At the beginning of this initiative, we had earmarked Wednesdays. Wednesdays are my non teaching days at APU and also the day of community lunch at school giving us a chance to integrate cooking with Ragi, This one set day a week provided us with a peg to plan ahead. But we didn't account for some pre-scheduled activities of the school such as the all staff meet that happens on the last Wednesday of every month. The school shuts early and the kids /teachers are very busy in the remaining time.
hmmm. explore another slot where the 3 groups and involved teachers can come together for 2 hours in the week was not easy. But we managed with teachers exchanging their classes and letting go of their teaching time to fit it later. Again, I was impressed with the way teachers valued the learning from the theme over rigid class periods and the school culture enabling them with this. Of course , the tyrrany of timetables will come back to haunt us but for now we enthusiastically carved out some time on a Tuesday .
And so Tuesday arrived- the day of sowing but not with its share of last minute panic. . Seeds!!! Our main ingredient for the sowing was missing till the last minute. We had scoped out various sources for seeds in Bangalore( Vasantha's own stock; Hebbal seeds shop, Yellhanka shop, GKVK, and Sripriya's stock) but somehow a day before we were still without seeds. Finally everyone realised that Sripriya's seed stock given to school can be used and tra la! Tuesday we had a bag of seeds ready to be planted. PHEW.
This was the list of things we took with us to the farm:
1. Seeds (1 Kg- but we used quite less-maybe 200 gms of it?)
2. Watering can (water was sourced from Radha's house)
3. Twine / jute rassi ( Bought by Vasantha from her neighbourhood shop but we ran a bit short)
4. Rangoli powder to mark boundaries.
5. Puja materials (cocunut/agarbatti/haldi/ kumkum)
6. Puja prasad (jaggery lumps and chana dal-quickly assembled by Jalaja that morning itself
7 Marigold seeds
8. Garden tools for digging ( school has them)
* Laksh consulted his older relatives and found out the Nakshatra on that day. It was Aridra. that is also in jest refereed to as Daridra because of excessive rain)
** we had reminded students a week before to carry caps/ wear appropriate shoes/ get a small bag and extra water.
At the farm, we measured three 15/20 plots ( half of 30/40) using Laksh's shoe size (the biggest amongst us) , marked the boundaries using stone, sticks, and tied ropes and kept one area free for broadcasting seeds. We talked of the Nakshatra , did a small symbolic puja, ate the prasad and kids were involved in measuring their plots, tying rope, and using Rangoli powder for the boundaries.
Then we prepared the plot by digging it loose, threw in seeds, sprinkled water and covered it loosely with soil again. That's it! And with this effort, one fine sunny morning of June 2017 we became proud temporary owners of three plots of land!
Shall I let the pictures do the rest of the talking?
We are still grappling with how to showcase some of the learning related activities and outputs created by children . For now, we will post them on the blog. Below you will find a creative output of Group Alpha equivalent to Grade 5 based on the introduction class taken by Jalaja and Roshni. The lesson plan can be found here .
The Ragi Project also has a logo! I had requested Juny, who is this amazing graphic artist and designer at Azim Premji University to come up with something similar to the Ragi plant and the idea of learning . He very sweetly took out time and designed something real quick which Roshni and I both liked! Roshni feels it is also similar to the Poorna Logo and she exclaimed and I quote: "It's a circle, it's sacred, it's full of possibility...:))"
I am unable to get this linked to the title of the page-even requested one of my very skilled students at the university, Manyu, who tried his hand at it but sighhhh. Without changing the website theme (and we might lose the already typed up content ) we wont be able to do it! So, that's why it remains hidden on the website. We will continue using it in the school and other communication.
A very eventful day. Class 7 kids cooking and rejecting the idea of making one Ragi dish for their community lunch. Ooops! Ashwini came to the rescue and decided to add an extra sweet item accommodating our Ragi mania! This time it was Ragi Panjeeri a 'prasadam' item . I must say roasting large quantities of Ragi is not an easy task! But the end result of good roasted ragi is always yummm. (As a FYI: I learnt from Jalaja a week back about the perils of stomach disorders because of under roasted Ragi )
I saw many kids eyeing the panjiri with suspicion and a few asking for second servings. Can't wait to see the results of the survey conducted by Roshni and Kalyani about Ragi preferences. ;))
Vasantha , Madhu , Laksha and I visited Radha's farm in the morning to get a grip on the actual modalities of farming. Half an acre is no small land and we quickly realised that we won't be able to cultivate on all that land. Laksha has done similar projects before with Srishti School and gave us several useful ideas. Many things got decided such as :
1. We will make three plots and further subdivide them to get 3 class groups working in smaller groups. This is also an excellent way of teaching standard and non standard measurements.We decided to use hands and legs but later Sujit also suggested that we can use sutli/rassi/ twine. Vasantha will arrange for rangoli powder/ sticks/ and twine for marking when we sow next Tuesday.
