Testing the Boxes PART 2 – Kalpagavalli Vidyalaya and Kandavarayanpatti

Welcome back everyone! Here’s another English Kadhavu update about our trip to India.

The next school that we visited, called Kalpagavalli Vidyalaya, was located in an area of Chennai called Mylapore, not too far from where we were staying.

We didn’t get to spend as long at this school as we did in Olcott. That said, we learned quite a lot from testing the boxes out with the students at this school.

One thing that makes this school stand out is the people that volunteer and work with the students through the Altius Foundation, a non-profit in Chennai. We tested out our book box with their help, and they gave us great advice that will be very useful in the creation of future book boxes.

Here’s a link to their website, if you want to learn more about their foundation: http://www.altiusfoundation.org

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When we arrived at the school we were greeted very warmly by both the teachers and students. The students were very excited to have new activities in the classroom, and, like the students at Olcott, were very enthusiastic.

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During a free period after the teacher played the bingo game with the students, a few groups were so excited by the game that they asked me to play it with them a second time! It was great seeing students so enthusiastic to learn from what we’ve created.
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One thing that really stood out in this school was the way that the teachers interacted with the students. One of the teachers, Krithivasan, who gave up a corporate career to work in education, and is one of the driving forces behind the Altius foundation, was especially outgoing and made the kids really excited to learn. He helped us test out the sentence formation cards with third graders and turned the activity, originally intended for group practice, into a fun competition that had the kids eager to learn and get their sentences right. Seeing teachers use our content in creative ways inspired us and gave us more ideas for activities that are easy for teachers to manipulate and work with their own individual teaching style.

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We found, through observing the teachers from this school, that the activities that were easy for teachers to customize were the most successful. This was also pretty clear at the third school that we visited.

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The final school that we tested our book boxes at was in a village called Kandavarayanpatti, and it took us a 2 hour plane ride and a 2 hour car ride to reach there. For those of you familiar with the area, Kandavarayanpatti is very close to the city Karaikudi.

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This school was unique because it is located in a difficult to reach village, where all the students and their families know each other.

The Vetrivel Foundation, a non-profit, helps out at this school, and occasionally college students will travel there to help teach. These same college students have agreed to help us test out boxes and send us feedback by email.

Here’s a link to the Vetrivel Foundation website: http://vetrivelfoundation.org/

One of the major differences with this school was that the students at the school weren’t used to seeing unfamiliar faces, and as a result were extremely shy. They didn’t speak up very much during classes, but the teacher assured us that they were usually very talkative and outgoing. Because of this, it was a little bit difficult to test their enthusiasm for the activities.

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For most of the kids, at least!

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The teachers, on the other hand, were very enthusiastic and provided us with great feedback for future book boxes. One thing that I’ve noticed in all the schools I’ve visited is that a lot of the teachers care a great deal about their students, even if they don’t have the resources that they need to effectively teach. Because of this, they were really keen to receive new reading material and activities that they could use in the classroom. They showed us the activities that the students already use in order to give us ideas for more supplements that they might need.

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We hope that all three schools will continue to use the book boxes we’ve given them and continue to provide feedback. We’re excited to see where this project goes!

And that is the final update on our trip to India for English Kadhavu! I know, it’s very sad, but do not fret! This definitely won’t be the last post about English Kadhavu. This is an ongoing project that we hope to expand. We want to be able to create much more content and send it to many more schools across Tamilnadu.

Thanks for reading!

To see more pictures from these schools, check out http://www.englishkadhavu.org/gallery.html!

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Others Who Want to be Free

I interrupt these English Kadhavu updates to bring you a poem that I wrote. This blog isn’t only about my trip to India, after all!

I wrote this poem a few months ago, and it means a lot to me because I feel like it truly captures the way I feel about animal rights. I hope you get the same out of reading this that I did out of writing it.

Others Who Want to be Free

There’s no difference between a cat and a cow

A dog and a pig, and you people ask how

The answer is that we all have emotion

The expression of pain, or of love and devotion

And yet we behave like we’re better than the rest.

