Friday 25 September 2020

Teaching Visual Critical Thinking IX - Is that an Idly Grinder in a lab?

Our classes on Visual Critical Thinking continue, adding an incredible dimension to teaching and learning at Al Qamar Academy.

Today I used this picture for the visual critical thinking skills discussion in today’s class.  Please do click on the llink and see the picture before proceeding.

The students  were given 2 driving questions to ponder over - What they thought was going on in the picture with evidence to support their ideas, & To use observations and inferences to explain what they thought was happening in the picture.

Shahul observed that the picture showed a group of people working on a rotating grinder and not like scientists.  

Izzy stated that it looked like a factory setting where the people were sanitised and wore masks. He concluded that they were making cheese in a factory and all were looking at ripe cheese.  They looked like Asians while one looked Chinese as observed from his facial features.  

Ruqayya concurred with Izzy that it looked like a cheese factory as the people all wore gloves as they were handling cheese.  The big container looked like where the whey and curd/cheese were separated.  She observed that the parts sticking out from the big container looked like spinners on which the container spun around.  She noticed the racks at the back which could have been used to store the cheese and that the cheese wasn’t done yet.  She noticed that the visitors were taking down notes but was unsure about what.  She also had no idea on the purpose of the posters and bottles seen in the background.  She also observed one of the people wore headphones while few wore masks and gloves.

Mooz declared that they looked like scientists visiting a science lab in a different country for they had visitor badges on their coats.  Although they wore masks, there was  no social distancing and they might be testing and checking a cure for some kind of virus.

Cessie said that they looked like medical students or maybe scientists with two of them being visitors while the others were doctors and volunteers. She assumed the two visitors were from another lab or university who had come to observe an exhibit or some new discovery as they wore masks and gloves and took notes while the others observed.  She noticed some posters in the background on the walls that mentioned something about a Cold Box, Tail and Product but had no idea about it.  

Afrah disagreed with Izzy and Ruqayya.  She mentioned that the men looked like chemists with two among them being visitors from maybe a university as the badges on their coats revealed.  They seemed to be observing and writing what seemed like an experiment.  The setting was more like a lab which consumed electricity as there was a big electric box in the background.  There may be something contagious, the reason for their wearing gloves and masks, for they may be looking for a cure for some disease.

When I asked them to observe what was sticking out of the machine with what looked like an opening or outlet in the big container, only Afrah articulated that they looked like huge copper nuts and bolts.  She believed that it was part of some circuit and couldn’t be a grinder or cheese separator.  She remarked that the people were not lookng inside but away from the machine, probably observing some output on a screen in the distance.

I asked the students whether it was possible that a factory could have one machine without any other machinery in sight and whether the door behind the room could be open if the process  involved dairy products.  Afrah also noticed that the sign on the wall about a cold box had a yellow triangle which usually meant something hazardous which is only possible if the setting was a lab rather than a factory.

At the end of the class, I revealed the caption to them that they were inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency at a nuclear site south of Teheran. The article mentioned that Iran had begun to conduct work on advanced centrifuges- the equipment that spun at supersonic speed to purify Uranium, a fuel for nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

We concluded that in all probability what was seen might be a centrifuge used to purify uranium.  Ruqayya was sad that she couldn’t guess accurately because of her lack of knowledge on history or nuclear power.  Mooz, Cessie and Izzy weren’t too happy either that they hadn’t been even close to guessing the right answer.  Afrah was sure that she knew from the beginning that it was some kind of a lab with chemists working and was well pleased that she was close to the outcome of this activity but was surprised to note that what looked like a huge Idly grinder could actually spin at supersonic speed.

To be able to keenly observe and modify one’s thought process, based on different perspectives presented by peers, is a skill.  Today, I was impressed by Afrah – she demonstrated critical decision making which involved calmness, clarity, and conviction in her inference. Additionally she was able to explain her observation, reasoning and conclusions in plain language to her peers.

