On the night of July 22nd, we were all set to soar high and fly to Canada, to represent our country at the prestigious Bridges 2023 Conference - one of the largest interdisciplinary conferences in the world. An amazing total of five papers and exhibits out of 70 total from the world, were selected from our lab - Center for Creative Learning in IIT Gandhinagar. We were all packed and ready to leave.
Suddenly, we received a call from the Ministry of Education and AICTE, inviting us to present our work at the Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Samagam 2023, a National Conference in India celebrating 3 years of National Education Policy 2020.
The stakes were high and time was limited, but what made the choice easy and obvious was the minute possibility of a short visit by the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, at the stall. Now that the decision was made and the tickets were cancelled, the whole team dedicated themselves to preparing for the big day, which was just 3 days away.
With just three days left to pack all our models, which now increased from 5 to 505, the pressure was high and demanded sleepless nights to make and pack our best projects. From a small 3-in-1 toy to a giant 8-feet Geodesic dome, the entire team was all pumped up and made sure that all the 500+ toys, models and exhibits were ready to be presented. Finally, on the night of July 25th, an 18-foot truck was at our doorsteps, ready to transport all our hard work to Delhi. The day after the truck had left the campus, a team of 8 people, Prof.Manish Jain, Ashutosh Bhakuni, Pankaj Godara, Shilpa Bansal, Abhijit Das, Shanu Dalwadi, Rakesh Pachaya and Karan Bhinde started their journey to Delhi.
Once the truck arrived at its destination, we wasted no time and promptly started the set-up at Pragati Maidan. The workers and carpenters assembled the stalls and we began unloading our materials to be displayed in our designated area. Interestingly, the bicycles, which were loaded last in the truck, caught the attention of the workers, who were working under tight deadlines. To our surprise, they found the bicycles fascinating and couldn't resist riding them even before the displays were fully set up. We, at CCL, aspire to bring back the lost gleam in the eyes and make learning joyous and engaging.
Seeing the workers leaving their tasks and enjoying the bicycles amidst all the chaos reaffirmed our belief that learning can happen anywhere and everywhere, as long as it is done right.
Finally, after hours of non-stop work, our stall was ready but it was already 3:30 a.m. in the morning. We were supposed to report at 7 a.m. and the question of whether or not to sleep arose. Ultimately, Shanu and Abhijit decided to stay awake the entire night, ensuring everything was in place before the honourable Prime Minister's visit. And as the countdown to the honourable Prime Minister’s visit began, we were finally ready.
On the morning of 29th July 2023, after passing through the tight security check, we were near our stall, making the final adjustments. We were excited, nervous and at the same time, faced with a major challenge. We had a robot named Likh-it, which was supposed to draw the portrait of Modiji live in front of him but it could work only after it was calibrated. Pankaj who knew how to calibrate was fast asleep as he had slept at 4 a.m. in the morning while the other got delayed at the security check. But finally, after the security got cleared, we managed to calibrate the robot in time which drew the portrait with total perfection. Finally, with everything in place, we were trying to establish an order so that even in the jiffy of time that we would get, we could show the honourable Prime Minister most of the things that we had. Looking at us trying so hard, people around us expressed doubts, saying that even if he comes, he might just walk around and leave from the outside. Yet with a fire in our hearts and a passion in our eyes, we were not willing to give up on it.
As soon as Modiji entered the room, our hearts began racing with excitement and we were all set to welcome him with our charkha. But as he approached our stall, a 6x6 feet portrait of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, made with 32,400 thumb pins as a tribute to the launch of Chandrayaan 3 caught his attention and drew him inside our stall. Once he entered the stall, Prof. Manish Jain showcased our CCL charkha. The charkha which we commonly see is generally linked to the Swadeshi Movement by Gandhiji. Because of this connection and Gandhiji’s association with the Sabarmati river where IIT Gandhinagar is located, we would generally gift the visitors a small wooden charkha. Keeping these ideas associated with the charkha in our mind, we redesigned the charkha to spin and produce electricity in addition to the thread. spins thread, but this CCL charkha spins to produce electricity.
Observing the Charkha generator, Modiji saw the connection and remarked that the Charkha was a good example of not just stopping at scientific explanations, but also sending a social message of self-reliance and independence.
At this point, Mukund Pandey, a 10-year-old boy, who had been visiting with CCL since he was 6 years old, took the lead. He explained the working of a camera ‘Obscura’ to the PM, followed by a demonstration of a simple 3-in-1 toy that helps understand various mathematical and scientific concepts. The next thing Mukund showed was a syringe machine. This small machine consists of a 2.5 ml and a 50 ml syringe connected through a pipe. If we apply force on both syringes, surprisingly the bigger one is 12 times harder to push than the smaller one: this is the power of machines. We also showcased our FLN Wonder Box, a set of 20+ toys for Foundational Literacy and Numeracy for ages 4-6 years. This includes creative toys to play with foundational skills of recognising letters, matching, sorting, counting etc. This box is set to go to 80,000 schools in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.
