Ideas from Arvind Gupta

Arvind Gupta visited the school in Sep 2018. He felt that we should have some play area equipment. His suggestion was to make things using old tyres. Arvind ji has authored a book on this – called very aptly  En-Tire-ly.

Tyre Play

Another suggestion was that we use labels on objects in order for students to recognize the objects as sight words. He picked up this idea from Kabir Bajpayee’s BALA – the Building as a Learning Aid. Other ideas from BALA were to weigh objects and attach notes with the weights on them.


Window Write

He was quite disappointed with our library. He felt that it is difficult to access books in the current arrangement. He asked us to come up with some frugal ways of arranging books so that they can be easily accessed. He suggested a hanging design. We also looked at a design which is akin to the light holders in our rooms. Finally, we are looking at a design where we have books all around the room perimeter. With Bulls Eye book cartons as the shelf. Another interesting idea he had to share was to have a raddi library, where we can have boxes where students can get in old discarded cartons, tetrapaks, caps, bottles etc – which can be used for toy making projects. These toys / craft projects can be hung on ropes inside the class. We are missing Arvind ji’s gift of magnets – which could have served as good hangers!

After that we moved on to a session with teachers. We had invited a few parents to also attend. There was a quorum of 20 parents and teachers. He started with a story – of Gijubhai Badheka. The point he drove home was that stories are very important in a class. His advice was that schools should not buy text books in class, but story books. Gijubhai’s kids would come the next day and enact the story that they had heard on the previous day. The classes were quite noisy and chaotic. In order to reduce the discomfort of other classes, the venue of the class was changed to the riverside. The outdoors is actually a museum of natural history! He ended with advice to teachers and parents to read Tottochan. He insisited that parents should read out one good story to kids every day. What they listen to today, they will want to read tomorrow. In preparation of that, parents should have a library of 50 books in their houses. The books can be cheap ones from National Book Press, or Darya Ganj! The idea of a school should be such that students should actually look forward to coming to school!

An interesting question a parent asked Arvind was what inspired you? His parents were uneducated. But on his mother’s side of the family he had uncles who were very well educated and did well in life. So she would push Arvind to aspire for higher. The family was not too well-off. So most of the toys used by the siblings were self-made.

Why did you leave Telco? There were a few people who were experimenting with science labs in Mumbai Municipal schools. One of them decided to take this experiment to rural schools – and started an experiment in Hoshangabad, MP. Arvind had heard about this – and took one year of leave from Telco to join as a teacher in this program. He never returned back.

Using patterns in math. He took a calendar and made grids of 2 × 2, 3 × 3 and 4 × 7. He pointed out that in a 3 by 3 grid the central number was the mean. You could find the sum of all numbers, just by multiplying the central number by 9. Gauss was once given the problem of adding up all the numbers from 1 to 100. He saw a pattern in the first and last, second and second last. They all added up to 101. Since there were 50 pairs, the answer is 5050!

When Arvind’s daughter was born, he decided that the only gift he wanted to give her was a happy childhood. He moved from Pune to Delhi for his daughter’s education. She went to Mirambika school in Delhi, where there were no exams, no HW. She enjoyed her stay there from grades 1-5, after which she shifted to Sardar Patel school. By the time she was in grade 3, she had a personal library of 3,000 books. She decided she wanted to major in English literature in her graduation. But CBSE ensured that it did not happen. In her grade 12 English she scored only 62, whereas in all other subjects her scores were in the nineties. She went on to do her medicine from CMC, Vellore.

On the return journey we dropped in at the Science Center at Pune University. We got a red carpet welcome as most of the team there knew Arvind ji. We were taken around – and I found two very interesting exhibits. One was a bicycle rim attached to a rope. The fun part was if you tilted the axis of the rim to make it horizontal and started rotating it, the axis remained in the horizontal plane even after you suspended it directly. Gyroscopic motion at work. Another very interesting magic was keeping a thick rubber sheet on a glass. There was a hook at the center made of wires. No matter how hard you tried you could not lift it using the central hook. However you could peel it off the side. I was told that this was because of the air pressure on the rubber sheet!