2. We will sow Ragi in a small area and then transplant it in the three plots at a later stage - according to Laksh this will allow for some hands on excitement and learning around transplantation as opposed to the traditional method of broadcasting seeds.
3. We decided to do mixed cropping -Ragi with legumes/vegetables and marigolds and get children to see why (marigold is a natural pest repellent and legumes improve soil nutrition)
4. In the beginning when the sowing activities are less we will get a group to make a scarecrow. Vinitha is running with this idea and already the kids of class 5 assembled a structure and painted a face. Some discussion of whether it should be a girl or boy also took place ! ;)
There is a lot on the internet about various aspects surrounding the scarecrow : history/ symbolism / culture / mythology . Some good information can be found here:
c. history because its here.
Julia Donaldson -one of my favourite authors- also has a lovely book on this theme that kids can read up on. And then there is 'The Wizard of Oz' , ofcourse !
5. We will use the Poorna garden as a nursery for the farm and encourage children to learn how to transplant marigold and other vegetables. Naveen, another parent who facilitates the school garden and the rain water harvesting, and us will work together on this synergy
6. We have to arrange for Ragi /Tuwar dal seeds - Radha has been buying it from her family farm in Devanahalli but wont be able to arrange for us in this short time- we need 1 KG and Vasantha is willing to explore her own family stock for that ; some garden tools; and compost /wood ash
7. The class 7-8 kids will do the soil test three times. They did it today and then post compost and then post harvest
8. Kids will keep a journal and record other observations too- for example: observation of insects in the soil and researching on who helps the farmer and who doesn't, At Hebbal there is a Government funded research institute of Agriculturally important insects. Perhaps we can pay them a visit to deepen this understanding some time in the year.
9. We decided to use the school rain gauge in the farm and see the rainfall measure. However need to flesh this activity as to when we measure recordings, who measure it and and how. This is a useful website but I think the teachers will know more on this themselves.
10. It is possible to even compare Rice and Ragi water requirements. We still need to figure out how to do this in a practical manner.
After all this discussion of possibilities, kids guided by Laksh did the soil test. We tested for Ph levels, and the Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium(NPK) test) . All the tests showed that the soil had only medium level contents, Laksh said a healthy soil should be high in these elements and when we got back Radha confirmed our finding by saying that she has not been adding any manure to the land for the past two years.
It was fun; but hot and dry and the kids would get interested in other things too- like going after a small beetle; playing around with the garden tools; and err... even throwing sand at each other!
Perhaps we should start next week with making some non negotiable rules for safety especially concerning garden tools and then allow them some time to explore on their own. We also need to remind class 4-5-6 kids to get caps and water when they visit the fields.
Chandru left us stranded due to some misunderstanding (He only dropped us one way in the bus and was waiting for our call to pick us back- none of us had his number etc.) and so we walked back to school. Not a bad walk despite the sun shining above our heads- it took us 10 minutes as the kids knew all the shortcuts and enjoyed running amok a bit. ;)
A really hilarious sight for me was Poorna kids carrying the garden tools on their shoulders and walking on the road leading back to school. The neighbouring school, DPS North, had finished for the day and parents in their cars were coming in to pick up their kids. I got quite a kick in watching this contrast of walking vs driving and the notions of multiple childhoods. See the last picture in this photo set as reference!
It has just been week 3 but things are moving at a fast pace at Poorna around the Ragi theme.
Roshni has organised a notice board outside the library where learning outputs around the Ragi project will be displayed every week. For now, the Akki-Ragi story illustrations , and the illustrated Ragi ladoo recipe are up. The mixed age group cooking class baked a yummy batch of Ragi cookies under Asha's guidance. (We have to come up with an eye catching capture of these illustrated recipes similar to They Draw and Cook. Could it be integrated with the art classes? )
The soil testing kits also arrived- delivered to the doorstep by the sweet folks of Vasa Scientific Company. Quite formidable looking !
The other big news was a recce visit to the farm made by Roshni, Jalaja, Madhu, Vasantha, Sreeja and Arundhati to the farm. They went after their Tuesday staff meet -quite late in the day. And to greet them was this lovely open space in the middle of a concrete jungle and the generosity of Radha's family.
Here are some pictures .
Today the kids of 'Psi' group equivalent to grade 8 led by the teachers, Banu and Kanchana, and ably supported by the teacher, Ashwini , tried their hand at making Ragi Ladoos along with a Ramzaan special meal for their community lunch. In my opinion like the rest of the menu of Sherbet, Khichdi, Samosa and Chutney, the ladoos too were yummmmm.
Did everyone like them? We will know when the results of the poll conducted by grade 6 students come in. Roshni is coordinating this and it will be fun to see how many like /dislike and why! The idea is that kids design the survey, collect data, and then plot it for analysis. Banu encouraged a few involved children to illustrate the recipe in a week's time. A picture of teh same is posted above.
