Tinkering with Electronics & Circuits – workshops in rural schools in the Himalayas, Dec 2015

In Dec 2015 I was back again in the Himalayas to conduct Timeless Lifeskills workshops in small, rural schools. The theme of the workshops this visit was ‘Tinkering with Electronics & Circuits – Thinking Like a Scientist’.

The underlying objective of the workshop was to make students aware of how experts in different disciplines think. In other words focus of the workshops was on ‘Modes of Thinking’. Figuring out how a scientist thinks (observation > hypothesis > experiments > inference) is different from the way say a historian thinks (claim > evidence > primary > secondary sources > provenance) enhances students’ perspective and helps them become independent, deep thinkers.

Exam centric schooling focuses only on learning (some would say mugging up) content. The aim of these workshops was to not only learn content in a fun, hands-on way but also learn disciplinary skills. 

Over a two week period I interacted with 250+ students and over a dozen teachers from 10 rural schools. The first school I visited was Aarohi Bal Sansaar in village Satoli 30 km from Almora.

On day-1 students learnt the basics and tinkered with different electronic components like bulbs, motors, LEDs, buzzers and switches to understand concepts like conductors and insulators, polarity, parallel & series circuits, voltage and current etc.

We then moved to creating Electronic Art by embedding LEDs into paper circuits using copper tape and button cells.

This idea of Electronic Art made with copper tape, button cell and LEDs was inspired by MIT Media Lab’s ‘Paper Circuits’ project – http://highlowtech.org/?p=2505
Another example of electronic art:
We used different types of material to create Electronic Art & Craft. Here we are using conducting dough made from ordinary flour (aata) mixed with salt. This project was inspired by University of St Thomas’ ‘Squishy Circuits’ – http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/apthomas/SquishyCircuits/
A Rangoli made from conducting play dough.
We then made simple Electronic Toys.

An attempt to make a Hovercraft.

We then made Scribbler Bots – simple machines that can draw. Inspiration for this came from San Fransisco Exploratorium’s project – http://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/scribbling-machines

A Scribbler Bot in action.
An example of Scribbler Bot art.

Can I make this balloon fly? Hmm, I have to make a hypothesis, conduct experiments, draw inferences and keep improving my design… I have to think like a scientist!

Students learnt about electricity and how they could use a simple DC motor as a generator. This project is inspired by Arvind Gupta’s Toys from Trash initiative – http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/films.html 

After 4 days at Aarohi I visited Jeevanshala, a tiny school in village Maram, 80 km from village Satoli.

There I conducted workshop for class 4 and 5 students.

The theme was the same – tinkering with electronics, making paper circuits and flour-dough art – to learn to think like a scientist.

Ultimately it was all about imagination, creativity and collaboration – Timeless Lifeskills.

What I found most amazing was that the play dough we used was the same I had given to Jeevanshala three years back! Those who have very little truly understand the value of what they have!

After Jeevanshala I visited a government school in village Chanoli at the invitation of their extremely motivated and imaginative teacher, Kalyan Mankoti (in red check shirt), whom I had met last June during a workshop I had conducted for teachers in Almora.

I had a great time interacting with students from classes 6 to 8. I spent the night at Chanoli village and also got to meet some of the parents.

Class 8 girls building a Scribbler Bot.
My final visit was to the Science Centre run by Himwats, a Haldwani-based organization, founded by octogenarian Prof H.D. Bist. Himwats works with seven local government schools in Champawat, Himwats volunteers supplement and complement government school teachers.

Over 4 days I interacted with children from classes 5 to 8 from the seven schools Himwats supports.

With Himwats volunteer teachers and some students. 

I am thrilled to learn that Deepak (extreme left in greyish sweater), a volunteer at Himwats, is taking the Tinkering with Electronics workshop to other schools. He emailed me this photograph.

Here is a brilliant example of Electronic Art created by students under Deepak’s guidance.

On the whole the two weeks I spent in the small rural schools in Himalayas was an exhilarating experience. I am very much looking forward to my next visit when I will shift gears and focus on another Mode of Thinking – Thinking Like a Historian! 

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