Note : Student chosen aliases have been used instead of real names.  The link to the article with the actual picture has been provided below:

Thursday 24 September 2020

Al Qamar Alumna awarded Mensa Foundation International Scholarship

MashaAllah, Aisha Jamal, Al Qamar batch 2017, is one of the 5 students worldwide to be awarded the International Mensa Foundation Scholarship.

The scholarship which is awarded to Mensa Members, is decided solely on the basis of a personal essay. Aisha's essay also mentioned how her Al Qamar experience shaped her interest in Science & Math. Aisha is the only Asian to win this award this year.

Saturday 12 September 2020

Teaching Visual Critical Thinking VIII : Parkour here?

Language teaching integrates a number of different facets - in fact, taught well, it leads to development of metacognition skills in students. Recognising this greater goal of language teaching, we teachers at Al Qamar Academy have been working with our Middle school students to develop their Visual Critical thinking skills by using resources from the New York Times Learning Network, specifically, the What’s Going On In This Picture.

This time, I selected a mesmerizing photograph which juxtaposes several contrasting elements.  Before reading further, do view the photograph here

I asked my 8th graders to carefully study the photo for a few minutes and jot down their observations and thoughts.  What could be happening here? What could be the explanation?

Initially, several of the students thought the photo was a scene from a movie. Or photoshopped. The surreality of the picture lent itself well to this explanation. They observed the contrast of the background with the flippant activity (pun intended) of the man. Why would anyone be doing perfect flips in this completely bombed out locale. They noticed the fire still burning in one of the buildings and the rubble and concrete that littered the street. Two kids quickly identified that the man was doing parkour. The angle of his position was professional - he wasn’t just jumping around - he was good! 

Somebody wondered if this was a military training camp. That kind of explained the casual nature of the two boys in the picture - the rubble and destruction seems normal. But then another student pointed out that children wouldn’t be allowed to wander around in a military training camp. 

What about a construction site? Where the destruction of the buildings was a planned and normal event. Nothing horrific associated with that. But then other kids commented that a demolition in construction sites would be more planned. This area clearly looked as if it had been bombed. 

The children were trying to reconcile the apparent and widespread destruction with the casualness of parkour. Nothing else seemed to fit.

Then a child commented “What if there was a bomb blast. And the boy was thrown by the impact. But again - that didn’t work. The flip was deliberate and professional. The feet were pointed at the correct angle. The other boy in the picture too seemed calm and collected. No fear or panic.

What if there was an earthquake? And the buildings had collapsed. But then other children pointed out that the buildings in the background were still standing. They would’ve also collapsed or been damaged in an earthquake.  

“Maybe he’s doing the parkour to post on social media” guessed a student. Another student took up the thread “There must be something important enough happening if this photo was taken to be posted on social media.” 

The children finally concluded that this was a picture from a war torn zone. The bombing had probably not been recent - the onlooker was not in a panic. Additionally, the photographer had the time to frame a high resolution picture of the scene. So s/he must have planned to take the picture.  The children guessed that the location must have been somewhere in Afghanistan, Lebanon or Iraq.

Finally, one student guessed the correct place - “Palestine”. Another student explained the rationale behind the picture - “A  picture of a bombed out neighbourhood wouldn’t catch attention. But this kid doing parkour here would!” I revealed the story behind the picture - where a group of young Palestinian boys do parkour and post pictures on social media to garner attention about the life under colonization.  The final question posed by a student should give a lot of us adults food for thought “The Promised Land doesn’t deserve war. Religion doesn’t deserve war!”

The entire exercise took an hour. It was a testimony to the endurance of the children that they kept noticing further details and trying to reason out an explanation. I  was impressed how the class was working together building on each other's observations. Even when the students contradicted each other, it was respectful. They offered evidence to back up their claims. It was a team effort here.

So what do students get out of such a class. Superficially, they enjoy the conversation and sense of solving a puzzle. But on a deeper level, this exercise hones their observation skills. They learn to articulate their point of view and justify their claims. Pictures from different parts of the world adds to their repertoire of learning about cultures, politics and social realities. And finally, its not boring!!

