That `Aha' moment

It’s a hot and sweaty evening in Mylapore and you can see excited children throwing objects out from the first-floor corridor of a school building.

Another group seems to be standing below in anticipation. Anywhere else, the watchman would be running after these kids trying to get them back inside. But this isn’t just any school building.

Inside, Balaji Sampath is teaching an after-school physics class for students. The boisterous students are actually engaged in a carefully controlled experiment on projectile motion.

“We are changing how science and maths are taught to school children,” says Balaji, about his company, AhaGuru. An IIT-ian, Balaji went on to complete a PhD at the University of Maryland in the USA. He returned to India in the 1990s to work in the area of education and development. He has been engaged in teaching science to children of all backgrounds for over 20 years now.

“Aha” moments

Why is the institute name AhaGuru? “Every time students learn a concept and something strikes in their mind, an ‘Aha’ moment happens. So, the idea was to have a teacher who would build that ‘Aha’ moment continuously,” he explains.

Balaji has a unique way of teaching the subject. “The most fascinating aspect of learning physics is that one gets to understand the world and learn how it functions. For example, it is one thing to say that the world is made up of atoms, and it is a completely different thing to believe this. So, in the class, I use simple props to help students fundamentally understand the concepts and form a mental model. We start with simple models and concepts and slowly increase the complexity,” he saysThe point of the experiments is that each one of them is connected to a fact, and after the students understand it practically, it is no longer remains merely a statement or something they have read about.

“Kids come and tell me at the end of the class that now they’re seeing atoms everywhere! They’re able to make sense of the world because they can understand what’s happening around them and why,” he says laughing.

“The current frenzy for success in competitive exams puts enormous pressure on high schoolers. Students are drilled for 4-5 years at expensive exam prep institutes… But, for the vast majority of students, this drilling without the emphasis on deeper understanding of the subject leads to failure and only hurts their confidence in the long term.” says Gomathi Dhamodaran, who teaches along with Balaji.

Reflection pays

While taking coaching classes, Balaji found that students spend a lot of time in travelling and are unable to engage in self-learning.

To tackle this, he has designed online courses which help them reflect on what they have studied.

“I have found that sometimes, online leaning is more effective than classroom learning. If students have doubts, they can clear them through online forums. Also, at times, the class may not be going according to the pace of a student. In the online course, one can take as much time as he/she wants and study at one’s own pace,” says Balaji.

The well-structured online model contains videos and other interactive elements and is created in such a way that after every five minutes, students have to engage in some sort of activity which keeps them alert.

“A lot of parents have this doubt — will their child actually learn if he/she takes an online course? This is why we are conducting a physics challenge. Students can go to our website, apply for a course and take part in the challenge. If they complete it, we guarantee that they would have learnt enough to answer even the toughest question related to the topic,” says Balaji.

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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 8:01:37 PM |

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