Thursday, December 30, 2010


On two consecutive Saturdays – December 4 and December 11, 2010, four short workshops were held at The British Council, Kolkata, with children of different age groups. Following are brief reports of the four workshops.

Fun with fractions
Facilitator: Ipsita Dutta, Loreto Dharamtala
4.12.2010, British Council, Kolkata
Participants: Children of classes  V & VI

The workshop for students between ages 8-12 began with an interactive session with the facilitator askng the children why they attended the workshop, loved math, hated math and so parents had forced or any other reason? All seemed quite excited to be at the workshop.

Discussion on how fractions were generally taught in school: from the text book, drawing on the board, a presentation with animation or the age old example of cutting a cake or pizza and dividing among friends.

A clip from an animation film by Walt Disney featuring the popular Mickey Mouse was to be shown but due to a technical glitch the workshop began with a worksheet through a power point presentation. Each slide had a question and the participants had sheets of paper to write the answers on. As the age group included children from 3 different classes and different schools, some took a bit longer than others but the activity generated much eagerness to answer and finish first! Ipsita then discussed the answers through the next set of slides and explained why the sums which had them foxed were the ones with large numbers. She explained how it would be easier to work with improper fractions rather than mixed fractions, as it was easier then to understand which was the larger fraction just by looking at the number.

The next activity was a craft activity with 4 different coloured sheets of paper which the participants had to fold according to instructions given, cut and place on the large sheet given. The outcome of all the additions was evidently 1.

The workshop added on a happy note with the screening of the clip and observations of how fractions and maths are a part of music as well so are an integral part of our lives.

Home sweet home
Facilitator: Devika Kar
11.12.2010, British Council, Kolkata
Participants: Children aged between 4 & 6

This session was for children between the age of 4-6 and so it was appropriate to start with an animation film, A sunny Day, tracing the Sun’s activity from daybreak to nightfall. The children really enjoyed the film, so much so that it was replayed during the snack break, on popular demand!
 The film was followed by a story telling session about a boy who is looking for a comfortable place to sleep and chances upon several animals in their homes. After the story telling, the activity moved to homes of farm animals through a match the card game naming farm animals and their homes. This also proved popular as the children were familiar with most of these animals.
A short ppt on the difference between a house and a home: love, security, food, etc was discussed and different homes in different areas like igloo, African hut, wigwam, etc was shown.
Film clips on various types of animal homes: underground burrows, bird nests, whales at sea, were shown but the children were not very fascinated by this as they were by the next spot the animal and colour activity, in which they were shown different habitats: desert, mountain, forest and had to find the hidden animals in the picture. They were then given black and white sheets of the same picture to colour.

To change the tempo and relieve the boredom of sitting in one place the children then imitated the movement and clls of some animals which they thoroughly enjoyed as they did the board game in which they had to locate animal homes on a picture and stick the animal in the appropriate spot. After the snack break, the session ended with another matching card game where they had to pick the animal its baby and its home.

Though the group was small it was tough keeping attention a single activity except for colouring for long and one must keep in mind that film clips for this age group should be animation as they really enjoy these.

My Family
Facilitator: Jeenu George, Loreto Dharamtala
11.12.2010, British Council, Kolkata
Participants: Children in classes III & IV

The session fro students between 8-10 began with a short poem about grandparents and an animated discussion on how grandparents make us happy.

The  Nepali film, My Family was screened and a discussion on large families and how they enjoy themselves commenced.

The next film, an Iranian film about a blind boy who visits his grand mother brought out observations on how losing one faculty is made up for by another sharper faculty. The family in the second film was smaller and the discussion on how large and small their families were and how they felt when relatives visited, sharing toys, etc was interesting and animated.

The similarity in both films or rather both families, big and small was that love was the binding factor and the children then talked about one particular member of their family they spent time with the previous evening and the emotion that time brought out: happiness, anger, sadness, fighting, making up…the entire gamut of feelings! An interesting point to note was that most talked about feeling happy hen they cme home and told their mothers they had won some competition, a sure sign of the stressful times!!!!

