SAIIER 2018:Deepanam School
Dehashakti School of Physical Education
Deepanam School aspires to the principles of Integral Education as described by the work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. This provides the opportunity for a free progress and integral development of both teacher and student. Deepanam was started in year 2000 and is presently attended by some 50 students, increasing to around 60 next year. The school also benefits from a mixed demographic, with students coming from over 15 different countries around the world. This brings a vibrant mix of languages and cultures.
Catering to children aged 7 to 14, the students have been grouped into 3 mixed-age class groups:
- Light (7 & 8 years old)
- Peace (9 to 11 years old)
- Faith (12 to 14 years old)
As of the next academic year, a fourth group will be introduced: Grace (11 to 12 years old).
The school program offers standard academic subjects – mathematics, English, sciences, social studies and languages (Tamil, French, Sanskrit and others such as Hindi, as per request). These subjects are offered as classes throughout the year but also via cross-disciplinary project work, theatre, field trips and applied work experience.
As we aim to provide an Integral approach to learning, equal importance is given to other areas of exploration: visual arts (drawing, painting, craft, ceramics); performing arts (singing, piano, theatre, dance); physical education (daily Dehashakti sports program, Capoeira, yoga); vital education (Awareness Through the Body, communication skills, mindfulness and meditation); and nature (gardening, food growing, cooking).
Light group children, aged 7 and 8 years work on their literacy and numeracy skills along with singing, painting, sports, gardening, Tamil, Sanskrit, craft, clay and field studies. This year’s focus was to acquire the hard skills of reading fluency, writing dexterity, playing with numbers and exploring science through experiments. The acquisition of these hard skills was complemented by the continued nurturing of soft skills, notably: discipline, concentration and positive attitude. In addition, this year, we committed to learn several peace shlokas, to sing every morning.
This year We focused on three main projects: “Light”, “Sound” and “Matrimandir”. The idea for these projects was to look at each subject through different angles, taking into account the principle of ‘from the near to the far’, allowing the children to be exposed to different learning experiences.
For the “Light” project activities included:
- Singing songs of Light
- Drawing, painting and crafts.
- Reading and writing about light
- Science experiments
- Sleepover trip at the Quiet Healing Center to witness the sunset and sunrise
- Drama – a school performance on light
For the “Sound” project activities included looking at:
- Exploring what is sound?
- Survey of sounds
- How the ear works
- Science experiments
- Reading and writing about sound
- Body percussion with an expert from Svaram (Auroville unit which carries out research in sound and makes musical instruments) and visit to Svaram campus
- Exploration of silence
For the “Matrimandir” project, Aurovilles 50th Birthday was a great source of activity and reflection. Activities included:
- Weekly visits to Matrimandir – observation of the physical surroundings, attention to aesthetics, discipline of silence
- Watching information video at Visitors Center
- Language development: vocabulary of the 12 qualities
- Learning to use a dictionary
- Visits to the petals
- Drawing and craft
We also had experiences with nature and life science. Beyond benefiting from our school Life Science Lab, where students are exposed to different animals (mostly reptiles, insects and fish), a wildlife expert visited our class with two non-venomous snakes. Children could handle the snakes and some of them overcame their fears and were able to hold them.
This year, we carried out a project on bees. Resident Beekeeper, Erik helped us to start a hive right beside our classroom, housing the small, local, stingless bees. We placed the hive beside the classroom garden so that the bees could benefit from the flowers planted in Light group’s bed. This project included work on ‘the Bee book’ – a fictional story which includes many facts on bees and how they work together.
This year, peace group included 18 students aged 9-11 years old. Students work on their numeracy and literacy through the implementation of a weekly ‘work plan’. This plan gives them the opportunity to manage their own time each week, with a certain degree of flexibility and choice. The learning is held within a set of materials which provide the progressively paced acquisition of numeracy and literacy skills. In addition, poetry, creative writing, languages (Tamil and French), painting, clay, gardening and sports are included in the weekly schedule. Each day, the morning starts with a concentration circle and the singing of peace shlokas.
Highlights of the year included several class projects:
- Kindness – thanks to collaboration with parents, special focus on ‘Kindness’ (see www.kindness.org]) was introduced. Activities were designed to bring greater awareness and practice in day to day life. The project helped students take action and develop a greater sense of gratitude and cooperation towards each other, building a stronger feel of community and harmony. The end of the year was celebrated in a collective act of ‘kindness’: using the concept of ‘Karma kitchen’, which involved cooking for the whole school, including parents.
- Peace mantras – the students learnt to chant peace mantras bringing collective focus and concentration each morning. These were shared with the school community in a performance for Sri Aurobindo’s birthday on 15th August.
- Solar system and weather systems – through songs, model making and a visit to the Pondicherry planetarium, students were encouraged to discover and understand the solar system and weather.
