Arabic through the medium of materials which makes the language more concrete,  Fun activities are aligned with the materials. Additionally many opportunities are given for listening to the language - through book reading, name lessons and group activities. It is imperative to have the language alive in the environment as constant listening to a language is simple yet powerful strategy to acquire a language. 

We begin by introducing nouns, as nouns are the base of every langauage  We use picture cards with images to help the child associate the words with objects. The teacher enriches the lesson by asking simple questions and having discussions in Arabic. Additionally, she strengthens language acquisition through conversations, stories and reading books. Gradually  the child becomes familiar with the language.  Children continue to expand their vocabulary as they are constantly hearing the language, and their sensitivity towards new words is helps them to pick up the language faster.  

Once the child gets the language exposure, we take him to phonetic awareness .  First, we help the child understand through activities that the words are made up of sounds. Word sounds are categories into levels. The first level includes those sounds which is easier for the child to utter. We draw the child's attention to the sounds in the words by having simple, fun filled activities.  When the child understands the concept of sound, we present him sand papers letters. Sand paper letters are plaques with letters made of sand paper onto them.  The plaques allow the child to physically touch and trace the shape of the letters while uttering the sound.  This activity includes muscular, visual as well as acoustic senses, which register the shape and sounds of the letter in the memory.  The child who learns from tracing will remember the symbol and sound better . We have specially created Arabic sandpaper letters for Al Qamar's Montessori environments. Simultaneously we give different activities for the child to listen to the sounds in different word in succession. 

Once the child develops the ability to recognize sounds in sequence, we present him with the Movable Alphabet Box.   The Movable Alphabet Box in a wooden box with multiple compartments, which holds several copies of single alphabets.  It is similar to the English Movable Alphabets box with few changes, as the structure of Arabic reading and writing is different from English.  The Movable Alphabets Box is a great help for the child to read and write.  The child holds and lifts the concrete symbols of corresponding sound to form words, using his ability to listen to the sounds in order.  It is an intellectual process of building words in the mind, thereby honing the ability to put letters together to create a word.  The adult's work is to aid the young child prepare the mind for the work of writing. This preparation for writing gets developed before the child 's hand can hold a pencil. It also helps the child for reading as the child' s ability to read is directly connected to his ability of writing.

Initially, the child builds the words in his mind and puts it on the mat, as the adult says the word.  Thereafter, to make the child independent we present her with the Pink Series. The Pink Series is a series of pictures of nouns, classified by levels of group of sounds.  The Arabic version of this material has been specially created at Al Qamar for teaching.The child takes a picture, and identifies it, and forms the corresponding noun word.  The Pink Series also leads for child to become an independent learner, which is the whole idea of Montessori. Help is only given when the child really needs it. The tracing complicated sounds and working with different envelopes of Pink series goes on simultaneously with enrichment of vocabulary.  We also introduce other sign of vowels and prolongables. 

To move the child further, we introduce cursive script in Arabic. This is quite complicated as Arabic has different shapes of the same letter depending on whether it is the beginning, middle or end form.  We have materials which are specially designed to help the child learn this complexity. It also helps the child to move from words to phrases and sentences. A sudden explosion in to writing occurs shortly. Often the child's first writing experience will be with the movable alphabet with what the child had made. Then a smooth transition from writing to reading take place. Step by step the child will move from concrete to abstract work - from material to paper.

The child enjoys his newly acquired language, as we provide an exemplary environment for him to consolidate his language skills. Child works on his own space and interest with different sets of materials to retain the language.  In Montessori the child's brain is not yet ready for the facts of grammar to be stored, hence we give him the live experience of the language. Once the child promoted to Elementary we start presenting the structure of the Arabic grammar. There the child gets the deeper knowledge of what he has learnt in the early years.

Early childhood is a period of rapid language development. Children  switch comfortably from one language to another language . Hence it is easy for the child to learn different languages. Learning multiple languages also challenges the brain and improves cognitive and social-emotional development. A similar method can be followed for introducing children to several languages.

By Nikhath Ara, Montessori Directress

Friday 13 March 2020

Small Science - Questions kids ask

During the Science class for my 4th graders chapter on AIR, we were discussing microbes and how they are carried in the air.

 Obviously the discussion went straight to the Corona. We held up a large world map and I pointed out countries and rough numbers of sick.  I asked what they could infer from it.

Typical Al Qamar kids - a zillion questions and a zillion comments.

"Its growing in Europe and North America"

"Its cold there"

"Not so much in Africa"

"Do the AC rooms make it spread?" - reference to growth in the Middle East.

"Can a virus go through the ocean?"

"How does a virus have babies?"

"What does it eat?"

"How does it start living?"

"How did it come from animals to human beings?"

Sunday 8 March 2020

EcoFest 2020 - Ecology of Madras through the Eyes of Children

"Answer the quiz on insects and win a handmade bookmark" was the persuasive invitation. Trapped by a child's  winning smile, I turned over the quiz card and was bamboozled. These were tough, really tough questions.  Sheepishly, I gave up only to receive a brilliant lecture on entomology.