If you can’t speak for yourself, that makes you an object.

Do we treat the mute with this little respect?

And what of the crippled, the blind or the deaf?

They say we need meat to survive

So that makes it okay

To torture these animals

To make them our slaves

The things going on are over the top

We do more than kill, and it needs to stop

We torture and maim, we don’t show them love

We don’t kill, we slaughter

And it’s something we’re proud of

Everything on this planet is for human consumption

At least that’s what they have us believe

But we need to remember that we’re sharing this planet

With others who want to be free.

The things you can learn about the factory farming industry may shock you. The only solution to the cruelty is to educate the public on the inhumane treatment that goes on in factory farms and slaughterhouses, so that people can make more compassionate choices when it comes to food they buy. Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away. Pretending that all farm animals are treated well won’t change the truth. Please educate yourselves, educate others, and make choices that don’t result in the despicable torture of millions of living and sentient beings every year. I promise it’s not that hard.

Testing the Boxes PART 1 – Olcott Memorial High School

After two months filled with non-stop work, we’ve finally landed back in the States!

This trip to India was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and so I thought I’d share a couple of updates with you throughout this week on how the project I was working on went.

As you know from my previous blog post, my project, English Kadhavu, focuses on providing supplementary material to students’ English learning textbooks in Tamil-medium schools, in order to increase English literacy in India.

We tested the first book box we created at 3 different schools in Tamilnadu – one in Besant Nagar, 5 minutes away from where we were staying, one in Mylapore, 30 minutes away, and one in a village called Kandavarayanpatti, a 2 hour plane ride and 2 hour car ride away.

In this blog post, I’ll only be talking about the first school that we visited – Olcott Memorial High School in Besant Nagar. Expect to see more blog posts this week about the other two schools!

Olcott Memorial High School was the school that I volunteered at in 8th grade, and the school whose students inspired me to start English Kadhavu in the first place. Their director, Lakshmi ma’am, is one of the most inspirational people I know, and worked with us for a long time on perfecting our material. We learned a lot from her expertise and compassion for the students of her school.

Lakshmi Ma'am

On the day that we were testing the material with students, we accidentally arrived at the school an hour early. While we waited outside of the Resource Room (where the school keeps all of it’s learning activities and extra material), students slowly started approaching us, curious to see what we had in the bags we were carrying. We took out the books to show them, and many students gathered around to read. This was when we first got an idea of what level the students were at based on grade.

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One thing we found very motivating was that, even when students were unable to read at the beginning, they were keen to learn, and to practice reading the books again and again until they got it right. One of the students couldn’t read the word “head” at first, but after being read the book a couple of times, and then practicing a few times on her own, she was not only able to read the word, but was helping other students read the book as well! It was great to see the students so excited to learn outside of the classroom.

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It seemed as though students were not really struggling in English due to a lack of motivation, but a lack of means to learn.

One thing that was very clear was that the students were clearly not at the level that the assigned English textbooks implied. The only students who could read the books we had written for first graders were the fourth graders. This made us change how we set up the boxes, and how we envisioned them being used.

We soon realized that there is no kindergarten in most public schools! This means that the first graders start off with learning the alphabet, the ABCs, and basic vocabulary. Our activities were originally intended for first graders, but after realizing this, we decided to leave it up to the teacher to decide which grades would benefit most from each activity. So, we decided to split up the activities based on level, and give the more difficult activities, such as sentence building, to students in higher grades. We had teachers read the book aloud to the younger kids, but made the older students try to read and comprehend the books on their own.

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We found that this method of splitting up the activities was really successful, and decided to organize the boxes by activity rather than making each one a set.

All in all, working with Olcott was an amazing and very helpful experience. We’re excited to continue to work with them on this project!

Thanks for reading!

To see more pictures from this school, check out our gallery at http://www.englishkadhavu.org/gallery.html!

