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Science can be lot of fun. Especially, if it is not lost in pile of books. And so, to make it more relevant and meaningful for our kids, we came up the idea of ‘STEM a-Fair 2018’. The idea was simple! We wanted our kids to have hands on experience learning.
The students of Std. 4 to 8 participated in the event. Here, they needed to work in groups, and present a working model of a concept that falls under STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

The quest started, requiring our students to stretch their imagination. They were expected to be thorough with their chosen subject matter. For that, the subject matter needed to be exciting, and of their interests.
This demanded that they ask questions; to others and above all, themselves. This step directly indirectly helped our students in identifying their areas of strengths and weaknesses.
Books and internet could only provide the idea. The rest of the work had to be done by them. To do that, the kids had to take Science to wherever they go, and find a way to apply what they had learnt. It ought not to be an extraordinary thing. Even exploring the principle of reflection using the simple laser light was of immense good.

The idea was to get them think, not just read Science.

Likewise, there were things learnt, that were beyond any class or concept. For example, time to time, our students needed different tools for their projects. Sometimes it was a copper wire, sometimes a motor.
To get those, our kids had to look for required shops. To communicate with the right person, and get things done. This endeavour boosted their social skills.

And above, the project required them to deal with different tools. From wires, nails, powerful magnets, hammers, to what not. It wasn’t easy. For they not only had to learn but also become adept at using them. But with persistent efforts, they managed quite beautifully, and were all set to go.

It was finally the day of the STEM - a - fair!

Accompanied by parents, our children showed up on time, and carried all kinds of apparatus with them. Everyone quickly began to set up their respective projects. Was it a smooth ride throughout? Not really.
Difficulties kept popping up, as they do in such situations. A group had forgotten a matchbox, other groups a thing or two. But, like every Indian born so, they too, exhibited their mastery of jugaad.

The projects varied from Magical Water, Pencil Torch, Bubble Machine, right to a Homemade Water Filter. The hard work behind every project was evident. The projects that especially stood out were Hydraulics (Class 8), Ultimate Cleaner (Class 8), Mr E Magnet (Class 7), Vacuum Cleaner (Class 7) and Smart City (Class 8). We know, Science is astronomically wide. A project or two is just minuscule fragment of it. That’s where, those diverse projects their peers had created, along with free sharing of ideas, were vastly contributing to our kids’ understanding.

In a little while, teachers made the opening announcement. It was now in the hands of the judges to deem the projects on its merit. Each group was assigned 2 minutes for their presentation. Though every group had a leader, the judges made sure that every group member got an opportunity to speak. This was to help our children build up their confidence and knowledge presentation skills.

The kids were asked questions based on their models. The questions were twisted such, to check whether they truly learnt what they had come up with. It required them to use logic, and think outside the box.
For example, a Std. 4 group who came up with project named ‘Instant electric generator’ were asked, “You have made a lemon battery and a potato battery, and in both cases the LEDs are working. But, what if we join one lemon and one potato to construct a battery. Will the LED glow?”

“No ma’am, it won’t,” replied a 9 year old, “Because, potato has starch, and lemon contains citric acid.”
Her words were evident of impact the project had and the understanding that had deepened in the process! Walnut School’s founder director, Mrs. Arpita Karkarey also made sure to visit every stall. She shared her insights on their projects and motivated the kids.
“How many times did you fail?” Arpita ma’am asked this to every group. 
The unequivocal reply to it was, “Oh, many times!”
Truth be told, we knew, that would happen. Sure, the project was fun, but in process, they were to stumble across setbacks and failures. But, that was the whole idea as that is where the learning happened. They had to figure out what they were doing wrong – in some cases they changed the design, in some the materials, in some – the basic assumptions. Hands on activities help you understand how to convert theory to practical – and this is exactly what we wanted them to experience.

Thus, the idea behind STEM a-fair.

What about our parents? They all looked happy and proud. Nilesh Kulkarni, one of the parents, said:
“This is because of present-day conditioning. The children have become so smart. In our days, I tell you, we couldn’t do a thing without our teachers or parents. It is great that our children are getting meaningful exposure and such opportunities in the school!”
Children, without a doubt, have become smarter.

Their presence of mind in defending their scientific arguments perfectly displayed it.
For instance, a Std. 4 group, who prepared ‘Homemade Water Filter’ were asked, “The chart behind you reads, ‘Cotton is a good water absorber.’ Then, why did you put gravel instead of cotton at the top?”
It was one tricky question.  
“It’s simple”, the group said, “Cotton won’t absorb that much of pressure, and it will get torn.”
The reply surely left the judges, and others impressed.

All in all, the experience of Science Fair gave our kids, more than what they, or we, would have thought of. From exploring Science and technology to learning the essential life skills, such as communication skills, the spirit of team work, and the ability to manage pressure. For kids, it was the learning; and for us, it was the joy of watching them grow.

It had everything to be treasured.

Likewise, let us all do our bit to keep the spirit of STEM alive!

(If you missed visiting us at the Shivane campus, do visit our Science Fair at the Fursungi campus on Saturday, 25th August from 9 a.m. to noon and experience the magic for yourself!)

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