- Weekly group reading of Sudha Murthy's stories was particularly appreciated by the students this year. This activity is especially beneficial for ESL (English as Second Language) students.
- “kNOw Plastics” project – in collaboration with Auroville unit WasteLess, students learnt about the existence of different types of plastics and the seven different resin codes to identify them. They know which plastics are better to avoid and those that are safer to use.
- Vedanthangal bird sanctuary trip – this was very exciting for the children as we saw many nesting water birds. Students learned how to recognise and name the local and migrating birds.
- Soil – this year as part of gardening, peace group students built a two small garden ‘beds’ beside their classroom with the intention to bring the garden closer to the classroom. These beds were built by actively ‘building soil’ – a process of soaking leaves in ‘amrut jal’, a mixture of cow dung, cow urine and jaggery. The young soil was then improved by planting ‘green manure’ seeds. The students created a poster to explain the process that they followed. This project was complemented with a trip to meet Bernard and Deepika at Pebble Garden.
- Bees and flowers – During gardening classes, where children were involved in soil improvement and food growing, the role of flowers and insects becomes clear. We started the journey with the ‘Bee Book’, which allowed the students to enter into the world of bees, through a fictional story book, read over several weeks. Resident beekeeper, Erik, helped to set up a beehive between the classroom and the garden. The students could observe the progression of the bees’ work inside the hive. They could even taste the honey! This was followed by a project on flowers where each student planted a different flowering plant in the class garden. The flowers and their qualities, as given by the Mother, were discussed with the group. Students then wrote poems about their chosen flower.
- The bee and flower project was concluded by creating ‘the bee play’ – a musical production performed at the end of year cultural program. This included the writing of a script, making of props and set, and incorporation of 3 songs on bees and flowers.
- Earth building – Peace group enjoyed a special visit from Isis of the Auroville Earth Institute, to explore the properties of soil and how it can be used for eco-friendly construction. The highlight of this visit was the ‘hands-on’ material and display which provided the opportunity to explore scientific concepts and methods.
- “My hour” – This hour is a slot given to the students during their weekly schedule, giving them an opportunity to feel responsible for their time and choices, to develop interest and skill in a specific field. Students took up different activities such as origami, mandala making, creating crosswords, Sudoku, word searches and bicycle mechanics.
- Monthly newsletter for parents – this year teachers and students produced a monthly newsletter for parents, communicating about school life and students work. This new initiative was very well received by parents who expressed gratitude at getting greater insight into their children’s school life.
This year Faith group included 15 students aged from 11 to 14. Beyond the standard subjects listed in the introduction, additional subjects explored this year included earth science, and history through art appreciation. The main focus of the year was on developing critical thinking skills in the sciences (biology, chemistry, physics) and Maths, doing practical work experience in Auroville and focusing on theatre productions. Following are highlights of the year:
- History of the English Language – The students wanted to know where does the English language come from? How did it originate and evolve? After studying the history of the English language and texts from key literary pieces (Beowulf and Anglo Saxon Chronicles, Middle English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales), the project culminated in a presentation to parents of the timeline of the English language.
- Poetry – After studying poetry from Sri Aurobindo, Kipling, Blake, Frost, Shelley and Dickinson, the students were challenged to express their own feelings and ideas in poetic form. Their work was displayed in a ‘poetry forest’ – an interactive exhibition of work spread out through the forest in the school grounds for the open house.
- Theatre productions – Each year we use theatre as a medium for achieving a range of learning objectives: development of class group dynamics and cooperation; engaging in problem solving and creative thinking; development of self-confidence, character and personality; awareness of culture, ethics and languages; development of artistic skill and aesthetic sense. This year, Faith group performed three plays: “Savitri”, “Blue Bird” and a Tamil play on Lord Ganesh.
- “Savitri” was based on Sri Aurobindo's 24,000 lined poem which one of the longest epic poems in English language. The play was presented to the parents and school as an offering for Sri Aurobindo's birthday (August 15th).
- Originally written in 1908, the ‘Blue Bird’ play questions: Are we always happy and satisfied with what we have? We adapted the script to our need for this annual play. The story tells of a girl Mytyl and her brother Tyltyl, woodcutter's children, who are led on a magical quest through the past, present, and future, for the Blue Bird, which was to bring them happiness.
- In the Tamil play, students performed the story of Lord Ganesha.
- Every year, we notice how powerful theatre productions can be at creating a rich and multifaceted learning experience. Outcomes included:
- Shy children got the chance to shine!
