Maverick Learning Centre (MLC) is a project-based learning centre initiated by Fountainhead School, Surat in the year 2019-20. It is an experiment in the domain of alternative learning which began initially for students of Grades 7 & 8 and at present supports till grade 12.
The setup aims at providing a stimulating, encouraging and safe environment for children, where they develop the necessary skills to keep up with the changing world while trying to find their passion and becoming experts at what they like.
Rationale behind MLC
Living in an era where the world is changing at the pace of light, one objective of the education system is to equip students with one of the most important skills of “learning how to learn”. In an age where everything is just a click away, learning facts has been rendered unnecessary and useless. The set up began with an understanding that textbook learning might not be the only way students learn. In fact, it stemmed out of a belief that children learn better when they learn by doing. They learn better when they are exposed to real life scenarios and challenges that they need to decode in everyday life. It is believed that children learn better when they see real life value and application of the knowledge they are expected to learn.
- First was that each child’s day looks different depending on their interests and motivation levels – resulting in different end products and results. To formalise it and to ensure at least some minimum expectations met by ALL students (even if at their own pace) we introduced the Credit System.
- The second challenge we faced was indiscipline and misuse of resources due to the increased informal and unstructured interaction with the space and amongst the students. To develop accountability in students and bring some discipline we introduced the Governance System.
- The third challenge we faced was keeping track of all things that all students did. There was so much variety not only amongst students but even the things that one student did. Along with that, sometimes it was difficult to know if all students were involved in meaningful activities most of the time. To ease this as well as other issues, we introduced the Mentoring System.
- The fourth struggle we faced was communication with parents. Unlike regular schooling, evaluation in MLC is not on the basis of marks – therefore it became difficult for parents, students and teachers to evaluate if the child is doing well in the space and if a set up like MLC is helping the child. To communicate with parents and students effectively, as an extension of your credit system, we came up with a regular Reporting System.
- The final struggle we faced was ensuring daily productivity. While the credit system ensured that over the period of 1 year most students would do the bare minimum, it was still tricky as students couldn’t divide their tasks effectively by themselves, got overwhelmed at the last moment and therefore did not produce quality tasks. To solve this issue, as well as ensure daily productivity, we came up with the Goal Setting System.
All of these systems combined helped us bring some structure and discipline in the space which helped students become more productive and also ensure that MLC runs rather smoothly. Below is a detailed account of each of these systems.
The MLC space is huge with a lot of resources to be taken care of. To instill a sense of discipline and accountability in students, we felt we should build a governance system and make students in-charge of different responsibilities to ensure smooth functioning of the space. Students were given options (as can be seen below) and were asked to give their preferences for the category they would like to lead:
- Space manager (Corridor and shoe rack)
- Space manager (Chairs, Shelves and Lights and fans)
- Space manager (Mats and Bean bag)
- Space manager(Voice meter, movements)
- Space manager (Lost and found)
- Space maintenance
- Helping hands to MLC facilitators
- Library (Books)
- Library (Games)
- Announcements and Updates
- Techno Cops
- Techno Pros
- Resources (Stock Keeping)
- Resources (Issue and return)
It was ensured that all 31 students were leaders in at least one of these categories. Their role as a community leader involved making rules for their assigned category, as well as developing a system for maintenance of the resources involved, and to ensure that the rules made are followed.
The work differed from category to category, each of these categories had a facilitator mentor in-charge whose job was to assign weekly tasks and give suggestions, as well as help students ensure proper work is done. For evaluation of this (for the purpose of the credit system), students were given time each week to finish their assigned tasks and then were evaluated on the quality, effectiveness and timeliness of this task done.
In order to track and monitor each student’s progress, we came up with the idea of assigning teacher mentors to each student. In the academic year 2019-20, two types of mentors were to be chosen by students:
Well-being and overall mentor – Out of the 3 facilitators in the space, each child had to give their first and second preference for this mentor, which would remain for the entire academic year. This would be the primary mentor they would report to about their progress in MLC, and also go to if the student was facing any issues of difficulties. This mentor would deal with all the things pertaining to that student such as ensuring the child is okay and on track with his/her projects, consult as well as be a point of contact to the parent of that student, ensure all required and relevant announcements and updates reach that student etc. The ratio of student:mentor this academic year was 10:1.
