Quote of the Week
“It is to correspond to these needs [for independence] that we prepared an environment proportionate to the size and intelligence of the children, where they could work and achieve independence.”
Hi, this is the GenWise team- we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and collaborating on this. We are also a founder-member of the Gifted India Network- if you are interested in issues related to gifted education and talent development, an easy way to keep updated about talks, programs and resources is to join the Gifted India Network telegram channel (https://t.me/GiftedIndia).
This week’s main post, ‘The Magic of Residential Programs for Children’ shares GenWise co-founder, Vishnu Agnihotri’s views on why the kind of residential programs we offer make such a significant impact on children.
You are invited to be an early member and beta-tester of the GenWise Club (ages 13-90), a community of interested students, parents, and educators. Check out this link for more about the club and how to join it. It is open to all in the current beta phase.
Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts, or joining our club community for more regular and closer interactions.
The inaugural expert talk of the Gifted India Network by Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubelius, Head of the Center for Talent Development, Northwestern University on ‘The Importance of Non-Cognitive Skills in Talent Development’, starts shortly (at 6 PM, Fri, Oct 29). If you haven’t already registered for the talk and received the zoom link, you can participate in the conversation on FB Live here.
The Magic of Residential Programs for Children
GenWise Residential Program, Dec 2021
Upcoming External Events
The Magic of Residential Programs for Children
This post is written by GenWise co-founder, Vishnu Agnihotri. A longer version of this post can be accessed here.
Why do I use the word 'magic' here? Let me explain. Here is a bunch of 13-15 year olds who have come to an unfamiliar place (many of them staying away from home and family for such a long period for the first time). Some of them bid teary goodbyes to their parents. For the next couple of weeks, they need to share rooms with strangers, are not allowed to use their devices most of the time and have to attend 'classes' during their vacations in which they are challenged to a level well beyond what they are used to in school. Yet the very same children are reluctant to leave the camp on the last day when their parents come to meet them. They hug their Residential Counsellors and Teaching Assistants and cry when they have to leave. Is this not some kind of magic?
While I knew that such residential programs are enriching based on my visits to Duke TIP programs in 7-8 years ago, I did not realise the extent to which these programs had a positive impact on children till I got involved in designing and delivering such programs. These are some of the kinds of things I heard from parents and children-
The mother of a girl who attended the open day on the last day of a camp was moved to tears when she saw her daughter explaining things to visitors with great enthusiasm. We understood from the mother that the child would hardly every speak in school because her thoughts were not appreciated. This was a surprise to us because the child had participated actively in classroom discussions from the start of our camp.
A boy, Ryth, in a course on the physics of light, said this
“I love how there are no boundaries to what we can discuss on the subject in class. When students are curious about something which was not a planned part of the course, the instructor teaches us these things and explores these with us. If we ask such things in school, we are told that ‘it is out of the syllabus’ or that ‘we will learn this in a higher grade’. When I get such responses, I feel like I am in the middle of a very interesting detective novel, am dying to know what happens next, but find that the remaining pages are glued together and I cannot satisfy my curiosity.”
Watch students sharing their experience of a summer program in this short film-
Talking to children and parents over the years, I have come to realize that children pick up what they need from the environment most at that time (and this could be different at different times- the same child picks up one thing in 2017 and another in 2018). And while academic enrichment is a major component of the experience in our programs, often the most impactful thing for a child is something like “I learned how to schedule my time, decide what clothes to wear” or “I am generally shy to get on to stage- here I danced on stage for the first time!”.
Over a period of time, we realised that our job is to create an environment that offers a wide enough ‘buffet’ from which children can pick up what they need most at that point of time. I also came across a quote by John Holt by chance that made our task much clearer to us-
“Each new thing they learn makes them aware of other new things to be learned. Their curiosity grows by what it feeds on. Our task is to keep it well supplied with food. … Keeping their curiosity “well supplied with food” doesn’t mean feeding them, or telling them what they have to feed themselves. It means putting within their reach the widest possible variety and quantity of good food—like taking them to a supermarket with no junk food in it (if we can imagine such a thing).”
- John Holt, How Children Learn
I think these are the main components of our ‘program recipe’ that make things work. We of course keep refining specifics as we learn- but these in my view are the fundamental principles.
