SAIIER Annual Report 2014-2015: Isai Ambalam School

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Ilaignarkal Education Centre
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Kailash Youth Residency
Isai Ambalam School


Introduction

Isai Ambalam is a school for children of preschool, primary and upper-primary levels. The mission of the school is to create a learning environment in which students and teachers reach their highest mental and spiritual consciousness possible, so as to live, learn, teach and function from there. The students at Isai Ambalam come mostly from rural areas and their learning levels have wide disparities for various reasons; this challenge has led us to adopt an “individual learning programme” approach.

Activities of the year

This year 114 students were enrolled at Isai Ambalam, including 32 in the preschool, 72 at the primary level and 10 in the middle level. Isai Ambalam has 9 full-time teachers and 1 part-time teacher, helped by occassional volunteers.

An 8-step strategy to achieve the Mission described above has been newly formulated. The steps are:

  1. Designing Individual Learning Programme for Each Learner.
  2. Creating the Awareness of the Learning Program for the Learners so that They would Assume Ownership of their Learning and Take Active Interest in Carrying it out.
  3. Use of Effective Educational Approaches for the implementation of the Learning Programme of Each Learner.
  4. Using Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation for evaluating the Learning Outcomes of Each Learner.
  5. Designing a Special Curriculum for the use of Computer and Internet to Facilitate and Accelerate the process of implementation.
  6. Documentation of this Process and Creation of User Guides and Training Manuals.
  7. Determination of Self-Improvement Goals by the Learner and Achieving them Successfully.
  8. Designing a unique Auroville Educational Curriculum Framework and Using it to Help in the Realisation of the Ideals of Auroville.

We have decided to focus first on the implementation of the first five steps.

1. Designing Individual Learning Programme for Each Learner.

Creche and Kindergarten Groups: Learning Programmes for these children contained activities for the 8 kinds of development at the preschool level. Among them, for the Cognitive development, Glenn Doman method or Word Flash Cards method was used. The other kinds of development were addressed through weekly or fortnightly thematic projects. A lot of Montessori activities were given for all the children.

Primary Classes (1st to 5th standard): Individual Learning Programmes were planned and written down for each of these students. We fixed a goal that all the students in the first two standards acquire all the learning competences intended for their level. An intense effort was made by the teachers to make the students fully aware of their learning programme and motivated to complete it. To help this happen, every week each student was given a copy of the learning programme for the week. A learning culture of referring daily to this programme and working on it has been established. As a result all of them became aware of where they were in their learning, their weak points as well as their strong points. Both the students and teachers worked together in completing the programmes. The students started liking this learning programme process.

Upper primary classes (6th & 7th standards): The upper primary students were also happy and comfortable with this individual learning programme process. They were able to become aware of their growth. In these standards teachers and students together discussed and decided their weekly and monthly learning programme. This let the students take responsibility for their learning plan. Subjects included Tamil, English, Math, Science, and Social Science. Skills included problem-solving, communication, organisation and creative thinking skills.

2. Creating the Awareness of the Learning Program for the Learners so that They would Assume Ownership of their Learning and Take Active Interest in Carrying it out.

The teachers succeeded to a considerable extent in motivating the students from 3rd to 7th standards to complete their learning programme. During the third term 22 of these students wished to get weekend assignment of their choice, that is, for the items in the subjects which they chose for self-improvement. In the beginning of the following week the results were reviewed. After 4 weeks of these efforts these children learnt to document and track on their own this effort and review the result. Teachers are enthused by this development and encouraging it. As a result these students are able to take up the remedial activities for their learning difficulties and work on them.

3. Use of Effective Educational Approaches for the implementation of the Learning Programme of Each Learner.

Implementation of this third step could start only in January 2015. Teachers could succeed in using Active Learning Methodology (ALM), Thematic Projects and applying Regis’ English Sentence Writing Formula to meet the learning needs. Results of the research with this Formula are encouraging. As a result the teachers have started getting the needed experience in choosing the right educational approach and apply it.

4. Using Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation for evaluating the Learning Outcomes of Each Learner

Teachers recorded and tracked the application of Regis’ Formula for learning to write one’s own English sentences, which has enabled the teachers to record and track the learning outcomes also. Now it has become easier for the teachers and the students to pinpoint the specific difficulty faced in forming a English sentences and to take up a focused and intense effort to work on that difficulty. It appears that the use of this Excel format can be suitably undertaken for the evaluation of the learning outcomes from all kinds of educational approaches applied for the students’ learning. Presently we are working on using the Excel to design appropriate formats for tracking the learning outcomes when we use Phonics Method for Reading, Word Flash Cards approach, TTT (Thalir Thiran Thittam of Aparajitha Foundation of Madurai) approach for acquiring Psychological Life Skills, etc.

5. Designing a Special Curriculum for the use of Computer and Internet to Facilitate and Accelerate the process of implementation.

Sanjeev Ranganathan heading Isai Ambalam Support Group has started some new initiatives in enabling the students to use the computers creatively, which will contribute to achieving this fifth step.


