SAIIER 2018:Transition School
Creativity Throughout the Program
Transition School, founded in 1984, is a primary and middle school for the Auroville community. Inspired by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, we aspire to create a harmonious learning environment that nurtures our children and initiates a life-long process of personal development towards a balance of body, mind and spirit. Over the years we have been developing a program that reflects the values and ideals of Auroville and that takes into account the diverse needs of the children. Different learning styles are addressed through the use of various methods such as individual work, small group work, full class presentations, class projects and outings. Learning activities are interdisciplinary, long term and build on children’s individual strengths, and create a learning experience and classroom environment that is interesting, motivating and challenging for children.
The students and teachers at Transition School come from many different countries and different states of India. This creates a multicultural environment that provides many opportunities for dynamic, creative teaching and learning experiences. Importantly, it exposes teachers and children to humanity’s rich cultural heritage and offers many opportunities to learn from each other, understand different ways of looking at things and appreciate others, building human unity.
Some of the Activities of the year in the words of the teachers (described below):
- “Auroville, Our Home”
- Awareness Through the Body (ATB)
- Vegetable garden
- Understanding literature with the 7th grade
- Arts & Crafts
- Theater: The Ramayana as interpreted by the 6th grade students
- Creativity throughout the Curriculum (see separate report)
- Further development of the Student Portfolio (see separate report)
1. “Auroville, Our Home”
Creating a value-based atmosphere has been and continues to be an important aspect of our work. We aspire for a place where children can grow freely and learn to work, play and live in harmony with others. The school’s natural environment, programs, assessment methods, subject matter, reading and teaching material are all deliberated upon by the members of the team, as it is fundamental that they reflect the values of Auroville and Transition School.
One example of our work together is the “Values for Human Unity” project. In 2001, we decided to try to develop an all-school project in which all students and teachers in the school explore a chosen value. That first value was Truth. Since that time, we have done a project every year, working with values such as Respect, Harmony, Freedom and Responsibility, Courage, Kindness, Human Unity and many more values that guide our daily lives. In honor of Auroville’s 50th birthday, the students and the teachers decided that the theme we would work on this year would be “Auroville, Our Home”.
Because most of the children in the school have spent all or most of their lives in AV, they have been exposed to the vision and the realities of Auroville in many ways. Auroville is our home. The children move around freely exploring forests, gardens, farms and new developments and are generally welcome where ever they go. They love to hear stories from the old days and realize that Auroville is a result of Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s dreams and ideas. For some time we had been planning to work together to develop an Auroville program to help the children become aware of even more. This project was started in late July with a brainstorm session in which teachers and the students shared ideas and questions with a focus on: “What do I know about Auroville, Our Home? What else would I like to know about Auroville?” Many ideas were generated, and then it was decided that the class teachers would follow the questions and interests of their students. Through this project children not only learned about Auroville, but also about themselves.
Below are are some teachers’ reports on “Auroville, Our Home”:
Middle School students (7th-8th grade)
This year the teachers and the students chose to work on the theme of “Auroville, Our Home”. All through seventh grade and into eighth grade, the students had visited many areas of work that were especially related to the theme of Environmental Science. There, we not only learned about the research and the work that has been done in Auroville since the beginning, but we also got the chance to meet and talk to these dedicated Aurovilians. After each visit, the students came away inspired, and some of them thought they knew what they would do for Auroville in the future. I think that meeting people in their field of work shows the children a real picture of the diversity and dedication of Aurovilians. The adults were also very happy to meet the children.
We also read The Charter and “A Dream” and had long discussions on what this actually might mean – to them. This was very interesting for the students, but also for the teachers. Many ideas came up as they tried to deeply understand what was meant. Examples of this are included in the students' portfolios, such as a student’s thoughts and reflections after meeting a particular Aurovilian.
5th grade (“The White Tigers”)
This year our common school theme was “Auroville, Our Home”. As part of this project, we started by reading the book “Tell me my friend, What is this Auroville?” [by Christine Devin and Jyoti Khare] together in class; we talked about it as well as about the Auroville charter. The children were then asked to reflect and think about what Auroville meant for them, and they wrote beautiful texts, which they illustrated with colorful drawings put up in our classroom. We also looked at some of the 12 qualities of the Mother's symbol, by reading different stories together and having many interesting discussions.
