Labs & Curriculum
Agastya’s hands-on approach to education gives children new ways to understand the beauty and complexity of the natural world around them. It engages their senses and teaches them to observe and to think creatively, fostering the wonder and awe that is natural to children. In Agastya’s laboratories, they learn to follow their inherent curiosity – to observe, ask questions, propose explanations, and test their hypotheses. They learn that mathematics can be used both as a language of description and a tool for reasoning. Through their own experiments, they experience the thrill of discovery and develop methods for understanding and explaining their findings.
Agastya’s ecology lab is the great outdoors. At the Kuppam campus, one is surrounded by a teeming biodiversity of birds and insects, trees and wildflowers, reptiles and mammals. For visiting students, science starts here, whether with an eco-walk led by an Agastya naturalist, or a casual stroll on one’s own. A sighting of bright-green parakeets in a fig tree prompts questions that lead to a lesson on the web of life. Back inside, optics taught in the physics lab relate to an earlier explanation of the workings of a lizard’s eyeball: life lessons from all disciplines weaving together.
Children also learn about the basic forces that govern the material world, and how these forces interact. A lesson on centrifugal force and center of gravity using tops constructed of cardboard discs and pencils, has children competing to see whose design works best – whose top will spin the longest. Hands-on problem solving, through trial and error, ultimately leads them to question why some solutions work better than others, opening the door to a higher level of conceptual understanding.
Many students are put off by chemistry in school, especially if there are no labs and the reactions must be memorized rather than seen, heard, or smelled. The Agastya lab changes all that. Here children learn that chemistry is all around them. One Agastya instructor explains to his students that chemistry begins in the kitchen. A perfectly ordinary activity like cooking brings about complex chemical reactions that change the texture, flavor, and color of ingredients – changes that can be tasted, smelled, and felt. Simple experiments with kitchen chemicals like vinegar and baking soda show that chemistry can be fun. Children are delighted to see the bubbly froth, and ask questions about how all that fizz is produced. Through demonstrations in which the children participate, teachers explain the science in ways that come alive. Suddenly, chemistry is fascinating!
Too often, children are intimidated by math – they find it abstract and difficult, far removed from their daily lives. Agastya’s hands-on learning techniques bring math down to earth. Children begin by playing with math puzzles and geometric models, folding paper into recognizable shapes, learning how math helps with practical things, like measuring for building. They learn about polygons, and how to calculate the area inside. Then they move on to simple formulas and how they are derived. In a more advanced project, children work with statistics from a local community, learning how things are counted and compared, using sampling, ratios, and percentages. Agastya’s teachers build on each small success: students gain confidence as their competence increases, and math becomes – like everything else at Agastya – fun! In the process, it becomes a useful tool to improve their lives and they return to their schools with greater understanding.
Surrounded by the natural world, examples for science lessons from astronomy to zoology are everywhere. In art classes, students learn how to observe and record what they see – a skill for an artist that is also vital to a scientist. They are taught about art media and how to select the appropriate medium for the task at hand. Whether illustrating the cycle of life for sweet corn or the uses of water in their village, children learn that art is also a language that crosses language and cultural barriers.
By encouraging children to think and learn across disciplines – to understand, for example, that chemistry and physics also play roles in biology; that chemistry is intimately intertwined with geometry and physics – Agastya enhances the learning experience and provides the groundwork for deeper understanding. This stays with the children. They’ve not only heard it in a lecture, or read it in a book – they’ve seen it for themselves!