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  • Sukriti Ojha

"Take that risk"

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

- Telangana school teacher, C Shiva Krishna’s message to teachers willing to push the boundaries for their students to be problem-solvers.

[C Shiva Krishna (in dark blue shirt) inaugurating the IDEASAT-D Box in his school]

In executing our classroom programs, and subsequent competitions, we met C Shiva Krishna. He is a biology teacher at the Telangana State Model School, Dharmaram, and has gone to great lengths to help his students realise their problem solving and innovative abilities.

As a mentor to students in consecutive editions of the Telangana State Innovation Challenge, he has created in his school an immensely enabling environment for students to develop a problem solving mindset.

I recently talked to him about his sensational IDEASAT-D box, about the time when he hilariously fell from his bicycle in the pursuit of innovation, and discovered the ever curious problem solver, tinkerer and entrepreneur that he is at heart.

Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

1. Hi, a lot of us here are really inspired by what you’re doing - mentoring student problem solvers, going the extra mile with the IDEASAT-D Box. You’re being seen as a superhero teacher, encouraging innovators at a young age.

I am only doing my duty. I thoroughly enjoy what I do. In this profession it feels like I’m being paid to play and enjoy - that’s how much I like working with students. It has been 8 years since I started in this profession. Still, everyday feels new and exciting as if it were my first day.

2. That’s so fresh and inspiring to hear. So, where were you born and raised? What was childhood like?

My native place is Village Maskapur, Mandal Khanapur, District Nirmal, Telangana.

I started my education in Government Primary School in my village and later moved to Zila Parishad High School where I completed 10th standard. I thoroughly enjoyed my childhood days. At that time there was no stress about securing high marks and ranks. The school was close to my place. My teachers were friendly. They always gave us space to talk freely about the topics we learnt. They gave us space to entertain ourselves with songs and small games from time to time. I fondly remember my teachers asking me to sometimes sing a song in the class just to take a refreshing break from lessons. I used to look forward to school, very joyfully.

3. When did you decide to be a teacher?

When I was in 10th standard , I had decided to become a teacher. I got inspired from my science teacher Vijay Kumar Sir. His method of teaching and his way of life motivated me. During Graduation and Post Graduation, my mindset slightly shifted towards civil services because of the friends around me - they were all preparing for UPSC and Group 1 exams. But my inner voice always pulled me back to the idea of being a teacher. Very soon, I decided to stop coaching midway and went back to completing my B.Ed and M.Ed.

As a young school boy, I had limited exposure to society. From the limited knowledge I had, I dreamt of being a teacher. After I grew up, gained experience and had better awareness about different professions, I chose teaching once again. I feel very lucky to be in this profession.

[Demonstrating blood group testing method to his students]

4. How did your interest in problem solving and innovation develop?

Right from childhood, I used to find every opportunity to repair, build, and tinker.

Growing up, we had agricultural farms. During the maize planting season, we had a huge problem of birds attacking the crops. My father used to send me to the field to shoo away birds. I decided to cut down on my task. So, I placed 4 poles at 4 corners of the field, attached a rope from pole to pole and arranged bells on all 4 sides. With this setup, I used to hit the rope from one corner, ringing all bells in one go. This way birds across the field would fly away with minimum effort.

I have a rather funny incident too. One time in school, my science teacher explained the concept of gears - how our bicycles have one large and one small gear, and when the bigger gear rotates once, the smaller rotates twice. The teacher was then transferred and I had only listened to 50% of the concept. I went ahead of myself and said why not try a smaller and a bigger wheel in the bicycle for better efficiency. I arranged a small wheel on the front of my bicycle, and fell down immediately as I rode! Even such goof-ups didn’t keep me from experimenting.

Many years later, I was doing my M.Ed. from The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. As part of my curriculum, I used to visit schools where I observed some science fairs being conducted. I made a list of prominent science fairs. I thought after entering the profession, I should bring my students to such science fairs and competitions. I exchanged phone numbers during events and stayed connected with teachers from science backgrounds through social media and WhatApp. We keep exchanging information on upcoming innovation events.

My initial dream was to become a teacher, but now that I have become one, I have a bigger dream - it is to help my students achieve their dreams. Whatever my students want to become in the future, wherever they want to reach - I want to help them reach their goals.

For example, if a student wants to become a scientist and wants to actively participate in science fairs and events, I help them thoroughly. When I get the news of an upcoming competition or showcase, I announce it in the school assembly and encourage students to contact me with their ideas so I could mentor them appropriately.

