Educating Remotely – the Klorofeel Way
Klorofeel School began its classes in the last week of March 2020, just after the nationwide lockdown was announced. Prior to deciding on our approach, we discussed with the parents and learnt that only two of our students have access to laptops. So we needed to rule out “online education”.
However, parents of all students had access to smartphone – so we decided to leverage on remote teaching through WhatsApp video. We expected all children to have different interests and strengths and felt one to one conversations will be the best way to start. It is more a conversation between the faculty and the student than a “class”.
We focused on exploring Interests of the child, Environmental Studies, and English communication. We decided to defer mathematics till classes start – as we believe the fun with mathematics can be drawn out best in face to face conversations. With the extension of locked down condition, we changed our decision and started offering mathematics education from 3rd week of June. It was difficult to predict and plan too far ahead in March, but we were agile in responding to the changing needs.
Focus on individual’s interest led us to engagement on many topics – from dance, song and drawing to puzzles and Tangram. Some children are interested in pets and some others in history, space, science experiments. We continue to explore this and have discussed a variety of topics. We discussed Terracota Army and Innuit, Tutankhamen, Padmanabha Swamy temple, and more. And students made their own puzzles too!
In parallel, we send puzzles for the students to solve. We found students are faster in responding to puzzles than to assignments. Not a surprise – but an interesting pointer. Why can we not engage more through puzzles?
The processes evolved over time. We settled with WhatsApp group for each student serving as the medium for interactions and assignment submissions.
The nature of the interactions ensured we did not follow the same path with all children. We took routes children were comfortable with. This meant different children are absorbing differently, at different pace. Our job is to ensure the proposed syllabus for the year is covered in a seamless manner. It provides a different challenge, and it means our approach will keep changing as we progress. Of course, this challenges our plans and our teachers. But we moved ahead with our belief that education is meant to cater to the children and their motivation to learn rather than the convenience of the school and the teacher.
Some parents had a concern. The children seem to be enjoying the method of engagement but what about the syllabus? And we had to share:
- Whether our children create a water dictionary, or conduct water audit at home, or identify the towns while tracing the course of a river in the atlas, or find out stories and songs on river, or draw a family tree, or discover more about their family members, or list and classify the activities in a kitchen, each such assignment is an integral part of the syllabus from Environmental Studies, English, Hindi or Mathematics, taught in an integrated manner.
- So, don’t worry. Just watch and encourage your children in their many explorations and activities – and what they are learning now, they are unlikely to forget too soon.
This is a good moment to share, having completed two months with a system that created enthusiasm in children, they are looking forward to more. This is also an important moment for us to seize the excitement and create a wider exposure for our children.
Key Attributes of Learning at Klorofeel
In the following pages, you will witness some of the key attributes of learning at Klorofeel, being demonstrated through the work of our students in April and May 2020.
Some of these are:
- Connect to Local Realities: They learn about their Kitchen, how things work there, learn about water usage at home. We discuss the current environment as well.
- Connect to Family: They learn about their family, about grandparents and how life has changed since the time they were children.
- Near to Far: Our children learn about Rushi Kulya before they learn Mississippi.
- Fearless environment: Our children are not afraid to try, not afraid to explore, and open to making mistakes. Parents report their children are communicating more than they ever did.
- Learn through mistakes: we welcome mistakes. They are a great path to learn. Those who are already perfect and don’t make mistakes, why they need school?
- Curiosity: Our children are asking questions and eager to explore. We trigger their thinking by asking questions, by asking them to estimate.
- Flexible Medium: If they don’t like text, can they express by drawing or through craft? If reading is boring, can they create puzzles on their own, and share?
- Exposure: We push our students to take books beyond curriculum, read and report. Solve puzzles and learn. Explore variety of topics of their interest.
- Leverage: Why stay limited to the syllabus, or our expertise? We encourage students to attend quizzes, and our teachers to attend external programs.
- Creative Agility: Our method of engagement adapted to the restrictions in the environment, and in fact, we took advantage of those – so they learn more about the activities at home and engage more with parents and family members. If our children have to be creative, we must be creative too, adapt so children benefit.
We could not, and did not, ignore Covid
We could not, and did not, ignore Covid – the reason for this remote engagement. We invited students to picturise their impression of Covid, and here is one that during the early stages of the lockdown:
And one more depiction from another student:
Remote Learning at Klorofeel - how it evolved in the first six months.
Klorofeel School began its classes in the last week of March 2020, just after the nationwide lockdown was announced. We discussed with parents on their internet readiness and planned accordingly. Students who spent their 2020 with us experienced the following:
- Personal care, at student’s pace, customised to their strengths.
