ROBO-MANIA IS SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE.

I was not conducting any formal classes for the 3rd and 4th standard kids. But I did allow them to come fiddle around every now and then…

Most of the time I had to come up with excuses, telling them that they could use the Robotics lab when they came to the 5th standard. Because that’s how the Robotics Programme is structured.

Today I reached the lab very early. A few 3rd standard kids had also come as early. They requested me to allow them to build something. Since there were only three students and ample time before class, I asked them to sit together at one computer.

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At the most, I knew I might have to reinstall some software. And so I just observed them. They confidently turned on the computer and were trying to open the LEGO WeDo software… but they did not know that all it took was a double click of the icon.

I showed them how to do a double click by tapping on the bench. They opened the software and without any further guidance, reached the robot building guidelines page. They chose to do the first Robot on the list.

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After a few trials and errors, they finished building the Robot. Their faces reflected the sheer joy they felt…
So again, these kids are proving me wrong, sending the message loud and clear, that their capacity is beyond my imagination.

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The Robotics Programme has so far been restricted only to the children of standard V and above. Today’s amazing incident has prompted me to begin formal classes for the 3rd and 4th standard children too.

– Sridhar P.

Sridhar heads our robotics programme in the government schools and ever so often has more than one inspirational anecdote or two.

CISCO makes Math fun.

We recently pulled out all the contents of Ganitha Kalika Andolana’s big White Box for you. It has a beaded rope, tape, blocks, foamed goodies, measuring tools, and weighing balance etc. In a nutshell, everything a child needs to understand every Math concept in his/her syllabus.

But explaining each concept is no nutshell of a job. It’s creative, challenging, easy and tough, all at the same time. Which is why, we decided to come up with as many ways as possible for the teacher to use as ready reckoners, while teaching Math.

And what made it better, our friends at CISCO Bangalore, decided to huddle together one day and brainstorm for us. Eager yet cautious faces greeted our entire team, as we began the fun afternoon. The sheer magnanimity of the things being pulled out of the box seemed to deter them at first.

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But once they got the hang of the entire kit, the place was abuzz. The entire group was divided into three large groups. Team A had to come up with pictorial representations for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and number counting using the abacus, beaded rope and base ten blocks. Team B got Fractions and Decimals, while Team C tackled Geometry.

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What followed was a few hours of excited squeals, quiet pondering, hushed discussions and noisy exclamations. Each team further divided themselves, so that they could come up with as many representative options as possible.

“It’s the most interactive session we have ever had” said Blessie, the chirpy and ever helpful team member of the CISCO volunteer team. “But a lot of the credit also goes to our leadership team. They push us a lot, “ she added without being able to pry her eyes away from the coloured blocks.

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It was amazing to see how 30 odd adults became a class of 30 in no time at all. While one team was busy dunking the foam strips in water and having fun, another was busy experimenting with stick figures. And yet another team was deep in discussion, ensuring theirs was the best 🙂

And the most exciting part for us was the fact that we actually got a great number of options to choose from, at the end!

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Soujanya, who has been interning for around 5 months was a little intimidated with the colourful yet unknown things overflowing from the white box. “It took us a while to get the hang of how different things are used, but on the whole, very interesting.” And so she continued adding the finishing touches to her group’s presentation.

A brainstorming session of this kind was an excellent way for this enthusiastic bunch to also experience the Math kit first hand. And a lot of them actually realised how challenging it is, to think at a 4th grade child’s level.

Sachin, who has taught in government schools before, confirms that a pictorial way is the most effective method of retention. He adds, “This sort of system with a pictorial representation of concepts helps schools where teachers are fewer in number, and they multitask. Many of these concepts can also help the kids directly.”

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As the session drew to a close, the teams got busy documenting their ideas.The last team that remained was a particularly interesting one. Khyati from that team, who has been with CISCO for a couple of years now, is from a government school herself.

Her excitement with an assignment like this is definitely above anyone else’s. While she was one of the lucky few to actually get a scholarship from Udyan Care, many don’t get that luxury. “Which is why, I am a part of the volunteer group. I want to give back to schools like mine, where getting a sound education is difficult.”

Reasons big or small, it was heartening to see so many people come together for the sake of education. And we thank them all for their time and effort in helping us take that one step ahead. Looking forward to many more brainstorming sessions. 🙂

You can see how the entire afternoon spanned out here.

