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Takeaways from an exploding lake for education #43

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Quote of the Week

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. attributed to Albert Einstein

Hi, this is the GenWise team– we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and working together. We are also a founder-member of the Gifted India Network– if you are interested in issues related to gifted education and talent development, an easy way to keep updated about talks, programs and resources is to join the Gifted India Network telegram channel (

In this week’s main post ‘Takeaways from an exploding lake for education’, Vishnu Agnihotri shares how the model of ‘simple linear cause-effect’ comes in the way of learning and the need to educate students (and ourselves) on different models of causality. If you are a parent of a child in grades 5-8, check out the details of the upcoming Ei ASSET Talent Search test on Feb 5-6, 2022, in the upcoming events section.

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts or writing to us.


Takeaways from an exploding lake for education

Upcoming Events

Takeaways from an exploding lake for education

This post in an expanded version of this twitter thread.

‘Simple linear thinking’ is at the heart of many human problems. For example, thinking that some inefficient or corrupt government alone is responsible for our dirty city and not seeing the role of individual consumption and methods of waste disposal. The thread about the exploding lake in the latter part of this post highlights the limitations of such thinking in a striking manner.

‘Simple linear thinking’ is responsible for many problems in learning ‘mundane’ school subjects too. The default mode may be to think in simple linear terms, but education should equip us to think in a more nuanced way about cause and effect. Take for example, the concept of density and flotation- the simple linear way to think about this is that heavier objects sink and lighter objects float, but a good teacher can guide the student to think about this phenomenon in a deeper way (as described below).

Researcher, Tina Grotzer, who is part of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, writes about the importance of learning about different types of causal patterns in her book- Learning Causality in a Complex World. She talks about multiple causal patterns such as domino causality, cyclic causality, spiralling causality, mutual causality and relational causality. She argues that these are important to learn because if one learns the causal pattern underlying a particular phenomenon, one can apply this to understanding another phenomenon with a similar causal pattern.

Going back to the example of why objects float, a good teacher could do something along the lines below, as Tina Grotzer describes in her book. This would help students to not only understand the science of why objects float, but also the underlying causal pattern of ‘relational causality’.

In one of our curriculum activities, we show students two pieces from the same candle, one larger and one smaller. The two pieces are each dropped into separate beakers. The larger piece sinks and the smaller piece floats. Students typically nod in affirmation. Then we switch which candle is in which beaker. Now the larger one floats and the smaller one sinks. Students are very surprised and they begin to focus on the liquid. “Are the liquids different?” they ask. The students’ focus has shifted to the relationship between the object and the liquid. Whether an object sinks or floats depends upon the differential in density between the object and the liquid (or between two fluids as in the Lake Nyos example.) Here, the candles float in water and sink in isopropyl alcohol. Students then begin to make connections—realizing, for instance, that they float more in salt water than in regular water. How they reason about the nature of causality in sinking and floating has shifted. In our curriculum work, we call this kind of activity a RECAST activity because it REveals the underlying CAusal STructure of the phenomenon. -Extract from ‘Learning Causality in a Complex World’

Understanding ‘relational causality’ now helps the student to learn about many other phenomena at a later stage- such as how a differential in air pressure enables us to take every breath, how puffer fish and submarines rise and fall, how a syringe works and how animal populations are related to each other in ecology.

The 1-week course, Computational Modelling in the Natural and Social Sciences by GenWise mentor, Aniruddh Sastry, in the Genesis 2022 residential program this May, helps students grasp some of these models of causality (e.g. tipping points in the spread of a forest fire) by working with computer simulations.

Read my twitter thread below to learn more about the lake that exploded. The last tweet in the thread links to a presentation I made at 2 conferences in 2019 on ‘Using technology tools to understand complex phenomena’ (the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) convention at Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the UNESCO MGIEP conference at Vishakhapatnam).


1) A 14 tweet story about a lake that exploded suddenly and mysteriously without warning… with important takeaways for education. (Some pictures inside this thread) 

2) In 1986, Lake Nyos in Cameroon erupted killing 1800 people + 3500 livestock in a 19 km radius. Bodies were burnt; survivors had eye lesions, neurological problems, paralysis of lower limbs. Similar events at nearby Lake Monoun on a smaller scale in 1984 

3) Eyewitnesses of Lake Nyos disaster reported- very hard rain that stopped at 930 PM; rumbling sound & smell like gunpowder + rotten eggs; people ran around and dropped dead; many lost consciousness for 6-16 hours 

4) What do you think could have been the cause for both these eruptions? 

5) Popular theories about both eruptions- A former dictator sent a plane for an attempted coup that crashed into the lake; Cameroon govt said this was a terrorist attack- someone dumped chemicals into the lake 

6) More theories- Evil spirits leave lake periodically and kill people based on legends; A neutron bomb exploded by US/ Israelis based on the nature of effect- damage to living things, and arrival of Shimon Peres and medical team within days of disaster 

7) Took a team of international experts from different fields > 7 months to figure out what happened. The lake was heavily saturated with CO2 which was held in the bottom layers due to pressure from the top layers…

8) Some disturbance (perhaps seismic) allowed CO2 to escape and huge volumes were released. Exceptional events occurring over a long time resulted in this- very deep lake, in an area with volcanic activity, layers of the lake not mixing, degassing not happening…

9) We think in terms of obvious & proximate causes, linear effects,and intentional agents, but like the Lake Nyos example, reality involves escalations, tipping points, distant and delayed effects…easier to think of terrorist attack than complex chain of unintentional agents..