I missed Kanchana's rendition of Ragi Tandira while she and Banu cooked with the kids and they shaped the ladoos. I hear she sings very well and was explaining the meaning of the Kriti while cooking so I felt very upset at missing the opportunity. But then I cheered up as I connected with Vasu Dixit (who has composed this Kriti in a popular way and has sung it in public spaces-- Roshni had pointed me out to his work earlier) on Facebook. He has agreed to come and perform in school and get involved in this project! Roshni suggests we keep it a surprise from kids ( not much surprise since I am happily putting it up on the website- but hoping not many Poorna kids will be reading this and I can continue whooping in excitement online - Yayyy!)
Roshni, Vasantha, Madhu, Jalaja, Sreeja and I met quickly in the morning and agreed to do various soil related experiments over the coming weeks with different age groups. Laksha Kumar from Agastya International Foundation that works on hands on science with school kids agreed to come on board and help us with this soil testing activity when we go next week to the farm. Laksha has also visited the school last year when I had requested his help with composting at school and so the teachers knew him and enjoy his inputs.
We will source two soil testing kits from Vasa Scientific Company recommended both by Agastya F. and Poorna L.C teachers and Vasantha and Sreeja will try it out next week. This was a big relief personally for me. (The idea of going as a group to a soil testing lab was not exciting given my own memories of school trips where a bunch of us would go- some would not be able to see /understand and only some would be allowed to touch/see closely ) But in this process I found out that GKVK has a soil testing lab and Banu told me about the Soil and Land use Survey of India office in Sahakar Nagar, Bangalore. (*Definitely need to figure out how best we can use these resources in school education space. )
I got to attend Roshni and Jalaja's introduction of The Ragi Project to grade 5 kids. There were folk songs , a mind map around Ragi , discussion around Ragi and health, food items that kids know using Ragi, Ragi's success in drought areas and the Ragi and Akki folktale. Almost all of it was in Kannada. Roshni decided to get children to illustrate any part of the class discussion and most kids chose to illustrate the Ragi and Akki story. I thought that was a very nice idea! Jalaja picked up a really interesting book from the library- folk songs and ditties compiled by an activist theatre group in Kolar (see accompanying image). She sang two songs from there. The interplay of food and culture continues and how!
Jalaja has put together her lesson plan of introducing Ragi to 10 year olds in a Kannada language class for me to upload. It can be found here. I will also put up children's work around this by next week.(* How best to capture their work through the year still needs some thought. Edit: I have put up a page on this website for now to capture the children's work.)
It was a class in Kannada and the Kannada speaking kids were talking the most --eager to share their own Ragi recipes or hum along with some of the songs they knew.
Asha has also been introducing Ragi to a mixed age group in her cooking activity class. Asha has an ability to explain very well to kids (and adults) and her body language is a delight for anyone who responds to visual stimuli. She explained why it is also called a finger millet because of its shape and the role of Ragi in providing energy . The group is planning to bake Ragi cookies in their next class.
There is a word of caution for all of us who are talking about the role of Ragi in a healthy diet. We have to remember to not succumb to over glorify it as the only healthy food item in the children's minds. I thought of this when a child asked about red rice when the Ragi/Akki story was discussed and then when my own child came home and told me how if she has one Ragi dish a day she need not eat anything! The discussions around balanced diets need to continue
There was again a little but much needed discussion with Radha prompted by Sreeja over whether she really would like to lend her 1/2 acre to the kids. And what could we do with the produce if we succeed in growing. Also the logistics of water and use of tools. Indeed the actual farming is something we need to focus on but luckily Vasantha and Madhu are from a farming background and so are Asha and Sreeja. Nyla Coelho's manual, " Tending a schoolyard garden" is a very useful resource in alerting us to all the planning we need. Vasantha is also interested in going to the farmers' market where they sell tools and buy farming equipment for the kids. Which is fantastic!
Asha asked us to rethink the space to "Ali Uncle's farm" where we could cultivate Ragi. While her comments were very valid and came from experience - about having the land nearby and seeing the growth everyday as opposed to weekly along with having the farm's caretaker, Kadriappa, helping us out it was decided by all that it is something we could not explore. For this project and any school based experiment we need land and inputs on generous terms and the next door farm has been largely inaccessible. Also, If money enters the picture in terms of renting the land and costing for water and labour( which it most likely would with the next door farm) it will defeat the whole purpose of this agriculture based pedagogy focusing on self reliance. So it is Radha's farm for now.
(*Now I understand why the Gandhian schools in the 40s -60s were granted their own land to farm from state grants!)