Note : Due to copyright restrictions, the actual picture cannot be reproduced. Instead a link to the actual picture has been provided in the article as well as below:

Teaching Arabic in Online mode


It's been  seven years of joy working with children and teaching them Arabic in a Montessori way, at Al Qamar Academy, Alhamdulillah. I completed two cycles of the Montessori three years periods, and have seen the wonderful outcome in Arabic language learning. Alhamdulillah.

Things were going smoothly, then this pandemic occurred.  The world was turned upside down by the virus. Everything changed. Especially teaching. And in response to the new scenario, we had to embrace technology as a medium to continue children's learning.  Challenges were ahead, we had to retain the child's interest in learning, keeping him moving in digital space. 

In the regular Montessori school, we provide a conducive physical environment for children to explore and understand the concepts of languages, driven by their own urges, making their own choices, working by themselves. Now, we had to create a digital environment where the child could achieve his goals in the same way. Was that even possible?

At first, we sat with our planning sheets to understand what could possibly be presented to Elementary children in Arabic. We divided the children into small groups where we could provide personalised attention.  Then we gathered a bunch of online resources which would be interesting and engaging for children. Finally, as both teachers and students had to adapt new way of learning and teaching, we kept our expectations low. 

Classes began. The chidlren were delighted to see me again and I was overjoyed meeting them, despite not being physically together.  Alhamdulillah because of the deep connections created between children and adults in a Montessori environment, I could connect with the children based on my past experience and relationship with them.  

Within few classes, children  had transitioned smoothly into a different mode of learning.  Children started working with the basic Arabic presentations at first as there had been a long gap of 3 months in schooling. They brushed up their vocabulary first and then individually we  started introducing the parts of grammar. True to the Montessori philosophy of language learning, classes had a lot of oral conversation in Arabic so the language can come "alive" for the chidlren.

I restarted my read alouds - choosing Arabic story books which was relevant to concepts which had been introduced. Reading books has always been a great source of effective learning for the children, we have seen how it has a positive impact on understanding the concepts . Children learn the structure of the sentence, grammar along with vocabulary, with the minimum effort and great interest.  Many books were available online and I made full use of that resource. Especially wonderful is the Unite for Literacy with books in English and narration in Arabic. Another resource is Pratham's Storyweaver where several levelled Arabic story books can be found. 

The written work was regularly submitted by the children through WhatsApp - they wrote in their notebooks and their parents uploaded photographs of the writing. The work was done independently by the children and I was delighted to see they hadn't forgotton how to write!

Then came the time where I felt I needed a confirmation - had the children understood the concepts, could they use the learning of the past two months

To make it sure, in an afternoon class, I asked a boy who was accompanied by his mother, " من هذه؟ "( who is she? ) he replied" ....  ،هذه امي،اسمها"( she is my mother, her name is....), it went on, I  asked questions based on whatever had been presented to them, Alhamdulillah, most of them were able to answer. Alhamdulillah. 

That gives a sense of success, and satisfaction, that despite of all the challenges, we are moving smoothly in digital platform. Thankfully , the online learning/ teaching experience has generally been positive.. Alhamdu lillah..

Nikhath Ara, Montessori & Arabic Teacher

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Grammar lessons are boring! Or are they?

 I had tried the inductive approach to teaching grammar with my 6 th grade which was very successful and now I wanted to experiment with my grade 7.

I gave a set of 16 sentences as an assignment to my grade 7 and wanted them to group them based on their similarities to have further discussion during the English class.  I had their submissions where they grouped them as statements and questions, simple, compound and complex sentences.  I was thrilled that the kids were able to discover the differences and similarities based on their prior knowledge which now got activated as well as consolidated.  So, can I say two birds with one stone?

During the class I told them that we were not looking at sentence structures, so I wanted them to look at other similarities.  They spoke about figurative language, adjectives, adverbs, imagery because we had completed a chapter on descriptive writing.  

I narrowed down the scope for them and informed the lesson is going to be on grammar.  They responded - statements and questions.  I told them to pick the four interrogative sentences and find how they were different from each other.