- Children adopt a ‘can do’ attitude
- The importance and satisfaction gained by team work
- Improvement in articulation, fluency, projection, speaking and listening skills
- Students and teachers share a great sense of joy and accomplishment
- Earth Science – The curriculum focused on the function of earth's systems. Topics covered were Earth's interior, plate tectonics, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, rocks and rock cycle, energy -types and its sources, and climate change. One significant project was to mark the event of the return of NASA's space craft Cassini, following its historical exploration of Saturn. We watched the grand finale of Cassini diving into Saturn's rings on 15th September. In the last term, students focused on individual projects such as ‘Reason for seasons’, The Sun, Galaxies and its types, zodiac signs (constellations). This was concluded by individual class presentations.
- Art and Crafts: toy making and origami – Brij Kul Deepak came to offer a week-long workshop on ancient Indian toy making. Students learnt to make mobile Indian toys using ecological materials whilst learning about their history and cultural significance. Teachers were also excited as it brought memories of their childhoods! The week ended by making a board game ‘Lion and Goat’ which the children have continued to play throughout the year.
- Students also had the opportunity, at regular intervals throughout the year, to do small origami projects. As Tomoko, our resident Japanese origami expert, explains, the practice of origami allows for the development of dexterity, patience, concentration and spatial awareness.
- Auroville Trashion Show – Students participated in the Auroville ‘Trashion Show’, organized to raise awareness on ocean pollution. A team of students created their own fashion designs using plastic trash. The students then ‘walked the ramp’ at the Trashion Show, wearing their creations.
- Art Appreciation – Corinne, a resident professional art critic, offered ‘history through art appreciation’ classes throughout the year. Students learnt about: Greek, Roman, Middle Age, Renaissance, Impressionism, Cubism and Surrealism. They looked at composition, technique, seeing art through a frame. A large part of the years work looked at Indian art and in particular the temples of Tamil Nadu. Field trips included the temples of Mamalapuram, Tanjavoor and Chidambaram.
- Introduction to Philosophy – The senior Faith students benefited from a short course in the study of ethics, thanks to visiting philosophy teacher Paul Jones. They looked at the origins of ethics and how it has shaped modern society from the religious and humanist perspectives. Topics focused on included human rights and the golden rule across all faiths. The concept of ethics was explored in a practical way rather than a theoretical one, using roleplay and games to complement understanding. This culminated in the seniors preparing an assembly for the rest of the school as well as a display for open house.
- Mural painting – As part of painting class, students used projection technology to transfer silhouettes of playful children on the walls of the painting classroom.
- Science – The field of chemistry was introduced by studying the history Chemistry, from the ancient time to alchemy till modern times. Following this the main learning resource used was a website (middleschoolchemistry.com), designed by the American Chemical Society (ACS). This site provides guided, inquiry-based lesson plans that cover basic chemistry concepts along with the process of scientific investigation.
- Learning about food growing at Buddha Garden – for one term, students spent a morning at Auroville farm, Buddha Garden helping to plant, weed, mulch and build structures. Working at the farm makes it clear where our food comes from, some of the issues farmers have to deal with and the work required to bring it to our plates.
- Faith group blog (faithclass.wordpress.com) – as a means of recording and communicating their work and experiences to parents and the broader community, Faith group students regularly write up about their projects in their blog.
This has been a year rich in learning for all involved in the school. Experience shows that each year, Deepanam creates an environment that feels welcoming and secure, particularly for new students and those with special needs. Children who come to the school rapidly feel integrated and happy. From this place of security and joy, the students blossom and are available to learn freely.
We continued our work in the same class structure as previous years, maintaining the aspects of school life that we have found to be successful, notably keeping a regular, structured schedule whilst remaining flexible to input and new initiatives from outside. In particular, successful aspects of the school year included: welcoming visiting facilitators and volunteers, using Auroville as a campus, cross-disciplinary project work, school trips and theatre performances.
In addition, this year certain new aspects were explored: increasing communication to parents; increased training to support special needs students; and focusing on caring communication and collaboration.
Meaningful aspects of this year that we would like to mention have been:
- A harmonious overall atmosphere and collaboration between all the class groups;
- Increased care and compassion among students including consideration and integration for new students and those with different needs;
- Improved functioning of theatrical productions, from the technical to the artistic;
- Strong component of Tamil culture and language;
- Making a giant Christmas tree of recycled materials;
- Increased number of cross-disciplinary projects;
- Input from visiting facilitators (e.g. an Indian toy maker) and volunteers (e.g. a Steiner school teacher);
- Inspired productions from all groups for the end of year cultural program.
Challenges included catering to mixed age and ability groups, movement of guest children in and out of the class dynamics, and creating time and space for teacher training.
Next year we will see an increase in the number of both students and teachers at Deepanam. We continue in our aspiration to provide a joyful and enriching learning environment for all concerned.
Teaching team discussions have allowed us to identify and enhance our strengths as well as to focus on goals to tackle challenges for next year. Specifically we want to: gain stability in admissions, enhance our tools for communicating within and beyond the school, clarify systems for assessment and monitoring, and delve deeper into the practical applications of Integral Education.