Al Qamar Academy, Chennai, Grade 3
Small Science – Class 3
Unit 1 – The Living World
Outings and sproutings
After observing lots of living things in and around our school we went on two different excursions to learn about more living things. First we went to the Kotturpuram Tree Park. Dr. Babu and Latha Aunty of Nizhal (‘shade’ in Tamil) took us on a guided tour and we learned many things about trees – their names, how the Sea Hibiscus forms a bio fence and why the native trees survived the big Chennai flood last year – because they were well adapted and their roots did not die under water.*
Dr. Babu showed us the Soapnut tree whose fruit pulp can be used as soap. He asked us to look carefully and we noticed some insects on a branch which looked just like the leaf of the Soapnut. Dr. Babu told us that they were Shieldbugs that were camouflaged for protection. Then he touched one insect and it surprised us by dropping a few drops of a milky-white and very smelly liquid. Dr. Babu told us that the smell too protects the insect from attackers. We collected all sorts of leaves with different shapes – we saw that the Portia tree leaf is heart shaped and the Sandpaper tree leaf is very very rough. Later in school, Aneesa Aunty taped some of the leaves on the white board and we drew them in our workbooks.
The next week we went to the Madras Crocodile Bank where they have different kinds of crocodiles, snakes and turtles. We saw some bluish grey birds near the water – Anjana Aunty told us they were herons. We also saw a white-collared kingfisher sitting high on a branch above the crocodiles. We picked up a white feather. Abdurrahman found a snake skin and we all touched it. Asad, Sarah and Khadijah hugged a tree – all together – its trunk was so large. We saw the eggs of many different kinds of crocodiles – some were small and some were very large.
Back in school we and also sprouted many kinds of grains from the kitchen.
Aneesa Aunty brought many packets of grains – dhals (split pulses), sundals (whole pulses), rice and other cereals. We had to identify the ones we knew. We recognised rice and ragi but did not know the difference between all the dhals and the sundals and the wheat and millets. Whole urad was black in colour. We saw sago – what Ammi uses to make payasam. Tuar dhal – we eat in sambhar. We had to choose grains which we wanted to germinate: Sarah took peas, Khadijah chose rice, Dakshin had whole urad, Asad got ragi, Hafsa had wheat. Aunty also kept some of the other grains, including the sago. We put cotton wool soaked in water above the grains and left them.
The next few days we watched what happened to the grains. We had to write about them in our workbook and draw a picture daily. The next week Dakshin had the best plants – four of them – they were tall and two of them even had leaves. The wheat got small shoots or roots – but they died as Hafsa had forgotten to water them. Sarah’s peas just remained as they were. Khadijah’s rice grains were a mush and smelled bad – there was no baby plant. Aunty’s sago swelled up but was soft and mushy and smelly, Aunty said no plant would come from that. Asad’s plant was really tiny and had two small leaves on it.
Aunty told us that the rice and split dhals were only part of seeds – the parts that grow into baby plants has been removed from them. And sago is not seeds at all, but balls of starch made from tapioca.
We also grew many moong seeds in a large tray with just water and no soil. The plants grew bushy and thick and tall (10-15 cm) – Aunty called it our rainforest. When we lifted the bunch of plants, we found a carpet of roots all entangled. How can plants grow so tall without soil? Will they continue to grow like this?
We also did experiments to see if plants needed water, soil, air and light. We learned some interesting things, but we were also puzzled by what we found. The moong plant which was growing in water without soil was really the best – tall and with leaves. The moong plant we put inside a dark cupboard was also tall – but its leaves were yellowish. The plant which got no water died. The plant which got everything – soil, air, water and light – was almost dead. Most surprisingly, the moong plant we sealed inside two plastic cups grew so tall that its top was pushing the ‘roof’. So, do plants really need soil, air and light?
- The outings indirectly helped the lessons – they stimulated and exposed the children to many things. The volunteers at Nizhal and at the Crocodile bank were enthusisatic and generous with their time, and handled the children’s questions with skill and good humour. Later children could recall some of the plants and animals they had seen. A few of them took their own notes during the excursions. All this helped them in the workbook completion.
- However, as the outings were externally directed, the children didn’t have the opportunity for detailed observations and reflections. A combination of guided excursions and nature walks led by the teacher worked well.
- Children loved the different experiments / activities with plants and had many observations.
- Similarly the terrarium activity – with all its flaws – was a clear success in the beginning – when the children were busy finding specimens. The children did mill around and observe the terrariums for a few days afterwards. The caterpillars fascinated them, but that is another story. They learnt to be a little more patient, and to observe life while keeping conscious of the animals’ needs.
- The activities have been a springboard for students to take and direct their own learning with sideways activities, from making a leaf scrapbook, jotting down the animals and plants they’ve seen, drawing pictures of the bugs and worms or even persuading parents to take them to local parks to observe plants.
- These activities are long-term and children should be brought back and reminded about them through the year, even if a particular unit / chapter has been completed.
- After initial hiccups, children are now doing the workbook. They have to be helped with certain questions. The similarity / difference question is usually hard. Also, if the children haven’t been exposed to many plants / animals – they struggle to answer the questions in the workbook. At this point scaffolding activities like sorting cards, excursions, books, pictures, etc. do help.
- We’ve been doing portions of the workbook after each activity session – which chunks the work into manageable portions.
Visitor from HBCSE
* The Kotturpuram tree park is built on a 5 acre land adjacent to the Adyar river, which belongs to PWD, Government of Tamil Nadu. The land was being used as a garbage dump. Nizhal, a not-for-profit organization, was approached by PWD to create a unique Tree Park on this site. Over the past 10 years, the NGO, along with concerned citizens, students from colleges and schools across Chennai, and corporate volunteers have planted and cared for the around 600+ saplings on the site. This Park is unique because over 100 species of indigenous and natur