Project Mentor – This was a more short-term, project oriented choice of mentor. As all kids would work on 8+ projects throughout the year, they could choose to do different projects with different mentors available in the space. So a child primarily reporting to mentor X, can choose to do one or more of his projects with mentor Y. This ensures that the child gets expert guidance from the mentors for each of their different projects in different domains.
As each child was onto something new and different in MLC, it sometimes became difficult for parents to exactly know what their child was doing. In the absence of a curriculum, homework and regular graded tests – parents often wondered if their child was involved in anything productive. To ease these worries a little, in the first term we came up with a report format that summarised all the activities, explorations, projects and their reflections on the term they had had. An exemplar of the first term report can be found here.
In the second term, with the credit system in place, evaluation became much more standardized and convenient. To give parents and students a constant update on how the child was doing as far as the requirements of the credit system were concerned, we started generating a monthly report, wherein the child was assessed and the report was updated on all the achievements the child had made till then – and highlight all the areas where work could either be improved, or was pending all together. A sample monthly report can be found here.
The final report of the child would include the entire year’s achievements, detailed mentor comments, and an evaluation of the child against the credit system put in place.
Goal Setting System
To ensure daily productivity and progress, we introduced a goal setting system which involved the following two parts:
- Ruminate: This is a 15-20 minute time at the start of the school day where students sit in solitude and make SMART (S- specific M – measurable A – achievable R – realistic T – time-bound) goals. They then have to get them checked and report to their overall mentor for the same. For the following day then the child is expected to work on fulfilling those goals.
- Closing the loop: At the end of the day for the last 15 minutes, each student has to go back to their overall mentor to report progress on their goals and provide evidence for the same.
Students are regularly marked on making as well as completing these goals. This goes to their credit system.
Student Led Projects
|Project Category||Sample Student-Led Projects|
|Humanities||Understanding the Human Development Index and rating of different countries. The child felt that the parameters to rate the ‘best’ country were not enough – and that aspects like environment and technological development were neglected. Therefore he undertook a study to find these parameters, undertake his own study and come out with his own improved rating and ranking of countries.|
|Sciences||A child was curious about ‘How eyes see color’ and undertook a detailed study of the same. He researched and understood concepts like reflection, refraction etc. and performed experiments to prove his understanding.|
|Troubled by the increasing issue of plastic in the world, this child focused on understanding how bioplastics can be made. She met experts and worked with different chemical combinations to understand the nature of plastic and determine how bioplastics can be made and used.|
|Leadership||Two students decided to organise an MUN in the MLC space. After gaining experience at one of the school level MUN’s they decided to do it with a twist – by taking a local issue instead of an international one – and ensure that the resolution made is action oriented and actually worked upon. They figured out all the logistics as well as formalities and registrations of this MUN.|
|One child – very good at coding and programming, decided to teach programming to 3 other students in the space. He designed and held about 20 hours of classes with the other 3 students, and taught HTML and CSS step by step to these kids. The project concluded with the 3 students making their own websites by the concepts they had learnt.|
|Language and Arts||A student undertook a simple project about designing a real fully functional bunker. The project was preceded by research on bunkers and the proper original design of a bunker in a limited space of 100m^2. The child created an online 3D model of his bunker describing the features it will have, the material it will use and the correct dimensions of the space.|
|A student extremely passionate about Architecture decided to explore if his interest in architecture was only theoretical or if he actually enjoyed working. He decided to do a 1 month internship in his father’s architecture office where he learnt softwares like AutoCad and was a part of the designing project the firm had undertaken in that duration. The experience was very practical and hands-on for him, after which is concluded that Architecture was indeed his passion area.|
