Monday, June 30, 2014

Edible Schoolyard Academy, Berkeley, CA. USA

Starting from June 22nd to 26th, 2014  I took part in the Edible Schoolyard Academy training and enrichment program along with more than 90 other educators and coordinators across United State and other international participants. The program was tried and true around the Edible Schoolyard lessons, new ideas for community outreach programs, and wisdom garnered from almost 20 years of teaching in the garden and kitchen classroom in Berkeley.
The Edible Schoolyard (ESY Berkeley) is one of the organic garden and kitchen classrooms for urban public school students at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. At ESYB, students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious and seasonal produce during the academic day and after-school classes. Students’ hands-on experiences in the kitchen and garden foster deeper appreciation of how the natural world sustains us and promotes the environmental and social well-being of the community.
Twenty years ago in the spring, an abandoned land adjacent to the school was designated as the garden site. Educators, chefs, and gardeners came together to share their vision of a garden where students would participate in hands-on learning. Seventeen years later, the acre of land is turned into a lush garden with seasonal vegetables, herbs, vines, berries, flowers, and fruit trees. MLK Middle School teachers and the garden staff work together to link garden experiences with students’ science and humanities lessons for truly integrated experiential learning.
The Edible Schoolyard kitchen is an experiential learning classroom where students accompany their science and humanities teachers to experience culture, history, language, chemistry, and geography through the preparation of food. 
Students cook together with produce just harvested from the garden and eat a freshly prepared dish, sharing the fruits of their labor around a communal table. As they harvest, cook, and eat their way through the school year, students experience lessons that support academic learning in the classroom.

The Edible Schoolyard Berkeley engages the wider community of MLK Middle School by extending programming to evenings and weekends. Families participate in three Saturday workdays, helping to maintain the garden and sharing lunch together. Parents and families also participate in evening classes held in the kitchen classroom. These classes give students an opportunity to share lessons learned with their families and provide tools for families to cook fresh meals.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Arrival in San Francisco. June 20, 2014

After waiting for exactly a month under the scorching heat of Delhi, I got my USA visa approved after a second application to attend my educational enrichment program in two highly esteemed institutions -- The Edible Schoolyard Academy in Berkeley, and The Exploratorium Summer Institute for Teachers Training in San Francisco, California, USA.  Visiting USA may be exciting and a life time journey one may wish to take up, but it’s not as easy as we think to get it through. There are hundreds of sieves, through which one has to scan, to be eligible visitors. Anyway, I should say I am lucky and successful with the intricacies of my visa applications with helping efforts from many people. I would like to thank you all on behalf of Lhomon Education and on my own behalf for your wonderful and selfless support and guidance in the process.
I had a wonderful and safe journey from Delhi to San Francisco although it was quite long, especially the flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco. Now frankly speaking, I am little blurred, feeling a minor headache, stomach gurgles and dosing off in midday. I guess I have messed up day and night. I hope it will take a few more days for my biological chemistry to get adjusted to this new environment.
Now, I would like to share briefly from my hazy head a few of the expectations from my two programs. Firstly, in the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, I hope to learn how their curricula are linked with the organic aspects of farming. Secondly, how to integrate learning different subjects to the garden and kitchen. Thirdly, what are the methodologies, strategies and tools to use for teaching different subjects, and learn and get first hand experiences of catering the lessons to my students.
From The Exploratorium 2014 Summer Institute for Teachers’ Training, with the growing importance of science and technology and the challenges I face as a teacher in the classroom, I need to learn the practical tools and information that would transcend the limits of the textbooks. So I am hoping to gain many things from this program.  Firstly, knowledge of the innovative ways that the Exploratorium teaches so that I can bring them into my classroom for the educational enrichment of my students. Secondly, insights and tools that inspire teaching and learning of the sciences. Thirdly, the practical ideas to teach and cater the science and math lessons to our students. Fourthly, expanding my range of science activities for my students, and understanding more about the world around us.
I hope earnestly that my expectations and hopes come true to my delight. It’s a big voyage yet to begin and there are so many things that I have to explore and learn from here.

