Monday, March 1, 2010

Generation Next: CLEAN-India Water Testing

Generation Next: CLEAN-India Water Testing
February 2010

Development Alternatives is a non-government organization that manages the Community-Led Environment Action Network, “CLEAN-India”. The objective of this campaign is to develop a cleaner environment for towns and cities starting with activism at school communities. This nation-wide programme targets environmental assessment, awareness, advocacy and action, all of which is spearheaded by school students. Starting from individuals, households to communities, villages and towns, students are encouraged to make their voices heard, anxieties understood and concerns translated into action for a cleaner environment.

One of the main activities for CLEAN-India’s environmental assessment phase is the testing of air pollution and water contamination at local schools. CLEAN-India works with students to test for air and water quality at regular intervals throughout the year to determine whether action needs to be taken to improve the school environment. The experiments are also effective at educating students about environmental issues through hands-on experience.

Sackhumvit Trust partnered with CLEAN-India in August 2009 to conduct air pollution testing with government school students associated with Dream School Foundation’s (DSF) Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar’s education and development centres. The sessions were well-received, as most students had never participated in a science experiment involving chemicals and lab equipment. Students were also sensitized to the sources and prevalence of air pollution in Bangalore city, and the negative health-affects that air pollution can cause.

Based on the positive student response to CLEAN-India’s air pollutionexperiments, Sackhumvit Trust organized a series of water testing workshops with Ms. Shalini from CLEAN-India in February 2010. Our objective was to educate students about the necessary parameters for safe drinking-water and the main sources for water pollution. We also wanted to encourage hands-on learning by enabling students to conduct science experiments where they apply concepts learned at school.

Student Participants
This time around, Sackhumvit Trust expanded our outreach and organized this workshop on-site at two schools in R.T. Nagar, Bangalore: R.T. Nagar Govt. P.U. College (8th-9th standards) and Almubark Primary and Girl’s English High School (6-10th standards). Sackhumvit Trust also conducted the workshops for 8th-9th standard students enrolled at DSF’s R.T. Nagar and Yeshwantpur after-school tutorial programs. 
The workshop was very popular at the local schools with an average turnout of 150 students each session! While the large audience is a strong indicator of the demand for such extra-curricular activities on-campus at low-income area schools, it would have been ideal to work with a smaller group so that the sessions could be more interactive and participatory. This was apparent at DSF’s education and development centres where the average group size was 20 students per session, thus enabling each and every student to participate in the science experiments and engage in dialogue with Ms. Shalini.

Water Testing Experiment
Jal-TARA Portable Water Testing Kits is one of CLEAN-India’s key program tools. The kit can be used to perform basic tests to ensure water portability. It is an effective tool that enables students to put into practice the theoretical aspects of chemistry that are learned in the classroom. This empowers students to learn more about the quality of the environment and use their findings to create or demand solutions. The kit can test 14 essential parameters for drinking-water and river-water quality. The tests are broadly classified as physical, chemical, and biological.

  • Physical: pH, Temperature and Turbidity.

  • Chemical: Fluoride, Chloride, Residual Chlorine, Hardness, Iron, Phosphate, Ammonia, Nitrate and Dissolved Oxygen.

  • Biological: Coliform Bacteria and Benthic Diversity.

Ms. Shalini commenced each workshop with a discussion of water bodies on Earth, the scarcity of fresh water sources, and the severe water shortages faced by communities across India. She then explored the various contaminants of water (as listed above), and the negative side-effects associated with each. Some pertinent examples include how the presence of nitrates in drinking-water (above a certain threshold) can cause “blue baby syndrome.” Similarly, fluoride can lead to the deterioration of one’s teeth and skeletal structure, and e-coli bacteria can cause acute water-borne diseases. Students also learned the implications of water hardness: that the presence of magnesium, calcium, etc., ions in water can leave deposits in water piping systems resulting in blockages and bursting.

Ms. Shalini distinguished between parameters for drinking-water and that for surface bodies of water. For example, parameters such as Dissolved Oxygen, Benthic Diversity, and Turbidity are more important when testing for the water quality of lakes and rivers than drinking-water, as these factors are critical to the survival of aquatic life.

