In a world where kids are increasingly bogged down by mugging facts and swimming through a swarm of data, Curiouscity, a Bengaluru-based organisation has been getting children to work with their hands and minds, put some thought into the science they learn, and supplement conventional structured learning with seamless experiments. And in the process, get them to lose their fear of science, and begin loving it.
“Our education system kills a child’s ability to be curious,” says Shonali Chinniah, one of the co-founders of Curiouscity. “The idea through Curiouscity is to challenge them to find solutions. It’s not so much about science as it is about ‘doing’ things.”
Started eight years ago in a city ruled by technology, Curiouscity came together when five people decided that the way science is taught to children must change; if not in schools, at least outside it.
Shonali Chinniah is a marine ecologist who has taught in schools and colleges in India and America, Utpal Chattopadhyay is a physicist who has held senior R&D positions in renowned technology organisations,
Sukanya Sinha is a physicist who’s held research positions in universities worldwide, Dr. Jandeep Banga is a doctor from Shimla who takes two weeks off work to be in Bangalore for workshops, and Umesh Malhotra is a serial entrepreneur.
Most of the modules are actively taught by Shonali, Utpal and Sukanya along with young educators, based on science modules they have designed. Field visits, science camps, weekend workshops, and specially designed school modules are used to get ideas across. Themes are created and kids are allowed to take it further from there in their own way. “Usually kids are given a set of instructions to go about things a certain way. We don’t do that. I may show them how to make a lemon battery. But their task may be to create another one to generate double the voltage. This, they have to figure out on their own.”
The problem arises, says Shonali, because of the adult urge to interfere. “If you hold your peace long enough for them to figure things out, they can come up with something amazing.”
Utpal further stresses: “Science is part of human endeavour that tries to understand how the world works and also seeks to explain observations in terms of a few laws. The strength of science is in asking questions, raising doubts, and also repeatedly testing known laws through experiments to see if these laws continue to remain valid.”
They work mostly with students aged eight to 12, because, Shonali says, they can understand and do basic maths by then, have motor skills good enough to do experiments by themselves. “And they are more open to ideas and not so much bogged down by jargon.” Most children have got a sense of discovery, points out Utpal. It may be a discovery of known facts — but a discovery all the same to them. “We make them feel like mini scientists!” is how Utpal puts it. “We facilitate, rather than teach. The idea is to get kids to ask questions,” says Shonali.
They are not asking students or teachers to completely turn their current syllabus on its head. Utpal believes that making science fun need not be a difficult task, and is practically achievable even within the confines of syllabus and time — by perhaps organising, at least three to four times a year experiments and activity-based sessions related to the curriculum. Ideally, a teacher should turn a students’ question into a possible experiment to test out answers or generate excitement in the mind of the students about what possible answers could be.
“Most parents whose children have attended our sessions over a period extending up to nine months, have told us that their children have lost the fear of science and that they like to try out things for themselves,” says Utpal.
You can check out their activities on www.curiouscity.org
The way and the how
Children’s author Roopa Pai’s book What if the Earth Stopped Spinning? and 24 other Mysteries of Science (published by Red Turtle) will be launched on January 31 by Kutoohala, the children’s bookstore and library, along with Curiouscity.
The book answers questions ranging from What if the sun suddenly disappeared? What if all the world's nuclear bombs went off together? What if the dinosaurs came back? What if my birthday balloons carried me off to Micronesia? There’s a section called “Scientific 'Facts' You Should Stop Believing”, which includes toilet seats are the dirtiest surfaces in the house; sugar makes children hyperactive; a coin falling from the 100th floor of the Burj Khalifa will kill you. The section “Mind-Numbing Mysteries That Aren't Mysterious At All”, includes answers to questions like: How come my fingers and toes get all wrinkly when I’m in the pool, but not my face? How come water at 26 deg C feels uncomfortably cold, when air at 26 deg C feels lovely?
There will be readings from the book, and live demos and experiments around some of the concepts in the book by Curiouscity.
The event will be held at the Indian Institute of World Culture, B.P.Wadia Road, Basavanagudi. Registrations at www.kutoohala.in