SAIIER 2019:Deepanam School

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SAIIER 2018-19
Deepanam School


Deepanam School strives to apply the principles of Integral Education as described by 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 2000 and is presently attended by some 65 students. 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.

The school program offers standard academic subjects – mathematics, English, sciences and languages (Tamil, French). These subjects are offered as classes throughout the year but also via cross-disciplinary project work, theatre, field trips and applied work experience. Equal importance is given to other areas: visual arts (drawing, painting, craft, clay); performing arts (singing, theatre); 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).



Activities of the year:

Light group (7 and 8 years old)

This year our class worked on different subjects including English, maths, clay, crafts, painting, ATB and singing. We worked on a few science experiments with projects on light and food. Through the latter project we also looked at world geography and culture. We did a project on Auroville where we learnt about its history, went on field trips and interviewed elder Aurovilans.

Teachers guided children to work on faculties such as concentration, perseverance, imagination and practising fine motor skills through arts and crafts. Children created origami flowers, animals and insects with waste materials. They put their imagination on paper with crayons, poster paint and water colours.

The children learned to recite Sanskrit shlokas, and learned Tamil through songs and rhymes. Linking the food project with Tamil language has resulted in knowing the Tamil names of fruits, vegetables and plants. We hope to bring more Sanskrit next year.

Along with presentations, open houses and cultural programs, our highlight for this year was a weekly cooking class and involvement of parents for the food project presentation. Parents prepared a dish from their country and spoke to the children about the continent and the nation.


Deepanam 2019 - Reading time (Light group).JPG


Peace group (9 and 10 years old)

We started the year with narrating mythology stories to the children every week in the morning circle. They also came up with the idea that each one of them could share a story with the class. This made them comfortable taking in the group and many of them opened up and became confident.

In the first term we decided to work on the quality ‘Mindfulness’ as a whole school. We started and ended the classes with a minute of silence.

We did a project on Plants. The children prepared the garden beds near the classroom and planted a few seeds to see the life cycle of the plant. We visited different farms of Auroville including AuroOrchard, Annapurna and Solitude Farm. This inspired the children to learn about local plants and food along with the plant cycle. We included cooking classes: learning local recipes and using millets and different greens. We also visited the local vegetable market in Pondicherry. The topic continued in Science class, learning about the water cycle. The students learned how to take measurements with a rain gauge and make a bar chart measuring and recording rain water.

Another project this year was on Feelings. This project was to help them understand their feelings and others' and communicate with each other. It started with different activities exploring their senses and working in pairs. Painting was included as a tool on different topics with selected themes and colors. We started by sitting in a circle, sharing poem on the topic of that week which helped them to create their paintings and from that children made their own poems for each topic. Children came up with beautiful poems in this process.

We did a life science project on amphibians, had regular bird watching and then visited Ousteri Lake.



Grace group (11 and 12 years old)

Owing to an increase in numbers of students at the school, Grace group was created this year and included 15 students.

This year an experiment was conducted by dividing the curriculum into units of study focused on learning one particular topic in depth for between two to six weeks. It was greatly beneficial as students did not have to move from one subject to another every 45 minutes, and learning could continue uninterrupted for longer blocks of time, intensively over several weeks. Children retained more and got a deeper understanding of the subject matter. It allowed for more integrated learning with hands-on application. In some ways, the teacher could cover a greater variety of subjects throughout the year without the need to recruit subject teachers, when the schools are struggling to find committed people.

Subjects offered in Grace group were: English, maths, Tamil, French, science, history, geography, nature study and gardening, and life science. Other activities included crafts, origami and painting. Workshops included creating a design for the Garden of the Unexpected (one of the Matrimandir gardens), body percussion, Tango, photography and woodwork.


Deepanam 2019 - Matrimandir (Grace group).jpg


The main theme of this year was to take literature as a central theme and branch out, connecting other subjects, skills, and values. The first book we read was a novel – Wonder by Patricia Polacco. It is a story about a ten-year-old, homeschooled boy named August, who has a severe facial deformity, who enters a fifth grade and attends mainstream school for the first time. The book touches values like friendship, kindness, courage and teaches that inner beauty is more important than physical beauty.

In the month of August, our special theme was Sri Aurobindo. We read parts of Sri Aurobindo: The Story of His Life. Children were very inspired by young Aurobindo's sincerity and courage. Continuing with our theme of the life of Sri Aurobindo, we visited Savitri Bhavan for a session of listening to the tale of Savitri with Shraddhavan. We made a timeline of key events of Sri Aurobindo’s life. We also learned some of Sri Aurobindo's short poems.

At the beginning of the second term we read the fable Dolphin: The Story of the Dreamer by Sergio Bambaren. It is a very inspiring fable about being brave, overcoming fears, pushing personal limits and following dreams. Following the theme of dolphins, children did a research project and produced a booklet on the topic, using the non-fiction text features they had learned in their English class.