Following the discussion, Ms. Shalini invited students to conduct a series of water tests concerning the above parameters. Water samples came from the tap and bore-wells of each school. At DSF’s Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar centres, students also brought water samples from their homes. Ms. Shalini covered all experiments with the exception of testing for nitrate and iron levels, which required a heating appliance that most schools and centres did not have. These tests were conducted, however, at DSF’s Yeshwantpur centre, which had a gas stove on-site and student were thrilled to execute the additional activities. The experiments were effective at re-enforcing the importance of testing water quality prior to consumption, and Ms. Shalini made sure to link each activity with points covered during her discussion.

Although not directly applicable, students also conducted the tests for surface water bodies (i.e. turbidity) using their drinking-water samples. Overall, students enjoyed conducting the experiments—especially those involving the observation of color changes and titrations (most students were not familiar with this lab procedure).

Each workshop concluded with a brief revision of what students and
learned and enjoyed the most. The Headmistresses of R.T. Nagar P.U.College and Almubark Primary and High Schools were grateful to
Ms. Shalini, and requested that she return to conduct CLEAN-India's air pollution experiment. Sackhumvit Trust would like to thank Ms. Shalini from CLEAN-India in helping us organize this event. We are also grateful to DSF for enabling us to work with students at its education and development centres, and for putting us in touch with local schools that would be interested in this activity. Sackhumvit Trust welcomes the opportunity to organize similar events for organizations and schools dedicated to educating underprivileged students. For more information, please contact us at

Generation Next: Lalbagh Flower Show

Generation Next: Lalbagh Flower Show
January 24, 2010

Sackhumvit Trust recently organized a field visit to Lalbagh for Dream School Foundation’s (DSF) HeadStart students at the R.T. Nagar education and development centre. The objective of the field trip was for students to learn about the variety of flowers, trees, and agricultural produce available in Karnataka, to explore the sites of Lalbagh while learning about the history of the botanical gardens, and to partake in celebrations of India’s Republic Day (January 26th 2010).

Field Trip Details
A significant component of the field trip involved students learning about the history and landmarks of Lalbagh, which spans a total of 240 acres in southern Bangalore. The garden was commissioned in the 18th century by the prevailing ruler of Mysore, Hyder Ali, and was later completed by his son, Tipu Sultan. Hyder Ali designed the garden according to landscapes of the Mughal Gardens. Tipu Sultan further developed the garden by importing trees and plants from several countries like Persia, Afghanistan and France. Over the years, Lalbagh has acquired new features such as India's first lawn-clock, and the subcontinent's largest collection of rare plants. Today the garden has trees that are over 100 years old.

All the students were excited to attend Lalbagh’s flower show at the Glass House; a bi-annual event that celebrates India’s Independence and Republic Days. Ayyanar, a 9th standard student from a Tamil-Medium government high school at R.T. Nagar, was particularly inspired by the flower displays, as he grows flowers and designs similar arrangements as a hobby. The largest display at the flower show was a model of the Qutub Minar made of different color roses. Students were amazed that such a large structure could be made from flowers alone, and some of them even commented on how all of these flowers would eventually go to waste!

After the flower show, students explored the remaining sites at Lalbagh. They visited the HMT flower clock, which is seven meters long in diameter. The students walked around Lalbagh Lake (where they noticed various flora and fauna in the lotus pond) and the rose garden. Students also observed the 20 million year old tree fossil at Lalbagh. This was followed by a discussion of how fossils are dated by the chemical process of radioactive decay; a topic covered in the 10th standard chemistry syllabus of students. Students enjoyed visiting the famous elephant apple tree of Lalbagh, and posed for group pictures under Lalbagh’s tallest tree and famous silk cotton tree.

In the middle of the field trip, students took a break to run and play in the gardens, and take in their beautiful surroundings. Several students discussed how the trees at Lalbagh, most of which are hundreds of years old, are important historical artifacts. This was followed by an active discussion on how more than 40,000 trees will be felled in Bangalore (including trees at Lalbagh!) due to road widening schemes and the construction of the Bangalore Metro.

The field visit concluded with a visit to Kempe Gowda tower, where students viewed Bangalore’s cityscape atop a hill made from 3 billion year old Peninsular Gneissic rocks! They also visited the Lalbagh nursery where students purchased plants and vegetable seedlings to grow at home.

Overall DSF’s HeadStart students enjoyed their visit to Lalbagh, with many of them requesting to come back and visit the gardens soon. Their genuine interest in Lalbagh’s history and natural sites was inspiring, so much so that students enthusiastically purchased seedlings to create their own, yet smaller version, of the botanical gardens. Sackhumvit Trust would like to thank DSF for enabling us to work with their HeadStart students as part of our environmental education program. We are happy to share this resource with organizations and school communities dedicated to educating underprivileged youth.