THE READING CORNER

The 8th of March this year was a sunny day with temperatures rising way above comfort zones. Perfect to stay indoors and cozy up with a book and a cold lemonade. IMG_20150308_084244 Akshara Foundation swooped in with just the answer. Since it was time for the next edition of Sunday Soul Santhe, we thought, what better than a cozy reading corner for kids to plonk and chill, away from the heat. IMG_20150308_092247 The main objective however, was to spread the word about Akshara Foundation in general and our classroom libraries at government schools in particular. Sunday Soul Santhe is a quarterly flea market that sees throngs of people come together and encourage small business owners with their art, be it crafty creations, good food or great music. IMG_20150308_092607 And so, that was how the Reading Corner came to be. We set up a yellow and white-hued cozy little reading space complete with beds and bolsters, where kids could just get lost in our re-creation of the classroom library. And they did just that. While getting kids to warm up to the corner initially was tough, we soon realized that was because of growling tummies. Post lunch, the corner was pretty much the most sought-after attraction at the Santhe. IMG_20150308_131137 While a couple of boys were seen begging their folks to let them just chill in the reading corner, another came back as promised after getting his face painted. Once they were in, no one wanted to leave! Each one aptly found a reading position befitting a perfectly lazy afternoon. And that was the last their parents heard them grumble at the Santhe. soul santhe collage Irrespective of our age, this is precisely what books do to each and every one of us, right? They take us into a completely different world.  A world no one should be deprived of or kept away from. And that’s exactly what Akshara aims at doing with the classroom library – giving children their right to imagination and innovation, at every stage of their childhood.

Thank You, Teachers


Thank You cards created by the volunteers

Teachers play many important roles in the life of a child – that of an educator, mentor and a friend. They inspire, discipline, and inculcate values of thinking, reasoning, self-learning and exploration. They are one of the strong influences in developing the child into a responsible adult. And to recognize these efforts of the teachers, this year Target employees decided to do their bit.

As part of the Teachers Day celebrations, over 150 employees from the Marketing, HR, Merchandising, BI and Finance Team of Target and their families, made personalized ‘Thank You’ greeting cards to be distributed to Government school teachers in 360 schools across Bangalore, Hoskote and Mundargi. The whole activity was driven by a core group of volunteers who not only handled distributing and collecting back the cards; they also promoted the activity within their team and encouraged their team members to participate. The whole activity took one week. The end result was 1800 beautifully handcrafted cards.

For some volunteers, this activity was a good break from their desk job and showcases their creative skills, while for others it was a great activity to engage their families. But for most, it was just a small way of showing their gratitude to teachers who work selflessly for the cause of education. This was rightly echoed by one of the volunteers who said, “In this busy world, it was like this wonderful moment which took us back to our childhood and gave us an opportunity to express our feeling for our respected teachers. Irrespective of whom it would go to in person, the feeling of addressing it to a ‘Teacher’ was above all and delightful. The four hours I spent on those cards, though less compare to what my teachers have given me in terms of knowledge and wisdom.  It allowed me to give my respect to the teachers who help us reach where we are, professionally and as a person.

Cards distribution at a school
         
The teachers were overwhelmed by this token of appreciation. Some even went on to say that in their many years of service as a Government school teacher, never have they been recognized for their effort. Mamatha C, a teacher from GKMPS Nagashettyhalli said, “I thank the volunteers for creating greeting cards for us. We are humbled!

Teacher feedback

Such small gestures from the civil society does go a long way in encouraging Government school teachers to do their job well and deliver quality education to children.

Zip Zap Pow – Brining together shared value of performing arts and social change

The ZZP One Minute Play Festival is a super fun blur of plays – that gives a quick barometric reading
of the creative mental state of Bangalore’s theater scene. A One-Minute Play is a form of theater that looks at the ten-minute play form and structure, distills it down to the most immediate story-telling event or core emotional content. It’s the kind of evening that requires that you gulp it down and then reflect back later on the moments and sparks that made you laugh or that hit you hardest or surprised you. This platform has been developed to give budding playwrights, directors and actors a chance to showcase their skill in a ‘never seen or experienced before’ genre in theater.

Akshara Foundation is excited to be part of this unique play festival, which can bring to the audience shared value in terms of art and social change. We think this as a great opportunity for Akshara to reach out a large section of young people, who can together join hands to advocate for the cause of good quality education for children. All proceeds from the event will be used in Akshara’s educational programme in Government schools across the state. 