I read the sentences loudly to the students and wanted them to pay close attention to a grammar concept which I planned to teach them.  As I was impatient for their answers, I felt butterflies in my stomach but I continued to wait.  

The first contribution came from Sal when he referred without going into detail that it was in the present tense which triggered the conversation.  I applauded the effort and they were all now looking at the sentences with a fresh perspective to discover new information.

Afrah, Izzy, Mooz, Sal and Ruqayya engaged with the material and now actively discussed the sentences among themselves about tenses, present and past.  I did not intervene until I saw them getting stuck or deviating from the topic in discussion.  The learners were able to come up with a clear understanding for simple present and simple past in their own words which was not very different from the conventional definition.  They were now able to not just come up with examples but were able to convert some simple sentences from past to present and vice versa on their own.

We then noticed a few other sentences where the action was not just happening in the present or past but was continuing.  We came to identify the present continuous and the past continuous and then create examples.  There were a few more sentences left to identify, label, define and make examples  - this work has been assigned for the next interesting session.

If students are actively engaged, then learning happens effectively.  Although the inductive approach takes a longer time, I believe it is more efficient in the long run.  In this approach of inductive reasoning, the student is relying on critical thinking to figure out the language rules with active interaction and participation and gain deeper understanding of the language which will be used in their own writing in the future.  Is there anything more a teacher wants from a grammar class?

Naqeeb Sultana

Teaching Grammar inductively - Whoa!

F:\NAQEEB\Grade 6\TC.jpg

Teachers face many challenges when teaching kids.  Teaching grammar is one of the biggest.  The approach so far has been focused on instruction and then practice.  Grammar is an important part of language but the complex rules can be intimidating.

So I decided to teach grammar inductively.  Now, what is inductive reasoning?  This approach involves observing patterns to form a general conclusion.  In other words, you notice patterns or and make specific observations and form a rule before practicing.

I gave my grade 6 students a set of 12 words (in the form of a picture) and asked them to make sentences of their own.  The list of words were: and, when, next, so, last, after, finally, then, first, because, but and while.

The picture should have given them a clue but I was not sure if they would observe it during a grammar class although they have been exposed to visual thinking strategies.

They eagerly made their own sentences. Then, I asked them to carefully observe their sentences and determine what was the function of the above words in their sentences.  At first, they did not understand what I meant by the purpose of the word.  I gave them an example that the purpose of the pen is to write.  Now, they had to look at the sentence and tell me its function or purpose.

It took them some time to comprehend what was asked as it was challenging and confusing. Zee made the start stating that these words added sentences together.  This gave an indication to others as to what information they had to look for.  She also analyzed further and came to the conclusion that these words could be added at the start or the middle of the sentence but did not make much sense at the end of the sentence.

Nuha expressed that these words also gave more specific detail about what and when something is happening in a sentence along with joining two pieces of information or two ideas.

Ahmed told me that it gave more clarity to the sentence.  Mohamed mentioned that it answered questions why and when something was happening.

Abdus Sami told me that it showed the order of events happening (he meant sequence) and the reason an incident happened (cause and effect).

Ash told me it is comparing two things and also adding two ideas together.  I could see Zee’s eyes light up when she said, “Aunty! these are conjunctions.”

I saw the students engage and actively participate in the discussion and found it much more effective in acquiring the rules on their own.  Finally, I gave them a presentation on connectives and mentioned that connectives are linking words that hold sentences together giving it meaning.  They are essential to understanding English.  

It is important that children learn literacy, numeracy and scientific thinking but more pertinent skills include team work, creativity, resilience and initiative.

Naqeeb Sultana

Teaching Visual Critical Thinking VII - What were these kids up to?

This was the third session with my 7 grade on the visual thinking strategies and I used this picture to start the conversation.