ANZ Bank: Road Safety Awareness

ANZ Bank: Road Safety Awareness Workshops
January 18-21, 2010

Australia New Zealand Bank (ANZ Bank) is the largest Australian bank in Asia with over 170 years of banking experience and six million customers worldwide. ANZ Bank operates a software division in Bangalore, India, along with a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) division.

In support of the Government of India’s Road Safety campaign in January 2010, ANZ Bank’s CSR division wanted to promote road safety practices amongst local school communities in Bangalore. Mr. Ajay, an Associate Manager at ANZ Bank CSR’s division, organized five volunteers from ANZ Bank to facilitate workshops on road safety awareness at secondary high schools from 18th – 21st January 2010. With the help of Sackhumvit Trust and Dream School Foundation (DSF), ANZ Bank conducted this program at four government/government-aided schools in R.T. Nagar, Yeshwantpur, and Rajajinagar, Bangalore. The number of students and schools that participated in the workshop are detailed below:

  • Govt. Higher Primary School, Rajajinagar, Bangalore (44)
  • Bapu School, Yeshwantpur, Bangalore (53)
  • R.T. Nagar Govt. PU College, R.T. Nagar, Bangalore (65)
  • Almubark Primary Girl’s English High School, R.T. Nagar, Bangalore (73)

ANZ Bank was keen to work with high school students at government schools, as these students often walk on the streets independently, ride bicycles, rely on public transportation, and transport their younger siblings to and from school. According to the Government of India’s Road Safety campaign, over one lakh people die every year due to road traffic accidents, and road accidents are one of the leading causes of death amongst children in India.

The workshop primarily focused on interpretation of road signs and best-practices while driving and/or walking on streets. It was explained to students that while the majority of them do not drive cars, an understanding of road signs is still important for pedestrians and cyclists. Students also learned best practices for crossing the road as a pedestrian, and key hand signals while riding a bicycle.
The students participated enthusiastically during the workshops, with most of them expressing that they had learned something constructive. ANZ Bank volunteers encouraged students to share this knowledge with their peers and families, so as to increase awareness on road safety.

Due to time constraints, however, it was not feasible to incorporate a practical component to the workshop, where students could have observed road signs and safety practices on the streets surrounding their school under supervision of workshop facilitators. Such a dimension would have made the workshop more interactive and participatory.

Sackhumvit Trust is grateful for the opportunity to bring together volunteers from ANZ Bank with the various school communities associated with DSF. We hope this is the beginning of a long-term partnership that increases the cooperation of private and civil society volunteers with non-profits and government schools serving underprivileged students.

Generation Next: Fun with Light!

Generation Next: Fun with Light!
November - December 2009

While conducting our Ozone module with 9th standard students at Dream School Foundation’s (DSF) education and development centres, we recognized a lot of parallels between this unit and their science chapter on Light. Sackhumvit Trust and our volunteers organized a series of experiments to facilitate students in understanding this topic as part of our Generation Next program.

One of the first things we realized was that the 9th standard science textbook immediately jumps into an analysis of how light interacts with lenses, without explaining what light is. When asked for their ideas, students shouted out words such as “energy”, “the sun”, etc. While correct, our first objective was to deepen student’s understanding of light and its importance to our daily lives. This was made possible largely due to a unique presentation prepared by Professor N. Chandrasekaran on the concept of light and its applications, which served as the foundation for the initial part of this program.

Students examined the wave and particle theory of light, and learned about the discovery of photons. We then reviewed the entire electromagnetic spectrum where students learned about the relationship between wavelength, frequency, and energy, as well as the various uses/roles of the energy the Earth receives from the sun. A useful activity sheet for this topic came from the United Nations Environmental Programme’s (UNEP) High Sky: Ozonaction Education Pack for Secondary Schools. Students had to piece together a puzzle of the entire electromagnetic spectrum based on clues on the use/importance of each type of radiation along with their respective wavelengths and frequencies.

Following this, students focused on a specific section of the electromagnetic spectrum: visible light. Here students learned about the role that light plays in coloring everything we see in the world. Many of them were boggled by the idea that our experience of the world is essentially a matrix, with photons of light registering in our eye to create what we see. Students reviewed the primary colors (red, green, and blue) and how combining these colors will create almost any other color. They found it interesting that the old name for computer monitors (RGB monitors) is based on the fact that they use the primary colors to generate images on the screen.

