Sunday 23 August 2020

Learning Coding 2 - Abdul Majid Syed's Story

 I started my coding journey somewhere in May during the lockdown. I was bored and had seen that our correspondent, Aneesa Jamal Aunty, had posted a course on coding, and I decided to try it out.  

It was in a website called CodeHS, which teaches programming through a dog called Karel. I had enrolled for the Intro to Programming with Karel the Dog, the first and basic course. So, basically, if you give inputs like turn right, take ball,  executes those commands. I continued this for about a month and a half to two.

 By then I had got a basic idea of how coding works, and I decided to take matters into my hand, because the exercise were boring, and I wanted to do something else. So I headed to the CodeHS Sandbox, where you can edit a website. I headed to the docs section, and soon got an idea of how to make a website. I had made a simple one, but then through a reference through the same website, I learnt of another website called W3Schools, where they teach you in detail about almost all the coding languages. It was here that I learnt to make my website more styled with CSS and more dynamic with Bootstrap, which is a framework, and acts as a library for CSS. You can check out the website I made here

I then learnt JavaScript, a high-level, client-sided, front end programming language, used for everything from making dynamic websites, to making apps. I then added a few bits of it to my websites, and made a calculator using it, called Caliclux The Calculator. After progressing more in the course, I made a more complicated and accurate calculator called Caliclux The Calculator Pro, which was a build up on Caliclux The Calculator.

I also made a simple To-Do list program, again using JavaScript as the language. After that I went on to learn about JQuery, which is used as a JavaScript library, and also a language that simplifies JavaScript. It is similar to JavaScript, so it wasn’t very hard to learn. Using that I designed a Chatting Program which you can check out here, which uses something called a ‘bugout’ address which is a random string of numbers and letters which is assigned to every browser which opens it. So you can open it twice in your device, and it will show as two different addresses. 

I then went through the Python docs in CodeHS, and armed with the basics, proceed to create a simple Python program which you can find here. Python is a high-level server-side programming language, which can also be deployed as client sided, which is what my program is. 

As I wasn’t very interested in Python, I decided to learn SQL on W3Schools. SQL or Structured Query Language, which is the language used to create, store and access databases. I made a sample database with SQL here.

I then went on to learn PHP or Hypertext Preprocessor, a back end server-sided language, which is used in a wide range of places such as Login systems. I had made a few programs, but unfortunately, due to lack of resources, couldn’t publish it. 

I then learnt about API’s or Application programming interface’s, which defines interactions between multiple software intermediaries. So basically it is a translator from different programs and softwares. Using the getUserMedia Api, I made a photo capturing program here. I also used the Speech Recognition API, which searches Google with your voice, but which I didn’t publish publicly.

I was then working on some simple projects like an alarm clock, a basic unit converter, and a redirecter, which redirects you to a link at the time you set.

I continue to work on a few more projects. 

And until they’re out Farewell!


Teaching Visual Critical Thinking VI - The Escape?

It was my second ‘What’s going on in this picture’ class with the 7th grade on Critical Visual Thinking.   We are all constantly observing in our daily lives by using our senses but when observation leads to thinking, thinking leads to reflection.  It is only then that observation becomes key to critical thinking. We need to also infer from our observations. In this class, I used this picture for the children to observe what they thought was going on in the picture and what did they see that made them infer it and what more did they observe.

Another reason for the wgoitp activity is to give children the opportunity to collaborate to learn and grow from each other and understanding of diverse perspectives.  It enhances their confidence and self-esteem. Communication stimulates thinking, without which learning is stifled.

Cessie started the discussion, clearly expressing that the man and woman in the picture looked like migrant Indians.  The man carried the baby wading through stagnant, possibly, drainage water  across dry, paddy field.  She observed a lot of garbage and plastic strewn all around and with the murky water and concluded it could be India.

Ruqayya mentioned that they looked like evacuees leaving the place with essentials as the bags looked light.  She inferred it was cold out there as the man and woman were in jackets with the baby wrapped in a blanket.  They looked poor for the man was not wearing shoes.  Maybe something bad had happened to them.  The man’s grimace suggested he was angry, horrified or scared.  The lady at the back was wading through water also carried a bag with colourful plastic stuff in it.