10) So when we simplify reality beyond a point and become ‘simplistic’ like the man in the picture…and push one wall to make space..

11) It can bite back badly…. when we see only parts of a highly interconnected world.. connected in space and in time

12) Think DDT the super pesticide that saved millions of lives causing severe environmental damage; overuse of antibiotics leading to superbugs; use of biodiesel leading to burning rainforests in SE Asia

13) TAKEAWAYS- We have a tendency to think in simple/ disconnected terms but reality is often far more complex/ connected. Complexity needs to be appreciated for the sake of humanity’s future. 

14) Next thread will be on how our intuition can be educated to deal with complexity. Check out to see the full presentation made at @UNESCO_MGIEP #TECH2019 conference 

Upcoming Events

Ei ASSET Talent Search (ATS) 2022- This is India’s premier above-level test for identification of gifted students that is recognized by world-class gifted programs of the likes of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, Purdue University’s Gifted Education Research and Resource Institute (GER2I), University of California, Berkeley – Academic Talent Development Program (ATDP) and GenWise, who recognize ATS scores in their program application process. This film elaborates on the value of taking ATS.

The test can be taken online from home by children in grades 5-8 who have qualified for this through their performance in the grade- level ASSET test they might have taken earlier. If your child has not taken the ASSET test, they can do so online here. Scores of 85th percentile or above in English, Maths or Science will qualify them for the ASSET Talent Search test.

Ei ASSET Talent Search test dates: India: 5th and 6th February 2022 If you are a school and need the data of students who have qualified for ATS, you can request the same from Ei. To know more or to enrol, please visit: You can also write to with your queries.

Summer Programs from GenWise (Residential)- May 8- May 29

India’s premier talent search platform, Ei ASSET Talent Search (ATS) and GenWise are strategic partners. ATS identifies gifted students and GenWise delivers programs to nurture gifts. Watch Ei ATS Gold/ Silver/ Bronze scholars sharing their experience at GenWise programs here- 

Registrations are now open for 3 residential programs in May 2022, all running concurrently at the same campus- For Ei ATS Gold/ Silver/ Bronze scholars         -GenWise 2022 (entering Gr 8,9,10)         -GenWise Jr. 2022 (entering Gr 6,7) Open to all interested students          -Genesis 2022 (entering Gr 8,9,10) Please check this post- and this presentation for more details- The academic enrichment component of the program provides diverse opportunities to students to identify and pursue their interests- Artificial Intelligence, Mathematical Thinking, Leadership, Forensic Investigations, Urban Sustainability, Creative Writing and Engineering Design are just some of the options available. All the programs above are however much more than their academic enrichment component and the goal of the program is to help with the development of the whole child-read more about the benefits of GenWise programs at Safety and comfort of students is ensured by a high quality team of Residential Counselors, trained and managed by the experienced Site Director and Residential Head. The adult:student ratio is 1:5 or greater. Call Vishnu @9342247734 or Rajesh@9840970514 or write to

Identifying and Nurturing Giftedness in the Early Years– this panel discussion on Sat, Feb 12 at 6 PM is part of a series of events from the Gifted India Network of which we are a founding member. You can view more details about the session and register for the same here.

This discussion would be most relevant to parents and teachers whose wards (in the age range 4-10) may be displaying unusual ability. Our 3 expert panelists will share common issues, tips for parents, options available for enrichment, and address participant questions.

The panelists are-

Dr. Bhooshan Shukla, eminent child psychiatrist and parenting coach who has worked with several gifted children in his clinical practice.

Dr. Devasena Desai, from the Kaveri Gifted Education Centre (KGERC). She has designed the teacher training programs at KGERC based on the work of Belin Blank Center, Iowa, USA, and also offers individual guidance to parents of gifted children.

Dr. Rhoda Rosen is Associate Director at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development (CTD). She oversees CTD’s enrichment programs for young students, including summer, weekend, and online courses. Additionally, she leads parent education initiatives and is actively involved in professional learning and school outreach. 

Giftedness- Parent Perspectives– this panel discussion on Fri, Feb 18 at 6 PM is part of a series of events from the Gifted India Network of which we are a founding member. You can view more details about the session and register for the same here.

Being the parent of a gifted child can be both joyous and difficult. Keeping the child sufficiently challenged and engaged is a common issue. Sometimes fitting in socially and finding the right peer group can be a challenge. Often, parents do not even know whom to approach for guidance as gifted students are few and far apart, and schools are often not equipped to address the needs of such students.

In this panel discussion, 3 parents of middle/ high school children and one young adult will share their experiences and tips that will be useful to other parents and educators. The parents will talk about how they identified giftedness, whom they approached for help, mentors and out-of-school experiences they found useful, and other challenges they faced. Participants (both parents and educators) are also encouraged to share their experiences during this session. 

The session will be moderated by Vishnu Agnihotri, co-founder of GenWise, who has been working with gifted students since 2015. 


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