Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Jugaad Innovation at its best

My first train experience of travelling in a general class was all that I thought it was going to be and more.

Scenario: Its 3 PM, 6 girls are in an urgent need to get to Hyderabad from Bhopal and no last minute ‘real’ tickets are available.

The options were to either stand in a 30 people long queue to book general class tickets or to spend the night on the platform till next morning to book sleeper class tickets to Hyderabad. We valued our time more… which meant- being stuck with guthka chewing, paan eating, beedi smoking uncles and boys in a jam packed train compartment for the next 16 hours.

The lady sitting on one of the berths stretched the moment she saw us walk in, indicating she will not move. There were two men sitting near her feet, one could be her husband and the other her 4th son; she had 3 kids climbing all over her. In a general class every inch on the floor is taken, so finding an inch on the seats is out of the question. You can't expect the least bit of chivalry from Indian men. You will know that if you have ever been on an RTC bus, where the ladies seats are occupied by men and the women just stand.

Two hours into the ride the pantry guy walked in on rounds(yes,the pantry guy comes to general too, apparently) and asked us why we were not in the 'ladies compartment'? We all shouted in unison "there is a ladies compartment?". "Of course there is a ladies compartment!" I thought to myself. We were the only 6 girls with 3 old ladies in an entire compartment filled with men.

In the next few hours I experienced first hand why middle India has the potential to create great entrepreneurs and  here are 10 reasons as to why I believe so:

1. Jugaad innovation runs through our veins:  Jugaad innovation which is being adopted globally today is indigenous to our country. The middle India is so frustrated with the system that they have come up with brilliant ways to beat it. Indian railways poses many problems like poor passenger management, not having enough seats to satisfy the volumes of travelers, old compartments, not providing enough plug points to charge the cell phones(everyone in India has cell phones today) and poor bathroom facilities(the stink when you enter the door!). In my experience, the solutions to all these problems came from the people and not the government with their big RnD budgets. Even though you are constantly surrounded by people breaking rules in every which way possible, whether it be stealing electricity(maybe its generated freely through dynamos when the train moves, but its still stealing) or peeing out of the main exit door, sleeping on the luggage cabin and making yourself a new berth with a cloth hammock; you understand that it is the way of life in India and can't help but appreciate their innovative streak.

2. Proactive: Don't be fooled by their pot bellies, they are more active than they look. When it comes to their own work they will move mountains, as the saying goes. 

3. Competitive: You see this competitive me-first-attitude on the streets where if you are trying to take a U turn you need to wait an hour because everyone is trying to beat the person behind them. Most of all while standing in the queues. 

4. Frugal: From housewives to maids and tailors to doodh walas (milk man), middle India is best at cost cutting and coming up with unique ways to save money. Like carrying their own bag to the market, using the gardening pipe for the AC condenser or taking their own food during travel. Bhayya, yeah doodh mai pani hai ki paani mai doodh? (Is that water in my milk or milk in my water?) I don't know why I even bothered spending 240 rs on my general class ticket where half my compartment was travelling without tickets(no one checks for tickets in general class).

5. They have great stories to tell: When you are surrounded by real India, you hear some of the best stories they have to share. As Blake Mycoskie says in his book "Start something that matters", the ability to tell stories is the key for your product to work.

6. They are their own boss: Despite the number of times I've told people on a train not to throw trash out the window, they still do so! Right in front of me! After having just told them! They don't need anyone to tell them what to do, they are their own boss.

7. They are Flexible: Accommodating  8 people on a 4 seater.... now that's flexible!

8. They have a great support system of family, friends and community: At Namaaz time, I found people clean the little patch they could find in the middle of the coupe, and take turns one by one to do their prayer on the small piece of checkered cloth laid on the floor. With such limited place it was surprising to see how they found a square meter of block for their prayer and everyone in the on the compartment co-operated to let 20 of them take turns one after another to say their prayers. That's where unity in diversity is best demonstrated and the community approach India is made of.

9. They selfishly care for their kind: They give a lot of self importance which translates into caring for others. Most innovations or phenomena have been discovered out of a need of a specific demographic. But now reaches even people outside of the target group and global communities are befitting from it. 

10. They take calculated risks: Perhaps the stupidest example ever, but in Mumbai locals, passengers take calculated risks everyday! While climbing and hanging off the overflowing doors of a fast moving train. Even though it is a stupid thing to do, they still dared to do it, which makes them fearless.

Maximizing space:

 Maximizing resources:

The pretty view from the window of the Deccan Plateau:

Sleeping on the baggage shelf was definitely a better option than breaking my back sitting on the edge of a seat for 5 hours:

Why class pets are a great Idea!