As part of this project, we also went on two outings: to the Matrimandir and to the Auroville Botanical Gardens. Before going to the Matrimandir, we watched a short film which explained and documented its construction. We visited the Matrimandir Gardens, went into some of the petals, spent quiet time at the lotus pond and had a peaceful meditation in the chamber.
We went to the Botanical Gardens by cycle. We were introduced to the valuable work the team is involved in, and visited the beautiful orchid and fern houses and the cactus garden among others. We also had fun finding our way in the maze and patiently walking through the labyrinth.
This year, as a term project, I chose to teach about Auroville for a few reasons: the 50th anniversary, and because I thought it was important that the children of AV be familiar with the place they are living in, in order to encourage the feeling of loyalty and belonging.
Since the topic is a bit challenging for 9-year-old students, we had to find creative ways that the children could learn and most importantly enjoy and remember what they have learned. I chose a few ways to do that: drawing, colouring, creative writing, making models, having Aurovilians come to class and inspire the students with their stories, watching movies, and many trips around.
Trips and meeting Aurovilians were an important part of our week. We not only met Aurovilians in their work places, but also invited people (including the parents of some of the children) to the classroom to interact with the students.
A few of our activities were:
- When we learned about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, we focused on their symbols and lives. We cut and coloured the symbols, and had guided meditation to see what came while we were thinking about them, which the students were asked to draw. We also met Loretta who spoke about her experience meeting the Mother.
- We read “A Dream” by the Mother and shared our dreams for Auroville. Once done, we created a poster showing our work.
- When we learned about the Matrimandir, we went on a few visits to the place, and while there the students were asked to draw what they saw from different places. We were accompanied by Lisbeth, who had taken part in Matrimandir construction. We also watched a short movie about the construction of the Matrimandir.
- When we studied the Auroville map, we looked at all four zones, the green belt, and the Matrimandir, and then made our own map (90 x 90 cm). We had gotten an outline map from Lalit, and in groups the kids drew and colored what should be in each zone. Each student wrote about his/her community and home and drew a map.
- The students took home a survey to complete with their parents about what Auroville is to them, and their history here. We compiled all their work in a folder and called it “Auroville, our home and history”.
We all enjoyed this project very much, and the information will be remembered for a long time.
2. Awareness Through the Body (ATB)
This year in ATB we also integrated the theme “Auroville, Our Home”. One of ATB's central themes and concepts is Evolution. To align with the work being done in school about Auroville, during the Evolution explorations we chose to emphasise and elaborate on the link between the sense of evolution and the central aim of Auroville: Auroville is to be an active hub for working towards a new social organization based around human unity, truth and growth of consciousness. Auroville is a place that wants to aid individuals and humanity to evolve into something truer.
The Evolution project consisted of about 10 sessions in which children explored with and through their bodies the sense that we are evolving beings both as individuals and as species. Through interactive talks, displays, guided relaxations, visualizations and body movements, the children explored crucial moments in evolution that help them to take the first step to a better understanding of the complexity of their being and of humanity. The exploration of each step brings/opens to a different dimension in us and into a different state of perception.
The interactive talks create a base frame/understanding of what the work is about, and why we do it (these talks are adjusted to the age and level of understanding of each group). The talks are supported by visual displays. Both the talks and the displays also aim at stimulating the interest of the children and plant a sense of wonder about Life, the Universe, and Manifestation: what are we? Where are I/we going? For the younger children the sessions are mainly experiential with short interacting discussions in which we briefly bring up key concepts and ideas, while encouraging them to share their thoughts on it. With the older children the talks go more in-depth and we invite them to reflect on the ideas and concepts and also share their views with the group.