Arvind ji talked about Abhay Bang. Here are some experiements from an article he has translated from Dr Bang’s writings.

Every monsoon our school hosted a festival of saints. We would write essays, draw pictures, build murals and enact short plays depicting the inspiring events of the lives of saints.

There were a lot of gardens and fields near our school which boasted a vast variety of plant life. The best part was that our teachers regularly took us for field visits and excursions. On these outing we would closely observe plants. Our first introduction to any plant was by its common name so that we become “friends” with it. Later we observed their leaves, flowers and fruits more closely. In the end we would pluck fruits and berries and eat them.

For the seventh class exam our teacher asked us to prepare a scientific album (herbarium) of various leaves and flowers.

A new cowshed was then under construction. My teacher gave me the job of solving a specific practical problem. “Find the amount of water which a cow drinks in a day. How much water will be needed for all the cows in the cowshed? Then construct a water tank with the capacity to satiate the thirst of all the cows. Find out how many bricks will be required to construct such a tank? Then go and buy that number of bricks.” For over a week I grappled with this mathematical problem. There were numerous tanks with varying sizes. How to measure their volume? What was the relationship between the volume and the outer surface area of a tank? I actually constructed a water tank and in the process learnt a great deal of real life mathematics.

Our teachers taught us political science and general knowledge in a unique way. Every evening they would read us out important news items and interesting events from the newspapers. Later they would explain us the history and politics behind those events.

Chatted up with Arvind ji about the philosophy sessions that our students had attended. Have mailed him the Activity PDF that has got the P4C sessions in it. Introduced him to Padmanabh Kelkar the next day. Arvind talked of two philosophers that he finds interesting. The first is Alain De Botton, a young PhD philosophy from Cambridge. Through his books, Alain is trying to bring philosophy to the common man. An interesting quote from Alain: No University has a course for becoming a good human being. Here is a collection of his videos:

I watched his Ted Talk on religion for the atheist, he makes some very good points. Arvind recommends his Philosophy: A guide to Happiness lecture series. They are all available on the above mentioned site.

Arvind also talked about David horsburgh Neel Bagh School. Here is his note on Neelbag

David also had an interesting practice: Only philosophy sessions every Saturday in school.  Akshay is a disciple of Vivekananda. He feels that learning philosophy helps improve concentration. Interestingly, self awareness can help develop attitude.  Another person Arvind mentioned was Anthony De Mello, an ex Jesuit priest who set up the Sadhana Ashram in Lonavala. Here are two books that he has written which  Anthony De Mello stories collected from various religious books and Kabir Doha’s. Arvind recommends:

Another interesting insight that Arvind shared about story telling was about Jeff Bezos. In Amazon PPTs are banned only stories to be told. Every executive has to prepare a 6 page document. It is assumed that people who come to the meeting have not read the document – so for the first 30 minutes all they do is just read. More on that over here”

We asked Arvind what the P4C movement can be in order to get more converts. He felt that the website is important for spreading the message. Arvind is a totally non-commercial person. He feels that in today’s world it is difficult for someone to starve. His website story begins in 2003, when he joined IUCAA. IUCAA invited groups of students to visit every week. This was their live lab. Arvind documentated all the experiments that these students were doing. You need to spend a lot of time documenting processes and putting them on the site. This was the time of dial-up internet, and he was thrilled to see that every room in IUCAA had broadband. Arvind was technogically an illiterate at that time. He asked one of his friends, a PhD from IIT Bombay, who was working with kids for science education, about how he could make his website. The friend helped him create one. And this helped Arvind start scanning and uploading books. A few years later the IUCAA science center had an intern from NID. He put up 4000 photographs of toys that Arvind ji had created – in the process of being formed. All this was then documented into short films that were uploaded on YouTube. His thumb rule is that no film more than 3 minutes. And none should show Arvind’s face.