Everybody in the program is a passionate 'volunteer. Students choose to come to the program- not because their parents tell them to go or because they have to. The program staff- course mentors, residential counsellors, teaching assistants are all 'volunteers' too in a sense. Yes- they get paid to work in the program, but that is not their primary motivation. They treasure the opportunity to work with young children, they love learning themselves and give up vacations to be in such a camp. The residential counsellors especially, work 16-18 hours a day- these are typically very young people 19-24 years old who could be chilling out and having fun, but they make a choice to be at this camp. Full-time employees at companies like IBM and Accenture take leave to be mentors at the camp. In a line, these volunteers are passionate learners who feed off each others' energies.
There is nourishment for the mind, body and the heart. The program diet is balanced. It recognises that each of us has different aspects of our selves and tries to provide nourishment for each facet. Thus it is 'All in a Day's Work/ Play' to deal with advanced math, build a chair with your hands, dabble in art and music, dance. play games or sit silently watching a tree.
There is 'voice' and there is 'choice'. I have spoken about the buffet analogy above. There is enough variety of experiences in the program for each child to 'pick up' those relevant to her. There is also great respect for the child's voice- their ideas and thoughts, and what they want to do. I recall a child asking in an 'evening adda', 'Why can't I focus on playing video games and become a twitch gamer? ...some of them make millions'. We had a long serious conversation on this.
Learning is pursued for its own sake. There are no grades and tests in the program- though feedback is provided. The process and efforts to learn something are priorities and we don't care that much about the 'correct answer'. If parents ask us if the program will help children get an admission to a good college, we respond that that's not the objective of the program (even though many parents approach us 2-3 years later for recommendations at the time of college admissions, which we are happy to give). When learning is pursued for its own sake, intrinsic motivation surfaces.
The environment is one of care, connection and concern. Before children arrive, a lot of preparation has already happened. The residential counsellor is aware of each child's medical history and food allergies. The staff is trained on what to expect- homesickness, bullying, anxiety about not being the 'brightest kid in class' etc. When a child arrives at the camp, there are welcoming messages for each child- adorning the door to their room and their beds. The staff is highly sensitive to what's happening with children- is somebody feeling lonely? not eating well? has a cough/ cold/ fever? They take turns at night to check if a child developed fever in the middle of the night. Residential counsellors do a 'huddle' every night with their group of 10-12 children and everyone shares about the exciting things they have done, what they would like to do, their fears and concerns. The whole space is one large, lively family with the residential counsellors playing the role of 'cool' and caring elder siblings and the mentors playing the role of parent figures.
When students feel this connection, they forget that they have been separated from their families (and their devices!). One of the most common parent complaints after day 3/4 in the camp is 'my child is not calling me.... please ask him to call!'
We have been missing running these programs during the pandemic. While the online programs were received very well, they cannot substitute the residential experience. We are now looking forward to getting back to running residential programs!
GenWise Residential Program, Dec 2021
With the COVID situation showing significant improvement, we will be running a 2-week residential program from Dec 18-30, 2021 at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence in Bangalore for children currently in Grade 8, 9 or 10. The recommended duration is 2 weeks, though participants are free to choose either week. 2 course options are offered each week as listed below. Ei ASSET Talent Search (ATS) Gold, Silver and Bronze scholars are eligible for the advanced courses. If you do not have ATS scores but are interested in the advanced courses, contact us. Early bird offers are available for registrations completed before Nov 15, 2021. For more details and to register, visit the program page.
Our residential programs are much more than the ‘academic enrichment component’ the above courses represent. The benefits of attending a GenWise Residential Program are highlighted here.
We have very high standards in ensuring the safety of children. Several young athletes (age 9 and upwards) have been staying at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence Residences for the last few months- a child-friendly facility with strong COVID protocols for all residents and visitors.
If you would like to speak to us about the program, you can also reach us by sending a Whatsapp message or calling on the below numbers.
Upcoming External Events
The below events are free to attend unless otherwise specified.
Events for Children from the TIFR Outreach team- Celebrating TIFR Founder's Day 2021
Online workshops for children (priority for wards of TIFR/DAE employees)
Making our own Mathematics, Saturday, 30th October.
by Harita Raval, HBCSE
11 AM to 12 noon (English) / 12:15 PM to 1:15 PM (Hindi)
This is most suitable for students from 5-9 std. Batch size: 30 participants
Who am I? A design riddle, Sunday, 14th November
Design and Technology Education Group, HBCSE
11 AM to 12:45 PM
This is most suitable for children of age 10-16. Batch size: 35 participants
Please register HERE to receive the zoom link for workshops. Registration for workshops shall end at 0600 HRS IST on the session day.