Izzy observed the man carried the baby either to save life, or if not, camping or hiking with no shoes. His face had a determined look.  The woman at the back probably carried camp equipment.  There seemed to be lots of bushes around with stagnant water. The baby was covered for warmth. 

Sharban commented that these people looked as immigrants from another country.  The man was without shoes, minimum baggage and a baby which looked like it was falling off the man's arms.  The place was surrounded with reeds.  Although only the woman was wading through water, the man also would have done the same to reach the spot where he was but he did not look wet.  Most probably they were running away from something or somewhere.

Dr. Humorous made his observations.  He stated that that they were fugitives escaping from law or something dangerous along with their baby to a safer place.  He made that assertion because only such people travelled through muddy, swampy, deserted places with no transportation. He observed the man carried a baby with a small bag of belongings was without shoes.  He later noticed the woman, perhaps his wife, was carrying his shoes and another bag with what looked like colourful toys or possibly things for the baby.  The grass was dry and crispy, the climate looked damp and cold as they were wearing jackets and the baby was wrapped in a blanket.  The path they were travelling was already visited by people as there were plastic bags, old shoes, and cigarette butts around the place.

Afrah observed that they are probably refugees who carried a bag each of essentials traveling barefoot and the woman was carrying shoes in hand.  They seemed to travel across a wasteland or garbage dump wading through murky water.  It was obvious the weather was cold and damp and they had to wade through water which was dripping off the man’s pants although he carried the baby warmly wrapped in a blanket. 

Shahul concurred with the others that the climate was cold because of the jackets they wore.  Based on that he stated that were refugees on the border of Kashmir far away from the city. 

I later revealed the answer to them that they were Kosovar migrants illegally trying to cross the border into Hungary rightly captioned, ‘In search of a new life.’ 

This activity is interesting because when the children heard each other’s observations and opinions,  they were able to see the common thinking of each other.  When they differed, they were able to adapt to others’ opinion thereby developing another critical skill, of ‘flexibly thinking’.  They are able to articulate their ideas, make linkage between ideas and communicate effectively their inferences to their peers.  Is there a better way to instil these skills in them?  All in all, a good English class.

By Naqeeb Sultana

Note : Student chosen aliases have been used instead of real names. Due to copyright restrictions, the actual picture cannot be reproduced. Instead a student drawn illustration has been used and a link to the actual picture has been provided in the article as well as below:

Sunday 16 August 2020

Lockdown & Activity Based Science Teaching: Mission Impossible

Ever since the Covid-19 lockdown our school has been working in online mode. The entire experience is new for teachers and students.  I was particularly apprehensive about teaching science to my 5th graders in online mode. After all, we use the Small Science curriculum from Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education.This is a completely activity based approach which calls for collaboration, experimentation, and discussion with story writing and poetry thrown in for good measure. How was I going to deliver the unique “Small Science” experience through Google Classroom? The mind boggled at the idea!

Flipping the Classroom

Nevertheless, what must be done, must be done. I decided to take the flipped classroom approach - whereby the children had to read a section and possibly do the experiment before coming to class. We had not been able to complete the 4th grade curriculum before lockdown, so we started up with the unit on Water. 

The first experiment was to take a ruler, put a drop of water on it and observe how the water flowed in different directions and speeds whilst tilting the ruler. Most children conducted the experiment before coming to class and enjoyed narrating their experiences. We discussed where all they have seen water flowing - in a drain, down the street during a downpour, in their bathrooms. 

As the class was conducted while Chennai was in intense lockdown, we had to skip a favourite activity whereby children cut open a tetra pack and make water wheels. I’ve a good mind to assign it later when it's safe for children to recover their textbooks and workbooks from school. 