Book Box Update

After some long conversations with our advisor Lakshmi Suryanarayanan (Lakshmi Ma’am), director of Olcott Memorial High School, we have made some changes to our boxes. So, before I talk to you about how the testing went at all the schools we visited, I thought I’d quickly share with you what those changes are, and why we made them.

The Teacher’s Edition Book

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We added this version of the book to make it easy for teachers to read to the students, especially those of lower grade levels. As you can see from the picture, the words are also printed on the back side, so the teacher can easily read the book to the students, without having to read it upside down.

Story Books

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We didn’t make many changes to the story books, except for printing it out on durable paper, so that the copies can (hopefully) be used for many years.

Poster Activity

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We decided against using velcro for the poster activities. We found that it took too much time and effort to glue pieces of velcro onto each poster and individual card, and we realized that it would be unrealistic to expect someone to do this for every single box that we send to schools in the future. Next time, we might print out the posters on magnet sheets instead.

Bingo Game

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We added this new game to the box, in which students place a marker on each body part picture or word as they’re called out (pictures for younger students to practice vocabulary, words for older students to practice reading). When they finish filling up the card, they yell BINGO as loud as they can. It’s proven to be very fun for the kids.

Sentence Building Cards

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We changed these cards by making them bigger, and getting rid of the magnetic back. We realized that it would be much easier for students to play with the cards on the floor, while sitting in circles, as you can see in the picture above.

To see more pictures, check out http://www.englishkadhavu.org/gallery

English Kadhavu

A few years ago, when I was in the 8th grade, I volunteered at Olcott Memorial High School, which is a school in Chennai that is funded by the Theosophical Society of India. To quote their website, the school’s goal is “social change through the education of the underprivileged”. I noticed while I was there how much the students were struggling to learn English because they did not have any exposure to the language outside of school, the teachers themselves were not very fluent, and on top of that, they didn’t have many resources, like books, that were actually relevant to their lives.

This is a problem because while students can learn subjects in Tamil, and be good at them, it has been proven that students who went to Tamil-medium schools have a lot of difficulty getting through college or finding jobs without being fluent in English. In fact, a majority of higher-paying jobs require a proficiency in the English language.

My goal since that trip to India has been to come up with a solution that would help students get enough practice in the basics of English at a young age, so that they have a foundation that they can build upon throughout their schooling. Basically, I wanted to give students fun books and activities that are easy for teachers to administer and helpful for the kids to learn.

This is why I started English Kadhavu. Kadhavu in Tamil means a door and by helping these students through English kadhavu, we hope to open the door of opportunities for them.

When I first started this project, I was focused mainly on creating online activities that students in India could use and play with in their computer labs. I realized, however, that while Olcott may have a computer lab, not all schools, especially in rural areas, do. So, it would be a lot more helpful to create physical activities, at least alongside the flash ones, that can be sent directly to the schools. What I’m working on now is “book boxes”, which contain a story that focuses on one particular unit of the students’ government assigned textbook (for example, parts of the body), and activities that go along with it for students to get practice in things like sight reading, vocabulary, sentence formation, and phonics.

While I’m in India for the next month, I’ll be user-testing a lot of the things that I’ve created in some schools, including Olcott Memorial High School, and others that I’ll talk about more in later blog posts.

So far, here’s what I have in the first book box that I’ve created, focusing on body parts (I’ll try and post better quality pictures after my camera charges):

  1. The Book (I’ll include a link to the book when it’s up on the website): Our goal is for the books to be fun to read, and also relevant to the student’s lives. This particular one is about a student who’s dozing off in class and imagines his teacher with multiple limbs, before his friends wake him up and he realizes it was just a dream.
  2. Poster Activity: The poster activity is intended for vocabulary practice. The goal for this game is to match the names of the body part to the corresponding part on the picture. We used velcro to make the cards stick to the poster.FullSizeRender
  3. “Silly Sentence” Formation Activity: The sentence formation game involves sticking magnets onto a board in order to form a sentence. The sentence structures are pre-formed: “He/She/We/They/I _ Have/Has _ Number _ Body Part”. The color on the sides of the card is to check for grammar – for example “He” and “Has” will match up, while “He” and “Have” will not. Not only will it help the students learn which way is right and wrong, but this will help the teachers check their work.

