Posted by: rcieri | May 1, 2009

Elon students make news in India for Traveling Science Center

February 11, 2009

by Rachel Cieri

Indian students welcome the Elon class outside the Traveling Science Center in Kerala, India.

Indian students welcome the Elon class outside the Traveling Science Center in Kerala, India.

This year’s inauguration was a global events, as many Elon students abroad found out this January.

Watched and waited for from around the world, President Barack Obama’s transition to office made headlines on every continent, and in Kerala, India, 24 Elon students did too.

Professors Crista Arangala and Martin Kamela had set out to India with the simple goal of bringing Indian school children new methods of learning science, but the Traveling Science Center brought this Winter Term class much more attention than they expected.

Three newspapers, including India’s national paper The Hindu, picked up the news of the traveling students.

The Traveling Science Center made headlines in The Indian Express.

The Traveling Science Center made headlines in The Indian Express.

“A few days after the Obama inauguration, an event widely reported in India, it made a good read for the locals to hear from the American students about their impressions,” Kamela said.

“Perhaps because of this Obama-spurred interest, the stories made it to page two and page three of major newspapers, whereas in other times, the coverage might not be as prominent.”

Kamela’s assessment seems correct. The coverage in the two English papers, The Hindu and The Indian Express, focused on how the students were missing out on the historic inauguration to be in India.

The students reported that the Indian press didn’t seem interested in much else, and some were even ignored when they said that they did not vote for Obama.

“As for being interviewed, the reporter just kept trying to get us to say really controversial things,” sophomore Elizabeth Leman said. “We all shared our favorite things about India so far, and he was like, ‘But how do you really feel?’ [Since we were] Americans, maybe he just wanted us to be more scandalous.”

Their work might not have been scandalous, but these students were attempting a project that had been years in the making.

Arangala and Kamela had originally wanted to start their Traveling Science Center in Sri Lanka, arranging the program as part of a winter term class in January 2008.

Elon students appeared in an article in The Hindu.

Elon students appeared in an article in The Hindu.

But their plans were put on hold as the island nation slipped into a state of civil unrest.

“[Kamela] and I agreed to move the program in Kerala since Kerala has similar characteristics to Sri Lanka regarding education and life expectancy, and Kerala has lots of interesting development issues,” Arangala said.

Kerala, a union state on India’s southwest coast, has some of the highest literacy rates in the country at 89.9 percent, but the populace remains less educated than other developing countries in the region.

The Traveling Science Center operated by Elon students sought to spread inquiry-based education to India’s school system through a series of exhibits designed to pique a child’s curiosity.

Rather than reading textbooks, students were encouraged to learn about science by participating in activities and asking questions.

One popular exhibit taught students about light spectra by giving them cards with diffraction grating. This breaks down visible light into its colored components.

Another exhibit taught inertia in relation to mass by having students guide differently weighted balls through an obstacle course with brooms.

Contributing reporting by Hunter Gros.

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