Anita Mitra, who is the brain behind this festival, has planned a three-series festival for this year. The All Women’s series, the All Men’s series and a play-off between the best of the women and men. The first ever All Women’s One Minute Theater in July 2014, was a riveting celebration. The festival saw brilliant 55 one minute, original dramatic pieces, 37 women, a 100 emotions music, dance, laughter and tears.. Four packed shows with a spellbound audience have ensured that this festival is set to be an annual feature in the theater calendar in the city.

It’s time for the ZZP Men now! 40 brand new one minute All Men pieces, men playwrights, All men cast and crew, brand new scripts and one minute snippets!  This is what you get to treat yourself with at the All Men’s Theater festival finale on the 10thof August 2014. Be there at Humming Tree, Indiranagar, Bangalore to cheer this immense talent!


Makkala Habba is Here!

Festivities at Akshara continue with the much awaited “Makkala Habba”. This is a festival of learning, creativity and a get-together for the teachers, students and the parents along with volunteers. 

Children checking the LEGO blocks

What is “Makkala Habba”?
“Makkala Habba” is platform that brings teachers, students and the parents to interact with each other creatively under a single roof. Creativity is exhibited using Lego bricks to build stories around the model. “Makkala Habba” is all about getting teachers, parents, students at selected library schools in Bangalore to build a model based on the theme given. 
  
LEGO models made by children and parents.
“Makkala Habba” will be held from 16th November- 14thDecember 2013 in Bangalore.The 2 hours of Makkala Habba is going to be one place where chaos, excitement, energy, ideas and imagination are all running high. This year “Makkala Habba” will be celebrated in 12 schools with over 3655 children participating.

Join us as we celebrate creativity like never before! For more details to volunteer for the “Makkala Habba” write to us at volunteer@akshara.org.in
We are looking for volunteers to help us on 23rd November 2013.

Take a look at all the fun at the LEGO Habba 2012 here.

Music Appreciation Class At Government Tamil School – Austin town, Bangalore

Kalyan Siva conducted a music appreciation class at Government Tamil School – Austin Town, Bangalore. He shares with us his 6 day long musical experience.



 Govt. Tamil School in Austin Town 
As part of a pilot for a new class in Government Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) schools, students of grade III and IV of the Govt. Tamil School in Austin Town attended a class on the Music Appreciation from 8th July 2013 – 17th July 2013. This report aims to detail findings and feedback from the experience, and to recommend the class to other schools due to the positive response from students and teachers alike.
“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.” –Ludwig van Beethoven

Why Music? Do we need another class?
There is a word that defines children very well. ‘Precocious’. They learn things very fast, and build on their knowledge as they blossom into young talented men and women. As a child, I had the benison of being introduced to music, and it has been my constant companion ever since.

Various studies in India and abroad have tried to predict the effect of music on students, and it has been a contentious topic in educational circles. Of late, studies are favoring and calling for the inclusion of music  into  the  curriculum  of  students.  According to  them, music improves concentration levels of students and this has been supported by a corresponding increase in marks obtained by the children.

As a volunteer with Akshara, my initial assignment was to go through the RTI act and the curriculum of the SSA schools in the state. Along with this, I was given a data sheet, compiled by Akshara, which detailed information about the schools. On going through this list, it struck me as a surprise that most schools didn’t have a playground. Children need recreation to balance out their curricular activities. Citing this, I developed the idea of having a music class for students. If the students were able to improve their analytical ability because of it, as many papers on the subject state, it would be great. If not, it would still give them a lifelong companion and develop in them a passion for the fine arts. This, for me, was motivation enough.

The intentional use of music in the classroom will set the scene and learning atmosphere to enhance our teaching and learning activities. Plus, using music for learning makes the process much more fun and interesting! Music, one of the joys of life, can be one of the joys of learning as well. Below are a few areas where teaching music can be highly effective.

LEARNING-INFORMATION
Music  can  be  used  to  help  us  remember  learning  experiences  and  information.  In  Active Learning  Experiences  music  creates  a  soundtrack  for  a  learning  activity.  The  soundtrack increases interest and activates the information mentally, physically, or emotionally. Music can also create a highly focused learning state in which vocabulary and reading material is absorbed at a great rate.

ATTENTION, ATTITUDE AND ATMOSPHERE
Preparing for a learning experience can make the difference between lessons well-learned and just passing time. Certain music will create a positive learning atmosphere and help students to feel welcome to participate in the learning experience. In this way it also has great affect upon students’ attitudes and motivation to learn. The rhythms and tempo of musical sound can assist us in setting and maintaining our attention and focus by perking us up when we are weary and helping us find peace and calm when we are over-energized in some way.

