SAIIER 2018:Developing and testing Auroville-based supplementary materials for standard curricula

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Aurogames Research, Development and Implementation
SAIIER 2017-18 icon.jpg




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"Seeds of the Sacred Groves" presentation
Developing and testing Auroville-based supplementary materials
for standard curricula, more effective sustainability education in schools


by Deoyani Sarkhot


The main purpose of the project was to see how Auroville-based supplementary materials can help in more effective teaching of sustainability principles that will result in better understanding of the principles and the scope of related practices, as well as behaviour changes leading to more sustainable choices. A supplementary objective was to look at methods of evaluation that can help in measuring the effectiveness of the material.

Description of project:

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude for the individuals and schools I worked with this year: Raghu, Siva and Prathap who teach in Isai Ambalam School, Payal who teaches in Udavi School, Mala, Thamilselvy and other teachers in Aikyam School, Mary Kapur who teaches in Transition School, Bridget Horkan and Muthukumari from Thamarai, Isis Roux Pagès from Auroville Earth Institute who developed and shared a great hands-on activity on earth building with us, and Erik Jansegers, a honeybee specialist from AuroOrchard farm, who taught us (students and myself) a lot about bees. I would also like to thank Kavitha and Sanjeev Ranganathan (Isai Ambalam), Sanjeev and Davaselvy (Udavi), and Shankar (Aikyam) for their support. (Feedback from some of these people is included in the Reflections section along with my own reflections.)

I developed various learning-in-action modules during this year, which cover the topics of water, soil, plants and animals and their interactions with human environment. Elements of these activities were implemented through once a week classes in Udavi and Isai Ambalam schools, a module on water conservation in Aikyam School, a module on biochar in Transition School, as well as a class in Thamarai on water conservation and upcycling plastic. Details of these modules in each school are explained below.

Isai Ambalam school

Due to a water problem in Isai Ambalam school, water was the main focus of our activities there.

  1. I began with the topic of roof water harvesting, which included measuring the roof water harvesting potential of one of the school buildings; the work of actually building the water conservation measures is going on (and will continue next year) with the help of Prathap and other teachers.
  2. I taught the children two songs I wrote on water conservation, one of which they presented in the school performance day. Students also made a map of school campus, which showed all the elements and structures related to water in their school.
  3. The next topic was understanding the contours of the land and how to work with them to conserve both soil and water. We used a wooden blackboard support already available in school to make an A frame, which was used to mark contours at the school. Students also learned about contour trenches and bunds and the use of contours for landscaping in general. A visit to Discipline Farm helped them see all these water conservation measures in action.
  4. Wick irrigation and upcycling of plastic bottles was the next topic. Students made wick irrigation planters and used them to grow some seedlings for the school garden project they were doing with another teacher, Siva.
  5. Students made a composting planter (a local variation of the Tower Garden available commercially in the U.S.) using a large waste plastic bottle and other simple materials such as wire mesh. We went to the hardware shop together to buy the mesh, etc., which was also an interesting learning experience for the students.
  6. I worked with Raghu on the topic of soils as part of his work on teaching students about geographical diversity. As part of this, students visited Earth Institute to learn about using soil as a building material, and Environmental Monitoring Lab (soil testing) to learn about soil and water testing.
  7. During the visit to Earth Institute, Isis from Earth Institute conducted a great hands-on learning activity for students on earth building. Even though Isis has now gone back to France, I am hoping that this collaboration with Earth Institute will continue.

Some other topics such as gasifier stove, honey bees, etc. were also introduced briefly, but were not implemented due to time constraints. I am hoping to continue this work next year.



