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Learning Science Through Tinkering - a workshop at Vidyashilp Academy

Making is a way of bringing engineering to young learners. Such concrete experiences provide a meaningful context for understanding abstract science and math concepts. For older students, making combines disciplines in ways that enhance the learning process for diverse student populations and opens the doors to unforeseen career paths.” - Sylvia Libow Martinez, Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom

March 7, 2018 was an exciting day for children of grades 6, 7 and 11 at Vidyashilp Academy, as well as senior mentors, Ramjee Swaminathan and K Muralidhar, from GenWise. Ramjee and Murali have been working for years to help children experience deep and meaningful learning while working with their hands using simple tools and materials. This quest has led them to design authentic learning tasks that students find engaging and help them to learn about science, math, engineering and design aspects while developing important hands-on skills.

Two sessions were held on the day:

  • Session 1- Extreme Balancing This was attended by 28 students of grades 6 and 7

  • Session 2- Building a Vernier Calliper to understand Measurement This session was attended by 30 students of grade 11

Session 1- Extreme Balancing

Many students have studied about the ideas of centre of mass and centre of gravity, stable equilibrium etc. Yet, when students (or even adult engineers) are faced with a practical task of balancing something, one starts realizing that the concepts have not been internalized fully and the intuition for these ideas has not been developed. Such deeper understanding can be achieved only through actually trying to perform balancing activities using one’s hands, trying out different approaches to make things work and then reflecting on the science behind what worked and what didn’t.

Students did exactly this in the context of some ‘balancing challenges’. They tried to walk without bending, balance a small length of binding wire on the table using only one point of support, and balance a cardboard human figurine on a tightrope. The images below capture some of many moments of excitement and learning in the workshop.

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Session 2 - Building a Vernier Calliper to understand Measurement

How does one measure length in a fine and accurate manner- does one need to create finer markings on the scale or is there another way? Most of us who have studied science have used a Vernier Calliper to measure length, but few appreciate the elegant magic of the idea behind this invention. The objective of this session was to understand the ideas underlying the measurement of length by making working models of a pair of callipers.

The session had students from diverse disciplines like commerce and science. The post-lunch session started with a brief theoretical introduction to concepts of measurement, accuracy, precision and least count. Once the activity session started the 'aha' moments came when students realized a way to increase the least count of a 10x10 grid (this is a secret which we can’t reveal to you right now!). Later students built their own vernier callipers using paper cut-outs. By the end of the session all students said they understood the concepts of measurement and least count better.

Teachers of Vidyashilp Academy keenly observed both sessions and were actively engaged in the sessions.

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