Technology Challenge

One challenge we immediately faced was having to teach children how to do online schooling - logging into Google Classroom, activating Google Meet, using pdf editors to write in the soft copies of the Workbook, and how to stay safe and healthy online.. It seemed an insurmountable challenge - these kids were quite unfamiliar with technology in part due to Al Qamar’s strict “No Screen” policy. The internet speeds were poor. Some kids were using mobile phones to attend online classes.  We held training sessions for the children in all areas but hiccups and disruptions occurred for quite some time thereafter. 

Floating & Sinking

We moved onto the floating or sinking activity. I put together a jar of water and several items which we would test. We started off by predicting if an item would sink or float. They quite enjoyed seeing if their guesses were correct.  I asked them to repeat the same activity at home using different items. 


We tried mixing different liquids in water - they love the oil and water experiment, never tire of seeing it. 

The next class was devoted to me demonstrating how salt and sugar mix in water, but rava does not. I made do with rava, asstaying in an apartment, during lockdown, I couldn’t even get mud or sand. The children learned the terms - solution, turbid, mixture. They had to repeat the experiment at home, dry out their solutions and note what happens. 

Active Homework

The homework activity was great as it led to two children exploring further. 

One child made one sugar solution and another with jaggery. She found that once the two solutions had dried up, red ants were coming to the sugar solution and black ants to the jaggery solution. Turned out she had put the bowls in two different rooms. This was a great opportunity to teach them about keeping all variables the same except the one being measured. I asked her to repeat the experiment but this time keep the bowls in the same room.  I don’t quite think followed up but the discussion activity was enjoyed by all.

Another child evaporated a salt solution in a jar. She got the most fantastic crystals forming even as the solution was still in the process of drying up. 

This picture taken after a few days shows the size of the crystals. The student noted that the largest crystal was 1cm long. I’m sure this experiment was quite fascinating for her.

Watching Water Climb

We then moved onto exploring whether water can climb. I asked the children to keep a jar of water, a string and a cotton cloth handy. During class, I asked them to read the experiment, understand what they had to do and conduct the experiment. The children put the string and cloth partially into the jar and let the rest hang outside the rim.  There were squeals of delight as they discovered that the string soon got wet and the cotton cloth followed. 

I then demonstrated an experiment they love. I placed 4 jars of differently coloured water, and stuck tightly rolled tissue from one to the other.  The children thoroughly enjoyed seeing how the coloured water climbed up one side of the jar and took the paint into the other jar. Another student redid the experiment and home and Whatsapped me the picture below.


We had to skip the water/ ink climbing the chalk experiment- no chalk available,- and moved onto the next experiment. Here we partially filled a jar with 2-3 cm water and added a lot of rava to it. The video call wasn’t all that clear but children did see how the water rose up the rava slowly.

Evaporating & Recording

Next we moved onto evaporation.  This was another experiment which I asked the children to conduct at home and record the results daily.  Children had to keep two identical glasses the same amount of water - however one glass was open and another covered - and observe the results for 10 days.  One child astounded me with her meticulousness.  She not only measured the water level daily, but diligently took and shared photographs by email. I’m sure she found satisfaction in seeing how the water level in the open glass kept declining daily.  She finally compiled her results in a Google Doc with photographs. 

One child developed enough expertise with the pdf editor to fill in the graph tracking the water levels with different colours. Remember - these were children who were complete novices with technology at the start.  By now most children were typing comfortably in their workbooks.

The next few experiments were on condensation and real fun. I asked the children to keep a closed cold bottle of juice ready in the fridge for the class the next day. Additionally I asked them to keep two glasses, a towel and cold water.  During the class, the children brought out their cold bottles of juice. I asked them to feel the outside of the bottle and they reported that it was wet.  They had to wipe the bottle and touch it again after a few moments. They noticed that the bottle surface was wet again.  This led to an animated discussion about where the water had come from. Some were adamant that the water had come out from the bottle. I asked them to observe and taste the droplets outside - they reported the droplets were colourless, unlike the juice, and tasteless. However, they were still convinced the water had come from inside the bottle. “Possibly out over the top.” “Maybe there are nano holes in the plastic through which the drops came out.”. Finally a couple of them cottoned onto the real explanation “Aunty the air outside the bottle has water vapour, right? When the air touches the cold bottle, the water vapour becomes water!” I shared this explanation with the other children and they seemed to understand it. However, while checking their answers in the workbook, I realised they had not internalised the explanation - and still stuck to the “water from inside the bottle” theory.  I think children construct a world view based on their observations and conclusions, and even if erroneous, it is not easy to replace this mental model by simply talking, explaining or even doing the experiments and showing proof.

