Wednesday, February 23, 2005

An afternoon at AID Chennai

Feb 18th:

For the past two days, I have been coming to the AID India office in Chennai, talking to the folks there and reading the material in their office. There are booklets on concepts in science (eg. evolution) and mathematics, the booklet created about the tsunami and so on. Today was different. Some lecturers from DTERT (Directorate of Teacher Education Resource and Training) were visiting the office to get information about teaching aids and training material. These lecturers are 2 levels of hierarchy above teachers, i.e. they train the people who train teachers. One DTERT lecturer had visited the office the previous day – that was all the warning the group had. Now, at 3 pm, about 15 lecturers were sitting in a room listening to Balaji, Ravishankar and Chandra speak about the material they and others have been working on.

Balaji demonstrated a simple way of introducing children to fractions with just a piece of paper and pen/pencil. The exercise involved a lot of tearing up of paper, something I'm sure children will enjoy! The beauty of the exercise is that children needn't even have heard of fractions - but at the end of it, they will have an intuitive understanding of them. Even better, they won't have time to develop a fear of fractions! Most of the AID India material seems designed primarily to demystify concepts that have a reputation for being complex.

After Balaji's demo, Chandra and Ravishankar were questioned about their skills and contributions. The visitors then asked for more specific information on material for Mathematics, Science and Social Science. They split into 3 groups, with discussions in different rooms. Chandra talked to the Maths group, Ravishankar (and later Gomati) to the Science group and Balaji took care of Social Science. I opted to travel from room to room and catch as much action as possible :)

The social science session consisted mainly of videos – the AID folks have been producing DVDs that explain concepts in geography, including one that explains tectonic plate tension that led to the recent earthquake and tsunami.

In the Maths session, Chandra was talking about volume and conversion concepts that could be demonstrated with small 'unit volume' cubes. Then followed a discussion about pi and how best to explain it to children. Next, to demonstrate algebra, she picked up a calendar, asked the group to choose a square of 4 numbers and give her the total. She used basic algebra to determine which square had been chosen. Explanation: x+(x+1)+(x+7)+(x+8) = total

In the Science session, Ravishankar blew up a balloon and asked why it had grown in size. Everyone answered – 'because of the air molecules inside the balloon'. Gomati then put the balloon inside a big syringe (or a transparent piston pump), blocked the outlet and pushed in the piston. The balloon shrank. She pushed it out and the balloon expanded to a size bigger than its original one. One could almost see the minds in the room working furiously as the audience connected this with air pressure!

And thus continued the sessions. It was past 6 pm when the visitors finally left after complimenting the group's work, taking with them various pamphlets and leaving behind a list for more. The AID India team was tired but happy – this was their first contact with DTERT folks and it was overwhelmingly positive. As Ravishankar put it, “This ability to generate excellent teaching material, to arrange a meeting at such short notice and impress people of this calibre – this is all possible because of the quality of the program we have created!”

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