Monday, December 20, 2010

Field Trip!

Hello Everyone!

It's an exciting time of year now, and my life here in India has definitely been no exception. As I write this, I am impatiently waiting for 3:30 AM Monday morning to come and bring my parents with it, and for my brother to arrive on the 24th (edit: parents are here now, hooray!). Over the next three weeks, I'll be showing my folks around my new life in Dharmapuri, and then going on a sweet road trip to see the village my mother grew up in and meet family I've never seen before! You can expect a blog post about that in the new year.

But what have I been up to lately? After all, while it seems only yesterday that I wrote my last blog post, I am assured by reliable sources that more than three weeks have passed in the real world. So, here goes:

I finished my stint as a fifth grade teacher last week. The new Puvidham curriculum is split into a number of four-week modules. The last week of the module provides a sort of closure to the module – on Wednesday, all the classes present what they learned in the last month to the whole school, in the form of a drama and songs.

The 5th grade class did a drama on one of the stories they learned, about how oil is formed. Other dramas included the 3rd and 4th grade class doing one on soil formation and the 1st and 2nd enacting a baby cuckoo bird's search for its mother. I will write more on the curriculum process in another post in greater detail. For now, I'll just say that I was very impressed at how the new process makes such extensive use of everyone's creativity: the teachers and the students really shape the way learning progresses, and it has been a joy to see things take shape, from the initial brainstorming and story-writing to the final product at the end, the drama presentation.

Thursday and Friday were a bit of a break, the students got a break from the normal routine to have two days of unspecified activities. I was not quite sure how this would turn out, but I figured it out pretty quick when I arrived on Thursday to a chorus of “Uncle! We will go to the forest!”

Huh. Well, I'm always down for a hike and I had heard that there was a lake a few hours' hike away, so I suggested this course of action to them. Their first reaction was “woohoo,” and their second reaction was “are you sure we are allowed to do that?” This last question convinced me that this was an excellent idea. The only small problem was that I had no idea which way to go.

This is where a curriculum that is based in self-reliance and experiential learning is awesome. It is perfectly acceptable for a teacher to tell their class to take the teacher on a field trip, rather than the other way around. All I had to do was make sure that I knew the way back so that we could get back to school.

After they argued on the best route to take (I probably should have gotten worried at that point), we set off towards the dam. Two miscalculations became evident. First, noon on a hot day is not a good time to start a hike. Second, if you must go at midday, it is generally a good idea to bring more than three bottles of water for a dozen people. But our spirits were high, and the route was beautiful.

As an envirosci nerd, I was in heaven seeing the changing landscape and the different ways people were using the land. To indulge my curiosity about everything I was seeing, I gave groups of children 'assignments,' like telling me what different trees were, or the different crops and how they were grown. I learned many things: firstly, the kids know the names of more plants at the age of 10 than I have ever known in my life. Second, most of them can explain, in their second language, the local practices of paddy agriculture, crop rotation, and intercropping. Thirdly, all the children had some relative along the way and were eager to show their land and what they did with it. One of the girls' grandfather grows sugarcane, and he gave us some, woo!

I also learned that taking a dozen children to an overflowing dam is a terrible idea. The lake we went to is an artificially made one; the local river has been dammed to provide irrigation water for the area, which is usually quite dry. Since the rains had been very good this year, water was spilling over the edge of the dam, creating sort of a natural algae-covered waterpark. There was a part of the dam where one could slide down about twenty feet or so into a shallow pool at the bottom. Of course, everyone did this at once – what happened next is a bit fuzzy. No one was hurt, though I feel like the stress of watching them shaved a few years off of my life.

(edit: for anyone who is confused about this dam -- an irrigation dam has no moving parts, it is just a big wall that people put up across a river to trap water. When the water level gets really high, it flows over the other side which slopes gently downward. I would not have let children play in the vicinity of hydroelectric turbines. Just clarifying.)

Anyway, that was my last week at Puvidham before the holidays. But there's more! Last week, I took a trip to Andhra Pradesh, a state to the north of Tamil Nadu, to visit a school there called Timbaktu. More on that in the next post!

1 comment:

  1. That sounds awesome!!!! Some of my favorite times here have been hiking too. Man I'd be down for an algae covered water park right now. I actually had the exact same experience with kids be able to name 100x more plants then I can. Gotta love that fancy piece of paper we get at the end of our 5 years