Connecting with literature we studied the five oceans, oceanic zones, coral reefs, features of the ocean floor and ocean life. We also did some collaborative artwork of a coral reef and made a model of the ocean floor. This brought us onto the subject of ecology. We learned about ecosystems, the biotic factors, water cycle, the composition of air, layers of soil and layers of the atmosphere. We studied the Mangrove coastal ecosystem and went on a class field trip to Pichavaram, which is the second largest mangrove forest in the world. We measured the temperature, salinity of water, and noted the biodiversity.


Deepanam 2019 - Pichavaram (Grace group).jpg


The fourth book we read together was The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. We studied the fantasy genre and its elements and also the stages of the hero’s journey which is an archetypal story pattern, common in ancient myths as well as modern-day adventures. Apart from novel studies, we learned the elements of a story such as character, conflict, setting, point of view and plot.


Theatre performances:
         In Deepanam, much importance is given to theatre performance. Teachers consistently observe how powerful theatre is in building self-esteem, creativity, imagination and group dynamics. Theatre productions have helped reveal hidden talents and to shed the inhibitions associated with being on the stage. The year was punctuated with several performances from Grace group: the recitation of poems, the presentation of projects in school assembly; dance during Christmas talent show, performance of class play “The Hobbit” and finishing with our annual cultural programme.
         The journey of the play began with reading the book in our literature class. It opened doors to the fantasy world of wizards, trolls, dwarfs, elves, hobbits, dragons, etc. We listened to songs and one particular song “Misty Mountains” called us on to enact the play and join Bilbo's adventure. During the Christmas holidays, children painted the backdrop and props were prepared with the help of teachers in craft classes. The play was staged for parents and community and it was well received.


Deepanam 2019 - Gandalf and Thorin in The Hobbit (Grace group).jpg


S.T.E.A.M. Studies:
         We took an integrated approach to studying STEAM (science, technology, engineering , art and mathematics). This approach encourages the child to think creatively, solve problems and be innovative. First, the topic of simple machines was introduced and we did some experiments in the virtual lab. After completing an online Exploratorium course on motions and mechanisms, students made a cardboard automaton using axle, cam and cam follower. Each automaton was unique and had a character and a story to narrate. Students also explored marble run activities from Exploratorium (making a creative ball-run contraption, from familiar materials, designed to send a rolling marble through tubes and funnels, across tracks and bumpers, and into a catch at the end). Following research into Rube Goldberg, children were very inspired by his machines and designed their own with various functions such as: popping a balloon, watering a plant, and throwing a bottle in a bin. There were lot of trials and errors, but ultimately it was a lot of fun and it opened doors to creative thinking.


Gingee trip to the mountain:
         Towards the end of the school year, Grace group went on an overnight trip to Gingee seeking adventure and finding an experience in pushing one's own limits. The start of the trek was a very steep climb, full of boulders and very little vegetation. The bags we carried slowed us down, not because they contained food or clothes or books but the most essential thing for us to survive: 3 liters of water each!
         The first hurdle was almost crossed when some children started to give up. Thankfully our team included ATB teachers who talked and supported the children to carry on. After an hour or so of walking, we came to the foot of another hill on top of which we were to spend the night. The distance looked short but we soon realized that it was the most difficult climb. There were very narrow paths among boulders where only one person could go at a time. Here the children showed a lot of care for their fellow mates. We cooked and ate had a session of stories and slept under the stars. There was not a single word of complaint and the trip brought out the best in each child and also they bonded with their classmates.


A night out at Botanical Garden:
         Stories play a vital role in the growth and development of children. Listening to stories helps children to develop listening skills, encourages creativity and imagination and improves communication skills by learning the art of asking the right question. We went to the Botanical Garden for a story session around the bonfire and star gazing activity.


A night out at AuroOrchard:
         To supplement our study of soil we went to AuroOrchard. We learned the history of the farm, learned about layers of soil, had a story session around the fire in the evening, and slept under a banyan tree. Next morning we helped to harvest lemons and collect mulch in bags.


Faith group (11 to 14 years old)

This year Faith group included 14 students. Besides studying regular subjects (maths, physics, chemistry, biology, French, Tamil and English), the focus this year was on creativity and team building. The students were given more hours to pursue their subject interests in the form of electives.

