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  • Akhila Nookala

I spent my Birthday at work and here’s why it was one of the best ones

[Me (in a blue kurta in the centre of the frame) with incredibly talented and enthusiastic student leaders on my birthday.]

Birthdays are special for most people and we prefer to spend the day doing what we love with people we consider close to us. Some like to travel solo, some celebrate with family and friends while some spend it just like any other day. My birthday on the 20th of July this year was one of the best. Not because I threw a big party but because I spent time in the classroom facilitating a learning session for 40 students as part of Inqui-Lab’s flagship program, Think & Make. A program that trains students to facilitate Problem Solving content to their friends in the classroom. It focuses on Curiosity, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Collaboration to nurture their Problem Solving abilities.

Half a day later when the students figured out it’s my birthday, they sang different birthday songs and wished me rhythmically in a chorus. There was so much joy in it. Within me, I felt absolutely happy and energetic because I was doing what I love doing the most - conducting learning sessions for children and spending time with them.

Children by nature are very curious. When they are provided with a platform to share their thoughts and ideas without limitations, they surprise us in many ways. They remind us of the ability to look at things in ways that are not ordinary. The ability that we all once possessed but allowed to fade with time. It is with that very ability, children can play a key role in contributing to solving macro problems of the world. They observe things carefully and provide ideas that sound crazy and impossible. But think about all the designs around you - aren’t they all crazy and once impossible?

Problems solving: students take the charge

  1. The issue of changing chart papers on walls

Let me share with you an example. When we asked students to come up with problems in different places including school premises, parks, playgrounds, public places etc. one of the student teams identified a simple issue - ‘sticking and removing chart papers in class is difficult.’ Think about this. All of us as children were given assignments to write and draw different things on the chart papers and they were stuck on classroom walls. We all kept doing it more or less in the same way but never saw it as a problem or tried to think of a better alternative. We do not realise how many girls are actually hesitant to climb up benches to put on the chart papers. If you are a teacher and reading this, did it ever occur to you that changing chart papers the usual way is a problem? If yes, great! If not, I am sure you can agree it indeed is.

[Students with a prototype of their ‘Chart paper sticking tool’]

Students surprised me further with their solution for this issue. But before I share that, just take a minute to think if you have any ideas to solve this problem?

Here is what the team proposed - A stick with a chart holder and press buttons. Where pressing one button will remove the existing chart paper and pressing the other button will stick a new one (refer to the photo attached). Another button to make the length adjustable. The long stick will help students reach a height without having to climb up the benches. This idea can potentially get a big problem solved in classrooms, especially among girls. Abhikshi and the team from Telangana Social Welfare School, Mahendra Hills, got it just right for their fellow classmates.

[Sketch of the ‘Chart paper sticking tool’]

  1. The issue of chalk dust

Were you one of those students who volunteered to erase the board during your school days and regretted having chalk powder all over your hair and face? Laxman and team from Telangana Tribal Welfare School, Peddavura, redesigned the duster with vacuum cleaners and a chalk dust collection box to avoid inconvenience caused by the flying chalk powder to teachers and first benchers. Refer to the image attached to clearly understand their idea.

[Duster with vacuum cleaners]

  1. Solution proposed for wall painters

When we asked student teams to come up with an idea for wall painters to place their brush safely without spoiling the floor or the paint brush, Akhil and team from Telangana Tribal Welfare School, Ibrahimpatnam, thought of a simple yet efficient idea. They redesigned the paint brush with an attached clip-like mechanism to clip it to the paint bucket when painters want to rest or take a break. This prevents paint from the paint brush spilling on the floor.

[Paint brush with clip]

So, what do we learn?

Through Think & Make and other programs we run for school children, we saw that they see things that we often neglect. They are innately creative and curious but with lack of an environment and avenues to nurture them, students weaken these abilities as they grow. They can contribute immensely to solving real world problems that are unattended and those that are ignored. Without children, the efforts to address problems around us remain incomplete and a lot of problems will be left unsolved. Therefore, we need all age groups to consciously be observant of their surroundings and contribute towards addressing problems.

What’s so good about students identifying problems and proposing solutions?

Through the process of observing, understanding, and solving problems, students strengthen some of the important 21st century skills. Besides that, they grow more confident every time they come up with new ideas for the problems they identify. This helps them build agency to problem-solve in various situations in their lives.

We strive to keep students engaged

We introduced some changes to the Think & Make content this year to further support students’ curiosity:

  • The content has been gamified to make it more engaging for students. For example, jigsaw puzzles were used to explain the concept of ‘Redesign’ to them.

  • The content has been designed on A5 cards instead of booklets. Different card sets for each session help avoid the feeling of going through regular subject workbooks and textbooks.

  • A portfolio with short questions has been introduced for student teams to track and reflect on what they learned, their actions as a team and individuals.

  • Element of team and co-team is introduced to encourage peer feedback and cross-team interactions. Students work in teams throughout the program. To encourage taking and giving feedback, we introduced a concept of team and co-team mapping where two student teams are paired. The pairing remains the same throughout the program and both teams give feedback to each other at various instances. For example, after teams finish prototyping their ideas, they take feedback from their co-teams.

When the iterated content was rolled out, we saw that students were more engaged in the program. They indulge themselves in the play while picking up concepts effortlessly. They thoroughly enjoyed all the activities and showed considerably higher participation. This encourages us to do more and give students best of the experiences alongside new learnings.

Undoubtedly, this birthday ranks among my most memorable birthdays. The joy of guiding a classroom brimming with enthusiastic students through Think & Make sessions, their infectious energy filling the room, and witnessing them giving creative ideas throughout the process was an unforgettable and enriching experience.

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