Tuesday 9 February 2016

Inspiring Creativity in our Children

Don’t we all enjoy looking at interesting things? Have you ever wondered that a little ‘thinking out of the box’ can be ever so effective? Take for example, Post-it notes. There was a time when there was only one shape and colour of Post-it notes (we all remember using the yellow squares). And then slowly, they started being seen in different shapes, colours and sizes. Didn’t we all enjoy using them more excitedly then? Creativity is exciting and we need to share this excitement with our children right from an early age so that they learn to appreciate it. If we draw their attention to the creativity of other people, they will be inspired to do the same!

You can always find different creative sources of inspiration for children. Be it kites of different shapes and sizes as compared to the traditional diamond, bookmarks of different shapes and materials as compared to the traditional rectangular paper, and so on and so forth! Challenge your children’s little minds and subtly coax them to come up with something original.

The other day I came across this awe-inspiring video about a man making an entirely different kind of cotton candy. He uses the same ingredients and equipment but plays with different colours to make a flower- shaped colourful cotton candy. I showed it to my daughter and discussed it with her. We talked about his creative thinking and innovative skills and how he was moving away from the norm and making things more interesting. She seemed as awe-struck as me and instantly started thinking about other shapes that could be made with the same equipment!

Another area to open discussion could be creativity in food. Isn’t KFC’s ‘Chizza’ an amazing innovation? Who would have thought about doing away with the bread in pizza? It may fail terribly, but the idea is that someone tried to do something different. Their marketing department took the risk and tried and made it work.  Most restaurants we visit today have 8-10 flavours of dosas (Indian pancakes).  The other day, I visited a restaurant who was serving 99 Varieties of dosas! You can let your child's imagination run wild creating unique combinations of dosa fillings. 

Talk to your children about being creative and taking risks and giving things a shot … tell them that unless they take the chances, they will not know whether it will work or not. Show them that you value creativity and would be supportive of their efforts. You will see how your children will take to it and start thinking creatively and coming up with new ideas.

Have your children and you done anything creative over the past few days?  Do share your stories with other readers.  I am sure we can all learn something from each other.  

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Thinking Out of the Box Contd...

Another simple strategy to spark your little one’s creativity and the ability to think out of the box is to encourage her to give different endings to stories. It can be done as soon as children begin to understand the stories and the sequence of events in them. Fairy tales like Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood are the best to start with as the children are familiar with them due to repetition. Start out by saying ‘Let’s end the story in a different way’. You can do the same with nursery rhymes. You will find them fully engaged in this process. You may want to enact it out later with them and introduce a prop (simple dress-up clothes or objects) or two! Again follow the same principle - do not discard the children’s ideas no matter how unreal, unworkable or silly they are but help them give shape to them.

If at all they are not able to come up with anything, don’t be discouraged. You can give your own idea; it will definitely get them thinking for next time. Remember as a parent you will have to support much learning and provoke many skills especially in their early years. It may seem like a very demanding activity, but once you get started, they take on to it themselves. You will see them playing with their ideas by themselves or over play-dates when they pretend play with their friends. The idea is to equip them with a tool that will make them think differently.

Relating to my previous post - Jaideep and I have been playing Monopoly with our daughter on Sundays.  Before the start of each game, we decide on 'house rules', i.e. rules that we apply to our game that is not necessarily in the rule book. For example, if you land on GO, as per the house rule, you get 2x the amount of money compared to what you get if you pass GO.  After she had played the game 3-4 times, we allowed her to define her own house rules.  While some of her rules may have seemed bizarre, it created a new sense of excitement for her while playing the game every Sunday.  She recalled some of the rules on subsequent weekends, and even discarded some rules she had defined in her next game.  This has increased her creative thinking and reasoning skills.

Thinking out of the box can happen in many ways.  Hope you can share some instances with us.  

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Thinking Out of the Box

We all want our children to be creative, don’t we? It’s also to say that it’s the need of the hour. We don’t want children to follow the crowd anymore, we want them to lead and come up with novel ideas. Unfortunately, many schools don’t leave scope for children’s creativity and the ability to think differently for several reasons - be it a faulty and outdated curriculum or the sheer ignorance of the child’s brainpower.