Condensing & Integrating

The final experiment was one where they had to integrate the evaporation-condensation cycle. This one was also conducted at home by each child. Children put a small jar with stones inside a larger container with shallow water, covered the bigger container with saran wrap and weighted the cover down with a stone. This setup was then put out in the sun.  The children noticed that water droplets had formed on the cover - and could relate that it was due to water evaporating and then condensing. They also opened the containers and felt the stones - some reported that the stones had got wet. This experiment really brings home the dual process of evaporation and condensation. 

I was quite surprised to see sketches of this experiment and expert typed answers in the Workbook.

The Workbook provides for interesting questions that challenge the children to apply their learnings in different contexts.  This naturally led to great discussions. One was focussed on listing the similarities and differences between water and water vapor, ice and water. I think children are now familiar with this exercise and handle it well. 


It also takes a multidisciplinary approach and asks kids to recount a time they played in water, compose sentences and even write a story. 

We could finally integrate all the learning into the story of the water cycle.  I’ll sign off leaving you to enjoy this adorable account about “Bubbles”. 

BLOWN AWAY - By Athiya Fathima

There was once a challenging, adventurous, naughty droplet called Bubbles. So - now, be quiet and listen to the strange story of Bubbles and the Water cycle. So, let’s start. 

Bubbles was a single droplet who lived with his mother. One day Bubbles was in the garden playing, when suddenly a strong wind blew, he heard Mama shouting ‘’Bubbles come in!!! Or you’ll get blown away!! Come in at once!!’’. (That’s called ‘Evaporation’. Sorry to interrupt, but take notes!). 

Bubbles was really curious and could be irritable at times. Bubbles wondered, “What does Mama mean ‘blown away’?? Will I be flying on a magic carpet? Aah wonderful.’’ he thought, and at once he drifted into dreams. After a few minutes, Bubbles realized he was drifting into the air, and heard Mama’s irritated warning voice. Why can’t his Mama leave him alone?? And again, he drifted into thoughts. Then Bubbles really felt like he was flying into the air, he looked down and gave a yell. Then suddenly he remembered why he was going to fly in the air. The reason was he was Evaporating (Actually he read it in a book called ‘’Water Cycle’’). “Yoo Hoo!!. Mama!! Mama!! I am really flying at last!!!”

Bubbles saw some massive white cotton candies (which were actually clouds). Slowly he landed into one of them. He then realized that he was condensing because of the cold and hot weather. He felt some sort of chill feeling  in between his legs. Suddenly he realized he was not at all alone, he felt like he was in one of Chennai’s bus stands (He had seen one once when he visited Chennai). Bubbles saw that everyone was going to burst out of the cloud. It was a long time and he started to feel hungry. Bubbles was bored and saw that everyone in the next cloud was slowly falling down. Slowly he remembered -  he had read the reason for the falling drops in a book.  (Bubbles was even a reader).  In that book, the reason was called ‘’Precipitation’’. Bubbles bent a little forward to take a better look when he too was flying down the sky!!

‘’WHOO HOO WHOO HOO’’ Bubbles cried, and landed down with a big Thump!!. Oops!! My back!! Bubbles yelled and started walking like an old granny towards an Auto.  Now he was in great trouble he was lost!!. But thanks to the Autorickshaw Uncle who knew every location- and was an old neighbor of Bubbles,  Bubbles reached home. He got a big scolding from Mama. “Oops!!” Bubbles thought “I wish I  had never returned home!!!”   

    THE END.                                


