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Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Expert View

Promoting Innovative spirit and Skill development amongst students for Community Solutions using assistive Technology

Arpit Panjwani

By Arpit Panjwani, Director, Maa Anandmayee Memorial School, Haridwar

Education has moved out of the boundaries of bricks and mortar and has encompassed the entire world in its wake. It has been a key factor in the development and progress of human civilization.

Maa Anandmayee Memorial School (MAMS) was established in 1985 and ever since it has relentlessly strived to provide a student-centred learning approach. It provides an enigmatic blend of co-curricular and academics. Our students reflect the approach and demeanour of promising millennials.

Creativity and intelligence are fostered and reared with great respect by the faculty members. The persona of every child is chiselled with individual attention and empathy. The talents and feats of students are suitably acknowledged with awards and certificates to motivate them and encourage other students at the same time.

With the turn of the decade, MAMS adopted the International approach to its curriculum. The school spreads awareness about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) through various programmes, particularly the International Dimension in Schools (IDS), under the aegis of the British Council. The staff and students are conscious about each step that they take to help achieve these global goals.

There are programmes running for an eco-friendly approach to nurturing an empathetic spirit towards nature. Well-blended initiatives are introduced to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and design thinking skills among the students. They nurture their dreams and they are fostered to achieve them through time management and goal-setting skills.

With the support of the Atal Innovation Lab, concepts like robotics, coding, and artificial intelligence as well as other contemporary devices like drones or microprocessors have become a play for the students. Their curious spirit is nurtured carefully here and they are encouraged to fail and learn from their mistakes. They thrive in an environment that supports free enquiry, exploration and experimentation.

Innovation is an iterative process. This requires connection and collaboration between different stakeholders to move forward. During this pandemic, we at MAMS have used:

– Online Video Communication Tools like Google Meet, Zoom etc to interact with the stakeholders: Communication between different stakeholders is key for the innovation process. Different stakeholders include the students from our school, subject experts of various domains, Gram Pradhan of the region, community students, students from other schools, Mentors of Change appointed by NITI Aayog and others. – We have been using platforms like Google Classroom, WhatsApp and Google Forms to share instructions, information and assessing the learning. With communication, it is important to share resources to enable resource sharing in a concrete way. We have explored and used the platforms such as Google Classroom, WhatsApp and Google Forms to accomplish this. – WhatsApp is used to share communication regarding the different sessions in a timely manner and to address any concerns/queries from the community. Google Classroom is used to share resources/assignments for students to take up regularly. – Google Forms are used to track attendance/feedback from the participants. Also, it is used to give assessments to the students for the different expert sessions that they are part of in order to track their learning. Also, we have come up with a Google Form to source the different project entries from students in a standardised manner (submitted with videos and a project write up). – Tools like Google Sites, Facebook and YouTube to effectively communicate with a larger audience regarding our projects.

We have fostered in our students the capacity to use the aforementioned platforms to increase the reach of their projects to a larger audience. Students have come up with their own YouTube Channels, Facebook Pages and Google Sites to showcase their projects. This helps them secure genuine feedback from a real audience to be able to improve upon their projects efficiently. – Platforms like MIT App Inventor and Scratch to learn and share interesting games and Apps within our community. Students have gained knowledge and understanding to create and use tools like MIT App Inventor and Scratch to create Apps and games to make their innovation projects come alive. – Google Forms to create a platform where students can choose and be part of Open Sessions conducted by various experts on specific topics for skill improvement. We have, in collaboration with, various schools from diverse parts of the country, come up with this open platform where students can opt for myriad sessions that they want to participate in skill development and exposure. We have also used video editing apps like InShot to create videos. We were initially facing the challenge of assessing the learning of the students and therefore asking for video submissions seemed like a viable alternative. Hence we decided to work upon it. We have used LEGO EV3 Mindstorms kits to develop computational skills among students. The LEGO EV3 Mindstormers have become an integral part of our innovation ecosystem. Young innovators, ranging from ages 9 to age 18 have tinkered with the Robotics kit to improve upon their computational skills. Furthermore, we used an online platform named TinkerCAD to develop online 3 D Designs and Virtual Circuits. During the pandemic, we have had to take everything online. Circuitry Design is an integral part of tinkering. Using TinkerCAD we have tried to incorporate virtual circuits.

For implementing such a program we needed to first identify the challenges. The challenges were multifold: – Foremost, there is an internet connectivity issue in the area as the school is based in an inner remote region and so are most of its students. More than 80% of the stakeholders (both students and teachers) use daily data plans which hinders access to high-speed internet. This creates a barrier for students to access the high-quality sessions that we conduct especially with the support of external facilitators. – More than 85 % of the students (the primary stakeholders) use smartphones rather than laptops/computers which restricts the implementation of different software that aid easy implementation and submission of project work. – There was an existent skill gap amongst the educators to provide such learnings to the students. – The parent community was not exposed to the importance of technology and therefore just not accustomed to investing money in technology to improve their ward’s access to hardware, software or internet. To mitigate these challenges, we chose a strategy to involve and empower the educators (who also deal with similar technological challenges) to explore best practices regarding the use of technology and further share it amongst our students. For specific tools like Google Sites MIT App Inventor and Scratch programming, we conducted educational sessions for both educators and the students. Each class is allocated an ATL Educator who is in charge of the ATL Activities in that particular grade. Such a focused approach to each class has enabled us to make sure that we can assess the program implementation even though there are technological challenges. An ATL Committee is set up which meets regularly to further assess the progress of different programs that the ATL MAMS is implementing. The Inter ATL Tinkering Festival and the Rewards and Recognition program has helped us not only to spread awareness about the Atal Innovation Mission and the Atal Tinkering Lab amongst the student community but also to increase the participation of students in other initiatives of such nature.
The Atal Tinkering Lab (ATL) is ideally an in-classroom offline facility. During the pandemic, there was a high chance of the ATL becoming obsolete. But under the able leadership of Principal Ms Kesar Patel, we have risen to the challenge and adapted to the situation with the use of technology. We have established a program to give meaningful inputs to our students, given the scope for implementing those and the platforms readily available to showcase the outputs. The ongoing surge in student participation even during the second wave of COVID-19 upheld by the innovative activities of zealous students is a sure testimony directs towards the sustainability of the program.

We always strive to protect the legacy of MAMS to serve the underserved and marginalised to help bring about educational equity and create social impact through our community development initiatives. We take pride in our efforts to churn out brilliant, vibrant and intellectual alumni who realise their civic duties and global responsibilities.

I am confident that MAMSians will emerge as world leaders who go on to challenge the status quo bringing about the necessary changes that are required across the globe.

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