Not leaving anything to chance or hoping that your school will take care of it at some point or the other, I am going to relate simple strategies that will help you make your children thinkers and creators and make it their habit from early on. This will go a long way in contributing to successes in adult life.

When you play a board game with your child, think what you do. You simply follow the rules of the game, don’t you? Yes it’s also an important skill to follow the specified rules and enjoy a game like Battleship, Jenga, Snakes and Ladders, Ludo etc. and you should do it. But if you want to take it up another level and open up your child’s mind and make her think out of the box, encourage her to make up her own version of the game. You will be pleasantly surprised how you would trigger her to think in completely different lines. Here you are not only making her think differently but also showing her that she has the power to change things around which furthers her self-confidence and self-esteem.

I would like to relate an example from my classroom experiences. Once a child and I were playing the game of Jenga. We enjoyed the game the way it was supposed to be played. Then later, I asked him if we could make up our own game using the same material. He instantly started thinking. Then he said, let’s distribute the blocks equally between us and try to build a tower. The person who builds the tallest standing tower gets a point. It was such a brilliant idea and challenging too because you had to build a taller tower than your opponent and figure out how to balance it at the same time. I have also had children going backwards in the game of Snakes and Ladders (by starting at 100 and ending at 1) and making the snakes take you ahead and ladders bring you down! Sky is the limit!

Don’t be discouraged if the ideas they have are not practical or simply too silly to adapt. Don’t discard their ideas by saying that it’s silly, it doesn’t make sense and it won’t work but help them to think through it and help them device their plan. Give them a chance. Focus on the ‘process’ (creative thinking) and not the ‘product’ (a fancy idea or game that you aspire them to come up with).

Do share some wonderful and awe-inspiring experiences when you give this strategy a shot! Stay tuned for more ideas to help you spark your little wonder’s creativity.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Other Considerations while Selecting an International School Program

In my previous post on International Boards offered by some popular schools in Mumbai, I had mentioned that I would share a link to a Google Sheet on the programs offered by International Schools in Mumbai.  Please follow this link to the data, and this link to a map of International Schools in Mumbai, and another map of ICSE CBSE schools in Mumbai.

What are some of the similarities between these international boards?  One thing that both Cambridge and IB boards offer in common is the methodology of teaching.  Both the programs believe in the same philosophy of developing creativity, thinking skills, research skills, language fluency, independence and they teach with an international perspective. Both boards are very rigorous in their preparation of the students. Both boards are more progressive than Indian boards, where curriculum and subjects are revised every year. Both boards are recognized by most universities overseas.  

On the negative side, neither of the international boards prepare your child for the common entrance exams for engineering or medical colleges in India.  Acceptance of students from these boards (at grade 13) at most colleges in India varies, and a large percentage of students (not all) do pursue their college overseas. Both boards require a lot more involvement from the parents in their children’s work than Indian boards. Cambridge is approximately 3x ICSE fees, and IB is approximately 3x Cambridge fees, so many parents grapple with understanding how school fees have increased so much from their time.

In my search for more points of comparison, I came across this site in Malaysia which does (1) A side by side comparison between IB and IGCSE by compiling “the thoughts of educators, policy makers, parents and students1.”  While I don’t completely agree with some of the statements related to IGCSE which makes it sound more like the ICSE examination, the site is definitely worth a read. Finally, which program is ‘better’ is relative.  Each program prepares your child slightly differently from the other.  But more importantly, in line with my previous post, “enthusiastic, skilled and committed teachers matter far more than the program1.” Does the school of your choice have them?

Parents must think about what they want their child to do after the 10th grade, and subsequently the 12th grade.  If there is a high probability you want them to continue in India, then selecting a school that provides Cambridge (IGCSE) in the middle years gives you the option to either shift to an Indian board for 11-12th grades (commonly referred to as 'junior college' in India), or continue with international boards at the same or another school. If you pick the international board path but prefer they pursue their undergraduate studies in engineering or medicine in India, you need to find out how students who are currently studying at international boards for 11-12th grades are preparing for their common entrance exams, and the challenges they face in preparation of the same.

I hope these posts have been informative, and have cleared some of your doubts about how to think about the two international programs.  I do look forward to hearing back from you.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Evaluating the Readiness of International Schools in India

When we talk about our schools, most of us love to recall incidents with our teachers.  They have played a huge role in our development at school, and so it only becomes obvious that today's teachers need to be prepared to teach by the Cambridge and/or IB philosophy.  But are they?

