Thursday, July 29, 2010
Visit to IUCAA, Pune
A search for the “magic in communication”!
I traveled to Pune to visit Arvind Gupta at IUCAA. His office is situated there and there are regular sessions that are held where children come and interact with his associates. They are shown a demo to build a set of toys, which they build themselves and take home. While they build the toys they are told stories and given explanations on the toys in relation to science. The session I attended, however was carried out more like a class. The number of students attending were over two hundred, which did not make the session practical in terms of the children creating the toys by themselves and taking them home.
There was a set of things I was looking out for at the interaction.
Approach – Science to toys or vice versa.
It was not a decided interaction in that sense. The scope of some toys was shown in the beginning… the motion in the toy or the final form and then explanations were given based around the toy (example… the toy explaining waves – the construction first and the motion followed by modifying the toy and looking at the science behind it). Others were approached through triggering a memory the child had of a science principle or experiment they may have encountered. This was followed by a demonstration of the working of the toy and then the construction was explained.
What comes out of the play?
In the session that I attended there was no toy that the child built himself / herself and took home (due to the large numbers in each session). It was more of a fun classroom kind of atmosphere, which left all the children wanting to experiment with the toys and gather junk and construct the toys in their own homes.
Focus in each toy – achieving the toy perfectly or experimenting with it (taking it apart/modifying etc).
There was a definite interest in the process of constructing the toy from the audience. This interest was also strengthened by the fact that the children were not building the toys alongside. This induced concentration, with the facilitator continually encouraging the children to try it at home and even offering ideas to make changes while reproducing it.
Focus on learning vs. focus on the fun, tactile aspect.
There seemed to be a fair balance of both but this was again determined by the fact that the children were simply following the process and not making the toys alongside. The focus on pointing out the science behind something is much more when the children are concentrating on a demonstration vs. actually doing it themselves.
Stories surrounding the toys in the session.
There was a focus on sequencing the toys in a manner in which the working of one is connected to the working of the next. The science principles were spoken about in each and a range was covered. The stories for these lay only in the examples and the real life situations that these toys were shown in relation to. However there are two stories that are used in these sessions. These stories drive toys made through paper folding. One such story was demonstrated using a series of hats. The story went through the different characters that the protagonist encountered on a walk (each character defined by his different hat). Towards the end the hats were also converted into a boat and a life jacket and the entire story was told using a newspaper that was folded into different formations. The applause and admiration at the end of the story was a clear sign of the enjoyment of a story told through props (or a prop having such a huge story behind it!)
Sequencing in the absence of stories.
The sequencing related to the working of the toys and flowed simply from one to the other covering a wide range of scientific topics through the session.
Categorization of toys – Focus on a single area or a selection from different science topics.
The session touched upon a range of topics – Simple mechanics, Newtons Laws, Balance, Force, Waves, Electricity, Magnetism. Only very basic principles were touched upon and they were sequenced so that the jump from one to the other was not wholly unrelated. For example, forks balancing on a toothpick was followed by a pencil balancing on a point (through magnets) which then led to toy where an LED was powered through the mechanical energy (generated through repulsion in magnets.)
Flow and participation.
The session I attended was different from the usual participation. Due to the absence of the children making the toys themselves, there were other elements of interactivity concentrated on. Every time the facilitator showed something new he got himself a helper from the audience / asked the children how many of them intended to try the toy at home / gave more viable alternatives to the children telling them where they could specifically find certain things etc.
Image of and response to the facilitator (teacher or someone experimenting along with them)
The facilitator in this session spoke in the local language, engaged children in questions he asked them, made jokes about small mistakes he may have made during the making of a toy etc. The session was more along friendly lines where it was clear to the children that they could respond or question anything at any point. This session was still however a little more driven by a teacher / demonstrator.