Saturday 15 August 2020

Learning Coding - I: Safwan's story

Some of our students have been teaching themselves coding during the lockdown. Here is a blog by Safwan of Grade 8:

 I recently finished a web development course in Udemy. This is a report which states what I have learnt, the projects I've built, etc.

I learned first about HTML, which is used to structure your sites and CSS, used to style your websites. Both are the fundamentals of the web. When I finished the HTML module, I made a site which wasn't very nice as it didn't have any styling. But after finishing CSS, I made an online CV, which you can check out here.

Then I learned about Bootstrap, a famous framework made by Twitter to make beautiful responsive websites. I built a website which uses Bootstrap, but I didn't deploy it publicly.

I then started on JavaScript, which adds interactivity to your website. After finishing JS, I made a website in which it displays two random images of dice. Check this website here.

After that I did jQuery which is a very famous JS framework which just makes your code a lot less shorter and more readable. After finishing jQuery, I launched this game which you may have heard of - the Simon Game. The Simon Game site is here.

Then I started learning about the Unix command line. The command line is a powerful tool for any developer. After this, I started back-end web development. The back end of any website consists of a server, an application, and a database. Back-end developing builds and maintains the technology that powers those components which together is the very thing which enables the user-facing side of the website to even exist in the first place. 

We wrote our server code in Node.js, a server side language which is based on JavaScript. Two advantages in using Node.js to using other languages which work on the server side (like Python or PHP) is that 1) It's based on JavaScript. Every web developer has to learn JS, so if you use Node you don't have to entirely learn a new language and 2) It has lots of native modules, which allow you to do a lot more things.

One of these native modules is Express. Express is the most widely used framework for building web applications and APIs. 

We then continued to learn about APIs. API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is the messenger that delivers your request to the provider that you're requesting it from and then delivers the response back to you. In other words, it's the thing that allows two applications to talk to each other.

After that, we studied about Git, GitHub, and version control. We then practised EJS, a popular templating language, which allows you to write basic JavaScript and handle the flow of code inside the HTML file. We made a basic to do list in this module.

After we had finished with EJS, we started to learn about databases, which allow you to store persistent data. We learnt about the two major types - SQL, and NoSQL. SQL stands for Structured Query Language and NoSQL stands for No Structured Query Language. We learnt about MongoDB, which is a very well-known NoSQL database.

We then built a blog website which stores your data persistently. 

The two last things we learnt were authentication, which is basically the process of recognizing a user's identity, and React.js which is the most popular JS library which is used to create interactive user interfaces.

I then built an application of my own - a to do list application which stores things in databases, uses authentication, EJS, and basically everything I've learnt other than React.js. You can sign up for my website here.

Now, I am doing JavaScript challenges at various websites. This is to gain practice of one of the most important languages in web developing.

By Safwan Samsudeen
Grade 8

Teaching Big History - II - Learning about Scale

We have now moved on to understanding the importance of scale. This unit necessitated the use of mathematical tools - especially ratios and proportions. After creating a personal timeline, we discussed how the timeline would change if a human could live for a million years - what would be included, what would be left out. Students viewed a fascinating video on how a bunch of filmmakers created a realistic scale model of the Solar System on a dry lake bed in Nevada. They saw how a model of the earth the size of a marble would require about 7 miles of space to accurately represent the scale and proportion of the Solar System. This was a real eye opener for the students who have seen inaccurate pictures of the solar system from a young age in books and magazines.

Once exposed to the concept of scale, students had to create timelines using string. Due to lockdowns, we had to do this activity online - with each team member in a different house! The first team was tasked with plotting events from the Big Bang on a 20 ft string, while the second team plotted key events in human history on a similar sized string. It was a fascinating activity as each group translated the years into proportionate distances on the string. Team A hit a wall when they realised that their measure of feet and inches was too large to represent the micro distance of human existence on the string representing the history of the universe. Team B, meanwhile, quickly translated their unit into metres, centimeters and millimeters - making their task much easier. After much work punching in numbers, calling out answers, measuring and marking on unwieldy string, both teams successfully completed the task. When they laid out the string - stretching across one student’s living room and another’s bedroom to hall to kitchen, kids got a glimmer of understanding about scales.  Honestly, this felt more like a math class than a history class.


