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Bringing the real world into an online classroom

Note- This post shares vignettes from an online course called ‘Sensing the World around Us’ by Radha. The next edition of the course is linked here.

Radha leads the curricular track- Planetary Web: Nature, Society and the Individual at GenWise. In a series of 3 earlier posts, she talks about her work with children- where teacher and students engage with real-life issues and in the process, investigate complex relationships. Their actions and responses arise from this engagement and the understanding born out of it. See the links at the end of this post to navigate to Radha's upcoming courses.

We may feel dissatisfied with the nature of affairs around us and take action to address our concerns- whether ecological, inequities in society or whatever. Where does this action come from however? Does it come from a proper understanding of the situation? Where does a proper understanding come from? You learn the science, you learn the geography, you learn the history, you learn the sociology- whatever is needed.

But even more fundamental than these is to learn to observe. Observation brings awareness and when you become aware, you become sensitive. And when you become sensitive, you understand the situation at a fundamental level. And the geography and sociology you learn have a far deeper meaning than the words in the books.

As an educator, I believe that getting young children to develop a habit of observing things around them and becoming aware, early in life is important. It becomes harder as we grow older to develop this quality, especially if we have gotten used to understanding things theoretically. We almost ‘lose’ the ability to ‘sense’.

I have tried various approaches over the years to help children develop these habits. Last year at the GenWise Summer School, one of the activities children ‘did’ was to observe the area around a tree in silence for 20 minutes. Though some children resisted the idea initially, all of them were super excited at the end of the activity and pleasantly surprised at the number of things they had seen happening… they had never realized there was so much action in the place! The current situation this year, with all courses having to be online posed a challenge to working on this aspect with children. Yet we stepped forward to experiment with ‘bringing the real world we had observed’ into online sessions. I designed a course titled ‘Sensing the World around Us’ with the belief that there is enough ‘life’ to be observed in a balcony, through a window and even indoors.

The observations happened as ‘homework’ and the online sessions were used to share the observations and reflect on them. It was wonderful to see the active engagement of these young children (most were entering grade 5, 6 or 7). They came 15 minutes early to each class, eager to share their observations with much enthusiasm. Though the observations were open ended, I had provided a structure that would compel them to be keen observers and set guidelines to avoid distraction (e.g. no photos were allowed). I will say no more about what transpired in the classes- the images of the homework assignments that were given and the children’s submissions should be enough to illustrate what happened.

It was energizing for me to observe the world through the eyes of these young children and hear their reflections. I was thrilled that the experiment had worked so well and I look forward to working with more children in upcoming editions of my courses, bringing the real world into classrooms… even online ones..

Courses by Radha in Summer 2020-

For children entering grade 8, 9 or 10-

1) New Thinking for a New World: Food

2) Ownership or Sharing? New Thinking for a New World

For children entering grade 5, 6 or 7

3) Sensing the World around Us

Other recent posts from Radha on the GenWise Blog

Post 1 had narrated an experience on engaging with solid management. Post 2 carried on seamlessly from Post 1 to contrast the experience of students on the waste management project with the standard approach in the curriculum, and makes a case for studying a network of inter-dependencies and relationships in any situation. This post also outlined what students can expect in Radha's series of 'New Thinking for a New World' courses in Summer 2020. Post 3 outlined the engagement of a residential school with the community around it on the issue of sharing water, and introduces the idea of 'commons'- the subject of one of her courses in Summer 2020.