The event - the first ever "EcoFest - Ecology of Madras through the eyes of children" held at Vidya Niketan Matriculation School on 7th March. The event was a culmination of two years of Pitchandikulum Forest Consultants' engagement with 4 different schools in and around Chennai. Al Qamar Academy was one of the four, the others being Vidya Niketan, Gurukulum, Kovalam and Naddukuppam High School along with some homeschooling children.

The children presented their learning through research projects, models, games, quizzes, and even a few videos.  Topics ranged from Reptiles, Sea Salinity, Animals of the Adyar Poonga, Ennore Creek and the impact of power generation, water pollution, medical industrialization and even a Carbon Footprint analysis.  The children made clay models, used Lego to represent industrialization, experiments with ink to demonstrate oil spills.

It was very evident that the children had in-depth knowledge knowledge on every topic that they were presenting. The presentations were very interactive and engaging. One project that caught my attention was the topic about industrial revolution. This topic was  studied by an unschooled child and Al Qamar child. Both had so much information and inference and presented a balanced view on need for industrial revolution versus the impact it had on nature. I could feel the empathy and a sense of community embedded in the study.

Be it about it synthetic medicines or impact of borewells or about the fishermen or the ecosystem impacted by the Ennore power plant or the industrial revolution,  children had done a detailed research. They have approached the issues with so much passion and had put efforts to genuinely find a solution.

All the presentations were fascinating and at the same time intriguing. The children really engaged the listener and had an answer for every question asked.

The cultural show in the evening conveyed the children's messages through drama, puppet shows, skits and a therakoothu. The Al Qamar street play, scripted and directed entirely by a group of 5th and 6th graders, was tongue in cheek depiction about the disaster wrought by multinationals in third world countries. 

Now its simply up to us adults to seriously reflect on their messages, to make a change in our lives so we can leave behind a livable Earth.

- By Aneesa Jamal & Shajitha Syed

7th grader's reflections on his entrepreneurial journey

Starting a business from my point of view is quite simple and I have started quite a few. The first businesses I started were the stalls I held selling food on PTAs and mothers meetings.

The first proper business I started was Roar Again, for repairing broken toys instead of throwing them in the trash. My first customer was my classmate Abdul Majid. He gave me a really dirty truck to clean, which I did and caught a fever few days later. When I returned to school I found my poster torn and that was like the end of Roar Again.

My second venture was called CMC which stood for Car Making Company. My classmate, Abdullah K and I started this company to make money so that we could build a car. It was quite silly. We used to sell knick knacks which half the time used hot glue. We were called 'Chennai Metro Corporation'. Once we sold six country eggs and we were named 'Coli Muttai Corporation' or Chicken Egg Corporation! In the end we quarreled and broke up.

Next a related business to the food stalls was Juzt Bite. I once held a stall and name it Juzt Bite thinking I could hold more business stalls under that name but I never held another after that.

One of the most well going business was Read & Return for books which was started by my classmate, Safwan and me. It was a hit only in the first week. Then people stopped borrowing and Safwan shut it down. But later I learned that my brother Abdur Rahman was lending books under cover...my books!

The most recent company I've started is Juzt Shine for cycle shining and tuning and it is the most well known of all my businesses. My brother, Abdur Rahman is the investor and working partner in this business. It all started when I asked my brother to clean my cycle. I was sitting and watching him when I had a brain wave to create a company for cleaning and tuning cycles. I designed a card, printed several and distributed them. I immediately got customers but it turned out they didn't want only cleaning and tuning. They wanted to replace brake pads, bells, side stands etc. My first plans were not of repairs but demand was high. My brother suggested that we don't say no to any customer but instead take it to the cycle shop, get it repaired, add some amount to the cost and deliver. I immediately disagreed because I wanted to do it myself. I got spare parts in a nearby cycle store and struck a deal with him as my supplier. He is a good man willing to help my business and teach me as well. 

We began fixing the cycles by ourselves without any videos or help. We found that the mechanism is so simple. We've handed over two cycles and got good reviews about the shine, just that my brother had dumped a can of cleaning agent on it! We're now working on a 5 year old's cycle which came to me in a devastating condition. The full cycle has been pulled apart and is under heavy cleaning and replacing. 

I only work on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 11.30am so it takes me time to complete. I've learnt that customers have different needs and to not have disagreements with customers and investors because you may lose them. I'm looking to hire people as customers come in. Incase you would like to drop in your cycle or know more about our business, mail me at abdullahidesigns@gmail.com.

Tuesday 3 March 2020

Ten high performers invited for talk on Gifted Education

10 of Al Qamar Academy students attended this exclusive, invitation only event organised by Educational Initiatives for the high performers in the Asset Talent Examination.

Check it out at:

Ecological Floating Island Update

Totally thrilled! ! 

Al Qamar Academy students participated in setting up the floating islands on Adyar River.

Today see the impact of the work.

Moreover, as participants in the Ecology program by Pitchandikulum Forest, our students have grown in so many ways in the past two years - as their environmental consciousness evolved.

An unbeatable learning rarely experienced by schoolchildren.

Come see their work this Sat at the ECO FEST 2020 - Ecology of Madras through the eyes of Children

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...