In both the interactive talks and the explorations we want children to get exposed and have a body felt sense of the key concept: “We are complex evolving beings both as individuals and as species”. We are complex beings, and our interactions with others are based on our complexity. The more one can understand his individual complexity the better s/he can understand others and social interactions. This offers the possibility of finding more fulfilling ways of relating to oneself, others, and of working on social models that foster and support a sense of growth and fulfillment in its members. With more understanding of what they are made of, children can get the sense that they have options and ways to manage their complexity in fulfilling ways and become more self-directed individuals, which in turn will result in a more evolved society – the core aim of Auroville.
To get in touch with the different ‘layers’ of the being, we worked on different types of body movements and form explorations that resonate with crucial moments in evolution. Here follow the key moments in the exploration that we linked to Auroville:
- The sense of a consciousness at the beginning of time as the threat that is pushing through to drive the being and the species into looking for new horizons. A sense of consciousness that is always in us, as the background against which all the inner and outer movements take place. Children could experience it as a sensation and create a sensory memory for it to be able to come back to it any time and in any place/situation.
- The cellular level, where millions of millions of years ago cells acquired programs/patterns that are still operating now in each cell of our body. We explored how cells collaborate with each other as a social organization, as one ‘body’/‘city’, and how out of the cells' collaboration, a new being comes to be: a multicellular organism. Although it is made up of many united individuals, it has its own sense of identity as a separate individual.
- The appearance of reptilians, our inherited reptilian brain, with the primitive impulses and nervous reactions of the reptilians. These are deep impulses and nervous reactions that run on the background of our conscious awareness, affecting the way we perceive and interact with others.
- The appearance of the mammalian brain, our inherited emotional brain and social habits. As with the reptilian patterns, emotional responses and preset social agreements run beneath our conscious awareness affecting all our perceptions and social interaction, much like computer programs running in the background.
- The appearance of mind up to the Homo sapiens, the “mental beings”. The beginning of the opening to a new possibility for becoming ‘conscious of being conscious’ and moving away from preset impulses and nervous reactions, the conditionings of Evolution. The first time in the universe when the beings can choose to help Evolution!
- The fact that, by using the ability to be conscious of being conscious as a spring board, humanity can move/reach towards new possibilities that lie beyond the current mind that humanity has reached: higher levels of mind, of knowledge and of being. We always conclude the project with a guided tuning towards this new possibility of a humanity and humans that are more connected to their truth, that have a sense of closeness with all Life. How within our imperfection, we are moving forward to become more fulfilled beings and create a more luminous society.
All along while children are guided to explore through their body each one of those evolutionary milestones, we help them to reflect on how if we want to create a new society we need a sense of how we got here. We need to come in touch with how, both as individuals and as a species, we have developed layers of habits: ways of thinking, feeling and acting; and while they were or have been useful in the past, they now need to be used as stepping stones to something new. As stepping stones, they have to be a help to move forward, not a hindrance. We have to be ready to use them as much as needed, but leave them behind at the right moment.
We want children to acquire the sense that we can find better ways of using ourselves, becoming more and more self-directed beings as opposed to being constantly run by learned habits/ways of using ourselves. We can align ourselves with a deeper truth, and by changing and evolving ourselves we will be able to help society to do the same.
We noticed that although the underlying understanding of the project requires quite a level of abstraction and depth of thought, in their own way and in different degrees all children had a sense of a bigger picture. A bigger picture of: how all came to be, themselves, new possibilities for society and the Auroville project essence.
Throughout the school year in other activities and explorations, we keep referring back to both evolution and Auroville. We especially brought that perspective into cooperative games, where children can practice being a positive and proactive member of a group/society. Here we emphasized that there is a double way interactive influence between group and individual; the attitudes and actions of an individual affect the whole group and vice versa. Children were helped to notice how the group has to find ways to assist each individual feel included, taken care of and stimulated to give to the group its unique abilities. At the same time, each individual has to see how best he/she can be of service to the well being and progress of the group, what can be his part in achieving the task; much like Auroville working to find that balance between individuality and collectivity.
3. Vegetable garden: a collaboration between the 4th grade class and Priya from Buddha Garden
This year the students in 4th grade studied ‘nature’ in its broadest sense. The year’s work consisted of a module about the stars and planets, together with modules about plants and birds. The aim of setting up a garden and growing food was to give the students practical experience of dealing with plants and natural processes, and to integrate this with the classroom lessons. It was hoped that it would also provide them with the opportunity to find out and understand where their food comes from and the work it takes to put food on the table.