Another activity which brought home the concept of zooming out to see a bigger picture involved a presentation where only partial bits of a picture are revealed in each slide. We did this as a class activity and I encouraged the children to share their observations as I kept scrolling through the presentation. They thought the first picture was a robe or a starfish but as we zoomed out we saw it was the crest of a rooster. As we kept zooming out a story started building up. There were many Aahs and Oohs as the students were surprised to see how the storyline kept changing. It was encouraging to note that they demonstrated sharp observation skills - spotting the cruise liner before it came into view, identifying the TV perspective of a picture and even that an image was actually a postal stamp. The underlying message that perspectives change as we see the bigger picture was subtly put across.

The culminating activity for the Unit on Scale had children plotting events on different timelines. I held this class on Zoom and used the Breakout Room feature to divide the students into 4 groups. Two of the timelines spanned a vast number of years - Timeline 1 started at the Big Bang and ended with the Coming of Humans. Timeline 3 covered human history from the 3rd Millennium to man’s landing on the moon. The other two timelines dealt with a single human’s history - Timeline 2 required students to plot Newton’s life and Timeline 4 had children plotting their own timeline. The students are now quite digitally savvy - what with 4 months of online schooling and could comfortably use DocHub to plot the dates.  The follow up discussion was very interesting. I started off by asking them what was common to the 1st and 3rd timelines, which set them apart from 2 & 4. Shakil said they were about development. Izzy clarified that they were about the development of humans from the Big Bang. Heartening to note that children have internalised the concept that human history has its origins in the Big Bang, that it doesn’t makes sense to start studying it from the advent of writing. They all shared the titles they had given to their charts - “Key Events in Human History”, “Politics and Development”, “Life of Issac Newton” and “Life of a Human”.

 I brought the discussion back to comparing and contrasting the four timelines. They postulated that two covered individual lives and others had sundry events. However, they still hadn’t come round to noticing the difference in scale. Then Ibrahim spoke up - “Two are really spread out and the others are condensed.” Finally!! I asked them if they could put all these timelines together onto a single timeline. Hana said it wouldn’t make sense. “The scales are different, the sizes are different.” Abdul Aziz thought we would need the same scale, but that would pose problems. Izzy pointed out that we could use different scales, a prelude to what they will see on the BHP Timeline with bends in the scale. I’m thrilled she already had come to the conclusion without first seeing how the BHP timeline would handle this issue. They did realise that a lot of the events, especially the human timelines would become insignificant on a full united timeline. We discussed the different kinds of timelines. While they all had used the left to right, being Arabic readers, they could relate to timelines that would go from right to left. They have also seen vertical timelines in encyclopedias at schools. Izzy then asked “Could we have a timeline as a network or web? Like a mindmap?” That sounds exciting but honestly, I’m not sure how that would work out - we are so used to viewing history in a linear fashion. 

Upcoming units in the introductory section will have students learning about origin stories from different cultures, understanding how knowledge is created and imparted, how claims should be tested, and back to a unit on measurement. Further sections will dive into each of the thresholds of Big History.

An important part of the Big History course is that it helps students build the interdisciplinary skills they would require for studying history. Hence we have learned about creating vocab walls, played a scavenger hunt to explore the  website, started maintaining a personal vocabulary list. One of the most helpful tools is the 3 Close Reads - which teaches students how to read complex non fiction texts with comprehension - a skill which is cross-disciplinary and will help students in all subject areas. Another tool is a guide on facilitating class discussions - where students are encouraged to argue their point of view using evidence and also challenge each other’s thinking in a productive way.

Keep tuned for more blogs on how we are progressing through this course. 

Aneesa Jamal

Teaching Visual Critical Thinking - V - Hazmat Suit in New York?