Use of technology in the curriculum
This year the students learned geometry with help via guided explorations with Geogebra, used Finch robot extensively, and set up a stall at Udavi School with a computer programming challenge.
One example of using the computer to aid understanding in Math was when the 8th graders were working on squares and square roots. An activity in the book was guessing the square root of a number that was a perfect square of a two digit number. This required an algorithm that the children found a little abstract so we created a program to do what they were supposed to do. As they saw the program performing they understood what the algorithm was and changed the program to a game that they could enter their guess value and have it confirmed by the computer. They got quite good at it and demonstrated the same to the 6th graders who got it in their head that they needed to figure out what the 8th graders were up to learnt the same. The same exercise was repeated for cube roots. We then reiterated the concepts by constructing cubes of numbers greater than 10 with Denise blocks. The work on technology was balanced with hands on work, e.g. work with algebra used a weighing balance and a pencil box and puzzles and games.
In January, three youth engineers from Aura Auro began volunteering at Isai Ambalam School, working with various aspects including Math, English and Puzzles. One of them focused on a few 5th grade children who were struggling with mental math, and guided them through a series of steps, initially using the abacus to help them see the patterns of decimal numbers. Then, as the children started seeing the patterns, they used the dominos game as a learning aid. For further practice the children created their own games on the computer that asked questions about single digit additions, and set out to ace their games.


Special events of the year

  • All the students watched the movie on Environment organized by Mauna at Town Hall.
  • The preschool children went on a field trip to the Auroville Botanical Gardens.
  • 1st and 2nd standard children went on a field trip to Kadapakkam beach.
  • An Annual Performance was given based on the thematic projects of selected classes.
  • We celebrated Deepam festival in our school. All the students learned the importance of why the lamp is lighted.
  • We celebrated the Christmas festival in the school.
  • 1st and 2nd standard students did project on Aadi festival. They went to the nearby village and collected information about the festival. They had a good interaction with village elders.
  • 33 children from Poorna learning center, Bangalore visited our school and had an exchange programme with our students. *The students spent half a day together and shared gifts with each other.
  • All the students went to Bharat Nivas to visit an exhibition conducted by people of North Eastern States. Students gathered information and did a weeklong project on those states.

Volunteers

  • Gopa Goswani from America helped the students to communicate in English. She helped them in their reading.
  • Simon from Sweden helped the middle class students to write English sentences on given concepts.
  • Sara from Holland helped for 5th grade in maths.
  • Regine from Austria helped the children to learn maths skill through computer.
  • Azina and Samira from Germany helped the children in maths and Environment studies. They also taught songs to the primary children.

Outcomes

This year preschool and 2nd standard students’ parents participated in their children’s learning activities. Four parents of the preschool children learnt to do the Words Flash Cards programme and applied it at home for their children.

At the school we learned system administration on the Ubuntu platform. We soon encountered the issue of files being distributed across the 9 computers and looked at networking. This brought children an interesting concept of a 'phone number of a computer’ to enable it to talk to another computer and send files across. We were then able to mount a central file location that could be accessed from all computers. We also worked with the children so they learnt basic organization of their files and could access it from the central location. This simple act has yielded profound benefits as children were in a position to work from any computer and assimilate their work class to class.

Twenty-five students of 4th to 7th standard used the computer to further their skills in Math. The students were happy to learn through the computer, and the interactive programs helped them understand concepts easily. The students also learned to find and collect information from the internet for Active Learning Methodology projects.

Of the ten oldest students, four completed their 8th syllabus and went to New Era Secondary School to join 9th standard.

Teacher training

  • A 3-day workshop on learning English through our mother tongue workshop was conducted by Mr. Regis of Madurai in the school. All the teachers participated in this workshop.
  • Nirmala, Stella and Vijayalakshmi participated in the ABL workshop conducted by Vanur BRC Resource group.
  • Sanjeev, Kavitha, Gomathi and Sivanandham participated in the ABL Maths workshop conducted by Vanur BRC Resource group.
  • Vijayalakshmi and Gomathi participated in the workshop on the renowned Tamil poet, Subramania Bharathiyar, conducted at Ilaignargal school.
  • All the teachers of Isai Ambalam School attended all the Stewardship for New Emergence workshops (three workshops, each of 3-day duration conducted by Monica Sharma in the months of January, February and March).

Reflections

Relatively few students in the higher grades allowed us to do intensive work with a few elder children, and to form multi-grade classes where the elder children guided younger children.

The Stewardship for New Emergence workshops attended by our teachers had a very positive impact on the school. The benefits to the teachers were markedly visible in their work. Teamwork, taking up initiatives for oneself as well as the students, learning, free and fluent expression and communication by all became natural. The school learning and teaching atmosphere improved considerably.

Future direction

Next year we will continue perfecting and implementing the 8-step strategy.

Conclusion

The Individual Learning Programme helps the teachers to go further in the quality of their teaching and learning. It also helps the children to become self-motivated. The students are able to notice their weak and strong points, helping them overcome their weak points and strengthen their strong points. The framework we are adopting at the school, and our continual use of innovative teaching and learning methods, make us confident in our ability to help our students achieve their highest potential.



See also

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Ilaignarkal Education Centre
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Kailash Youth Residency