In a classroom in RN Podar School, Santacruz, students are huddled over an object that looks like a gaming console, watching curiously as a teacher uses some clay and a banana to play the piano. As the teacher’s fingers fly on the clay attached with alligator clips to ‘makey-makey’ -- a gadget that turns everyday objects into touchpads and combines them with the Internet -- the keys on the onscreen piano come to life.
The scene is not from a sci-fi documentary. Prototyping tools such as modelling software, 3D printers, electronics and laser cutters are making their way to the classroom, as educators embrace the ‘maker movement’ -- an educational programme that integrates science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.
The programme is focused on transforming students from consumers to creators. Children are encouraged to tinker with objects such as play dough, LEGO blocks, craft objects and 3D printers using design-thinking processes.
Sounds like art and crafts class? It’s not. Unlike arts and crafts, which are taught in isolation, maker is devoted to interdisciplinary studying and problem-solving. The Niti Ayog, the national think tank and a leading software company are creating Atal tinker or maker labs across schools, while many private schools are doing so on their own.
Tinkering teaches students to think beyond the obvious,” said Avnita Bir, principal, RN Podar School, Santacruz, which has set-up a maker lab on the premises. “It gives them a chance to see things in a different light, a skill that will be useful in all walks of life.”
“As children we are innately curious and creative, but as we move to higher grades, somewhere along the way, the focus on the maker mindset seems to disappear,” said Rajeev Maurya, a physics teacher. “We are being trained to revive those forgotten abilities.”
Schools are sending their teachers to the American School of Bombay at Bandra-Kurla Complex to get training. “It is exciting to learn about something that seems far removed from subjects we teach. It is fun for us too,” said Kriselle D’Souza, English teacher, adding how she uses scratch programming to teach grammar and improve handwriting.
The children, meanwhile, are enjoying the opportunity. “I am a technology geek. I try out various softwares at home, so for me it’s great that my school lab periods have become so interesting,” said Siddharth Pandit, Class 8 student.
Eleven-year-olds too are seen building prototypes of drones, rockets and robots in the labs. “I was nervous when I first took this class. In the initial days, I was building simple things such as a pencil sharpener, while my peers were doing much advanced stuff. But I kept practising and now I can build rockets too,” said Sara Engineer, a Class 6 student.
Chriselle Vas, 11, said she helped her father win an office competition because of her 3-D printing skills. “We built an office organiser for my dad’s boss and he loved it, he won a prize for it too,” said Vas, beaming with pride.