SELF-EXPRESSION
Music is the doorway to the inner realms and the use of music during creative and reflective times facilitates personal expression in writing, art, movement, and a multitude of projects. Creation of musical compositions offers a pathway to expressing personal feelings and beliefs in the language of musical sound.

All of the above has been well corroborated by John Hopkins University and Stanford University School of Medicine. Renowned Neurobiologist says that music exists all over the world, and has conducted and researched various studies into the impact of music on children. The support for this movement is endless.

It cannot be emphasized enough that, apart from all the learning benefits that music potentially brings, it will always be a companion to those who learn and relish it. Introducing young ones to such a wonderful and accessible art form is return enough.

Music Appreciation Class at GTLPS – Austin Town
The Government Tamil Lower Primary School (GTLPS) in Austin Town was the venue of my classes. With a large courtyard and playground, and clean premises, the school exuded an aura of learning.

I was allotted time with the children of the Third and Fourth grade from 14h00 – 15h00 every day. So as to give the children a holistic view of music, the music classes were organized as follows:
    Day 1: Introduction to Music the building blocks of music
    Day 2: The base of everything: Classical Music
    Day 3: Variegated music: Different forms of Regional Music (Folk)
    Day 4: Salute our Nation: Desh-Bhakti songs
    Day 5: The light side – Filmy
    Day 5+: Desh-Bhakti + Filmy

Due to a request from the management of the school, citing their desire to make the children learn more Desh-Bhakti songs, select songs of that genre were practiced from day 2. Each session ended with the national anthem.

Each day brought on new excitement from the children and new delight to their instructor. As a class, they were their naughty and fun loving selves, but soon bought into the idea of learning music, and I could perceive their enjoyment. The language of communication was Tamil, but I was also asked to occasionally speak in English so as to help them get a grasp on that as well.

Day 1 proved to be the most challenging. Getting the children’s attention was no easy task, but I managed to do so by singing a famous film song. After getting their attention, I explained to the children the origin and the importance of music in our world today. This was followed by a session where I taught them about the elements of music: S-R-G-M-P-D-N (The Saptaswara). The children had warmed up to the idea of the class, and learnt intently. To my happiness, many had had an exposure to this earlier.

Day  2  took  the  children deeper  into  the  world of  classical music,  with  different  variations  of  the Saptaswara, and the introduction of the concept of Raga and Taala.   They were taught how classical music is the base of all we know in music and its relevance in our culture even today.

Day 3 saw an introduction into folk music for the children of GTLPS Austin Town. With songs like ‘Aache Manaya’, the children understood how different regions had different styles. They were allowed to express themselves by coming up and singing any song of their choice. With only a few volunteers initially, the parade grew to a point where each child wanted to sing multiple songs! Seeing their enthusiasm, I made it a point to give them time at the end of each class to sing whatever they wanted. That is, after all, what this class was all about.

Day 4 was officially Desh-Bhakti day. In a very long, but enjoyable session, the children were introduced to the ever-popular ‘Ham Honge Kamiyaab’ and ‘Yeh Tiranga Pyaara Hai’. Watching the sing ‘Ham Honge…’ with gusto was a special moment for me. Their rendition of ‘Vande Mataram’ was also fine tuned.

Day 5 was filmy day, and ‘Yuhi Chala Chal’ from the movie ‘Swades’ was their task for the day. They clapped to the beat and sang to the tune wonderfully well. Later, all of them wanted to sing their own favorite tamil songs, and the passion with which each of them did so was truly amazing.

From Day 6 onwards, my task was to perfect their Desh-Bhakti songs for Independence Day, and they followed to the best of their abilities.

Children of Class 3 and 4 of GTLPS, Austin Town

Throughout the course of the workshop, the attendance in the class remained fairly constant. Even though nothing can be said about the effect of this class on the attendance of the students, I was able to perceive a happiness during and after the class in the children. They looked forward to giving their vocal chords a go, and they seemed interested to learn throughout the course of the class.

Through this experience, the importance of music in the lives of children was reaffirmed, and I would urge those who can to introduce this concept in all schools. It would almost be unfair to deprive them of the opportunity to learn it. They don’t have to become Shankar Mahadevans and Shreya Ghoshals. A little excitement and happiness in their lives through music will go a long way.

