SAIIER 2016:Deepanam School
Building a Tree House
- “The school should be an opportunity for progress for the teacher as well as for the student. Each one should have the freedom to develop freely.
- A method is never so well applied as when one has discovered it oneself. Otherwise it is as boring for the teacher as for the student.”
Deepanam School is based on the principles and thoughts on education put forward by The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. It aims at integral development of students and to provide the joy and love of learning.
Deepanam School aspires to make the students capable of thinking, studying, progressing and becoming intelligent – which must continue through one's entire life – and of discovering for oneself the aim of life and the specific role that one’s soul has come down to play in terrestrial life.
Deepanam has completed a decade of serving the Auroville community. We cater to children of ages 7 to 14 years. There are three multi-age group classrooms:
- Light (7 & 8 years old)
- Peace (9 to 11 years old)
- Faith (12 to 14 years old)
Apart from academic subjects like languages, sciences, mathematics and social studies equal importance is given to visual arts (drawing, painting, crafts, ceramics), performing arts (piano, singing drama, dance), culinary art, Capoiera, Awareness Through the Body, and last but not least gardening.
Highlights of the year
Light group (7 & 8 years old)
“Near to far” was our thread which we followed throughout the year in form of projects. Our first project was “Myself”; from there we moved to “Deepanam” and from there “Auroville”; and we completed the year with “Tamil Nadu”.
Myself project: This was the project very near to the children (in fact within them). We discussed the qualities that each child had and how all of us come across/experience those qualities. The outcome of the project was a special tree, prepared during the art and craft sessions. The tree had origami photo frames holding each child's picture and the qualities written in green leaves.
Our focus was to bring awareness, positivity and appreciation into our class as we all come from different backgrounds. The children felt very proud of themselves and created very positive and harmonious feeling within the class.
Deepanam project: The first question put to the children was: “Why do we come to school?” We proceeded with amazing, heart-touching and technical answers. We explored different areas of our school, interviewed teachers, and made posters of the details.
Secondly, we constructed our not-much-used sandpit into a concrete platform and gave it the name Rainbow class. The name represents the meeting point of Light and water. This was very tough work as they had to first empty the pit, fill it up with topsoil and then put the cement. We used broken tiles to make a mosaic floor where children poured out their hearts with designs of sea animals. Collecting and weaving the coconut leaves to make a roof was the most exiting and hard work.
This extension of our classroom is being used every day with so much of love because it was built by them. Constructing our own space brought the sense of belonging and the process made us aware of the importance of team work, planning and technical details.
Auroville project: By this time our students caught the idea that slowly our circle - “from near to far” - was getting bigger. To bring in some different dynamics we had the parents participate in this project. We made 3 subgroups: People of Auroville, Work in Auroville, Farms & forests in Auroville. Parents took small group of students to explore Auroville and documented their learning in different ways, which was presented to the rest of the school for Auroville's 48th birthday.
Collaboration with parents brought immense joy to the whole learning process. It made the children very responsible and proud. At the same time the parents too got the satisfaction of first-hand involvement.
Tamil Nadu project: After experiencing our previous success, this topic we explored with the different teachers on campus who might not get much interaction with this age group otherwise. Again to make it most effective we made sub-groups for the topic: Culture & Tradition, Food, Geography, and Temples of Tamil Nadu.
The variety of teachers made this learning process very rich and brought very harmonious atmosphere in the whole campus. The culmination of the project was a field trip to Chidambaram, the nearby town, for 2 days and a night. On this trip we explored one of the main temples, ate traditional food and learnt about the geography of the place. This trip was a real success as many of the children had never left their parents for 2 days, and also it made them feel like researchers.
Peace group (9 to 11 years old)
First term: In the first term we did a project on animals. Children selected the animals which they decided to work on. They referred to books, browsed the net and collected information from others. We also did few brainstorming sessions, where the children shared their knowledge regarding animals.
On August 15th, 2015, the children gave a presentation on The Life of Sri Aurobindo, which included chanting and presentation of Sri Aurobindo's symbol. It was a very good collective effort and it brought the group closer to each other.