I still remember the day like it was just yesterday. I came back from school and saw this tiny little 5 month old Dalmatian pup with a blue ribbon around his neck yelping by the doorstep. I had got him for my 11th birthday. The best birthday gift ever! We named him Spots. 

I always wanted a dog since I can remember. As a kid, I knew every dog in the colony's name and pestered my parents for my own. I even brought home street puppies on several occasions. With Spots, it all came true and on the very first day I realized that having a pet was more than just cuddling next to it while sleeping. My first time cleaning puke was not pleasant but over the next 3 months I got enough practice of cleaning puke, poop, pee and some more puke. Also being woken up at 3 or 4 in the morning for poopy time was like waking up to breast feed.

I'd race Spots every night after our walks and the reason I won best sports girl at school for four years in a row, was him. Spots was deaf and a little handicapped(he used to walk with a limp) and also the most ferocious dog in the neighborhood (so opposite our present dog Oscar). Spots used to love going out for long walks and used to often run out of the house if the gate was left open. We had to chase him all around the colony to bring him back. He used to love ice cream and chicken, and I used to love sitting next to him on the park bench for hours. 

In my late teens I was just so busy with my friends and my phone in college that walking the dogs thrice a day became such a chore. Mom often had to cover for me whenever I was out or came home late. Towards the end the ever active and ready to pounce spots got really quite. Maybe it was the presence of our new young Oscar or maybe he was just getting old. 

One day he got sick and puked. We thought he was just doing his monthly tummy cleaning, that dogs do, until..... he threw up blood. We took him to the vet and three injections and two bottles of IV later he manged to walk himself back to the car. We had to lift him to bring him into the house. He puked a little more blood. I wiped him and held him to make him feel better and not one second did I think this could be the last time I have his head on my lap, stroking him. He breathed his last on my lap. I can't describe the moment or anything else that happen after that in words, but my initial disbelief and denial did not change the fact that he was really gone. He was my baby. We buried him in one of the million bed sheets he had torn, with flowers and his favorite ice cream.  

A friend of mine gave me this poem, called the rainbow bridge when Spots passed away, which is still my favorite. I shared it with the kids the other day when they lost their class pet and only those who have loved and lost can understand why this poem is more than just words.

Most students in my school did not have pets of their own so the idea to have a class owned pet which the entire class would take care of together, was a great start. It costed below 200 rupees for a fish bowl and a gold fish. It instilled a sense of ownership, responsibility and compassion towards another living creature in them. Each student fed the fish feed daily, roll number wise and fortnightly cleaned of the bowl too. And when Nemo died we burred it with flowers. The students came back to class quieter than usual and at that moment I wondered if they felt the same way as I did with Spots.

Pet name options:

Voting for names:

The winners of how-a-fish-talks contest :

This post is dedicated to Spots. We miss you dearly and I thank you for all that you have taught me.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Huddle up, its movie time!

My earliest memory of a movie that really made me feel and believe and weep was when Musafa dies in front of Simba's eyes in the stampede; Simba shouts for help in vain and cuddles up in his father's mane.

I have been the biggest animated movie fan since then! Sure regular movies take you into a real seeming virtual world but animated movies just teleport you into a whole different dimension where anything and everything is possible. Animals talk, elephants fly, dogs and mice are best friends, monsters are harmless, the world is saved(every time), women fight combat, the bad guys are actually nice, your toys have your back, your friends do too and true love actually exists! why would anyone not like animated movies?

They are not just for kids. Some of the deepest quotes about life from these movies feels more true as adults. "Always let your conscience be your guide."-Pinocchio. "Today is a good day to try." -Don't know who. "The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it" -The Lion King.

One of the projects that was a big hit at my school was playing a popular English kids movie with English subtitles. All you need is a projector, which we had in our school since we has a smart class. Wait. what was I saying again? Sorry, “I suffer from short-term memory loss. […] No, it’s true! I forget things almost instantly. It runs in my family! Well I mean… at least… I think it does. Hum… Where are they? … Can I help you?” -Dory. Ah yes, movie screenings! Movie screenings at my school were much more than just entertainment. It was a way of learning spoken English by watching it, reading English faster with the subtitles, getting a glimpse of other cultures and places and creating an interest in a possible career in animation. It made them familiar with popular children films which we and kids all around the world grew up watching.

Just make sure you have fixed timings for these movies since it can distract them from regular classes and delay the syllabus. "Hmm! Teenagers. They think they know everything. You give them an inch and they swim all over you!" -Sebastian the crab. Here is a tip though, always review content before screening it.

I'm leaving you with pictures of the Movie time screening chart at our school. That's half their excitement when they come to school. Checking the movie board. More on why visual props and classroom preparation is important, later.

"To infinity…and beyond!" -Buzz Lightyear.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Keep Calm. Sing A Song.