The next activity of the session was making finger puppets of family members using an ice cream stick and paper and was enjoyed by all. The session ended with the children putting up small skits in groups using the puppets: some were on teacher student interaction while another was on parent child interaction regarding homework while the third group enacted a birthday party.  

Screws & Hinges
At The British Council on December 4, 2010
Participants: Students of classes VII, VIII & IX
Workshop facilitators: Subha Das Mollick, Partha Bandyopadhyay
Duration of workshop: 2 hours

The workshop began with a power point presentation “Tools from the Caves”, that drew the participants’ attention to the first tools innovated by the cavemen. The children responded to the slides of the cavemen in interesting ways. Some of them found it difficult to believe that these cavemen dwelled on the face of the earth more than 15,000 years ago. Apparently, their history books had not taken them that far back in time. On seeing the images of the stone tools made by the cavemen, one boy recalled that he had been told that such stone chips had been found on the riverbed in Jharkhand.

The slide show was supplemented by real life demonstrations of axes, spears, hammers and hatchets. The facilitators discussed with the children the principles on which these tools functioned. At the end of the slide show the children were asked whether they could recall any other tool using animals besides human beings. They promptly gave a long list – bees, weaver birds, chimpanzees etc. Yet, they all agreed that human beings were the only animals that constantly improved upon the tools they used and that has resulted in the civilization that we are in today, where, every moment of our waking and sleeping life, we are using some tool or the other.
To further drive home the inventive nature of the human mind, the opening sequence of the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” was screened. In this clipping a primordial man makes a tool out of the bones. He flings the bone up in the air and it morphs into a spaceship.

The human brain started developing and inventing tools once Homo Sapiens learnt to stand erect and the hands became free to tinker with the things lying around him. There is a close relationship between hands and brain. Two puzzles were now given to the children where they had to exercise both their hands and their brains. In one puzzle they had to pull a paper from beneath an upturned bottle without toppling the bottle or even touching it. In the other puzzle they had to make a bridge with a thin sheet of paper on which they could support some weight. Both the puzzles were promptly solved by the children. Having successfully solved the puzzles, one of the children commented that we use only 10% of our brain.

The facilitators told the children that we tend to really exercise our brain when we are pushed against the wall – when we are in a very difficult situation and must find ways of coming out of it. This is exactly what happened in the film Home Alone I, where Kevin had been left all alone at home by mistake and he had to protect himself and his home from the attack of the neighbourhood burglars. The clippings of Home Alone I were screened to the great amusement of the children. They were then asked to identify the simple machines Kevin used in the sequence and give explanations of how some of the contraptions worked. The children gave very accurate explanations. With some help from the facilitators they summed up the various categories of simple machines spotted in the film clipping.

The children were shown gadgets like lemon sqeezers, forceps, tongs, punching machines etc and asked to identify the class of lever on which these gadgets were based. As another hands on exercise, they were asked to break a matchstick by holding it between their forefinger and ring finger. Many of them found it difficult to understand how the class of lever changed when the matchstick was shifted from the tip to the base.

As a final exercise, all the children were asked to identify some problem in their everyday life and invent a method of solving this problem using simple machines. Some of the problems enlisted by the children were carrying heavy schoolbags, climbing up the steep stairs in school everyday, unable to wake up early in the morning, recycling domestic waste and so on. Out of all the inventions designed by the children, the one that stands out is the “wake up thud” designed with pulleys and inclined planes.

At the end of the workshop, all the children were given a copy of the poem “The Inventor” by Sukumar Ray. One of the children commented that the next session should be on ‘robotics’. Simple machines are far too simple for them.

In all the four workshops, the children interacted very freely and were completely without any inhibition. The workshop environment was something different from their classroom environment and the facilitators could give personal attention to the children. All the workshops gave ample intellectual challenge to the students and brought out their hidden talents. The topics of the workshops were related to their school curriculum and supplemented the curriculum without duplicating it. The film clippings shown in all the four workshops provided the necessary stimulus to the participants.  

-      Devika Kar, Subha Das Molick   

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