SAIIER Annual Report 2014-2015: Learning from Life Experience

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Integral Education - Understanding Parts of Being
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Learning from Life Experience
field trips of Transition School


Introduction

At Transition School there is a commitment to developing the whole child. Children’s different learning styles are addressed through the implementation of different methods: cooperative learning, individual work, class projects, and outings. Teachers develop meaningful lesson objectives and good lesson plans that include field experiences.

Field trips and outings appeal to the students and offer many opportunities for learning. In Auroville and the surrounding area there are many activities and areas of research and innovative work, and this offers many opportunities to extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom. These types of experiences are memorable and help children to ground their learning and make sense of the world around them.

In many cases an outing is linked with a project that the class has been working on at school, and adds another element to the class work.

This year we decided to expand this part of our curriculum. We wanted to find out if field trips and outings increase the children’s motivation to learn, and if these experiences help the children understand concepts and ideas more fully.

Description of project

As in a lot of educational research, we approached this project through the “action research” method – “learning by doing”. This involves a group of people identifying a problem or something they would like to change, doing something to resolve it, seeing how successful their efforts were, and if not satisfied, trying again.

The Transition School teachers know that children love to go on field trips; they enjoy being with their classmates on a trip outside the school walls. But our question was, “Are these trips educational? Do they motivate the children and do the children understand better what has been presented to them?” With these questions in mind the teachers worked out simple guidelines: educational goals and good planning are essential. It is also helpful to integrate the trip into the classroom program. Plan instruction and activities in class to prepare for the trip. Discuss what will happen at the trip site, and the expectations of the children. How will the teacher assess the children’s interest? Their understanding of concepts?

With this in mind, individual teachers, sometimes with the help of their students, thought about places to go that could help the class investigate the topic. There are many different ways to investigate a topic, including:

  • Going on field trips to observe examples of the topic.
  • Interacting with experts in the field of study, who may volunteer their time to share knowledge with the children.
  • Participating in work that is happening, and talking with the people doing the work.

We felt that there should be continuous assessment and evaluation. The students were expected to demonstrate what they had learned, through discussion, presentations, posters, powerpoint presentations, writing, or other methods. Many of our trips this year were based on the theme of understanding of our environment and environmental issues. Below are descriptions of some of our field trips:

  1. Nadukuppam, Grades 2 and 6
  2. Biochar at Discipline Farm and Cuppa Chai, Grade 8
  3. Adyar Eco Park, Grade 8
  4. Neyveli Lignite Corporation, Grade 7
  5. Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, Grade 7
  6. Auroville's Archeological Sites
  7. Matrimandir
  8. Eco Service, Auroville

1. Nadukuppam, Grades 2 and 6

In December the second and sixth grades went on a joint field trip to Nadukuppam village, where Pitchandikulam Forest is active with projects in education, social development, farming and ecological restoration. The sixth graders had been the reading buddies for the younger students, and one of the significant aspects of this trip was the exchange between the two groups of students. The reading buddies relationship combined with this joint outing went a long way toward building bridges across the groups. Both groups were studying trees, so this was an ideal hands-on learning experience for all 38 children. Four teachers, five members of the Pitchandikulam staff and one parent accompanied the children.

We traveled by bus for the one-hour ride, stopping on the way to see the fruit bats roosting in big tamarind trees. The children were happy to learn that in the village where the bats roost, the villagers never use loudspeakers, as they see the bats as an auspicious presence don’t want to disturb them.

We arrived at Nadukuppam shortly afterwards. First we visited the Nadukuppam school, and saw some of the environmental projects in place there, implemented by the teachers together with the Pitchandikulam team. It was interesting for the Transition students to see the similarities with ongoing projects in their own school.

Then we visited the spirulina unit, where spirulina is cultivated in open tanks. One of the guides from Pitchandikulam explained the process of cultivation and the benefits of spirulina to the students. This was followed by an invitation to try a spirulina drink.

After this, we visited the large area of Nadukuppam which Pitchandikulam is helping to reforest. We swam in the water catchment tanks, and the children sailed the local coracle boats there. We took a walk around the land, and everybody had the chance to plant some trees to contribute towards the reforestation work.

This was an inspiring trip which awakened interest in the children. It led to a wonderful tree-labelling project on the Transition school campus.

2. Biochar: Discipline Farm and Cuppa Chai, Grade 8

The eighth grade class worked on a project on Biochar during September and October 2014. The project was conducted by Deoyani S.

First the students were shown a powerpoint presentation on Biochar – charcoal produced from plant matter and stored in the soil as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The students learned about Biochar’s benefits, applications and manufacture. They were also introduced to the use of charcoal in Auroville, specifically Annapurna and Discipline Farm, and looked at comparative data on farms yields from soils with and without charcoal.

