Pushing the Bar for Excellence at GenWise Summer Camp
This summer, Team KER had the pleasure of visiting the GenWise Summer Camp in Bangalore. This camp was the first of what we hope will be many more such camps hosted by GenWise, an organisation that is geared towards supporting children in achieving their potential. During the summer camp, students spent two weeks enhancing their learning within 5 carefully curated tracks: Science and Scientific Discovery, Mathematical and Computational Thinking, Technology and Design, Tools for Thinking and Communicating, and The Planetary Web: Nature, Society and the Individual. This was done through discovery and exploration in a number of different courses such as Leadership & Diplomacy, Electronics, Wicked Problems, Revolutions, to name a few.
Our visit to the summer camp was rich with a range of experiences, learnings, and insights. Here are our biggest takeaways from the visit:
- Simply teaching kids the knowledge, skills and mindsets they need to adapt and thrive in the world with all the challenges it presents is not enough. The world around is so dynamic and fast-paced. Kids have the potential to contribute to actually building the world around them to be a compassionate, fair and humane place. As educators, we need to equip them with tools to be creators, not just problem-solvers.
- Experience and expertise of facilitators goes such a long way in enhancing the quality of sessions. The instructors at the summer camp were true experts in their fields, each with at least over a decade of experience. This really shone through in the rigour of the sessions we observed.
- There can be a comfortable balance between empowering kids while also maintaining reasonable rules and guidelines. Kids were treated as equals inside and outside of the classrooms, no topic was out of bounds for discussion, no questions were discouraged, kids were afforded plenty of leeway to engage in all kinds of “masti”, but through it all, safety and security was given utmost importance. All kids were within eyeshot or earshot of at least one adult at all times and more importantly, the kids knew and understood why.
GenWise students, Adi and Ashiq working on their “Spud Lamp” experiment.
In addition to enhancing their students’ academic experiences, the GenWise Summer Camp also went a long way in developing other aspects of their students’ lives while they were at the camp and beyond. Asher, 15, a student at the camp talked of the deeper shifts he experienced saying, “The changes I felt, weren’t as active in terms of a change that you could actually see take place. They were more passive in that they affected my thought process, the way I think, and the direction I take my trains of thought through”, highlighting how the summer camp enhanced not simply the rigour of his academics but the rigour of the thought processes that underlies the academics. “These might not be changes that will be visible in my actions tomorrow or a year from now, but will help me in the long run, even 5 years from now”, he added. Another student, Tarush, 15, spoke about how his experience at GenWise differed from that of a traditional classroom in terms of how he is actually able to use what he learns in either setting outside of the classroom, “I feel like in school, I am taught content. Here, I am taught skills. Skills, I can apply and use in other situations, but not content.”
Students also spoke fondly of the meaningful friendships they formed with their peers at the camp and how the availability of co-curricular activities such as dance, music and sports, and the unstructured, free time really enhanced their overall experience. Tarush expressed his mixed feelings on the penultimate day of the camp saying, “I can’t wait to go home because this is my first time away from home but I’m also a bit sad because this was an amazing program and I’m going to be leaving a lot of new friends behind.”
For more information on GenWise, the summer camp, and their other programs, refer to the description below – and don’t forget to check out GenWise’s website, and to follow them on Facebook and Instagram at @GenWise_
GenWise – Who We Are and What We Do
GenWise is a growing, loosely-knit network of expert mentors, each of whose academic and professional credentials are well established. Many have independently immersed themselves in teaching/ education over the past several years.
While schools play a huge role in preparing children to face tomorrow’s world, GenWise intends to augment school effort, and seeks to address issues arising from the following:
- Academic Curricula not Contemporary – Rapid pace of change in the world around us (technological, political, xenophobia, climate, etc.)
- Availability and ability of teachers to “broker” content/ knowledge to the seeking student, allowing students to question and express themselves freely
- A somewhat lopsided exposure to subjects in Liberal Arts, versus STEM
By bringing together seeking children and high-quality mentors with broad perspective, and exposing them to contemporary curricula (significantly earlier than what is possible through the formal system), we hope we will have laid the foundation for building passionate, sensitive, and humane leaders of the world our children will inherit.
GenWise Summer Camp 2018
We are delighted to have successfully delivered our very first Summer Camp as GenWise! We have had terrific feedback from our students, their parents, and our own mentors, about the overall impact the program has had on our target audience – our students!
Here are some aspects of this program that contributed to the overall outcomes:
- Sheer diversity of representation on our very first program
- 20 schools across the country – representing IGCSE, ICSE, and CBSE Boards
- 7 cities
- 23% girl children
- Breadth of our courses, and faculty, including 2 mentors from the US, with prior experience of similar programs with Duke TIP in Asia and other locations.
- Our robust processes around Safety & Security (“Within Eyesight or Earshot, at all times”)
- Socio-Emotional Aspects of the Program
- Issue handling – we had a trained counselor on campus for ~50% of the program and on call for the balance – over the first few days, this counselor observed all the students and the mentors/ TAs/ Residential Counselors, and highlighted yellow flags and strategies for addressing the same.
- Children with varied socio-emotional contexts (subject to previous bullying, “loners”, attention-seeking, etc.) have so thoroughly enjoyed our program – more confident, more open, and more balanced. In a few of these cases, we didn’t even have prior context!
- Student: Adult ratio of 2:1
- We had 9 mentors (2 of them part time), 4 Teaching Assistants, 4 Residential Counselors, 1 Program Manager, 1 Site Director, and 1 Psychiatric Counselor (part time)
- While this may be a bit of over-kill, and will be optimized in subsequent sessions, this is crucial to ensuring
- Balance between Academics and Other Activities
- Academics was limited to 6/16 hours of waking time… In our opinion, children should not be subjected to any more than this, given the intensity of the content, issues, and debates
- For the balance time, we had a range of activities to keep the children engaged – this was arguably tougher than classroom management – ranging from outdoor activities (tug of war, cricket, soccer, basketball, treasure hunt, etc.), indoor activities (quizzes, pictionary, dumb charades, talent nite, DJ nite, karaoke nite, etc.), and the evening addas (more on this soon).
- Other Innovations this year
- Evening Addas
Through our network, we managed to pull together a galaxy of professionals from various backgrounds, to come and speak to our children every evening, and engender and facilitate some debates around topical issues. We know the children loved it. Our Adda speakers loved it even more. The adults running the Summer School were probably the most excited!! A list of speakers/ topics is listed elsewhere in this blog
- Managed Phone Time
With phones and other devices increasingly penetrating our lives, we noticed that children are held captive by their devices in spite of being in a room full of other children. From Day 3 onwards, we moved to restrict phone time to 6 hours a day, out of which the kids are being actively managed (evening games – indoor/ outdoor, Evening Addas, etc.) for 4 hours, leaving a couple of hours for them to contact their families (or play video games, for the most part!!)
- Evening Addas
Overall Program Outcomes
- We believe critical thinking skills are not easily transferable across different domains; therefore, in every one of our courses, we had designed to cover (and delivered) sufficient context/ content.
- We believe children had the opportunity to ask questions without fear, in an environment of mutual respect and trust that allowed them to express themselves freely.
- We successfully brought together a set of talented children, each with their own unique context and personality, challenged them, and helped them appreciate similarities and differences across and a bit more about themselves, in a tightly managed environment
- We were able to sponsor children from underserved backgrounds, who added to the complexity of the socio-emotional interactions
- Touchwood, the program was “Incident-free”, barring a couple of visits by faculty members to the doctor!