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Experiential Learning Workshop @ Sir Mutha School, Chennai

The September 2007 issue of Smithsonian Magazine was dedicated to “America’s Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences” – 37 people under the age of 36 were making a name for themselves and were well on their way to eminence in their respective fields. Most of them traced their passion and career focus to a few key experiences.

For example, Cristian Samper, Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, said in his editorial introduction:

"My own love of science came from a love of nature. As a Boy Scout, I camped and hiked in Colombian rain forests, returning home eager to organize my collections of plants and animals... At 15, I joined ornithologist Jorge Orejuela on a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) summer expedition to the remote rainforests in the Choco region of Colombia. This was my first experience in hands-on fieldwork, and as I saw scientific data, field observation, conservation biology and environmental policy all coming together, I was hooked."

Our mission at GenWise is to create such crucial experiences for children that ignite in them the spark of lifelong learning. However, formal education in this day and age involves attending school with the sole objective of doing well in exams and getting admission into a well-known university, a prerequisite to a successful career. Today, Indian society is intoxicated with academic achievement to such an extreme that a child's holistic development is in jeopardy.

Far greater is invested in getting the child into a reputed college for a stable future, rather than in unique experiences that will instill in the child a passion for gaining knowledge and pave the way for a brighter future. Pure learning can only be achieved by going beyond a rigid curriculum and delving into fundamental concepts. Dream careers can only be realized by having the opportunity to apply textbook concepts to the real world– to our daily lives. It is now more than ever that there is a need for an environment where creativity is given multiple chances alongside academic excellence. GenWise, India's most experienced team in skill identification and talent development, aims to create such an environment for its students via informal learning opportunities and experiences.

We would like to thank the management at Sir Mutha School for inviting us to demonstrate some of the modules GenWise has developed to support experiential learning. These experiences are intended to induce in students the passion of the subject, the spirit to select and pursue an area of interest. The war for talent is global, especially when machines will take over most of the tasks. In this rapidly changing world, skills such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, team work, connecting ideas from different domains become necessary. Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba Group, says, "If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now we will be in trouble."

GenWise Mentors conducted 3 sessions (2 "Extreme Balancing" sessions and 1 session illustrating concepts around Buoyancy) for the students of grades 6, 7 and 8. Each session had approximately 30 students organized into 6 groups with approximately 5 students per group.

Extreme Balancing

The first session had 29 students who had just completed primary school and were beginning middle school. Mr. Ramjee Swaminathan took them on a learning adventure to discover the underlying concepts behind daily happenings such as Balancing - centre of mass (CoG), and point of support (PoS). Although the topics were new to the students, they had some intuitive ideas about them. Mr. Ramjee explained the concepts and their central role in our daily life– how we are constantly engaging in acts of balancing and unbalancing, be it while getting up from a chair or even walking.

To reinforce the understanding of these concepts, the students were given a bigger challenge– to recreate the extreme balancing act of a tightrope walker. The students were given a paper cut-out of a human figure named Bob. The challenge was to make Bob balance on one leg on top of a tightrope line. They could use wooden clips, plasticine clay, or steel wire to attach to the cut-out to help it balance. The possible strategies to achieve the objective were discussed. The students took the figure of Bob home to complete the challenge.

Scientific Method - As applied to the concept of Buoyancy

The next session had Prof. Utpal Chattopadhyay teaching grade-7 students all about Archimedes' principle of buoyancy. Many of the students knew how to swim and were familiar with the experience of 'feeling lighter' in water. But what is the reason for this weightlessness? How does it relate to the concept of buoyancy?

To help make things clear, an experiment was carried out. Each team of students was given a 6"X6" piece of thin aluminum foil and was asked to make a "boat" using the foil, that could carry a "load". Marbles were handed out to each team. The teams were then challenged to place their team's boat in water and load it with the maximum number of marbles possible, without letting the boat sink. Before starting off, the students were asked to give their initial estimate of the maximum number of marbles that their boat can hold. Different teams demonstrated different strategies for loading the marbles. For example, while some started loading all the marbles at the center of the boat, some started at the corners. All of them realized the importance of maintaining a balance in weight distribution while loading.

At this stage, the teams were given another chance to discuss and revise their estimate about the maximum load. They were given another set of marbles to test their new assumptions as they were surprised to see their previous estimates fail.

Discussions and revisions of estimates were carried out each time another set of marbles was given. While a couple of teams sank their boats in the initial stages, they quickly diagnosed the reasons for failure and made the necessary changes to their boats before loading marbles again. Finally, one team was able to load the highest number of marbles before their boat sank. The students were stunned to see the number so different from their original estimate.

Summing up, Utpal shared details of the Scientific Method - Observation, Hypotheses, Designing Experiments, Validation/ Rejection of Hypotheses, Modeling, etc. - as also helping them understand the force of Buoyancy, as well as a theoretical basis to estimate the number of marbles that could be loaded onto the foil boat.

Based on the feedback from the students and the school, the students and all of us ended up thoroughly enjoying ourselves!