- First single student classes, then 2 students, before engaging with a few more.
- Students discovered a friendly environment to freely ask questions.
- It is not a Teacher to student discourse – rather a discussion.
- There are plenty of activities from which students learn. Less screen time, more student engagement. Forty minutes of “class” per week per subject, rest the student works on her own time. We successfully challenged the notion that Screen time is Education.
- A library of toys (and of course, books) to engage children at home.
- School focuses on students thinking answers on their own, and questioning.
- Mistakes are encouraged – that shows student is trying on her own. Education at Klorofeel means trying, struggling, failing, questioning, learning, trying again, …
- Regular discussion with parents. Parents demonstrated trust – and have responded positively to the Klorofeel way.
- Our weekly science events involve students in science experiments they perform. They notice aluminium foils sink in water but float when crumpled into a ball. They see what dissolves in water, what separates and what forms a suspension. They see oil floats on water but dissolves when we add soap. They collect seeds and wonder which will grow, and get exposed to those they don’t know.
And we did all this without compromising on the textbook. We are more than half way through by September, with time off to “revise”, a month before Durga Puja!
Beyond the Textbook, yet deeply related to the “syllabus”
Our students studied the Kitchen. Learnt about food and nutrition – ones that are local, ones steeped in our tradition, as also their origin. Learnt different modes of cooking, different pots and containers. Learnt weights and measures. What is measured is kilograms and what in litres …
Students have been enjoying drawing and craft. And Tangrams to create every object and animal they think of.
Students did Water Audit at home. Measured water usage for different activities, and learnt where they can reduce. Created their own personal Water Cycle, and then a Water Dictionary.
They pore over the pages of their Atlas – and move around the world without going out of home.
Children learn about food and nutrition – ones that are local, ones steeped in our tradition, as also their origin.
They participate raucously in Quizzes every weekend. Quizzes are a regular learning tool for us.
Puzzles, like quizzes, are another fun mode of learning.
They are studying festivals in Odisha, aspiring to create a book on local festivals and traditions.
Focus on individual’s interest led us to engagement on many topics – from dance, song and drawing to puzzles and Tangram. Some children are interested in pets and some others in history, space, science experiments. We continue to explore this and have discussed a variety of topics. We discussed Terracotta Army and Innuit, Tutankhamen, Padmanabha Swamy temple, and more. And students made their own puzzles too.
Classroom in The Kitchen
During the lockdown times, we discovered how much can be learnt inside the kitchen.
Our students discovered the many activities that happen inside the kitchen – cooking could mean boiling, frying, heating, steaming, grinding …
Plus cleaning, washing, cutting, …
We discussed what is found inside the kitchen – from items that are cooked (oil, flour, spices) to utensils needed for cooking (pots and pans, ladles and knives). And many more.
They counted the number of items in the kitchen and were surprised when they discovered it was way off their estimates. They estimated the amount – and understood how the units are different. Eggs are counted but rice cannot be counted, it has to be weighed. Oil is measured in volume. Rice or flour is stored in larger quantities than turmeric or cloves.
We also discussed how water is used in the kitchen and for what purposes.
Some students reported recipes and how some items are cooked. Some others discussed the many varieties of spices that are used while cooking. One student went on to explore the history of spices, when these came to India and from where. Thus history, geography and arithmetic were also discussed – as we naturally moved in those directions – while the primary learning was in science and environment.
It is true all children did not attempt all of these. When we are looking at child-centric learning, by design we need to branch into different directions.
Interesting to note:
- It is interesting we completed part of the school syllabus, in fact we completed certain chapters from their books – but the children nor parents noticed. Experiential learning takes the drudgery out of schooling and also helps retention.
- Out of classroom education need not be limited to TV/Mobile phone screen. There can be enough to do within the home, and learn. And when they explore, organize information, discuss, connect with other knowledge, and occasionally reflect, the retention of learning is designed to be higher than information being fed through the screen. Exploration and connection are more exciting ways to learn, too.
Water Audit at Home
While teaching about Water, its diverse uses, and the challenges facing us, Water Audit seemed a natural activity to pursue.
The children needed to find out the different activities at home that need water, and how the water was used. Next, they needed to find out how much water each family member used. This included water used in the toilet, from brushing to bathing, or water for drinking. Then there was common usage of water – for cooking, washing, or gardening. The children measured all such use and determined the sum of all water used in the house. This gave them an opportunity to reflect in which activities maximum water was being used (washing machine is an example) – and how water usage can be reduced.