Anthropology:
         We were very fortunate to have Dr. Thanuja among us this year, to introduce the subject of Anthropology at the middle school level. It helped students understand different cultures and history from a new perspective. Being in Auroville, there is great cultural diversity within the classroom. The students learnt to be curious and appreciate each other’s cultures. The elements studied included varied topics: prehistory, history, archive information, epigraphy and oral history, greetings and gestures in different culture-languages, kinship and family, geography and environment and fieldwork.
         The field work was carried out in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala. It is a protected forest with rich diversity in flora and fauna and notably, is home to two indigenous groups, the Muthuvans, and Hill Pulayas. Additionally, the area is home to important archaeological sites: dolmens and rock art.
         Objectives that we fulfilled during our trip were:
  • Learning about the forests, water bodies, and fauna of the tribe areas (Muthuvans/Hill Pulayas).
  • Preparing question schedules for an interview on understanding cultural aspects and environment.
  • Learning about archaeological remains such as the dolmens and rock paintings.
  • Reconstructing a settlement map.
  • Debriefing post fieldwork, listing and sorting all that we had understood.
  • Framing content of a book and writing. Finally publishing.
         The ultimate achievement of the trip was Inculcating a sense of value and respect for humanity, its cultures and the environment.


Photography:
         “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Inspired by this quote, the students of Faith group began their Genius Hour in school by learning to observe what’s around them before picking up a camera to shoot.
         In the first two terms of the year, we focused on cultivating the art of observation and seeing a picture without a camera. We began by observing nature, seeing the same surroundings with a fresh pair of eyes every week and discovering something new. We explored black & white photography, light and shade, learned about different composition techniques, textures and details, geometric lines and then moved on to the technical bits about shooting in Manual Mode and photo editing in the last term.
         The group was enthusiastic and some really progressed and refined their art through creative compositions and innovative concepts. Some, who had never held a professional camera before, learned quickly and created beautiful memories for themselves in the form of a personalized Photo Calendar.
         The group learned to work with the big constraint of being in and around the same campus week after week, yet managing to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
         “Kaleidoscope”, the monthly magazine published by the Faith group students, was a platform to showcase their talent. With a regular Gallery section in the magazine to feature photographs, the group of students were motivated to click photos through the week and not wait for the weekly sessions. They learned to collaborate by understanding what the editorial team is looking for and contribute photographs for articles and the magazine cover. We enjoyed visiting a few restaurants to do food photography and compose shots to suit the cover story. All of us used to look forward to the magazine so much and see how the photographs turned out. The magazine was an integral part of the photography sessions and brought in a sense of purpose to our learning and exploration.
         The class teacher felt that the group would receive so much more encouragement if the work was presented and shared with the larger community. The students were excited to get an opportunity to exhibit their photos at Pitanga for two weeks in April – that was like the grand finalé!



“Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” – theatrical direction and performance:
         Students of Faith group became intrigued by the story of “Sadako and Thousand Paper Cranes” while folding paper cranes in their Origami class. This inspired them to perform the play adapted by Kathryn Miller. Most importantly, one of the students took up the task of directing the play. It was ambitious and required great teamwork to make it to the stage. It was entirely owned by the students and teachers kept the role of backup facilitators. It was deep and enthralling performance, well appreciated by the community. It brought tears to the eyes of many. They learned about human conflict, death, perseverance and faith.


Deepanam 2019 - Sadako play (Faith group).jpg


Craft:
         In craft class, students learned different embroidery stitches, and how to embroider with pearls and sequins. With these works, they decided to stitch cushion covers and small bags.
         Students learned the technique of tie-dye and visited Auroville’s unit, The Colors of Nature to learn about natural dyeing with indigo. They brought their tie-dyes and got them dyed in indigo. Back at school, they made scarves with them, applying different embroidery techniques.
         Four students participated in the 2019 Auroville Trashion Show, which occurred at the beginning of February 2019. This year, they had to use only trash that had already had a previous life. They collected the pieces at Eco Service, cleaned them and transformed them into outfits. They proudly strutted the catwalk in their trashion creations!


Outcomes:

Overall outcomes of Deepanam School this year:

  • Differentiated, in-depth and cohesive learning programs aligned with the integral education principles of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo;
  • Help in identifying one’s own strengths and interests;
  • A rich and inclusive learning environment responsive to the needs and interests of each individual student;
  • Teachers committed to the harmonious development of the personality (their own and students), and improving student outcomes through ongoing personal professional growth, coaching and mentoring;
  • Opportunities for community and parents to participate in learning and decision making processes.

Reflections:

This year the Deepanam team came together for visioning and planning for the future by doing a workshop with Leena and Sheeba. Our vision:

To empower students to acquire, demonstrate, articulate and value knowledge and skills that will support them as life-long learners; to participate in and contribute to the global world and to the growth and the development of the community; to practise the core values expressed in the Auroville charter.

Conclusion:

Next year, our plans include:

  1. Curriculum designed to better integrate Auroville as a part of the learning process.
  2. Team building activities that involve the whole school, to promote harmony among students.
  3. Developing critical thinking skills by doing more STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics, Engineering) related activities.