Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The last post

Dear reader,

This is the last post on this blog. I find that I have nothing more to say about our homeschooling journey.

Our daughter has successfully negotiated the minefield called school education and is in a college of her choice enjoying her learning experience. We have two more children walking the minefield but there is no fear in walking on a known path.

If you feel the need for a conversation, please feel free to write to me at arunelassery at hotmail dot com. 
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog,

Update: Most of my recent writing on education appears at the Society for Integrated Development of Himalayas (SIDH) blog here.

Monday, July 8, 2013

One homeschooler less

Aditi has finished her 12th standard exams and has joined a college of her choice ( and seems to be enjoying herself.

This is what she got in school. (TMA stands for Teacher Marked Assignments that the children taking the NIOS board exams have to submit as part of their course)

Pretty good considering that she studied completely on her own no?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Goood mooorning teacher!

Aditi has been using many wonderful online resources preparing for her 12th standard open school exam. I asked her to make a list and write short descriptions for each. This is what she came up with. Explore and enjoy!

Name: Khan academy

Short description: Over 3000 interestingly presented videos on maths, physics, chemistry and many other subjects. Used by millions of children across the world, Khan academy is a pioneer in online education.

Name: Vi Hart
Short description: Beautiful doodle videos on geometry and other math concepts. She calls herself a 'recreational mathmusician' and is currently also on the Khan Academy team. Her videos inspired me to make my own mathematical art.

Name: Veritasium
Short Description: 'The science video blog, from atoms to astrophysics!'. Whether it is showing how reducing the pressure in a tube of water can make it boil or how far away the moon actually is from Earth, these videos are amazing and lots of fun to watch.     

Name: Crash Course
Short description: There are two courses here- World history taught by John Green and Biology taught by Hank Green. Entertaining, useful and very well made. The biology videos were the reason I was able to understand what my 12th standard textbook was all about. They manage to explain advanced level concepts in 10 minute doses and in a way that anyone can understand. 


Name: Minute Physics
Short description: As the name suggests, these are 1 minute videos on physics (most of the time!). The videos on quantum mechanics helped me understand these insanely complicated concepts a little better. 


Others I haven't fully explored-

 'Videos about numbers, its as simple as that.'

Periodic table of videos 
They claim to be the ultimate channel for all things chemistry.

Videos featuring great scientists, interesting experiments, amazing facts and current news from the world of science.

Do you know of any more?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Homeschooling: A day in the life

(The cover story of the current issue of 'Teacher Plus' is on homeschooling. This article I wrote was published with the cover story. Check out if you want to read other related articles) 

There are fast-moving white cotton-puff clouds in the bright blue Bangalore sky and through the big window I can see that it’s a beautiful windy day outside. I am sitting in my home-office from where I manage SeasonWatch, an India-wide tree monitoring program for school children, which brings in just enough income for the family. Teacher Plus asked me to write an article about homeschooling and every day for the last month or so, Dinkar, my 10-year old and I have been writing one story each and sharing it with the family in the evenings. Today, I thought I’d combine these two requirements and write an article-story about our homeschooling day.

As it often happens with us, all five of us are at home. So let us go around the house and see what the others are up to. In the children's room, Aditi, our 16 year old, is watching Bharatanatyam videos on YouTube. Aditi is interested in dance but her first love is photography and she is always experimenting with her high-end DSLR camera. The camera is a gift from her aunt for doing well in her NIOS 10th board exams last year. Aditi maintains a photo blog and many people like her work.

Dinkar, who unlike his brother and sister, has never been to school, is sitting on the floor behind Aditi and drawing something. He learnt to read only when he was eight years old but he has been sketching and painting from a very young age. He has a knack of representing scenes with very few lines and he likes drawing cartoons with speech bubbles.

On the dining table, Srikant is reluctantly going through his 7th standard Hindi textbook, which he should have finished two months ago before the end of the last academic year. For two years now, Srikant has been studying completely on his own, but today Kanti is sitting with him to ensure that he does not quietly move to the baithak and curl up with the Terry Pratchett novel that he has obsessively been reading.

Kanti has taken time out of her busy schedule to sit with Srikant. Her time goes in advanced level cooking, such as the multi-grain sourdough bread that she baked for breakfast today, or in experimenting with the technologies of growing
things for our kitchen on our sunny balconies, or in stitching professional looking clothes for the family, or in the hundred other simple things that keep our household ticking and fun.