Sometimes it was difficult for students to find time to share ideas with me because of my schedule and duties. To make the communication between me and the students easier, I kept a cardboard idea box for students to drop in their ideas. Initially the simple cardboard box kept in the corner of a room didn’t give results. That’s when I decided to make it more appealing and I designed the IDEASAT-D Box.

[C Shiva Krishna preparing the IDEASAT-D box at school]

5. What does IDEASAT-D stand for?

I thought of the satellite concept and how it helps in communication. The box is also a medium for idea exchange between me and students. In a way, the box can also be thought of as a satellite aiding communication. In IDEASAT-D, IDEA stands for student’s innovative ideas, SAT stands for satellite communication and D stands for Telangana Model School Dharmaram. I attached the cardboard box with solar panels to resemble a satellite. And installed models of rockets to pique the interest of students.

6. How did you introduce students to the newly designed IDEASAT-D box?

I announced IDEASAT-D in the school assembly and took the opportunity to explain the general working of a satellite, the purpose of satellites, and working of google maps. I explained how rockets travel from earth to space.

I empahsised that everyone has the capacity to solve problems - big or small.

I told students the story of Chinthakindi Mallesham - a rural innovator from Telangana who won the PadmaShri in 2017 for designing the ‘Laxmi Asu Handloom Machine’ to make weaving of Pochampally sarees easier. I emphasised that Mallesham garu began his work on the weaving machine to solve the problem of his mother who used to experience pain in her hands due to repeated hand rotations while weaving. His innovation not only solved the problem for this mother but is now benefiting the society as well.

After inaugurating the IDEAST-D box, I encouraged students to observe the problems around themselves, think of solutions, note down interesting ideas and put them in the box. Even if a student does not have a solution, I still encourage them to submit the problem they observe so that we can together discuss solutions.

[The IDEASAT-D box]

7. What has the student response been?

Within a few days of installing IDEASAT-D, I saw such a good response from students. Every week, on an average, I get 2-3 submissions. I check the box every Saturday, maintain a file of all ideas, and suggest suitable platforms for students to take their idea further. I always tell students that participating and winning a competition is not the ultimate aim. You should make observation and problem solving an everyday habit for the long run.

IDEASAT-D has also solved another major issue. Before this box was installed, teachers would ask students for ideas a week or two before submissions for competitions. On such a tight deadline, students would not always have an original idea. They used to take shortcuts, sometimes copy ideas from the internet and submit them. Now the idea box is available throughout the academic year. When students work at their natural pace, they observe and share genuine problems and solutions.

[Students pose as they submit their ideas in the IDEASAT-D box]

8. In the last two years you’ve mentored two student teams for Telangana School Innovation Challenge (SIC) - both performed really well. Tell me about the journey of those student ideas.

In 2022, I mentored Shivani and Thamanna. They had submitted their idea into the cardboard box I placed in the class initially. Shivani’s grandmother had developed peptic ulcers by taking prescribed medicines at the wrong times of the day. She couldn’t read and got confused by similar looking tablets. Shivani and Thamanna thought about solving this issue. They wanted to create a system to segregate medicines as per timetable and make it understandable for people who could not read or write.

The journey of the development of the final product was interesting. Students started with thinking about 3 bags for 3 times of the day, then made it compact with much more storage options. Up till the first 2 bootcamps, they had used paper for making bags. After the bootcamp, Thamanna said, why not make it out of cloth so that it can be used once primary use is over. They then sourced material and stitched sample cloth bags. At this point the bag was catering to illiterate people. Just 3 days before finals, Thamanna called and said we should do something to make this useful for visually challenged people too. Students thought of adding braille symbols. None of us could understand braille. So I called a friend who teaches visually challenged children in a special school.

For my students, I went to special education school and learned basic braille letters. I taught it to my students and they imprinted it onto the bag. Finally, they stood first in the School Innovation Challenge.

In the journey of helping students make enhancements, learning Braille was the most interesting thing for me as a mentor.

[Shivani and Thamanna with their teacher C Shiva Krishna (extreme right) at SIC 2022. Also seen in the picture: Sabhitha Indira Reddy, Minister of Education, Telangana and KT Rama Rao, Minister of IT, Telangana]

9. How did you receive the student idea that finished under top 10 at Telangana SIC 2023?

The idea I mentored for 2023 came from the IDEASAT-D box.