Dear readers, I will keep posting for you all please visit again to read another episode.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A report from Mirambika Free Progress School in India

I visited The Mirambika Free Progress School in Delhi, India for a day in May, 2014 in order to observe and ask about their educational approaches and teacher training program.
The Mirambika School is located in Sri Aurobindo Ashram campus in New Delhi. The school is connected with a concrete footpath from its main entrance to the main school buildings. Along the footpath is surrounded by an environment of green trees, flowers and plants. As I walked from the gate into the campus I saw a group of children doing their first dose of morning physical exercises under the shade of tall trees. Later I came to know that the school starts the day with one hour of morning physical exercises. After the exercises the students go to the shrine room for meditation practice--this is to connect the inner and the outer and to set the pace for the day, as said by the Principal, Mrs. Srila.
Mirambika School was started in 1981 as an experimental innovative school, and today it continues its tradition and ideas of research and philosophy of integral education as formulated by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Mrs. Srila explained ‘’the integral education means addressing the totality of the being.’’ She added ‘‘we seek to educate not only the body, the emotion and the intellect but also work towards making these instruments function in the light of our divine essence, the psychic.’’
The Mirambika’s core believe is that each of us carries something divine deep within us, something true, pure, eternal and very precious. It is this that makes life a supremely beautiful gift and inspires us to grow and to learn. They consider that it is there hidden, behind all our mental noise and emotional clamour:  something very simple, very warm, and very light and infinitely loving that they call it the psychic the divine presence in us. In this free progress education their whole endeavour is to keep the psychic flame burning in hearts and minds of the children, to allow their whole life to be entirely moulded by a growing psychic consciousness through creating an environment and conditions.At Mirambika, children learn more by doing, observing and reflecting than by didactic teaching. Project work forms a major tool of learning. This involves a lot of experimenting, searching, calculating, developing, inventing, exploring, creating, reading and writing and also including field trips. Through single projects, the child often trains the body, mind and intellect, awakens the psychic being, and also learns language, mathematics and science.
Mirambika does not have a pre-set curriculum or syllabus. They focus on the naturally evolving rhythm of learning, allowing each child to grow at their own pace. The brochure of the school reads ‘‘our curriculum remains open ended and flexible, always reflecting the dynamism of learning and growing. Yet, the children must learn the facts and figures that will equip them to enter what is called the ‘real world’. And these they must learn in a specific time frame. Hence, in spite of being open-ended and flexible, structure is not entirely missing from Mirambika curriculum.’’The aim and vision of the school is ‘‘to learn in order to know, to study in order to have the knowledge of the secrets of nature and of life, to educate and discipline oneself in order to be master of oneself, to overcome one's weakness, one's incapacity and ignorance, to prepare oneself in order to progress in life towards a goal that is nobler and vaster, more generous and more true... We are not here to do what the others do. We are here to do what the others cannot do because they do not have the idea that it can be done.”- The Mother, one of the founders.The principles of teaching which are followed at Mirambika free progress school are based on Sri Aurobindo's Three Principles of True Teaching: nothing can be taught, the mind has to be consulted in its own growth, and work from the near to far.Mrs. Srila said that ‘’Education to be complete must have five aspects: the physical, the vital, the mental, the psychic and the spiritual.’’ They believe that the Education is a living and dynamic process that involves the whole person’s development, including the head, the heart, the body as well as the spirit.Mr. Rajesh, a senior teacher in the school said ‘‘our school does not conduct conventional tests or exams.’’ He added, with a smile that ‘‘the child is perfectly graded by a God and sent as a human being. We need not have to grade them, instead we are responsible to guide them.’’  They think that children are soul beings that need sensitive assessments both by the parents and those working with the children so as to give meaningful and responsible feedback. The nature of the evaluation is always non-judgemental, descriptive, child centred, personalized and wholesome.When I asked about the teacher training program in the school, the principal said it is conducted for the duration of three years. During the first year the trainee teachers will basically discipline themselves; in the second year they will co-teach with other senior teachers; and in the final year they will teach independently. They also provide different courses ranging from principles of education to integral progress learning, development of skills, language and communication, theatre to music and art education to physical education.The education at Mirambika is borne out of a spiritual vision and understanding that it is the process of awakening and evoking the true being, the psychic presence within, and through that process, bringing about a progressive unfolding of the whole person.