Today is a Saturday – a busy day. Except for a loosely structured basketball class in the evenings, the weekdays are very flexible and free for the children but the weekends are busy. They have music and dance classes for which they walk a kilometer, catch a BMTC bus, get off and walk another kilometer to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for their one or two-hour class. Aditi learns Bharatanatyam and both the boys are learning to play the tabla. Srikant has an additional carnatic vocal class with a special teacher on Sunday evenings that he is very passionate about. He travels across town spending 3 hours in buses for his one-hour music class.

These weekend times when the children are away and also most weekday afternoons when the sun is bright and the roads empty, Kanti and I go for long walks. Although there is not too much of 'nature' around, I like to look at this as our reconnecting-with-nature walk. All five of us are very interested in nature and culture and a lot of the children's weekday time is spent in mostly non-academic reading, in listening to music and in a lot of free play. And because this is Teacher Plus, I feel the mischievous urge to challenge a myth. Over the year, doing two-three hours a day, with week and sometimes month-long gaps, with self-directed, self-paced, unsupervised self-learning, the children finish their academic curriculum with extreme ease.

The white cotton-puff clouds are still moving across the bright blue sky and Kanti and I have to go walk in the beautiful sunlight outside, so let me wind up this article-story with a really broad perspective on our homeschooling journey. Are you thinking that our family is made up of two stay-at-home adults 'teaching' three children? That is not how I see it! I think our journey has been about five people, who, over the last six years, have had the great good fortune to research, learn and work together with the technologies of happiness and good health and personal growth and sustainable living. And although all these may appear to you like luxuries we do not really need to focus on as we go about our busy lives, I am convinced that these are the technologies that will be valuable in a future that is just around the corner.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Perspectives on teaching, learning and education (Part 2: Practicals)

To transform a (0% interest + 100% fear) 12th standard chemistry student to (100% interest + 0% fear) in a weeks time

A. 1 hard working and intelligent 12th standard student who is going to take his board exams in a months time
B. 2 hard working and intelligent homeschooling parents of 3 homeschooled children
C. 1 ability to download (without paying even one naya paisa) content from the Internet
D. 1 Internet ready computer to do the above
E. 1 week of time to do the experiment

There are of course 1 million ways of doing this right. Apparatus B (the experimenters) modestly claim to have accidentally stumbled upon only one of these ways. (Detailed out in Annexure 1 but don't jump there right away because the few lines in between are carefully chosen to instruct and entertain)

There are of course also 1 million ways of doing this wrong. And apparatus B are happy to suppose that the more than 1 million schools in the world are probably doing diligent research on these ways.

1. It was observed that apparatus A (the student) was excited not just by the chemistry resources he used but also by the very process of learning.
2. It was also observed that apparatus B who had thought that nothing from their homeschooling experience was valid for the 'conventional' school system were very pleasantly surprised to have been proven wrong.

100% interest, 0% fear and 90% of the entire 12th standard chemistry syllabus 'learned' in 1 week.

Doing this experiment with sub-standard apparatus can possibly cause dangerous local explosions.

Ideas for further research:
The readers are urged to do their own research on the other 999999 right ways of doing this experiment.

Apparatus B would like to thank Shashi, apparatus A's father and, even more, Anita apparatus A's mother, for allowing this experiment to be conducted on their precious son by the often wild-eyed and admittedly volatile and unstable apparatus B.

Annexure 1: Some random notes from the experiment

Looking back and analysing what went on, it seems like the experiment had three fuzzily-demarcated and parallel processes:
- Interest generation
- Learning how to learn
- Confidence building

Some points from the above processes are listed out below in no particular order:
(Pranav is a very hardworking and very intelligent young man and every point that follows should be seen with this context in mind)