Pictures: Students drew the different ways water is stored in the house.
The challenge was also in how to measure, and that was interesting. How much water is needed for cooking and how much every time you flush the toilet? One common way students explored was to measure the water in pots or buckets in terms of water bottles of one litre volume. Estimating a fair approximation through measuring dimensions of containers and calculating volume was more difficult.
After the Water Audit, and while discussing the need to save water, we discussed the Water Cycle.
The water cycle discussion was triggered with the question: how/where do you get your water? It comes from the tap. How does water come to the tap? It comes from the overhead tank. Where does that tank get water from? And so on, till they get to the clouds! Everyone drew the cycle the way they understood they get their water.
In this sense, the water cycle drawn by the children is different from the one usually seen in the textbooks – and it was their own water cycle, one they could relate to.
The water discussion was completed with the task of creating the Water Dictionary – recording and enhancing the student’s vocabulary of all water related words.
Family and Family Tree
The children identified what is a family, and then understood the concept of the family tree. They created a family tree not just from the father’s side but also related to the mother’s mother.
We discussed not just family but what work the different family members do now. They also found out and recorded where their family members in the chart were born and where they are now. They also asked their parents and grandparents what they did, what was their daily time table when they were the child’s age. The children, too, had to draw up their daily table, so this was a comparison point. They recorded what similarities they have with different family members, and what they learnt from them.
We did not expect the children to “know” all of these when we asked these. Finding out this information was their assignment. Such assignment led to conversations within the family, and also exposed them to the social and lifestyle changes that have happened in the last sixty years.
These pictures show how the understanding of family tree evolved within a few weeks.
The learnings, however, went beyond the relationships within the family. They learnt about society and environment in their parents’ and grandparents’ times. They learnt how daily activities have evolved, and about other villages, towns and cities that their family members lived in. They learnt about other professions. In short, they were introduced to a contextual understanding of their own family members. They may not have the maturity to reflect or analyse at the moment, and that will probably happen as they grow up.
The concept of “Near to Far” is from Sri Aurobindo’s education philosophy. Our students got exposed to relationships, professions, geography and social practices in a context “near” to them, before they set out for the wider exposure to these.
Creativity with Tangram … and other Paper Craft
What are some games and toys that spur the creativity of our children?
Tangram and Origami are two that our children loved to work with.
Learning to Estimate
The students were introduced to the art and science of estimation. At different times they estimated the weight or volume of different items in the kitchen, the volume of water consumed or expended in bath, the size of the football field, or even the weight of their clock or the sofa. On different occasions they also estimated distance or time.
For most of these, they actually went ahead with the actual measurement of weight or volume – and could compare their estimate with the actuals.
When we moved to exploring with the Atlas, curious students are learning to estimate distances from Brahmapur to Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, or Singapore. They learn “scale” and how to estimate distances. In maps of India or Asia, Brahmapur does not appear, but the indentation at Chilka Lake is visible, and they learn that measuring from Chilka is a good “estimate” when the distance is “large”.
Looking at the map of Asia, the children estimated the largest countries by size. When we give such an exercise, children learn more than the name of the largest countries as they are poring over the entire atlas – and thus absorb a lot more than the assignment outcome. Such activities also trigger curiosity, apart from the fine art of estimation.
Estimation is a key life skill, as we would seldom have all the data. The successful people are those who take decisions quickly based on reasonable estimates – and it is important our children get introduced to the art and science of estimation early on.
Exploring with the Atlas
The atlas is a wonderful tool to teach exploration and build Curiosity. Why it can be fascinating is explained in the teacher’s message sent to students initiating them into their journey with the Atlas.
One can also go beyond the Atlas and geography. Exploration of the atlas leads to discussion on history, environment, science, and yes, arithmetic, e.g. 6.9 cm on the map is how much distance on land? One also appreciates current events better, whether politics, sports or weather.
Teaching through maps can also provide opportunity to organize and represent information. The three figures here show how our students are learning.
Initiating students into the Atlas Journey
This was the message sent to students when they began their journey with the Atlas
I received my first Atlas when I was in class 2. It changed my world.
I pored through the pages and visited the places with my fingers what I could not experience with my feet.
In that atlas, India had less states – Jharkhand, Uttarakhand or Chhattisgarh were not known. Nor were Meghalaya, Mizoram or Arunachal Pradesh. Assam was a much larger state. Sikkim was not part of India.
Thankfully, the rivers remain! With less water, and sometimes polluted maybe, but that is not seen in your atlas.