    This is correct:

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    This is incorrect:

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  4. Flash Games (I’ll include a link to the flash games when they’re up on the website): The goal of the flash games is to provide more fun activities for students to play either as a class or on their own, depending on the grade level. For first graders, it makes more sense for the class to play the games together, as he students may not understand the online directions. There’s a learning activity and game for both phonics and vocabulary building, and a video of me dancing to the song “Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes”. We’re probably going to change this soon, since I’ve just learned that they sing a different version of the same song here in India.

Please feel free to let me know what you think of these activities, and give me suggestions of things that I could add! My goal for this trip to India is to make these boxes as effective as possible, so that I can start making more of them and sending them to more schools around India.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Regardless, you’ll be hearing more from me soon 🙂

Update/Introduction

Hey everyone! My name is Kausi Raman and this is an update/introduction (if you couldn’t tell by the title) of my life as of now, and my plans for this blog for the next year. To make a long story short, I’m taking a year off in between high school and college, and I have a lot planned for the gap. I’m excited to share all of the random/not random thoughts that I have in the next year with all of you.

I figured, before I start talking about all my goals and aspirations, you should know a little bit about me:

I was born in Sydney, Australia, where I have one aunt, two uncles, and six cousins, all of whom I’m incredibly close with. We moved to America when I was 2 years old, to Cupertino. And then to Fremont. Then to Palo Alto. Then to San Ramon, which is where I am now. Fun fact: my current high school is the 9th school I’ve been to.

I was homeschooled for a year in 8th grade, and we spent the year in India. Just for fun. This trip to India really changed my life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for our family’s sense of “why the hell not”. Otherwise the logistics of moving to India and homeschooling me and my brother for an entire year would have probably stopped us.

I love fashion, singing, dancing (though I’m horrible at it), baking, and reading, though those things aren’t really as relevant to this blog. They are, however, more relevant to the blog kausinoodles.wordpress.com, which is more of a fashion/lifestyle-type site that I post on.

I have had the happiest life I could ever hope for, and there’s not a single day that goes by that I’m not thankful for the people I have in it, specifically my open-minded, caring, understanding family, including my bad-ass, future food truck owning father, and my beautiful and wise, mother, who taught me that learning is more important than test scores or grades, and that life isn’t a race, among other things. She can be unintentionally wise too. If you were wondering about my yearbook quote, “You have to cut the beans to eat the beans”, she meant it literally when she said it, but I learned an important lesson about hard work that day. No, Bharat (my awesome, imaginative, violinist brother), and Dobby (my adorable, ironically sock-loving puppy) I didn’t forget you.

I’ve found inspiration in many places, whether that includes my supportive family, who taught me that hard work pays off, and that there are many possible paths to success, the children of the school in India that I volunteered at, who inspired me to start English Kadhavu (which I’ll talk about more in my next blog post), my 11th grade history teacher, who not only increased my appreciation for american history, but for seeing all perspectives of every story, and the importance of actually doing something about things you care about, or my AP Language and Composition teacher, who taught me how to use my writing to effect change and who told me that I even changed her perspective with a blog post I had written on animal cruelty.

I’ve always loved to write. If you scroll down a bit on this blog, you’ll find posts that I had written as an 8th grader during our adventure in India, and a couple of posts of me trying to learn Tamil, for the trip I’m taking to India this summer (the reasons for which shall also be explained in the next blog post).

With all of the things that I learned in mind, I hope to write posts that brings to others’ attention my perspective on certain issues and things that I care about, to always look at all sides of a story before I take a stance on something, and to always keep an open mind. I hope that my writing doesn’t force those reading to take on a certain viewpoint, but helps them come to their own conclusions. I also hope to be able to facilitate discussion with those who might disagree with something that I say.