The interest in the garden was sustained and even increased during this second semester, when the four groups took more ownership of their garden beds. At the beginning of the semester four more beds were created and a wider range of vegetables were grown. These included beans, tomatoes, brinjal and chickpeas, which apart from the chickpeas produced a very good harvest. We had a problem on one bed where the beans got attacked by aphids, but apart from that the plants were mainly pest-free. It was good to see how with help of Caveri the students decided how to share out the produce so that everyone felt they received a fair share of what had been produced.
This year there was no time to make compost, so most of it came from Buddha Garden. It is hoped that next year the work will be organized to make time for this very necessary part of working in a garden.
Next year there will be a new group doing this work. The students will finish by clearing all the beds and making compost out of those plants and leaves from the school grounds for the group who will be working in the garden next year.
4. Understanding literature with the 7th grade
One of the most rewarding experiences with the 7th graders this year was studying The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. The students had not been exposed to classic literature before, and we began with a discussion on how literature can mirror life, and it doesn’t always have a happy ending. Through reading, we can explore emotions and life situations.
The students researched the historical context of the story, set in California on a ranch, as settlers established their lives in the West at the beginning of the twentieth century. We discussed how even in different cultural and historical settings, basic human feelings of love, trust and betrayal remain the same.
The protagonist of the book, Jody, the little boy, lives a very different life from our students today, and some of his actions were described by the students as savage and unnecessarily cruel; and yet they came to understand that life on the ranch was close to nature, and his reality and perceptions were influenced by this. The students observed how Jody matured as the story progressed.
The book is divided into four separate stories. Initially, we read together as a class or in small groups, and this was followed by group discussions. Later, the students read at home, and then we discussed the story together.
A successful activity was journal writing based on the chapter they had read. Through this, they wrote about a time when they had taken care of something; their feelings towards elderly people; an activity that had developed their sense of responsibility.
Reading The Red Pony broadened their horizons and enriched their world view, and they will be ready to further develop their literary skills in 8th grade.
5. Music (grades 1-8)
As teachers and musicians we are always on the lookout for ways to spark interest in children. They often learn best when they are attracted to a subject, and relate to the work that they are doing. In music it is the teacher's job to be aware of the things that children and young adults find appealing. We are teaching an art form, and sometimes it is easy for us to lose sight of what this means. It does have strict rules and disciplines, but at the same time it should essentially be something that gives us pleasure and enjoyment.
In the last years in Transition School we have started to work more towards the idea that children are naturally drawn to music. We as teachers actually don’t have to compel them at all, but guide them in the right direction. This is why we feel that it is important to be aware of what kind of things motivate children in music. If you find those, they can be drawn in quite spontaneously and naturally.
For younger students in the lower grades, it is not difficult. They simply love to sing and this must be encouraged as much as possible. Most have no fear at all, and all they would like to do is participate as much as possible. Rhythm is also very important. All children have a natural talent for rhythm inside of them, so it’s really just a question of providing them with the right outlets. The material should be fun, but at the same time challenging enough for them to learn new ideas and progress.
In the older grades, things get a little more complicated. There still is a very natural love for music, but it gets caught up with other emotions as they grow up around their friends. The fearlessness usually disappears, and the natural need to just ‘do’ goes away. This is why at this point it is essential to try to tap into the things that they do relate to in the subject. Almost all children listen and enjoy music by themselves outside the school environment, so again it is a question of finding out what it is that motivates them.
Popular music is of course one of the biggest pulls for children. They start to use it to define themselves as individuals, and for some, it plays a big role in their lives. Among the more schooled musicians this type of music can be looked down upon, and it is true that some of it is of very low quality, but if you can find the music that does work, you have a wonderful tool.
One of the activities that one can do with children is to get them to differentiate between what is a good song and what is not. What we have been doing in the last years is asking children to choose their own songs to sing, by thinking about what kind of song is of quality and what is not. What type of song can be sung in a school environment? Has the song got the right level for them? What makes good music? How is something appropriate and something else not?