Sujit who is my guide in this project cautions me again to not be over ambitious. He listens to all my downloads of the day and says, "dheere dheere, age appropriately you should go on. Not everyone can do everything! " He also suggests that at some point if it takes off well, we could look at redesigning the farm space better ecologically by calling in an a ecologist. But for now, even starting and digging/ploughing the field is an experience worth having.
In the meanwhile, Vanita's art class continues to experiment with Ragi. Here are some puppets made by Grade 4 kids decorated with Ragi.
Nai Talim or Nayee Talim ; New Education or Basic Education were the names given to Gandhi's educational scheme which he propagated in the Wardha Conference held in October 1937. Gandhi outlined an educational agenda for India which was based on dignity of work and learning through work. His ideas got and continue to receive a wide amount of criticism on the basis of urban -rural or language and caste divides. But his ideas have also found space in many learning institutions of the past and the present.
SImply put, Nai Talim is education through work. "Kaam ke zariye shiksha". Work which is manual and productive in nature. Which in turn means work that enables children to learn, understand, and if possible solve some of the real life issues surrounding them. Eight decades after Gandhi first outlined his educational ideas in a conference full of educationists and education ministers ; we encounter this pedagogy of learning by doing in several avataars-- activity based, experiential learning; or place based education. But its is the "doing" part that separates the Gandhian idea of education with others-- children not only learn about their specific locale but they also "do" something productive about their specific locale.
In India, several such experiments have been tried out in schools, outside schools, in informal learning centres or with homeschoolers. Children at Thulir in Sittilingi, for instance learnt to do beekeeping, masonry, furniture making, organic farming amongst other things not only to learn their subject matters but also to improve their own lives and livelihoods. Children in an Azim Premji Foundation school at Dineshpur learnt to grow and sell mushrooms in their school garden plot and linked their curriculum of Language/ Maths/science/social science . At Syamantak in Dhamapur, Konkan, kids learn to make toothpaste, soaps, kokum sherbets, compost cakes from the farm they live in and sell them off/online. Their entire learning curriculum is designed through this "work" done by children. The Rishi Valley School encouraged children to do an energy audit of their own school campus and increased energy conservation methods based on the data collected and analysed. The Adharshila school in Burdwani district of Madhya Pradesh, encouraged children to learn and identify malnourished kids in their village using height weight parameters and provide that data to the district administration. The children also explored the eating habits through local surveys and discovered that nutrition loss was linked to loss of biodiversity. This was yet another example where children did neighbourhood surveys, collected and analysed data and systematically studied the connection between farming patterns and health and nutrition of their own districts.
Many of these examples can be found here in detail.
Vanita is trying her hand at creating interesting stuff by using Ragi Millets. It has just been day 3 and she has already experimented with jewellery and decorating glass bottles.
Madhu's friend Aparna from GKVK is willing to come and do a soil testing exercise with kids before we sow Ragi. Reena and Sreeja will get homemade compost and leaf litter to add to the soil and we will test again after a month.
So, what is soil testing and why should we do it? How can kids do this, learn, and have fun at the same time? Friends are helping out with different suggestions. Indira pitched in with resources around Soil that she has already tried out with Poorna kids before.
A lazy internet search informed me that in 2007, Bangalore commissioned three hi-tech mobile soil testing laboratories to help farmers test their soil.
If kids learn these simple tests well can they go around Poorna testing farmer's lands for free? Or perhaps they can be paid soil testers- charging a nominal fee to recover the cost of these kits? Who knows?
What is that wonderful quote by George Bernard Shaw?
You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'
Here are a few teachers' resources shared by folks around soil testing with kids:
1. Soil Science Society of America
2. The Compost Gardener
3. Let’s explore plants and soils : a curriculum resource / Nova Scotia. Department of Education.
4. NCERT's Handbook of Environmental Education Activities, Developed by Centre for Environmental Education
June 6, 2017
Ideas came pouring in once Jalaja suggested we ask Radha if we can experiment growing "something" on her farm which is a km or two away from the school. "What to grow?" "Can we grow Ragi?" A unanimous yes and we all started pitching in. We grow and harvest and learn to do this together. Great!! And how do we design learning around this?
How do we learn about local cultures through Ragi? Stories/songs/folktales around Ragi ?
How do we inspire art/craft/ song/dance/theatre around the theme of Ragi?
Can growing Ragi teach us hands on science?
Can farming Ragi help us understand ecology and nature?
How does one weave in social and environmental justice issues through small scale farming
Can learning about traditional measures and devices help us understand measurements and modern maths?
What lessons do we draw from traditional farming practices and knowledge?
Can we learn the basics of economics by growing and selling ragi crop?
What lessons can Ragi teach us about millets in diet ?
What kind of different Ragi recipes can we exchange and teach children ?
These quickly became our guiding lesson plans for the coming year.
45 kids. One plot of land. One Wednesday per week.
Can we do it? Can we do it all? ;)))