The world map was different too. Bangladesh was East Pakistan. The Soviet Union was a much larger nation than today’s Russia – and I had not heard of Lithuania, Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan. There were two Germanys. There was no Croatia, nor South Sudan. No Slovakia, Sarajevo or Belarus. Sri Lanka was Ceylon and Burkina Faso was Upper Volta. And there was Rhodesia. A lot more changes have happened since. We will discover these as we progress in our learning journey together.
I also realised Canada or Greenland looked much bigger in the world map than in the globe. We shall find out why.
You will see the maps show land and the maps show seas. Seas and rivers are shown in blue. The maps also show mountains and peaks, plateaus and hills. You would also see some lines criss-crossing the maps. The vertical lines are called longitude and the horizontal lines are latitude. These help us find out the location of a city or a country on the map.
Maps are exciting – and travelling through them is fun. We want to experience the fun together. We would begin by trying to find cities and rivers and lakes in the map. Do not try to google the answers, then you’d miss the fun. It’s like watching a movie, that is fun – reading about the movie in a screen is just getting information. सही उत्तर मिलना काफी नहीं है, अन्वेषण का उत्साह न हो, तो मज़ा कहाँ ?
This is an invitation to begin the journey, and experience the joy of discovery.
When students ask Questions…
When students ask questions you cannot answer, you know the student is thinking. Schools are not built to showcase the teacher’s omniscience. They exist to nurture Curiosity, Original Thinking, Critical Thinking, Creativity – and questions are evidence they are thinking, they are curious.
In the short span of Klorofeel, I have already been stumped by so many questions I could not answer. All these just from one student:
- What is a white hole?
- How did they measure distance in the sea?
- United Kingdom is such a small country. How did they conquer India?
- How does gunpowder work?
At Klorofeel, we hope our students continue to ask questions we cannot answer.
On Sundays, we invite the students to attend the family quiz programme, Qshala, hosted by Walnut to audiences around the world.
Qshala quizzes are topical and more than just memory of events and people. Their “Connection” questions, lead you to think and connect different visuals to find the desired answer.
Our job as teachers is to provide our students with the right exposure, so they get curious, think, ask questions, and connect. Curiosity and Thinking are not visible, but questions are tangible indicators that the child is curious, the child is thinking.
Mistakes are necessary
We all know we learn from mistakes. What should be a logical consequence of such insight in our learning journey? If our objective is learning, we must not hide our mistakes, right? Yet, does that happen?
Most often, we do not want mistakes to be visible. So, students copy rather than try to solve a problem themselves. And parents or tuition teachers do the homework for the children. We need to understand this is clearly harmful for the child as such practices rob the child of learning opportunities.
At Klorofeel School, we welcome mistakes. We understand mistakes are an opportunity to teach and learn. We understand the social negativity around mistakes and a key purpose of Klorofeel School is to create an environment where children are not afraid to try, not afraid to present output without being sure of its acceptance, where parents understand students go to school to learn from mistakes.
Fear of mistakes also prevents us from exploring. Fear is an obstacle to finding new answers, or better responses; we go with the safest choice rather than try out a “good” choice. This is a problem that plagues our society and most of us do not want to risk being original. Mistake-averse behaviour, ingrained in childhood, leads to finding safety in going with the crowd. How can we be innovative if we are afraid of exploration?
In a rapidly changing environment, we must also challenge existing notions, and question answers written in the best books. Without the confidence to be wrong, we cannot gather such courage.
This diagram of a completed 4×4 sudoku has a mistake. But we welcomed it since it showed the student has tried it, rather than seek parent’s help. Parent did not have the anxiety to “correct” it. This augurs good news for the child. Parents’ obsession to get the perfect answers for their children is often the biggest obstacle in the learning journey.
Other Assignments also have mistakes. But we have no hesitation in putting them up. Our children are here to learn. If they were perfect, they need not have come to school. Every time we notice a mistake, we know the child has tried on her own and indicates her/his thought process. Those who don’t make mistakes are googling or copying. Or they have stopped trying, stopped exploring. A school is not the best place for them.
- Children are enjoying the fear-free, open environment for learning. They interact with teachers freely. They ask questions, explore, not afraid to make mistakes.
- Parents encourage children to do home work on their own, open to them making their mistakes; they understand this is essential to the child’s learning journey. Parents are evolving into observer and facilitator, rather than director or controller.
- Teachers appreciate questions, exploration and mistakes imply student is engaged and interested – and teachers are motivated to inspire more interest.
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