If the right songs are chosen, then these can be used to take children quite far, and even the most disinterested students start to participate.
In India we have the added bonus that music is almost universally liked by children and adults because of films. In Tamil and Hindi culture, songs and film go hand in hand, and every child knows how to sing the latest songs, as well as popular classics that go back far beyond their years. Find the right kind of songs here, and it is a wonderful tool to get almost every child fascinated by music.
Choosing music that interests children doesn’t mean that there should be a reduction in quality. It is good that they are enthusiastic, but our role as teachers still continues to make sure that the best possible results come. They need to be encouraged to do their best, and to learn the proper techniques for performances. The natural enjoyment of music is a stepping stone to taking them deeper inside the techniques and practices that are required to take this subject further.
6. Arts & Crafts:
The goal for this school year was to expand the Arts & Crafts curriculum we have created, adding more of other the major arts. In addition to the usual projects that teach the children about the classic artists (Salvador Dalì, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, Piet Mondrian, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Henry Matisse, Gustav Klimt, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, folk and Aboriginal art), we wanted to focus more on creativity and finding projects to encourage the children to work with their individual strengths through different media.
- The 1st graders’ “Own Planet” was inspired by the book “The Little Prince” by Antoine De Saint Exupery.
- The 2nd graders wrote, built backgrounds and props and performed for their theater project.
- The 6th graders created a video game.
- The 7th graders did a comic book project.
- The 8th graders made a movie, going through all the aspects of a movie production.
Auroville's 50th anniversary gave us the chance to create projects that encourage the children to think about their physical and spiritual environment. The 3rd grade class made a 3D map of Auroville; the 4th grade designed “Urban Furniture” for a new bus stop in collaboration with Auroville Consulting; the 5th grade made 3D flowers with Mother’s name.
We improved the collaboration with the main class teachers with projects like writing and illustrating “Frog and Toad” original stories (3rd grade), and making backgrounds and props for the 6th graders' play.
7. Theater: The Ramayana as interpreted by the 6th grade students:
We began with a basic script, and then the students started reading The Ramayana printed by Amar Chitra Katha, a comic book series used to spread the knowledge of Indian culture and create a better awareness of Indian mythology. After reading the comic book series they added essential scenes and dialogues to it. The students spent two months learning their lines and preparing the sets, props, and costumes. We invited many schools of Auroville to our play and presented it three times in our school and a fourth time in Bharat Nivas for the annual Tamil New Year program. We had a lot of help from within the Auroville community. Joy came to our class to teach us Sanskrit hymns. Jesse came and taught us different ways to act out a battle scene safely using fists and slow motion as well as sticks and choreography. The children matured a lot during the whole process. They took up a lot of responsibilities and learned to work as a group in a harmonious way. They were eager and excited and proud of what they achieved.
These have been just a few examples of the activities that occurred throughout the year. The staff also worked together to:
- Continue to improve the teacher training program and integration of new teachers. This year several new people joined the Transition team. In appendix a see a report by a first year teacher.
- Work on our project proposals (see the separate reports of these): “Creativity throughout the Program”, and “Portfolio Development”.
Here are some of the outcomes of the year. It has been a busy year, and each class shared their work with the parents more than one time during the year.
- Many class Open Houses, Presentations and an All-School Open House.
- Posters on a variety of topics: Science (Force and Motion and Basic Physics), Animals, Birds and others. Power Point presentations such as “Biomes of the World”.
- The Ramayana play by the 6th grade students
- Student-made books, photographs, art work
- Reports, essays
- Music presentations, poetry presentations
- Individual student portfolios
- Teachers’ study days: Portfolios, Creativity, Auroville curriculum ideas
Reflections and conclusion:
Every year at the end of the school year, the Transition team sits together to assess the school year. What worked well this year? What was especially meaningful? What were difficult areas? What can we do to improve? We have made an action plan to help us work on some of the issues that we feel we need to improve or develop. Additionally, every year we take the time for a teachers’ self-reflection. Everyone appreciates this time-out exercise to look at themselves and think about what worked well and what changes could be made in the classroom.