So, whether you’re a friend who wants to keep updated in the going-ons of my life, or someone I don’t know who’s interested in what I have to say anyways, then welcome to my world!

Elephants, Gods, and Elephant Gods

I went on Google with my mom today, and we searched ‘land of festivals’. Believe it or not, every single link on the first page had something to do with India, except for one somewhere in the middle there about Wisconsin. And though you might really want to hear all about Wisconsin, I’m going to tell you about India instead, and (if you hadn’t already figured it out yet), India is also known as Land of Festivals (sorry Wisconsin).

Yes, India is the land of Festivals. For every type of occasion, India is filled with great celebration, a splash of color, and dancing, and singing and rituals! Here we celebrate everything, from the harvesting of crops, to the birthdays of gods and goddesses.

Today, we celebrate Pillayar Chaturthi, which is also known as Ganesh Chaturthi and Vinayaka Chaturthi. Pillayar is the god of Wisdom. There are many stories of how wise he is, and also many stories as to how he had gotten his elephant head. The story that I’ve heard is this one: Pillayar’s mother was taking a bath, and told him to guard the door, and not let anyone in. Then, Lord Shiva (Pillayar’s father) had wanted to go inside, and since Pillayar didn’t let him, Shiva was enraged at him. Lord Shiva cut off his son’s head. After his anger subsided, Shiva felt immensely bad about what he had done, so he found an elephant head and attached it to Ganesh instead. Thus, Ganesh has an elephant head. The celebration of Vinayaka Chaturthi is on Ganesh’s birthday. Well, what do we do on that day? Here’s me explaining it to you through my own experience:

The day before Vinayaka Chaturthi, we went down to Mylapore to do some shopping. Mylapore is the part of Chennai where my mom grew up as a kid. It has a really big temple and a kulam (a small man made lake) next to it. Around the kulam there are many street-side shops with fruit stands and people selling fake jewelery and all kind of things. Whenever there is any kind of festival, the shops on the street sell statues, and other things for the Pooja (a pooja is when you pray and offer to god).  One of the things on our shopping list that day was clay. The clay was for making our own Pillayar statues for the celebration. Really, the clay was just mud. Thats right! We played with mud for half of the day on Friday! And with the mud, Bharat and I (my mom chose to video tape) created awesome Pillayar statues of our own. But back to Mylapore, when we were there it was unbelievable! Buzzing with people! There were so many stands on the street side selling ready made mud Pillayar statues, clay, and small paper and string umbrellas that you set over the statues on the day of the celebration! Also, flowers that you put in your hair, beads, necklaces, and fruits! By the time we left, the streets were getting so crowded with people buying statues that we could barely walk! It was such an experience, and I saw so much thats really new to me here, including a street fight. I have videos, but (unfortunately) I didn’t post them, because my mom says that I should respect the privacy of those having public street fights!

Later, we, as I said earlier, created our own mud Pillayar statues. I’m very proud of mine, it looks so nice! And with these statues, we did the Pooja the next morning, which wasn’t really too much, as it was only the three of us. After that, we all went to the close by small temple. This was my first actual time at that temple in the morning!

Later that day, we were all sitting in the apartment, and we heard loud noises and singing. My mom and I went outside with the video camera to see what it was. Circling the square where the temple is, was a small chariot, pulled by a couple of people, with the idol Ganesh sitting inside. There were so many people following it! The singing and drums and music were so loud, and it was so bright and it had a certain cheerful and happy air to it.

The next day, it was time to take the Pillayar statues that we made into the ocean at the beach. This symbolizes putting Pillayar back into the Earth. There were some boys over at the beach who offered to do it for us, and since they were actually jumping into the deep parts of the water, and we weren’t sure about doing that ourselves, we let them. I have a neat video of them doing it too! Make sure you watch the video everyone, so that you can see for yourself what my Vinayaka Chaturthi was like!

More Soon!                                                                                                                                       Kausi