Pranav came the first day expecting to be taught! I told him that I didn't remember enough chemistry to teach a 2 year old baby (that shook him a bit :-)) but also told him that there was no question that he could ask that I could not find the answer to. Also told him that he obviously knew more chemistry than me and getting him equally confident was what the experiment was really about.
During the course of the week Pranav discovered on two or three occassions that indeed I (or Kanti) could answer his questions. I think our availability and capability that had got proven was enough to boost his confidence. He didn't seem to need us after that.
All five of us at home + Pranav sat together and watched and marveled at a three part BBC serial- Chemistry, a volatile history. Pranav as you can well imagine had no clue that this kind of stuff is what chemistry was really about. He was hooked! He also then on his own steam went through some random Russian books on popular chemistry and science that were lying around here at home.
He had heard about but after he eagerly went through 50 or so Salman Khan videos on organic chemistry and learned the difference between 1,2-dimethylcyclohexane and 1,3-dimethylcyclohexane he was very excited that for the first time in his life he knew all this without having had to mug anything up.
The new way of learning we tried had no lectures, no hand holding and also no scope for rote learning (Pranav believed that many parts of his syllabus like organic chemistry required mugging up and he did not want to do this. The first time I opened the 12th standard text book, written in the Preface I discovered- 'The approach of presentation of the subject matter discourages students from rote memorisation.' Pranav's well thumbed book did not have the outer cover and the preface pages :-))
Pranav spent 1.5 to 2 hour intense alone periods where he shut himself into a room with no interruptions, no doubt-clearing and no distractions (his cell phone :-)). He would come out for a half hour or 1 hour in between the sessions for rest, questions, discussions and any other diversions like lunch or playing with the kids.
When we started, I read through the first 3 chapters just to make sure that I could hold my side of the bargain. This engagement with the subject really helped when Pranav had his few doubts. For example I discovered that I needed the 11th standard book to see the continuity of the subject. Pranav, of course,  did not have his 11th standard text book because he had already 'finished' with it last year.

Towards the end of the week Pranav was trying to get a full chapter on to a single large sheet of paper as a visual, interlinked, non-linear mind map.

Annexure 2: The last word 
(This is inspired by the ending of part 1 or the theory part of this post which, if you get interested, is available here)

Beautiful heaven, true heaven, look how I change!
After such arrogance, after so much strange
Idleness- strange, yet full of potency-
I am all open to these shining spaces;

(A fragment from 'The graveyard by the sea' by Paul Valery
Translated by C. Day Lewis)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Aditi's 10th standard marks

That is an aggregate of 73% and if you take Sanskrit out of the equation we get a respectable 77%.

We WERE thinking that it would be in the 90's you know, just like what all the other intelligent and hard working children like Aditi appear to be getting in their 10th standard board results nowadays.

But this result probably proves that you cannot get 90% if you:
a. Prepare only 3 months for a public exam
b. Do not have practice writing exams

Well, the 90 would have been a story worth shouting from the rooftops but probably just as well. Just as well, I think, because I do not at all feel confident about inspiring any more befuddled and misguided homeschoolers like us.


Peace brothers and sisters! 

Monday, October 25, 2010

GreenScraps- Nature journaling workshop

About GreenScraps:

About the organizers:

Sangeetha Kadur and Shilpashree, artists with a deep interest and knowledge about nature. Check out Sangeethas blog here

About what our children experienced:


Dear Sangeetha and Shilpa,

Thank you both for this wonderful initiative. Your 'art' and your 'science' and your ability to form relationships with the children is awesome. Yesterday I got the children to write about the workshop. This is what they had to say.

The GreenScraps workshop was about observing, recording and learning more about nature. I really liked the way that we not only drew the plants and creatures but were also told their names and interesting facts about them. Both Sangeetha and Shilpa know so much about trees, plants, birds and animals! They were both very nice and made the workshop very interesting and lots of fun. We also played lots of games and did some activities like taking impressions of tree barks, finding the things they called out and also identifying a tree after being blindfolded and led to it. The whole workshop was very memorable and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
GreenScraps is a 5 day nature journalling workshop by Sangeetha and Shilpa. Although I loved all the 5 days, I particularly liked an activity called 'nature bingo', in which you draw or sketch the things in a list given to you. The only thing I was sad about was that the workshop was so short. One of the most memorable moments was when we were sketching cormorants and pelicans by the Lalbagh lake. Both Sangeetha and Shilpa are very nice teachers and people.

GreenScraps is a workshop on nature run by Sangeetha and Shilpa. I liked how Sangeetha and Shilpa showed us different birds, trees and plants. I liked everything. Sangeetha and Shilpa are very good nature teachers.

Thanks again to both of you,
Arun, Kanti, Aditi, Srikant and Dinkar