Then we went on a field trip to Discipline Farm and the students saw the kiln that was being used to make charcoal. They were also able to see that the yield of a field in which biochar had been used was much greater that a control field. Deoyani and the volunteers at Discipline Farm explained the functioning of the 30 kg capacity charcoal kiln. We then went to the Cuppa Chai kiln across the road and saw the large 750 kg capacity kiln. We were unable to finish our research; we were supposed to make charcoal.

This lesson was part of the Environmental Science unit and it proved to be an inspiring one. The students wrote about what they had learned and referred to this project often.

3. Adyar Eco Park, Grade 8

The eighth grade also had the opportunity to go to Adyar Eco Park (also known as Adyar Poonga), an ecological park set up by the Government of Tamil Nadu, with Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants, in the Adyar estuary area of Chennai. We have taken students there in the past and find it a very inspiring example of how an ecologically damaged area can be restored to vibrant life. Visiting Adyar lets the children see what can be done with the right application of hard work, dedication and the knowledge of science. Being able to see such examples is important as sometimes children of this age feel overwhelmed with all the news about ecological problems and disasters. After this trip they all wrote a personal narrative telling about the day, what they learned and how they felt about it. The students were inspired and impressed. Some of the comments were: “I thought I was going to be bored, but I am now different. I see what can be done through hard work and dedication.” “I have a new bond with nature—I want to learn more.”

4. Neyveli Lignite Corporation, 7th grade

The seventh grade made a day trip to the Neyveli Lignite thermal coal-fired power plant from which Auroville partly receives its electricity. We were received by an engineer in the Public Relations department, who explained about the geology of Neyveli with the aid of models of the different layers. We were also shown models of the steam generator, turbine, control instruments, cooling tower and other parts.

Then we descended into one of the three open-cast mines, and experienced first hand how the gigantic excavators worked. These machines are so huge that we were dwarfed by the scraper wheel. Three different layers of terraces were being excavated, and water was being pumped out. We saw the enormous conveyor belt transporting the lignite to the thermal power plant. We heard the deafening explosions as dynamite charges were laid to loosen the coal. We learned about the cost of the project, its future, the land and water requirements, the labor and engineers involved, and the Neyveli Township created for the workers of this corporation, with its schools, hospital and free electricity.

After this we visited the greenbelt an area of the power plant: 40,000 square meters with trees, bushes, and water bodies (overflow from the mines), a deer park, and a little zoo. We were plied with snacks, a midday meal, transport on site and more. Lastly we visited the Neyveli Township, where we saw an environmental exposition on the Neyveli Lignite mines and the corporation’s social enterprises in the township.

This trip generated a lot of discussion. The students also became more interested in renewable sources of energy and did research on various forms of energy. They presented their findings to other members of their class.

5. Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, Grade 7

The seventh grade went on a trip to the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, near the temple town of Chidambaram, 60 km from Pondicherry. We hired two rowboats from the Tamil Nadu Tourist Department and had a wonderful late afternoon boat ride through this second largest Mangrove forest of India. It is next to the coast of the Bay of Bengal; tides from the sea bring salt water in and out twice a day. Two estuaries are formed by the Velar and the Coleroon rivers and the Killai backwaters. The sanctuary is 1100 hectares in size and has 4400 small and big canals with a depth of 3-10 feet. We meandered through the creeks and gullies, along mud flats and sand flats, observing the flora and fauna: seaweed, crabs, oysters, egrets, cormorants, storks and herons. We learned that in the migratory season, September to April, 177 bird species flock here.

We looked at Mangroves and learned about them. These trees have unique breathing-root systems with membranes that allow only fresh water to enter. Mangroves grow up from the water extending their ‘fingers’; the leaves have pores to take up oxygen. Mangroves are more than important for the coastal areas – they are crucial. Estuarine areas tend to be highly populated by humans, with the risk that the slightest ecological imbalance could take a heavy toll. Mangroves play a vital role in stabilizing these areas.

Mangroves are now seen by scientists as saviors in today's scenario of global warming. We all know that most of the coastal areas throughout the world are going to be affected by sea level rise due to global warming, cyclones and seasonal storms. The effects of this are already visible. Mangroves are buffers between the land and the sea. Coastlines throughout the world are facing serious problems of coastal erosion and threat of rising sea levels. To control such assault of the sea on land nature has provided the Mangroves, which not only help in preventing soil erosion but also act as a catalyst in reclaiming land from seas.

Mangrove forests and estuaries are the breeding and nursery grounds for a number of marine organisms including the commercially important shrimp, crab and fish species. Hence, loss of mangroves not only affects us indirectly but result in direct economic repercussions. Mangrove trees are also used for house building, furniture, telephone poles and certain household items. When these industries are managed appropriately it is possible to derive timber products from Mangrove forests without significant environmental degradation, maintaining their value as a nursery and a source of food.