I was dead certain that my 8th graders would not be able to solve this “What’s Going On With This Picture” mystery from The New York Times Learning Network. This picture was potentially so misleading from their perspective -  I was sure they would jump to the obvious conclusion about epidemics given the current COVID pandemic scenario.  

I shared the picture on the screen and instructed the students to spend 5 minutes quietly observing and noting down their thoughts. The driving question was “What do you think is going on in this picture? Justify your answer.” 

Fathima thought that this picture had something to do with COVID. But the other students disagreed. They commented that it was an old picture - the photograph was in black and white and the cars looked old. The checked shirt was a giveaway. So were the “preppy” clothes worn by the little girls and the dress worn by the lady. I pointed to the bell bottoms the man was wearing and told the kids these were in fashion in the 70s.  They guessed that the location was London or Western city. Obviously, something was wrong, because people were staring at this man! The children’s responses indicated that, they not only noticed details, but were able to extend and correlate their thinking with other learning.

The students noticed how the central figure was togged up. I explained it was a Hazmat suit, worn to protect the wearer from dangerous substances. They commented how he also had on a gas mask and his feet were completely covered.  Hana wondered why anyone would walk down a street dressed like that. 

Abdul Aziz thought the photograph may have been taken during the Spanish Flu era. Others countered that only the central figure was in a hazmat suit, the other people in the picture were not even wearing masks. He responded “Maybe it was the beginning of the epidemic so people were not aware.”  Another student rebutted saying that the cars were clearly not from the 20’s,  I told them about the Ford’s Model T which was a popular car during the Spanish Flu times, and that these cars were more modern.  Izzy noticed that the quality of the picture was too good for it to have been from the 20’s. Abdul Aziz retorted that the picture might have been clicked towards the end of the Spanish Flu epidemic - and there was still some cleaning to do. The interaction showed the nascent ability to engage productively in a group discussion by challenging another’s opinion respectfully and rebutting using evidence. 

 But they still couldn't resolve why this one particular man was dressed in protective clothing while others were walking around normally. 

Then, Izzy noticed that he was carrying something in his right hand. Sana said maybe he was looking for something. Fathima thought it was a sanitizing device and he was trying to clean something toxic.  But what could be sanitised on the streets with this tiny device? Yara noticed the device was connected to the box this man was carrying.  They wondered if he was searching for a bomb or something hazardous.  But I queried “Wouldn’t the entire street have been cordoned off, if there was a bomb around?” They agreed. Yara hypothesized that maybe the stick was some kind of a detector. But again, what could it be detecting on a busy street that required the use of a hazmat suit? Fathima guessed “Radioactivity?”

Khalifa who had been silent so far, suddenly interjected and spoke his mind “He’s just showing a new device and getting attention!” I guess he was fed up with this mysterious fellow in the picture. I applauded his totally “out of the box” guesswork. Ziya had typed in the same guess in the chat box. Hana took up on the clue and posited “Maybe an ad!” Abdul Aziz followed up with “Maybe he’s raising awareness on government orders.” Impressive how the children started zooming in on the solution. Kids always demonstrate how they can guess and think in unstructured ways. 

I asked them to think in what circumstances such suits are worn? Khalifa jumped in “Nuclear sites!” “Maybe the government wants to start a nuclear site and he is protesting” hazarded Majid. Bang on!! (Excuse the pun!) 

I revealed the solution - this man was raising awareness about an upcoming anti-nuclear rally which was held in 1979, a few months after the Three Mile Island meltdown in New York. I congratulated the children on their teamwork - where they developed on each other’s ideas and smart guesswork based on solid observation skills. I was impressed that the children solved a “mystery” about an event they had never even heard about. On their part, the children said they enjoyed the session because they are forced to brainstorm, solve a puzzle, set forth their opinions and argue. A win all around!