Special Chai and Why? Sessions
The following special online sessions are planned. No registration is necessary to participate in these.
Simple 'hands-on' experiments to do at home, Sunday, 31st October
11 AM to 12:15 PM
Diye Jalte Hain, Sunday, 7th November
11 AM to 12:15 PM
Data Science in Practice
This talk is targeted at students in the age range 13-17 and is part of a series of talks in the 'Agastya Junior Data Scientists Club' (more about this club at the end of this note). The session will be on Saturday, 6th November, 6pm-7pm. Please register here to receive a zoom link by email.
The Guest Speaker this month is S. Anand, founder of a highly innovative data visualisation company, Gramener. Gramener allowed Anand to combine three interests of his: statistics, programming and design.
Anand has an engineering degree from IIT Madras, an MBA from IIM Bangalore and has worked at leading companies such IBM, Infosys Consulting and BCG.
Anand will speak about how algorithms are used in real-life, the pitfalls of blindly following them, and how to discover interesting things with curiosity.
The 'Agastya Junior Data Scientists Club' had about 100 students participating in a 6-week long course on data science from Jul to Sep 2021. Students continue to be part of a community for 1 year beyond the end of the course to learn more about the subject. The talks and interactions in this community are open to all students now and not restricted to just the students who were part of the course.
GenWise developed and delivered the course on data science for Agastya’s highly able learners program. GenWise Mentor, Navin Kabra, developed and facilitated the course, supported by a team of teaching assistants. The Junior Data Scientists Club is supported by Mytrah Energy and Pravaha Foundation.
Enabling Children Gifted in Math
We have all known (or at least heard of) children with precocious abilities in music, sports or math. If a child is gifted in music or sports, we know what is to be done- we get a coach for the child, get the child to play/ perform with similarly talented students and so on. When it comes to math though, things may be less clear- in fact do we even know which children have a really strong aptitude for math? Is it the child who is really fast at computations, the topper in tests and exams or the one who is good at certain types of puzzles? Even if this vexing question of identifying students gifted in math is addressed- what can we do to help them reach their potential?
The 'we' here refers to educators, schools and parents and many of us are unclear about what we should do and feel helpless about what we can do. We may get students to take math olympiads, and if we are lucky enough, find a coach, program or resources to support the child. Can more be done though? Can a school accelerate the learning of such students by providing differentiated instruction within a classroom or allowing students to attend classes with higher grades? What kinds of resources are available for children passionate about math and what kind of out-of-school programs would be most helpful? Do technology offerings have a role to play?
The panel will attempt to answer questions such as the above. The panel is composed of-
Jerry Burkhart of 5280math.com who has worked with talented math students for over 2 decades and written a series of books titled Advanced Common Core Math Explorations
Mick Purcell, Head of School of KC High, Chennai, who has taught math for over 25 years in different countries. He is certified by the IB in Physics, Mathematics, History, Pedagogical Leadership, and Governance.
Sridhar Rajagopalan, Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer, Educational Initiatives(Ei) is a recognized thought leader in education. The Ei ASSET Talent Search is an above-level test that has been used to identify gifted school students for over a decade. Ei Mindspark is an award-winning personalized adaptive-learning tool that has been recognized by the Economist magazine.
Bebras India Challenge 2021, (www.bebras.in) is organized by CSpathshala. Nearly 1.8 lac students from 647 schools participated in this challenge in 2019 and even in 2020, during the pandemic, 1 lac students participated.
Bebras challenges are made of a set of short problems called Bebras tasks. The tasks are fun, engaging and based on problems that Computer Scientists enjoy solving and require logical thinking and can be solved without prior knowledge of computational thinking. The aim is to solve as many as you can in the allotted time. See a sample task in the flyer below.
Bebras India Challenge 2021 will be held from 15th-27th November, 2021! It's free and will be open for age groups 8-18, classes 3rd to 12th, offered in English, Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, Odia, Tamil and Telugu. Registration is through schools only. Register your school on : https://iur.ls/bebrasindia . If you are a parent and your school hasn’t invited your child to take part in this, please forward this information to theml and request them to register.