6. Auroville's Archeological Sites

Several groups of students visited Poppo’s Archeological museum in Kottakarai. Poppo, an Auroville pioneer and architect, has been rescuing and excavating archeological finds since the 1960's, first coming upon treasures by accident while digging foundations for his buildings. He has slowly built up a collection of interesting and precious artifacts dating back to the Iron Age and Megalithic times (the year 0 AD). The Archeological Survey of India gave him permission to safeguard these artifacts in museum at his home until the time the building of the Tamil Heritage Center is completed.

Over the years in the Bharat Nivas, Center Field, and Savitri Bhavan areas, many burial sites were unearthed which are thought to date back to the Iron Age. The artifacts found beneath granite slabs in urns include cups, vessels, cowbells made of bronze and copper and iron, beads, and the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. Iron objects such as swords, spades, spears, sickles and axes were also found. Poppo is a great raconteur, passionate about his work; he kindled students’ enthusiasm and their interest to know more about the people who lived on the Auroville plateau long ago.

We visited the newest excavation in the Matrimandir triangle with several cairn circles, marked by sandstone boulders 1 meter below the surface. Poppo and his crew have meticulously preserved their original form; later a park will be designed around these circles with boards explaining this amazing find right in the center of Auroville where daily hundreds of tourists pass. In the center of these cairns, large granite headstones are found, and occasionally burial urns with earthen pots, metal objects, and bones within the circle. All of these stones originated from several kilometers away and must have been brought here for the purpose. The larger granite pieces are from even further away, probably near Mailam.

For over 30 years Poppo has been excavating and mapping various sites in Auroville and preserving and rebuilding the urns, pot shards and other objects which he displays. This open museum helps us remember the mysteries of the past as we construct a city of the future.


Photo Transition - Poppo.png


7. Matrimandir

Several groups visited the Matrimandir and her different aspects. We viewed an exhibition of the designs of the gardens and the planned lake surrounding it, the gardens themselves, the chamber, the petals, and the top of the Matrimandir. This last was tied in with the Geography program some classes followed, providing an experience of the bird's eye view, the directions, locations, “what can you see?”.

The children learned about the Matrimandir’s 12 petals, their qualities and their colors. They learned that the first eight petals concern one’s attitude towards the Divine (Sincerity, Humility, Gratitude, Perseverance, Aspiration, Receptivity, Progress, Courage) and the last four towards humanity (Goodness, Generosity, Equality and Peace).

We also visited the Banyan tree which is the true geographic center of Auroville, with its resident owls and parrots, and the Amphitheatre with the Urn in which the soil of 192 countries was deposited in 1968 to symbolize unity at the inauguration of Auroville. We learned about the testing ponds (to test the sealing for the lake), the special compost being made, the ashram and Auroville volunteers who come work every day, the workshops, planning and design offices. We also visited the town planning office in Town Hall with its maps, models and satellite pictures.

Visits to the Matrimandir, which usually happen around the Auroville week, are always in demand and the students never tire of them. The visits are a good opportunity to remind ourselves why we are here in Auroville and what this special center symbolizes for each of us. All the children have their own stories – some often walk in the gardens and visit them with their parents.

8. Eco Service, Auroville

Many groups of students went to participate in the work at the Eco Service, Auroville’s solid waste recycling unit. Auroville communities segregate their solid waste in 4-8 categories, and the Eco service collects it. In their premises it is sorted further into 55 categories and is mostly sold for recycling. That which cannot be recycled, “mixed waste”, goes to the landfill. A goal of the Eco Service is that everyone in Auroville knows how to segregate waste at source (at one’s home, office, school, workshop) in such a manner that the outcome is eventually one hundred percent recovery, or “zero waste”.

A young intern at Eco Service, Alex, created a programme for volunteering there called the “1-hour-experience” at the Eco Service. Participants would visit the Eco service for a 15-minute tour, and then for 45 minutes help sort waste into different categories for recycling. This program gave a sense of community participation and awareness. The goal was simple: develop the potential for beauty (symbolized by the color pink) and bring a sense of community (symbolized by stars) into our recycling and waste management. After the experience students received a pink star to pin on their clothes, and became garbage warriors!

The 1-hour experience was a success with the students; they learned a lot and developed more respect for the people sorting and handling waste every day. This outing was followed up with a lesson of a “waste audit” for their home or community waste, and a waste audit of the school. In the classroom now we have trays for not-crumpled and not-torn white and colored waste paper; this is collected by Auropapers, which gives the students recycled notebooks for Christmas .


These are just a few of the many outings and opportunities for experiential learning that our students participated in this year!

Outcomes

The children did demonstrate enthusiasm and interest. We had many interesting presentations in the school. We will have to follow it further to see how it translates into deeper and more comprehensive learning. We planned to create a file that contains information on different subject areas and clearly describes where we can go, who we can meet, and what is the feedback of the students and teachers. This is in process.

Conclusion

We would like to continue this research and find better ways of evaluating the project. All indications are that if the trip is well planned and has a purpose that the students are aware of, it is a wonderful tool to enhance learning.


See Also

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Integral Education - Understanding Parts of Being
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Library for New Colors Center