Udavi School

  1. In Udavi, I mainly worked with 7th and 10th standard students once a week on various topics related to environmental conservation. The year began with the topic of honeybees and their interconnections with the environment such as pollination, their importance to our food security and future of bee-pollinated wild plants, impact of environmental pollution on honeybees and the need and ways to protect them. This was done by lectures and videos in the classroom, a visit to the natural beekeeping project in AuroOrchard farm, and installation of a beehive in the school with the help of Erik Jansegers.
  2. Unfortunately, the beehive in the school was stolen very quickly, so the follow-up observations could not be made. So instead I asked the students to observe honeybees in their surroundings to learn about their behaviour. They were happy to find many hives of stingless bees in the school campus itself and enjoyed observing them. Some of the students also tried making beehives in their homes using cardboard boxes and pipes. Although these beehives didn’t last very long either, I believe it was a good learning experience for them.
  3. Upcycling of waste to create various useful objects was done to learn different scientific and conservation principles on topics such as water conservation, energy efficient stoves, etc. The idea was to encourage their creativity and engagement in learning. Some of the things made by the students at home included a water-efficient planter and an airtight jewellery container made out of old plastic bottles, and a gasifier stove made out of old tin cans. One of the 7th standard students, Vishal, entered the stove he made in the Raman Young Scientist Award competition with the help of the STEM Land team.
  4. Some other topics included wastewater recycling, building with earth and ferro-cement, climate appropriate architecture, and clean mobility. This was done through lectures in the classroom, videos and a visit to the Centre for Scientific Research (CSR) and Earth Institute.
  5. I worked with another teacher, Payal, to teach a short module on soils for 8th standard students with focused on various functions of soil and its importance to nature and humanity. Once again, this was done through lectures, class discussions, videos and a visit to CSR and Earth Institute.



Aikyam School

Aikyam School was doing a special project on water this year, so it dovetailed very nicely with the activities related to water conservation. I shared the writeup of the activity on rainfall measurement with the teachers in Aikyam, and they used different variations of this activity with their classes. I also conducted a module on measuring the roof water harvesting potential of a building with the 8th standard students. The field visit to Discipline Farm focused on various ways of roof water harvesting, ground water harvesting and efficient water management methods such as drip and sprinkler irrigation. The involvement of teachers was excellent, and with their encouragement, students also made a model of roof water harvesting of a building based on what they learned, as well as many beautiful posters on water conservation.



Transition School and Thamarai

I taught a short module on biochar in Transition School and another short module on wick irrigation and upcycling of plastic bottles in Thamarai. Both sessions were well received. However, the remaining elements of the learning-in-action modules could not be implemented due to various constraints.



Outcomes:

Following the feedback I received on my proposal (1. Greater engagement with students, and 2. Consider how to create the modules in such a way that they will be useful in addressing the issues regardless of which specific syllabus is being followed), I focused on developing activities that could be used for any syllabus and any school, instead of limiting my work to one particular syllabus. I also focused more on actually working with students, as described above.

I also wanted to ensure that these activities could be used even in schools with very limited funding or facilities, which is true for most of the rural schools and many of the urban schools in India. So in addition to following the methodology I developed the year before, the activities chosen also meet the following criteria:

  1. Lowest possible cost in terms of money, energy and carbon footprint.
  2. Use materials that are easily available in rural schools.
  3. Use waste materials when appropriate, and encourage students to look at waste more creatively, as a resource.
  4. Simple, and can be used for multiple learning objectives. The subsections in each activity provide opportunities for practicing different mathematical concepts and practical analytical skills for honing their observation skills. Subsections in some activities can also be used as art projects.
  5. Help in making the concepts in the textbook relevant to the day-to-day lives of students.
  6. Encourage the values of self-empowerment, resilience and joy of creativity.
  7. Many of these activities are such that students can use them at home to provide a direct environmental benefit such as water conservation for their families.

Most of the work in designing the activities is now complete. However, due to some family/personal crises, I was not able to write as well as I had hoped for. So while the activities are written, they are not yet in a shape that I could be satisfied with. I am going to have to continue to work on them till I finish the handbook.

Reflections:

Feedback from others:

1. Raghu Prashanth Raja, Isai Ambalam School

We together worked on projects like Tower Garden, rainwater harvesting and geographical diversity projects.
In the Tower Garden project we faced many challenges, from getting the raw materials to designing the product. In every phase of the project from acquiring the materials to design to implementation, the efforts Deoyani has put are really great. Without her interest and energy level, the project could not have been completed.
Even though rainwater harvesting is an old concept, when we started to apply it to our landscape at Isai Ambalam we understood its complexity and the number of factors that are involved. Deoyani took a lot of efforts with patience in addressing constraints and challenges from different perspectives, and planned the trench carefully with lot of precision.
As part of the geographical diversity project we planned many activities. We visited Auroville Earth Institute and Environmental Monitoring Laboratory. Deoyani helped us in planning, organising and helping students to understand the concepts. I really thank her for her energy, effort and keen interest in helping the children’s learning.