The picture was one which showed blissfully sleeping children in sleeping bags wearing winter caps as sunlight shone through the huge, open windows which reached the ceiling. The children  noticed the date written on the board at the back of the classroom.  Looking at the writing boards, desks and chairs, they all concluded it is a classroom and the writing gave the place as New York city with the date somewhere March 1914.
As I continued with this class, I realized this activity not only gives the students an opportunity to observe but to reflect on their observations which improves their critical thinking.   Observing the picture is similar to close reading and not only helps in thinking skills but also in communication, language development and confidence.  
The children carefully observed that it must have been cold so the children in the picture were ensconced in sleeping bags, wrapped in blankets and the room had heaters on the sides of the walls.  Afrah observed that the picture was from America and the class was quarantined.  NYC was written in chalk on the class writing board.  She also pointed out that since the boards were filled with writing, the class in all probably was over.  There was a light in the second window.  She concluded that there must have been some kind of a flu for which the children had been quarantined.
Mooz noted the date 1914 and inferred they were evacuees, British children brought to America for safety during World War II.  Since it was cold, they were wrapped in warm clothes with windows left open because they forgot to close it.

Izzy articulated that the kids were under quarantine in the school due to some kind of a virus outbreak.  The parents were forced to keep the children in quarantine until they took the tests. He noticed that the open windows let in fresh air into the class.

Cessie observed it might be a hostel.  They seemed poor because there was just one bag as their belongings.

Ruqayya inferred that there might have been a plague or a flu because the children seemed separated.  The picture must be old which was why it was in black and white.  The windows were left open for air circulation but it must have been cold so the kids were in sleeping bags with winter caps on.  They probably were poor because they only had deck chairs, and there was nothing much around in the classroom, not even fans and just what seemed like a lantern near the second window.  The date in the background, she thought, was the day they were brought in for quarantine.

On questioning why were the windows high as the ceiling, they all chorused to let air and sunlight. 

On revealing the caption and the article - “Schools Beat Earlier Plagues with Outdoor Classes, We Should Too”, they were all enthusiastic about having a fresh air class at their own school to beat the pandemic.  They questioned it was done in 1914, then why not now? I had no answer to that question of theirs.  

It is amazing to see the students develop their skills of listening and expressing oneself and I am hopeful there is more in store for the classrooms which implement such alternative teaching methods.

Note : Student chosen aliases have been used instead of real names.  The link to the article with the actual picture has been provided below:

Transforming Moms into Montessorians during the Corona Pandemic Lockdown - A Mom's view

The school that set a record on how far it can go and what best it can do for their children at these unfortunate times of Corona Pandemic Lockdown


This post is neither a sponsor nor anything to do with the promotion of the school but purely from the gratitude filled heart of a mother whose child is blessed to be a part of this wonderful community of Al Qamar Academy.

My knowledge about Montessori Education before and after Corona Pandemic

A few months back or before the pandemic, to be more specific, I was constantly confronted with these questions, “What is this Montessori Education all about?” “Did you make the right choice for your child?” I always panicked. It is not that I didn’t research about Montessori Education before I decided to put my two and half year old girl into a Montessori school. Indeed, I did my research if asking Google is considered researching. However, for parents, fear and confusion often arises when seeing the majority, conventional school parents walking in one direction whereas a very small group of Monessorian parents walking in the opposite direction like rebels

When a three-year-old kid from a traditional school recites all the English alphabets, words from Apple to Zebra, and sings plenty of rhymes like a tape recorder, and when my three-year-old girl from the “rebel” group shows only interest in preparing lime juice, making dough for chapatis, and pounding    pulses    and    grains, as    a    Mother,     I     tended     to     panic. “Did I send my girl to school to learn house chores?”—this question was hammering in my mind. It felt like we Montessori parents were blindfolded and left stranded! But we were not.

We  weren’t  misled  but  guided  towards  the  path—right  and  bright  like sunshine.

Thanks to Corona Pandemic Lockdown (CPL) that played a greater part in transforming me, a stay at home mom and so many other moms into Montessorians. Don’t get that wrong. Corona didn’t educate us about Montessor!  It created an opportunity to learn from the humble, hardworking, and well-trained Montessorians of Al Qamar Academy (AQA).