Whats the best way of learning a new language?
Practice, practice, practice; or experiential learning; interacting with native speakers? How about listening to a song?

Music knows no boundaries. Often I find myself singing songs I don't know the meaning of, at all, only because when the tune and beats are catchy you don't care about the rest of it. It kinda sticks in your head the very first time you hear it. No wonder the Chinese love KTV. You can listen to it while on the go, instead of having to make a conscious effort to learn a language like in case of Rosetta Stone or Duolingo (although there are drive time versions of most languages available).

In english, one of the songs I still remember by heart from when I was in 8th grade is from 8 mile, Lose Yourself. But if you are aiming at the kids age group of below thirteen, I DO NOT recommend Eminem. :I  But I do recommend the songs below, which will not just help learn the language and increase vocabulary but are also put them in touch with their 'sensitive sides' and make them more socially conscious:

1. Heal the World - Michael Jackson Every time I listen to this song, it reminds me to take a trip to the kabadi wala (Recycle).

2. Hakuna Matata - Lion king  This song always makes me smile. :)

3. Another day in paradise- Phil collins This song talks about much needed compassion, since we have all just become so immune to something as serious as beggary.

4. Hero - Mariah Carey If you are down or feel a loss of conviction, this song is it!

5. Don't worry be happy My go to song when in mood for some reggae.

What a surprise that 2 songs from my top 5 are Disney songs But that's only because Disney is for all age groups! Here is a link to Disney top 10 for kids.

For years now nursery rhymes have been the standard way to make toddlers learn new words. I still remember almost all the nursery rhymes I learnt in kindergarten. In RSK I used to do nursery rhymes and Bollywood songs on my guitar and have the kids sing. The reason I started to take my guitar along to school was that, learning poems was more of a test for marks thing, than to learn a new song or the meaning and also the way it was taught was just pathetic. It made me wanna scream, "You don't say a poem out, you sing it!" Here is a cool site I found with the guitar chords for all kiddy songs.

Photo credit: Jin Tran

Keep calm. Sing a song. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Read between the lines

I was never a big reader as a child. I’d read a few lines and admire the pictures on the book, by then I’d lose interest. Now when I see the students doing the same in my classroom, it drives me nuts to try and make them read a whole chapter, let alone a whole book. One of my biggest regrets in my life is not having read enough; I am however making up for it with my New Year’s resolution, by finishing my 9th book in 3 months. Having said that it’s not about the number of books you read but about how important it is to comprehend what one reads.

The benefits of reading are obvious, not just for children but adults alike. It triggers imagination, broadens perspectives, improves language skills and interestingly even writing skills. For children it is the best way to increase vocabulary, and the reason it should be started young is that children experience a vocabulary explosion from age 2-13. Entertainment for some and a fun leisurely activity for others, reading is known to make children more empathetic and improve concentration. One can travel around the world sitting in a room!

With all those benefits how does one encourage reading in a classroom environment?

Thanks to a very generous donation by Garfield high school in Seattle our school already had over 349 books of various genres. Setting up a school library is more than just setting books in a cupboard; it is organizing with a method to the madness and finding/making the ideal place for the students to read at. The only way to make the library sustainable even after I left was involving the teachers of the school to carry out a library periods in their free time and have the English teacher as their librarian. So the senior grade English teacher and I made a database of all the books after sorting them age group and theme wise, pasted serial numbers and maintained a book log.

But the bigger problem though once the library was set up was not running the library but making kids really want to read. After distributing the books in class for a period all you see is kids exchanging book after every 2 seconds and more curious about the colorful pictures in the neighbors books. Reminds you of some one? I could relate to them and understand this. So after a friend/co-Idexer Hannah Snyder’s suggestion of what might work, we decided to implement the famous incentive program to try and get kids to read. As much as the incentive program feels like bribing children into doing something I believe it is also the best example of how the real world works. They see how success is only a result of hard work (not bribing).

For this program all you need is Post-its (colorful ones preferred) and books. A list of ten words from the book needs to be made and stuck at the end of the book and the task for the students is to find these words in the book. Then as the assignment is to write the sentence in which they found the word, the meaning of the sentence they understood with reference to context and the meaning of the word. They are allowed to use the dictionary for this activity. The students do finish as many words or all ten words win! Through this activity the students skim through most of the book even if in search of that one word. As a reward they can be allowed to choose the book of their choice in the next library period or a free sports period the next time. In my experience this activity worked really well with my students where by the end of the month 90% of the students in the class finished reading one book each.

Reading of any kind is good, even if it is in the regional language and must be encouraged no matter how old or young. Sooner the better.  

Back to Basics - ABC's

Sometimes doing nothing can result in something fun.