2. Siva, Isai Ambalam School

In our school, a water problem is there. But children wanted to do gardening; they wanted to grow at least one plant on their own. So Deoyani gave the solution called ‘wick irrigation’. She taught them how to do it, and children learnt quickly and they grew many plants which consumed a minimum amount of water. 
During the rainy season, we used to have lots of rain but it could not be utilised properly.  All the water went to the nearby Alankuppam pond, meanwhile taking all the topsoil of the school. So in order to avoid this Deoyani gave the solution of a trench. In this process she took the children to Discipline Farm to get more ideas and to learn the importance of the trenches. She introduced the A-frame to identify the appropriate place to make trenches. 
Deoyani introduced a stove which works with wood. It emits low smoke and the wood will burn completely, so it is a very useful and efficient stove. She demonstrated this to the children and connected this to pollution and global warming. I could see this when they went for the exhibition in a train organised by ISRO, they were able to answer many questions regarding global warming.
Deoyani taught a song about the rain which was written by her. Children loved the song very much, understood the meaning of the song and they performed it at their school performance day. This is the first English song they learnt apart from the rhymes.
To understand about the earth, we went to Auroville Earth Institute which was amazing. Children learnt about what is soil, the types of soil, how to make mud houses, how to make sand bricks, etc. With the reflection of that they made a stair step in school using only sand and mesh, which has good strength and stability.
Deoyani though she taught many things to children, she never behaved like a teacher.  She never forced the children to do the project, but the projects have been done. I couldn't answer the children if she is absent, that much love she showered towards the children.

3. Davaselvy, Udavi School

We at Udavi School greatly appreciate Deoyani's effort as a teacher here. She puts a great effort in promoting the awareness of conservation on water and soil. In the previous year she has been working with 7th and 10th graders once a week. I have seen the students were eager and expecting their turn. She creates a very good learning atmosphere for the students, and she also uses modern technology while teaching. So it has been a good learning experience for the students.

4. Mary Kapur, Transition School

The students seemed inspired and we have had a preliminary talk with Deoyani about doing this work again with the next year's eighth grade. The eighth grade students worked on a project on bio-char as part of their Environmental Science unit. It was a great success. The students were inspired by the topic, and Deoyani presented in a really engaging and informative manner. First the students saw a slideshow presentation on bio-char, its benefits, applications and its manufacture. The students were also introduced to the use of bio-char in Auroville and to comparative data on the yields with and without charcoal in some Auroville farms. They also watched a film on the discovery of “Terra Preta” ‒ black earth ‒ which developed from the use of a form of bio-char in Central Amazonia, built over hundreds of years by the pre-European native Indians.

5. Bridget, Thamarai

Your session on well-being of the environment through mindfulness of waste was important for us. It was wonderful to see how creatively a plastic bottle could be transformed into something purposeful and beautiful; your presentation opened our eyes to the huge array of possibilities from a simple bottle and the realisation that it is a resource and not waste. The children were very enthusiastic, most made planter bottles and the next day brought compost and seeds to plant. One boy told me he has made many more at home.

The most critical part of these activities (in my opinion) is understanding the mechanisms and principles involved. While I was teaching or working with teachers, I could do it using gestures or rudimentary diagrams, etc. I could also tailor the contents to the students' background, school location and resources, and other contextual factors to help them see the connections. However, developing written content for a wider population is in fact a lot more complicated and demanding than I realized. Explaining these things using text and even the schematic diagrams meant a lot of pages that teachers probably won’t have time to read. So I am now considering other ways to convey this information. One of the ways could be use of animated graphics or videos that explain the various principles concisely and visually. I am not quite sure how to go about developing these, but this is something I will be working on next year one way or another.

I also found some other practical constraints that I had not considered before. For example, my initial idea was to install a beehive in the school and have the students observe the growth of the hive throughout the year. Unfortunately the hive was stolen in one week! In case of the beehives made by the students at home, the bees left the hive for reason or another. This made me realize that this would not be a good activity for inclusion in the handbook. Another challenging activity was making the contour trenches. When I started, I thought this was the simplest activity. While it is simple, I saw that doing it with children in a school environment brings a lot more considerations and challenges.

Conclusion:

I enjoyed developing and implementing these activities. I realized that actual engagement with students and teachers on these conservation related topics (co-teaching) is something I cherish even more than developing these activities. So I am hoping to continue and expand this kind of work. I would like to thank the SAIIER Board for their feedback on my proposal, which encouraged me to do this.