Of physics, fun and fundamentals

It is the do-it-yourself-and-find-out kind of learning that happens at the Innovator Lab in New Siddhapudur

August 01, 2017 04:32 pm | Updated 04:32 pm IST

In a discussion with Obuli Chandran (right) and Aasif (second from left)

In a discussion with Obuli Chandran (right) and Aasif (second from left)

“That is all we need to teach rotation.” Obuli Chandran of Mango Education (an organisation that conducts after-school science programmes for kids) twirls a bicycle wheel tied to a clothesline and hung from a beam. Next, he drops a magnet into a hollow aluminium tube to show off the principles of magnetism and speed. Watching him with great interest are two 11 year olds, Surya and Vineet, and 14-year-old Shaun.

We are all in the Innovator Lab, housed in the Aatrral Academy in New Siddhapudur. A collaborative project between Mango Education and Aatrral Academy, the lab is a space to mentor kids interested in science and technology where they can share ideas and build projects in their area of interest at their own pace.

The lab contains a variety of equipments ranging from old television sets, clocks and radios to drills, saws and other tools

The lab contains a variety of equipments ranging from old television sets, clocks and radios to drills, saws and other tools

My abiding memory of a physics lab is from school where the instruments fell apart the minute I touched them. So I entered this one with some trepidation. The two rooms and the terrace that comprised the lab were chock-a-bloc with a variety of equipments ranging from old television sets, clocks and radios to drills, saws and other tools. I watched the three boys handle the tools with nonchalant ease.

The impish and restless Surya was trying to figure out ways to make what he called “budget spinner”. “What’s that?” everyone around him asked. “Low-cost fidget spinners,” he laughed. I would have never guessed that the baby-faced Vineet was passionate about guns. “He makes smaller workable models of almost all the kinds available,” said Chandran. Shaun, whose interest was robotics, was working on different models.

“The idea,” says KR Balathandapani of Aatrral Academy, “is to allow children to learn by doing.” An engineer by training and profession, Bala — as he is better known — founded the academy three years ago in an attempt to encourage a spirit of research and entrepreneurship among kids. But the response left him “quite dejected”.

Quite serendipitously, he met Chandran at a visit to the Cosmic Ray Lab in Ooty. “We got talking and realised our views on education were the same,” says the ebullient Chandran. Soon they decided to join forces and create a space that would provide children with the necessary facilities and environment to work on their ideas. “Everything here is hands-on,” says Bala. “The kids learn to dismantle everything and put them back. They can use parts of some of these machines to make new things.”

Evidently he leads by example. To show me what he means, he brings out a cleaning machine that he has made. A regular wooden floor scrubber is mounted on the motor of a wet-grinder, which is held in place by a car jack, and the handle to push the machine is made from the legs of an ironing table.

Balathandapani working with kids at his academy

Balathandapani working with kids at his academy

For now, the lab has children who are being home schooled. Others can join if they wish. “We can work out the timings, depending on their convenience,” say Bala and Chandran. J Aasif Iqbal of Mango Education, who has been a silent listener until now, chips in: “Children who are being home schooled struggle due to lack of access to labs. This project will help bridge the gap.” The conversation veers off into the pros and cons of home schooling versus regular schooling before being yanked back firmly by Bala and Chandran.

Bala shows off the six-valve engine that is the lab’s latest acquisition. “I encourage people to give us all this,” he says. It comes in handy to teach the kids and to provide material for projects.

Science, they reiterate, is as much about working with one’s hands as it is about theory. “We have so many youngsters scoring marks in exams,” says Bala, “but where are the inventors and researchers? How many products have been created by Indians?” Chandran agrees and refers to the multitude of engineers without jobs today. “We are both engineers too,” he laughs, “But we are trying to see that the next generation has more to look forward to than we did.”

Toy Clinic

This project took shape thanks to a young boy who couldn’t cope with conventional schooling. Instead of a difficult boy, Bala found a youngster who was excellent at putting broken things back together. “We decided that he would be the ‘CEO’ of the Toy Clinic,” laughs Bala. “He does a fabulous job. We encourage people to bring old broken toys to the clinic to be repaired.” Chandran adds, “This also helps check the growing consumerism and ‘use-and-throw attitude’.

How it works

The lab is open to children who are being home-schooled and require personalised sessions; those who are self-learners; those who want to understand concepts without having to resort to rote learning

The children get to use the facilities five days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and on Saturday and Sunday). There are no time limits

The cost of using the lab is 2,500 a month. Depending on the material for special projects, they may have to pay extra

The lab covers physics, chemistry, electronics and fabrication

To register contact 9952243541 or 8197443753

Learn Python Programming

Mango Education is organising a six-month course on “Python Programming” for children aged 11 years and above. This will help them focus on learning programming concepts and paradigms as well as develop their own games. As part of the game dynamics, the children will also learn Algebra and Applied Mathematics.

When and Where

Every Sunday from August 6, 2017 to January 28, 2018, from 10.30 am to 12.30 pm at Mango Education, No 77, 2nd Floor, Kongu Nagar, (Opposite to Alvernia school), Ramanathapuram

Every Sunday from August 6, 2017 to January 28, 2018, from 3.00 to 5.00 pm at Orange Sprout, RS Puram

Every Monday from August 7, 2017 to January 29, 2018, from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm at Sreevatsa Lunchbox, Athipalayam Road, Sreevatsa Global Village, Saravanampatty

Call 8197443753 for further details and to register

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