Aneesa Jamal

Note : Student chosen aliases have been used instead of real names.  Due to copyright restrictions, the actual picture cannot be reproduced. Instead a student drawn illustration has been used and a link to the actual picture has been provided in the article as well as below:

Teaching Visual Critical Thinking - IV - The Rogue Elephant

 The first session of "What's Going on in this Picture" (WGOITP) was interesting for my grade 6 as it was a new activity.  I wondered how the next session would go and would the interest sustain.  Additionally, I had decided to take the discussion beyond just observations and inferences.  I believe we need to scaffold and support the children’s thinking, reasoning and questioning skills through every opportunity available.  And this was mine.

I used this picture for my class activity.  As usual the kids had 15 minutes to observe the picture and write down their observations based on the three guiding questions as mentioned in the earlier class.

Within minutes, they took turns to give me their observations. They all observed the mayhem caused by the elephant gone rogue angrily trampling vehicles while people ran in panic.  They saw the fear and confusion in the elephant’s eyes and concluded that the elephant either escaped from the zoo or was a wild pachyderm that wandered into town.  They noticed the panicked people running to safety from the elephant while those on the top floors of the shopping complex were amused at the whole drama taking pictures and informing the authorities or others over mobile phones, no doubt.  They concurred it’s a market place based on the numerous shops, tricycle with sacks to be transported, traffic and parked vehicles.

Looking at the attire, a vest and a checkered towel for a turban, of the man pulling the tricycle they concluded that it has to be India as the signboards also had Hindi on it. One of them mentioned that it is an Asiatic elephant and not African based on the physical features. The shopping complex name City Plaza also gave them clues that this could be Chennai which has similar shopping complexes.  Some thought it was Kerala as the language on the signboards was not Tamil and their assumption that Kerala had more elephants than Chennai.  

Only one student noticed something sticking near the elephant’s tail and she deduced that in all likelihood the elephant was shot at or hurt which made it angry that led to the pandemonium.

As I ran out of my class time, I gave them the caption and details promising to wrap up the conversation in the next class.

During my next class, we summarized our observations and I showed them the caption which read that a wild elephant wandered out of a forest into a town in North Bengal and after 3 tranquilizer shots was calmed and later returned to the forest.

I asked them what did they see to have inferred the elephant was not domesticated but escaped from a zoo or a wild elephant as some mentioned during their observations. They supported their claim with the fact that there was no mahout to control the elephant nor were there any signs of decorate like those that adorn a temple elephant especially one from Kerala.  On a little more nudging, they noticed a lot of mud on the back of the elephant, a possible indication of a wild elephant, as they often cover themselves with dust.  Moreover, the tamed ones would be regularly cleaned by the caretaker.  Besides, there was no saddle, signs of hard labor (I am surprised if they even know how to spot them) or shackles around its legs.

My next question to them was what did they think was the reason the elephant wandered into the town.  They thought for a while and told me that either it was searching for food or in search of its calf taken by hunters or poachers.  We went onto discuss a little about the man-animal conflict caused by deforestation leading to the loss of habitat and food which caused distress and even loss of life for the wild animals.  

I further extended the discussion to what would be their reaction if they found a tiger or cheetah wander into town or for that matter spotted a snake in their backyard.  They all echoed they would run away, close all the doors and windows and inform adults to safely remove the animal/snake and inform the relevant wildlife authorities.  

When adults outnumbered the snake or the cheetah what happened was my next question?  They realized two possibilities – one was that the people gather to entrap the animal or if there is fear among the mob, the animal was killed.  They were all very sad at the prospect of the snake or cheetah being killed.  They strongly voiced their dissent at such an end for the animal for no fault of its own.  It was humans who encroached upon forests, caused deforestation, and in addition killed wildlife out of fear if the animal wandered into town in search of food.

The class ended on a note of awareness of the needs of wildlife and causes which led to such conflicts.  Awareness is the first step when we realize what we are doing.  As we move forward to improve the situation, we start to bring about a change.  All in all, it was an interesting and insightful environmental conservation and ecology session in my English class.  Or was it really an English class?!

Naqeeb Sultana

Note : Student chosen aliases have been used instead of real names.  Due to copyright restrictions, the actual picture cannot be reproduced. Instead a student drawn illustration has been used and a link to the actual picture has been provided in the article as well as below:

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