When the schools in the whole world were and are taking online classes for children as young as 3 years, exposing them to the dangerous effects of blue light, AQA thought out of the box.

‘Train a mom and create a Montessorian in every home’ became the motto of AQA during this lockdown.

 Moms’ Montessori Training Program Organised by AQA

Three months back, AQA invited moms to join the Montessori training program (MTP). It was made optional probably because they didn’t want to burden the already overworked housewives and busy working moms.

With a handful of enthusiastic moms, the classes  started from June  10, 2020 at 3  to 3.30 pm, every day, with an exception of Saturdays and Sundays, and are still going on to this  date September 5, 2020, and probably will continue, perhaps until Corona exists, lol.

  • Live lectures were presented by the dedicated team of Montessorians, Ms. Thahira Owais, and Ms. Nikkath Ara.

  • At the end of every class, sharp at 4 pm, the PowerPoint file of the lecture was sent to our email.

  • Materials and sources were provided.

  • Assignment with a set of questions was given, every single day, which was later corrected, commented on, and discussed.

  • A theory exam was conducted.

  • Montessori activities were demonstrated.

  • The practical exam and viva-voce was conducted.

Everything was carried out online via Google classroom. Huh! Breathtaking!

Now, if someone asks me about Montessori and whether I made the right choice for my child, I can present a mini-lecture on the spot, and even run a debate, with utmost confidence and humble pride.

Mini-Montessori Homes

Mont home.jpg

This image ‘Mini-EPL environment’ is the outcome of MTP in just two months. Now! Every home of AQA Montessori children has a mini Montessori school, set up by moms under the humble and invaluable guidance of AQA teachers.

Looking at the image, one may wonder—

What are jugs and mugs, bowls and bottles, grains and pulses, sponges and socks, beads and threads, mortar and pestle, cutting board and knife, lemon squeezer and chapati roller are doing in the mini school environment?

Shouldn’t there be alphabet and rhyme books, two ruled and four ruled notebooks, pen and pencil, and the board and chalks and a bamboo stick to whack the butts of naughty children? Well! That’s exactly what I asked when I visited the Montessori school. Traditional school minds think alike.

Whoa! Why isn’t there even a single sign of the traditional school?

I got the answers during MTP and was astonished.

Hidden in a glass of lime juice is my little one’s energy and muscle strength of her Lilliputian hands, determination of her heart and concentration of her alert mind, her striving for perfection, her independence and self-confidence, and above all, her joy in doing it.

Squeezing lemons, kneading dough, rolling chapatis, pounding pulses and grains, pouring water in jugs and glasses, cutting and grating the carrots and cucumbers, buttoning and unbuttoning the shirt, spooning and sorting grains, grooming, beading thread, and so on are—

  • to make the child, self-confident, self-obedient, and independent

  • to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of their teeny-weeny palms

  • to refine their fine motor skills and motor balance and co-ordination.

  • to develop their muscle memory

  • to develop the love for order, perfection, and satisfaction

  • to develop concentration Oh, Yeah! I have just named a few.

AQA Moms training program transformed my fear and confusion for the Montessori education system into respect and admiration.

I wonder—how many times my jaw dropped while I was learning about this brilliant system, in awe, exclaiming, WOW!

Now, if someone asks me, what is the difference between the traditional and Montessori education system, I can answer in one line that shall speak for itself

‘Follow the child’, says Montessori education; ‘Rule the child’, says Traditional education.

A note of thanks to the dedicated team of Montessorians of AQA

Blessed are not just our children but also (we) parents

to have you all as our beloved

teachers’ and kind sisters;

Words shall fall short to

express our gratitude so we

include you in our supplications to

the One, the Exalted

to shower His profound mercy

on each one of you and your family and

all your generations to follow.


Ending with these quotes to highlight the essence of Montessori Education

The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ’The children are now working as if I did not exist.’

We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master.