After Shivani and Thamanna’s win in 2022, there was an atmosphere of excitement in school. Especially after they were given an opportunity to visit Mumbai for Teach for India’s Kids Education Revolution retreat on sponsored flights (a first for my students). Because of this achievement, other students were very excited to participate this year. I got many more ideas for SIC.

One was an idea for a food grain filling and shifting machine submitted by Gouda Sindhuja and Thumma Srihasa. When I asked students the thought behind the idea, they said that after going home from school, parents often ask them to hold gunny bags while they fill grains. Students said that they want to do their homework or play but they’re always made to hold the bag.

First Sindhuja and Srihasa came up with a simple rod and sphere structure to hold the bag. After filling though, they realised that carrying a 50-60 kgs bag from one place to another was still a difficult task. At this point they went beyond the problem they were facing as kids with the daily chore and saw the problem that their parents were facing while moving heavy bags. So, they enhanced the structure with an attached base on four wheels to make movement easy. They finished 10th in the competition.

[C Shiva Krishna clicked his students Sindhuja and Srihasa at the Grand Finale of SIC 2023.]

10. How do you think such competitions help students?

If students are innovative, they will be entrepreneurial. I have observed that students who are actively involved in ideas sharing and development have an improved outlook towards society. They can correlate the things that they learn in class to real life scenarios. These students, I believe, will succeed in life. Other subject teachers also have good feedback regarding these students. They are more active and involved in learning. Instead of being scared in the face of problems and adversity, innovative students look for solutions.

What’s particularly good about the School Innovation Challenge is the mentorship and support we get from the Inqui-lab Foundation team. In most other competitions, if you bring a good idea, you move forward, otherwise it ends there. There’s not much support in the process. Inqui-lab Foundation mentors discuss the ideas with students and always support in improving ideas. They have supported students with essential items to build a prototype. Akhila madam and Nagesh sir build a very joyful environment for students. As teachers, we too learn many things from mentors.

[Sending off his students Shivani and Thamanna at the airport for Kids Education Revolution retreat. Akhila (left most) from the Inqui-Lab Foundation team accompanying the students.]

11. What would you like to tell students who read this interview?

Identify your area of interest and read about the people who have done great things in that field to get inspiration. For example, Nikola Tesla had a vision for wireless energy but he didn’t survive long enough to make it a reality. Maybe his work and vision can spark an idea in your mind.

Just mugging up concepts is not enough. Use your education to innovate - even if it is at a family level. Utilise your education to make a difference in the lives of people.

12. What is your message for mentors and teachers?

If you choose to push the boundaries to create learning and opportunities for children, it comes with risks. When my students and I have a competition to attend in Hyderabad, we have to wake up at 2:00 am and start from our homes at 3:00 am to reach the venue on time. We usually get back home the same day only by 2:30 am. Participation in any opportunity involves pushing boundaries and taking risks. But it is worth all that. If we fear taking risks, we can’t do justice to students' potential. 6th to 10th standard is an ideal time to mould students. Later, they get trapped in fulfilling college and job requirements. So, take that risk.

13. Who is Shiva Krishna outside of being a teacher and mentor? What do you like to do in your free time?

I like visiting new places nearby. I’ve visited most of the historical places in and around Telangana. Hyderabad is my favourite place in the state. I like doing pencil drawings. I’ve loved singing since childhood. On Sundays, sometimes I make paintings, visit new places, or prepare Teaching Learning Material for classes.

[A student poses with a Teaching Learning Material for human brain in C Shiva Krishna’s biology class]

14. What are the new things on your card?

I’m collaborating with Physics and Chemistry teachers in my circle to prepare learning material for students from rural areas who want to appear for the NEET-UG (medical entrance exam) but do not have the financial means to join coaching institutes. Our vision is to have at least one student from our school qualifying NEET in the next 5-6 years. Our students have qualified for B.Sc. Nursing and B. Pharma but we haven’t had anyone going for MBBS.

At the school level, I’m also working on developing a career guidance program called ‘Gamyam’. Students are currently choosing subjects in intermediate without the knowledge of long term career options in various fields. Under the program, I plan to invite people from across professions - police department, doctor, politician, TV anchors - to share about their field and their journeys with students. This will help students make informed choices.

I must say that mentors like you make it possible for us to execute our programs well. You add so much value to what we do. Thank you so much for being with us on the journey and for agreeing to do this interview. I wish you all the best. It was great speaking to you.

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