Second term: During this term our project was on geographical landforms and seasons. Children worked on a few landforms, making paintings and models – they were very enthusiastic. Watching short videos and making songs on seasons was also included in this project work. At the end they presented their work in the form of a short play to their parents and to the school, which was well received.
Third term: This term we concentrated on theatre. We scripted a story called “Five spoons of salt”, and all the children took part in the performance. The children did the stage performance with such an involvement that it was appreciated with an ovation.
For Auroville's birthday week we visited Matrimandir Gardens for creative writing and the inner chamber for developing concentration. Children enjoyed those visits to Matrimandir.
The students learned Sanskrit songs with a volunteer, and presented them to the parents in a cultural program.
The third term was also very devoted to an Origami project with a volunteer. With Origami classes children explored their logical thinking, eye-hand coordination and perfection. They made many models and a presentation was done for the open house.
We also had a musical evening, where children sang the songs which they had been learning since the beginning of the year.
At the end of the year we went to Aranya Forest for an overnight stay. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for the children, and they came up with very nice write-up regarding their time spent at Aranya Forest.
This year the class was encouraged to write short stories, with the option of either fictional or real. The outcome was beautiful hand written and illustrated story-books.
Faith group (12 to 14 years old)
Faith group covers far-ranging traditional subjects necessary for further studies, including reading, science, mathematics, language arts, social studies, technology, French, and Tamil. A lot of emphasis is given to performing arts like theatre and to hands-on learning. The aim for this group is to develop academic skills, life skills as well as build character.
Creative radio project: “I Am”: This was a Lilaloka project offered by Sandrine. It originated in our English class, where we were looking at self-esteem and emotions using a poem titled “I’m” which was completed freely by the students. These poems were then transformed into radio by Sandrine. In her own words:
Finally, to go one step further, some more open questions like “If you could create a new world”, “if you were president” were asked.
It was a wonderful experience to listen to their ideals and dreams. In short: they want to save the planet, they want to save the people and they want kindness and Love to save the world!
As a result of the project we have 10 individual self-portraits, each one unique and very personal, which the students can keep as a “sound photography” of themselves in their path of evolution and inner growth, and a reminder of their own higher goal.(See full blog post at http://lilaloka.org/9029/exploring-oneself-with-creative-radio1/.)
Localicious (Gardening and Cooking) Movement: This year we continued with our local food project. We visited Solitude Farm and learnt about the whole cycle of Permaculture Gardening, cooked a local dish and enjoyed the lunch too. The visit inspired kids to plant their own vegetable gardens and to try local food. It brought about awareness of food miles and organic farming.
Participation in Auroville Childrens' Theatre Festival: In Faith group a lot of importance is given to theatre. Participating in the Auroville Children's Theatre Festival brought self-confidence and a positive atmosphere – collectively working towards a goal. It gave a platform for opening up and disclosing the hidden talents of the students. Participation in the festival brought about harmony between schools and also appreciation of other children's talents.
- Biodegradability: Students explored the concept of biodegradability by building and observing model landfills in terrariums to test the decomposition of samples of everyday garbage items. They recorded their observations over five days, seeing for themselves what happened to trash when it is thrown 'away' in a landfill environment. This showed them the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable and served to introduce them to the idea of composting. Students also learnt about the role of engineering in solid waste management.
- Physics of flight: The aim of this project was for the students to understand the concept of forces. We identified which forces would make an airplane fly higher or land, and which would make an airplane speed up or slow down while moving through the air. We made paper airplanes of three types, tested their flight times and inferred which one was best. We connected this to how engineers design the shape of vehicles to be aerodynamic.
- Human body systems: Students learnt about the respiratory system, nervous system, and muscular system and made models of the lungs and brain.
- Physics of wind energy: Students learnt about atmospheric pressure and wind speed. Students created their own anemometers (instruments for measuring wind speed). They learnt how an anemometer measures wind speed by taking measurements at various school locations.
- Science of sound: Students learnt the structure of ear, how sound travels, and about frequencies and decibels of sound.