This was followed by an experiment called “Colors by Addition”, where students used three torch lights (each covered with red, blue, or green filter paper), to create various combinations of colors. Students noticed that when all three torches are superimposed on each other, they create white—hence white is made up of all the colors in the visible spectrum!!

After completing “Colors by Addition,” it was only logical that we explore “Colors by Subtraction.” Here students learned how we see colors not by their reflection, but by their absorption! It was explained that this mainly applies to inks, dyed cloth, and other materials that are not a light source, yet give off color. We see these items mainly because of the visible wavelengths that they do not absorb, i.e. we see the radiation that is left over after they have absorbed or subtracted certain radiation.

This concept was illustrated by a simple experiment where students mixed different colors of paint. For example:
  • Magenta (a combination of blue and red, with all other colors being absorbed) mixed with
  • Yellow (a combination of red and green, with all other colors being absorbed)
creates the color red, because the blue and green wavelengths get absorbed. Students found this concept harder to grasp than “Colors by Addition,” but nonetheless enjoyed predicting what colors they would create from various combination of paints.
As a primer to the textbook discussion on light and lenses, we covered one last concept of light. This is the various ways in which light can interact with an object: transmission, absorption, reflection, scattering, and refraction. As we already covered the concept of reflection and absorption in terms of seeing color, students readily picked up these concepts. To further illustrate the concept of reflection, students built their own kaleidoscopes and periscopes using the reflective properties of mirrors. This activity was a big hit amongst students, with most of them requesting to take their inventions home.  

For the remaining processes, we conducted simple experiments to explain what they meant.
  • For transmission, students observed a piece of glass and how the can see perfectly through it, hence demonstrating how light passes directly through an object without any change.

  • For scattering, we conducted a simple experiment where a red laser beam shines through a clear glass filled with water. Students then observed how adding drops of milk causes the laser beam to transform into a fireball of light at the beginning of the glass, instead of passing through the water as a straight line. It was explained that the fat solubles in milk scatter light, hence creating a fireball affect. It was also explained that reading the content of a poster, paper, etc., from any viewpoint is the result of scattering. In this case, light is not reflected as this would make the object appear bright and shiney like a mirror.

  • Lastly, students learned that refraction is similar to transmission except that it involves the bending of light as it passes through an object. This was demonstrated through a simple experiment where students observed how a straw appears to bend when placed in a glass of water. Examples of real-life objects that refract light include diamonds and prisms.
The remainder of this module focused on the use of lenses. Students learned the definition of lens as a transparent material with generally two (or more) curved surfaces that refract light. They learned how light is refracted for both concave and convex lenses, as well as terminology covered in their textbooks—such as focal point and length, optic centre, principal axis, radii of curvature, etc. Students learned that convex lenses magnify objects because they converge light rays, whereas concave lenses minimize objects because they diverge light rays. This was demonstrated by using a water droplet to magnify the text on a newspaper, and looking through convex and concave lenses purchased from a science lab store. Students also learned the meaning of a virtual focal point and how this applies to the image created by a concave lens. In fact, students were able to measure the virtual focal point of a concave lens by devising an experiment of their own! 

Lastly, to conclude the unit, we discussed the various uses of lenses in our daily lives. Students mentioned how lenses are used to make cameras, binoculars, microscopes, and telescopes. They enjoyed a presentation, also prepared by Professor Chandrasekaran, on magnifying powers, which showed a view from the world from the largest possible distance (outer space) to the closest possible distance (inside the cells of a leaf). This presentation beautifully illustrated the ability of lenses (and light) to guide our vision and overall experience of the world!

Overall, students enjoyed the activity-based nature of this program. Moreover, they easily picked up concepts in their textbooks once they were supplemented with hands-on activities. This ranges from understanding the meaning of light and the role it plays in our daily lives, to realizing what a convex or concave lens looks like and can do! Education ultimately boils down to making the subject matter accessible and engaging to our students, and we hope to have accomplished this here. Sackhumvit Trust would like to thank DSF for enabling us to conduct these lessons as part of its after-school tutorial program at the Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar education and development centres. Sackhumvit Trust is happy to share these resources with other schools and organizations dedicated to the education of underprivileged youth.