|Design and Technology||One of the students, again very passionate about coding decided to work on and make a chat bot for school. He worked on making an interactive page which would answer regular student and staff queries like “what’s for lunch today”, “which bus number does my bus-stop fall in”, “what’s the intercom number of xyz teacher” etc. He worked on linking all of these databases and coding this site as well as debugging it.|
|Another student – very passionate about automobiles and cars decided to design and make his own car using metal parts and welding them together. He began with a short internship at a makers lab, worked on his skills and then designed this.|
|Passion||Many students in the space were very passionate about cooking. About 6-7 students undertook different kinds of projects under the umbrella of cooking. Some learnt and cooked a 7 course meal for teachers, others cooked and sold sandwiches, some held a cookies workshop where they learnt and made chocolate-chip and chilli cheese cookies, whereas some simply learnt new and basic dishes to cook for their family.|
|Another popular passion amongst students was sports. About 10-12 students decided to dedicate more time to train in their sport of choice. They joined Grade 9 classes of football/frisbee/table tennis etc. to hone their skills and achieve mastery for their sport sooner. They dedicated about 8 hours a week of school time for these sports.|
Facilitator Led Projects
|Project Category||Sample Facilitator-Led Projects|
|Humanities||The Humanities facilitator led project looked like a research process wherein students were divided in 3 groups with 3 different Humanities topics (a. To what extent is sustainability important and how can our school practices become more sustainable? b. To what extent can humans and nature coexist? c. Understanding the stages of any religious conflicts through the lens of the case study of the Ayodhya Dispute). The project was divided in 3 stages – A. Pre-field work – researching and understanding all secondary information available on the topic. Making a plan for on-field research (making questionnaires etc.) B. On-Field – conducting interviews, observations and collecting primary data on their chosen topic. Gaining an insight on the topic through lived experiences and personal journeys of people involved and expanding their understanding of the topic at hand. C. Post – Field – compiling and assimilating all knowledge gained through both the processes. Deciding a plan of action based on the new-found knowledge and presenting the information through a research report. Each of the 3 groups were led by a facilitator that closely monitored the progress of their students and guided them in the right direction.|
|Sciences||The science facilitator-led project was divided in 2 parts. The first part focused on a fixed number of pre-decided experiments in physics, chemistry and biology being guided and done in the labs – to teach students the scientific process, how to work in and be safe in a lab, understanding the experimental process, and learning some important theoretical concepts through these experiments. In the second part then, students were asked to choose a scientific topic (in either the domain of physics, chemistry or biology) that they are naturally curious about – and undertake a deep study of that topic by conducting 7-9 experiments and making some conclusions about the topic they had chosen. Example of a topic – “How does a car work with gravitational force, kinetic energy & potential energy”; list of experiments done to understand this topic – 1. Trying different weights on the Lego Car, 2. Trying 60 grams weight on the Lego car by different heights, 3. We tried our Lego car on different places like: mats, marble tables, etc. ,4. We put 60 grams of weight on the front, back, right side & left side of the Lego car & checked if the weight hampers the car’s process, 5. Different types of wheel on the Lego car, 6. Tried different weights on the metal car, 7. Tried the car on different slopes & angles. Students then had to fill a detailed project journal about each of their experiments, explaining the entire scientific process they undertook, the observations they made, the results they deduced and the conclusion they made.|
|Arts||The facilitator-led arts project was a Play Production. About 22 students got together to work on making a play from scratch. From writing the entire play till the final execution, students were in-charge of the entire process. Students took up all and different responsibilities such as being a writer, director, producer, costume designer and makeup artist, actor, back-stage manager and crew, light designer and manager, sound designer and manager, communications and marketing head etc. All students took up 1-2 roles of their choice and worked hard by collaborating and co-creating a 25 minute play – then presented in front of the school teachers and parents. The idea of the play was to mix characters of 2 comic indian TV serieses “Tarak mehta ka Olta Chashma” and “Khichdi” – and to show the interaction of these comic characters with MLC students and staff when they come looking for a ‘new and interesting’ project based school for their kids.|