- Maria Montessori

By Um Hunaifa

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Teaching Big History III - Claim Testing

Today we started up the lessons on Claim Testing in the Big History curiculum being used at Al Qamar Academy. This section is an essential component of the entire 1st Unit where students are introduced to tools they need to critically study history - scale, claims testing, vocabulary, writing skills and measurement.  

I commenced by asking children to explain what they understood by the word "claim". "An explanation or opinion", "sometimes backed by evidence", "something you think to be true" were some of the responses.  I told the students that understanding claims is vital in these days of fake news, polarised viewpoints and violent dissension. 

Since we are still under lockdown, and schools haven't physically reopened, we had to modify the lesson delivery. I could not put up each claim on the walls of the classroom and have them go around with "Agree/Disagree' sticky notes. Instead, I presented each claim on the screen and instructed the students to reflect and jot down whether they agreed or disagreed with the claim. They also had to provide a reason for why they thought so.  In addition to the list of claims in the course material, I added a few of my own. I had assumed that we would take about 10 minutes or so to go through the entire 9 claims - but was plesantly surprised as students asked me for "thinking" time for each slide.

Once we were done, I presented the slide deck again and asked the students to share their votes for each claim. The first one, "Earth is flat" was quickly shot down as most students disagreed with the claim. I explained to them that for years, mankind had thought this claim to be true. After all, the visual evidence was before them. It was only questioned when the Greek, Aristotole, saw a ship on the horizon disappearing slowly.  Magellan's journey around the world also provided evidence that the earth was not flat. Finally in the last century, as human beings went up into space, could mankind get visual evidence that the earth was round.

The second slide claimed that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old.  Interestingly, there was a lone dissenter here. She explained her stance - "How do we really know? Is the scientific evidence perfect?" Good critical thinking here. I explained that even science is "best guessing" this number and there have been variations, but increasingly with more and more evidence, scientists seem to be getting closer. However, there is no way to "absolutely" verify this claim.

"We should believe what we see in the Big History videos."  There were many "Maybe" and "Depends" here.  The students explained that even these videos need to be seen critically and they would need to see logical explanations and evidence for the claims presented in the videos.  I was quite delighted at their stance. 

The next claim "In the Northern Hemisphere it is colder in the winter and hotter in the summer" took a long time as students deconstructed the entire claim. They did not accept this on face value. As one student queried "Comparitive adjectives are used. What are they comparing to? We don't know that."

All students agreed with the claim that the use of differing scales in Big History makes it different from other approaches to history."

We moved on to some of the claims I had made up. The first was "India is a backward country". I was thrilled to see a lot of debate on this. The students asked what was meant by "backwardness" - economic? political? social? cultural? index of happiness? They also argued how the economy was doing well, but recently has taken a hit. Hence, it can't really be said whether India is backward unless the terms are defined clearly.

Another claim which caused a lot of discussion was "Homework hurts learning". The students questioned each word of this statement. What kind of homework? What is meant by "hurts"? What constitutes "learning". It was satisfying to see that the students were delving deeper into the claim, rather than accepting or rejecting it at face value.  Clearly there has been cross pollination in their learning across classes - The concepts imbibed in the "Logic and Fallacies" class were being implemented here.

Just when I was quietly celebrating their depth of thinking, they quickly put paid to my euphoria by unanimously disagreeing with the statement "COVID prevented deaths"? "Oh! Deep reflection, Complexity and Broadbased Thinking - wherefore art thou?" I muttered silently to myself!  But then one student saved the day - "Why is someone making such a claim? Is there a possible basis for this?" I did explain that several people have argued that pollution & traffic related deaths have reduced due to worldwide lockdowns.

We went on to the final claim of the day "I will rain tonight." I used this one to give an example of a claim based on intuition, so the students would be able to identify it as such when applying the four claim testers to be taught in a later class. There was debate on this claim too - "How do you know?" "Maybe." "This is an opinion" I clarified that many claims are just that - opinions, which is why its important to dig deeper and think critically.

These lessons from Big History provide broadbased learning and shape thinking which will hopefully, be carried across and reflected in their work in other classes and in life in general.

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...