It’s important for parents to ask and understand what investment the school is making every year to ensure that teachers are trained and ready to teach by the philosophy of Cambridge and/or IB.  The teaching curriculum in India is outdated and does not prepare teachers in any way for these boards.  Most new teachers have only 1-2 years of teaching experience before they join international schools.  Most experienced teachers who come from Indian boards continue to teach in their traditional ways.  Very few schools recognize teachers who have completed a more elaborate Master’s program in education and are exposed to child psychology, which enables them to better understand how children think and how they should adapt their teaching styles to each child.  “Differentiation” is a buzzword schools love to throw out at parents, but are their teachers ready to differentiate in their classroom?  For example, how many teachers can teach a class of 20 children where half that number have different learning needs, and thereby different lesson plans and worksheets of different level of difficulty?

Ask your Principal how many of his/her teachers have gone through something similar to the Cambridge Professional Development Qualification, especially if they offer Cambridge in the 6-10 grade blocks. Many Principals will claim that their teachers participate in several workshops each year, but how many of them can confidently say that the learning from these workshops are internalized and sustainable at their schools?  How are they measuring the effectiveness of such workshops?  Or are teachers going back to the old ways one week later?

More importantly, it is the leadership at the school that must drive this change in culture and approach to education to match the philosophy of Cambridge and/or IB.  The change has to be driven top-down.  Many schools hire Principals from overseas who have Cambridge and/or IB experience, so that they can drive this change down through their deep understanding of these boards.  Talk to your Principal about his/her belief and commitment to both international programs, and how he/she thinks these boards will make children better prepared for tomorrow.  If you are not convinced with what they say, then that is not the right school for you.  

In my post next week, I’ll share my views on some other differences between the IB and Cambridge programs.  In the meantime, what are some of the questions that are on your mind as you evaluate international schools?  What are some of the questions you have been asking your school Principal and/or teachers?  Do share your thoughts in the blog.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

International Boards offered by some popular Schools in Mumbai

Hi all, this is Jaideep again. In my previous post, I presented a very basic definition and key differentiating point between IB and Cambridge programs being offered by schools.  Now let’s see how this is actually being applied at some of the popular schools in Mumbai.  Based on my research from the schools’ websites, the table below outlines the programs offered by the schools (as of August 2015):

School Name
KG - Grade 5
Grades 6 - 10
Grades 11 - 12
Aditya Birla World Academy
B.D. Somani
Dhirubhai Ambani International School
Cambridge (8-10)
D.Y Patil
Ecole Mondiale World School
NSS Hillspring International School
Oberoi International School
Singapore International School
Singapore board
Disclaimer: If any of the information in this table is outdated or has changed, do let me know so that I can update this blog post with the correct information.  

So why are schools switching from one program to the other?  It is because they are allowed to, and it makes business sense for them to do so.  And why are most schools offering the Cambridge (IGCSE) program in the middle years and not the IB-MYP program?  The jury on this varies.  My research points to 3 main reasons
  1. The MYP program is stringent and very difficult for schools to administer.  The certification requirements are difficult and there is a lot of preparation that needs to be done by both the school and the teachers to ensure that the school meets the requirements of the IB board and does not lose its accreditation.  
  2. You do not get a degree certificate at the end of your IB-MYP term, and must proceed on to the IB-DP program to get a certificate that will be valid for college applications.  Cambridge on the other hand offers the IGCSE degree certificate at the 10th grade which allows students to switch to the local board (ex. HSC in Mumbai) for the 11-12th grades.  
  3. Cambridge affiliation fee is relatively cheaper than IB affiliation fee.  This enables schools to charge a higher tuition fee in the middle years even though it may be cheaper for the school to administer the Cambridge program compared to the IB-PYP program (a.k.a. the business sense of doing this).

In next week’s post, I’d like to share my views on some questions parents should ask while selecting an “international” school for their children. I’d also like to share a Google Sheet with the boards offered by as many schools as possible.  If your child’s school is not listed in the table above, do share the program offerings for all 3 grade blocks of their school in your comments in the blog for other readers to view.