The iMobile uses a blended design by including traditional, non-traditional and digital approaches to science teaching
An 8th grade student in Coimbatore is asked by 11th grade students to help them with their science projects. The 8th grade student has just learnt how to use the internet to find useful information about various science topics. In another school, a science teacher in Noida, UP takes assistance from 7th grade students to type out mark sheets and progress reports on the computer to send to the local education department. He’s among the few students who know how to use a computer. Just 7 months before, students and teachers of both schools were aware of the possibilities of computers and the Internet. Despite having computers in the school, lack of qualified computer teachers meant that the awareness did not translate to ability. All that began to change once the iMobile Lab program (sponsored by Dell in Noida, Coimbatore and Bangalore) began visiting the schools.
Since 1999, Agastya’s science mobile labs had traveled to schools to create interactive science learning experiences using hands-on science models. Most schools lacked science labs and therefore did not have access to participatory learning opportunities- a gap now being filled by the mobile science labs. With most of these schools also lacking functional computer labs, these children were increasingly at risk of lacking digital literacy – a 21st century skill that is fast emerging as the 4th r (in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic). Rather than develop an isolated ICT curriculum divorced of context and specially focused on skilling, Agastya adopted a different route by combining its flagship program – the mobile science lab with an ICT curriculum. Christened iMobile Lab, the program was launched in 2012 in 20 schools in Noida (Uttar Pradesh) and Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) with the support of Dell's Youth Connect program.
In its first year, its unique, graded curriculum blended digital literacy skills into the hands-on science classroom and benefited over 600 children. The iMobile lab was equipped with over 150 science models made of low cost material as well as laptops, projectors and Internet dongles. A hands-on science class was followed by a simple digital tutorial. Key to these tutorials was mini-science projects that required learners to use the new digital skill to complete an assigned science project. Innate attraction to new technologies became a way to greatly enhance learner engagement in the science classroom. For e.g. a lesson on using simple painting applications would end with a mini-project where participants are asked to depict any natural environment with 3 forms of matter (the science topic of the day). Some drew scenes of riversides (liquid) with fish (solid) and bubbles emerging from their gills (gas). Others drew industrial towns with chimneys(solid) full of smoke(gas) and industrial waste(liquid) joining the river. Little did the children ever realize that they were learning!
We also designed the curriculum keeping in mind that the learners were new to both English and computers. By allowing them to slowly build their English vocabulary through the mini-projects and teaching them applications like Google Translate to help them parse English-heavy wesbites, the program also boosted learner confidence levels.When the iMobile held mini-science fairs, it was the 600 children that demonstrated their competence with science concepts and dexterity with computers. The value did not go unnoticed. Events like these are what prompted 11th grade students to take the help of 8th graders who are almost 4 years their junior. As testament to the program’s impact schools are beginning to voluntarily reopen their hitherto closed computer lab, co-opting these children to teach the remaining schools, the project is also proving sustainable. Now in its second year, the iMobile Lab continues in Noida and Coimbatore visiting a new set of schools to spread the value of engaging, blended science teaching. A new lab was also launched in Bangalore.See more: Watch iMobile in actioniMobile learners tell you what they learnt