- Engineering of simple machines (catapult!): In this hands-on activity, student groups were tasked with designing and constructing precise and accurate catapults using ice cream sticks and rubber bands. They referenced an engineered design process. After constructing their catapults, students tested their structures and see how many targets they could successfully hit. Students presented their designs to the class, suggested improvements and discussed the characteristics of successful catapults. This engaging and playful activity incorporated many math, science and technology concepts.
Computer coding and Scratch: Computer classes were enjoyed by the students where they learnt the very basics of computer programming using Hour of Code for the younger kids and Scratch for older ones. The child-friendly interface of both the programmes have gotten the children interested in what might otherwise be a dry subject. The students made presentations and games on math and science topics.
Cooking and baking classes: Weekly cooking classes were held as a component of the Permaculture Garden and Cooking project. A variety of local dishes, with some ingredients from the school garden, were prepared by students and enjoyed by the whole school. The experience integrated mathematics (measurement and fractions) and also touched a bit on the chemistry of food.
Ancient Egypt project: As an extension of history class, the students made costumes and props for a drama on Ancient Egypt. They performed the play “A Different Sort of Pharaoh: The Life of Hatshepsut” for parents and the rest of the school. Integrating theatre and history brought the topic of Ancient Egypt alive.
Mathematics: Apart from regular concepts, a lot of stress was laid on polishing problem-solving and reasoning skills. Various hands-on projects were integrated. Practical activities were done such as measuring the new classroom building, calculating how many desks could fit and calculating area and perimeter. Probability was introduced through various games.
Math and carpentry – Building a tree house: (See separate report.)
Graduation of 8th grade students: The last day of school marked the sendoff of three 8th grade students.
Common Programmes at Deepanam School
Painting: Expressing oneself without being judged is the aim of painting classes at Deepanam. Various media like colored pencils, pastels, watercolors and oil paints are used depending on the age group.
Clay classes: Projects in clay class are designed according to age group and skill level. The children learn and apply various techniques like pinching, rolling and moulding clay. This year the outputs were toys, rattles, whistles, windchimes, decorative plates and hanging totems. The students also built geography and science models with clay. On Sri Aurobindo's birthday and Auroville's birthday week the students shape Sri Aurobindo's symbol and the Matrimandir.
Arts and crafts: The craft projects are structured according to age group. This year activities included stitching, embroidery, crochet, knitting, paper quilling, thumb printing, cardboard crafts, papier-maché, weaving, drawing and colouring, and making stuffed toys.
Gardening: This school year children across all age groups were involved in weekly gardening classes. The children learned about several aspects of food growing. Firstly, they learned about the importance of the soil (soil types, compost, mulching, etc.). They also learned about water scarcity and the importance of careful water use in the garden. Beds and paths were built and designed with easy access and keeping in mind that beds should not be walked on. The students were able to observe the process of production from seed to food (sowing, planting, nurturing, harvesting). The names of the fruits and vegetables were learned in different languages (English, Tamil and French). The food was harvested by the children and brought directly to the kitchen where it could be cooked and shared with the school at snack or lunch time.
Life Science: At the Deepanam Life Science Lab there are saltwater and freshwater aquariums, terrariums, and ducks. These need to be taken care of, so as a class the children learn about this. Children actively participate in cleaning the fish aquariums and pumps, feeding the animals, and maintaining the Lab. Other activities of Life Science class include field studies (watching reptiles and birds), watching documentaries on wildlife, and researching specific creatures chosen by the children (bat, squirrel, butterfly, etc.). The students sometimes accompany the teacher on a snake rescue, when he is called somewhere in Auroville to identify and move a snake. These are opportunities to become familiar with the different types of snakes and learn how to handle them. Life Science provides interaction, care and inspiration for protecting animals.
- Light group: Involvement of parents in the learning made the process very enriching and harmonious.
- Peace group: Students gained self-confidence and a sense of satisfaction with their work.
- Faith group: A platform for expression was provided to the students. It was amazing to see some very shy kids open up and perform confidently on stage. Children enjoyed the hands-on activities and various projects like carpentry and cooking.
Overall the year was very good and there was harmony, positivity, and satisfaction of doing a good job. However we also learnt from our mistakes and would improve upon them in the future. We aspire to ignite the quest for knowledge, progress and perfection for both teachers and students.