Volunteers required for Storytelling sessions

Image source: www.patrickranchmuseum.org
Would you like to read stories in Kannada to children? Now, here’s your chance !
Akshara Foundation had pioneered a major coalition involving Dream A Dream, Magic Bus and other leading NGOs, to improve the lives and life chances of children in Bangalore. As part of the initiative, we are organzing a camp for children from the slum in Ambedkar Nagar (Mysore Road) on Sunday, the 11th of August. Many exciting events including LEGO will be organized for children between 3 and 14 years of age.
We are looking for around 10 volunteers who could conduct book reading sessions for children. If you think that you conduct an interesting story telling session for children, do write to volunteer@akshara.org.in

Details of the event is as below:

Date: 25th August 2013

Venue: Ambedkar Nagar ( near the Pepsi Factory, Mysore Road)

Time: 9.30 am to 12.30pm

Languages: Should know to read Kannada

The Story of the Toilets in the Government Schools in Bangalore

Image source: Microsoft Research

Via Microsoft Research

Toilets play a key role in the overall functioning of a school. It is hard to imagine a school functioning efficiently without a set of toilets. According to UNICEF, “education for girls can be fostered by something as basic as a girls-only toilet”. Even in cases where schools have toilets, they will be unusable unless they are clean, private and functional. Currently, there is an extensive database on elementary education in India called District Information System for Education (DISE). It has school ‘report cards’ of more than 1.3 million schools providing qualitative and quantitative information about them. However, these only mention whether the school has toilets for boys and for girls. This can be misleading because even if a school has separate toilets for boys and girls, they could be unusable due to various reasons.

In an initial set of informal visits to 8 schools in the Shivajinagar, Frazer Town and KG Halli areas of Bangalore, we got the impression that toilets were an integral part of the school’s infrastructure. In some cases, the poor condition of toilets affected attendance and enrollment at the school, especially for girls. One of the school headmasters (HM) complained that parents are reluctant in sending their daughters to school if there are no separate toilet facilities for them. The boys at the school would urinate in open-air at a corner of the school ground.

In order to get a deeper understanding of the toilet infrastructure in government schools, Microsoft partnered with Akshara Foundation to carry out a survey of 36 schools in Bangalore. The results were quite thought provoking and required lots of working on.

Read the complete article here.

Interesting Jobs At Akshara…. We’re Hiring!

 

Akshara Foundation (www.akshara.org.in) was set up with a mission to ensure Every Child in School and Learning Well. Our work at Akshara Foundation is to universalize equitable access to quality pre-school and elementary education for all children through multiple innovative models – these models are developed by people who have different professional backgrounds but one commonality – a high level of social empathy and a clear belief that we now have the unique opportunity to bridge the gaps.

Since inception in March 2000, Akshara has worked in the areas of preschool education and in improving learning proficiencies of children in reading in the medium of instruction (Kannada and Urdu), in math and in English. Akshara has also conceived and incubated the path-breaking Karnataka Learning Partnership framework (www.klp.org.in).

Akshara has opportunities open for individuals with passion to improve early education in Karnataka and showcase this as a possible model for the country. Currently, we have positions open for :

Head – School Programmes which currently includes support programmes in primary schools for Math and English ; a Library Programme including a pilot Robotics Lab set up with grant support from the Lego Foundation in Denmark. For more details on these programmes please visit :

http://www.akshara.org.in/program/in-school-programme

http://www.akshara.org.in/program/library-programme

The successful candidate will have at least a Master’s degree in Education or Social Development ( a Ph.D. is highly desirable) and a strong passion to improve children’s learning outcomes through an approach of development of human capital.He / she will have strong people skills since the role envisages managing of in-house resource teams , teachers and government education department officials, interacting with communities and running a data-based advocacy effort across various stakeholders. Knowledge of Kannada is essential and the successful candidate will have at least ten years overall experience including some years in independently managing and implementing a programme. While the position is based in Bangalore, there will be a fair amount of travel especially to parts of North Karnataka and to schools in the Bangalore Rural District.

Manager – Robotics Lab.
This is a new pilot initiative and Akshara is setting up a robotics lab to encourage children in government primary schools to engage with concepts in science. The Lab Manager will have a science background and will be familiar with rudimentary concepts in math and science to be able to guide children and support primary school teachers. Knowledge of Kannada is essential and no prior experience is required. The position is based in Bangalore and there will be occasional travel to promote a scientific culture among children.

Interested candidates should apply by e-mail to info@akshara.org.in with a resume and a short one-page note on how they think they could make a difference to Every Child in School and Learning Well. Last date for receipt of applications is 31 August 2013