Modiji not only entered our stall but also engaged with Prof Manish and Mukund for almost 5 minutes. And the story doesn't end here…
At this point, Ashutosh Bhakuni, who leads the science team at CCL took over. It was time for the robots to take the stage. Our lab has created its own robot named ‘Likh-it’, designed to draw or write anything as instructed. Not only capable of drawing simple shapes, but Likh-it can also create complex portraits, including one of the honourable Prime Minister, which we gifted him during his visit to our stall. Over the last 6 years, we have developed different software to mimic the functions of pixels in our screens and then make portraits using bindis, sticky notes, Rubik’s cubes, dice, laser-cut holes, stereographic projection and many more. Besides the portrait made by Likh-it, we also gifted him his laser-cut portrait made with holes of different sizes.
Modiji stayed further and Shanu Dalwadi, who leads the electronics team at CCL, showed him the Chladni Plate, which he saw and immediately stated that the patterns are being formed because of the sound vibrations in the plate. Switching from sound to light, we demonstrated our one-of-a-kind strobe light, designed sustainably in the lab and used to stop a moving fan. Finally came the turn of our 8 feet, 6v Geodesic Dome, which hung magnificently over our stall. Who better to present it than Pankaj Godara, one of the oldest members of CCL, and an expert in Geodesics! Made with 720 bamboo sticks, 1800 tie belts and 20 hours of continuous work by members of our team, the exhibit was a landmark for our stall and a perfect conclusion to the visit of Modiji at our stall. What initially started as a “may visit the stall” finally transformed into a dedicated 10+ minute tour through a small place in the Pragati Maidan.
After Modiji left, we were finally relieved to see the hard work of the last 6.5 years shine in those precious 10 or maybe 15 minutes. For a few seconds, we thought that we could finally rest. But we were entirely wrong. A s soon as the gates opened, about 1.5 lakh people walked in to see the stalls and spent time exploring our toys and projects. However, what gave us strength after the tiring day was the excitement and the interest that people from different walks of life had shown.
We could actually see the gleam in the eyes of each and every individual who had come to see our work and those moments were satisfying.
Many people who had seen our work through 3030 STEM and 3030 EKLAVYA, the two online programs that were aired during the pandemic to spice up the curriculum, wanted to be in pictures with the famous hosts of the program. If not the host, everyone had their mobiles out to take pictures of the interesting toys they wanted to recreate. The stall had four bicycles which were designed to move forward when you paddled in both directions, turn in the direction opposite to the one it is directed to, one with four wheels that could be balanced even with zero angular momentum and finally a bicycle with reverse gear ratio, which makes it impossible to ride. Wanting to relive their cycling experience, we could see people riding on them across the hall. A series of puzzles and tessellations that seemed easy to solve kept the audience pinned to the stall for hours.
While we were still enveloped by the aura of Modiji’s visit to our stall, the presence of another eminent personality in our stall enthralled us. Prof. Manjul Bhargava, the first person of Indian origin to ever win a Fields Medal, right in front of us. Manjul ji is a trustee of MoMath, the National Museum of Mathematics in New York. We couldn’t wait to show him around all our toys, projects and exhibits. He appreciated our work and took a keen interest in understanding the Mathematics behind each toy. But the show stopper was the binary-based Radix sorting cards which have been designed in our lab and then extended to the ternary system for sorting. While telling him about the extension to the ternary system, and how it would need three types of holes, he immediately responded by saying that sticks of two different sizes will be needed for the sorting to work.
We were thrilled to demonstrate and hear Prof. Bhargava’s comments on our work such as a sine wave car that draws a sine wave, and a Fourier machine that adds sine functions and draws the resultant graph. We took this opportunity to propose that our work be included in Math Museums in India and abroad. Thus, the day ended on a high note.
During the workshops with the teachers, we always talk about how our curriculum should be like the movie 3 Idiots, which is engaging, inspiring and deeply touches our hearts. Most of us resonate with its dialogues as well as the ideas presented in the movie. And when we decided to come to Delhi, little did we expect to meet the real-life Phunsuk Wangdu at the Pragati Maidan. On our second day at the exhibition, we could see people mobbing someone and running to take a photograph.
It was very soon that we realised that it was none other than Mr Sonam Wangchuk, the famous educator, innovator and engineer from whose life the movie was inspired.
He was walking in the direction of our stall. We showed him around and he ended up spending about 30 minutes in our stall. Just like the movie had ended with the scene of a school in Ladakh which showcased the use of a bicycle to shave a sheep, his visit to CCL concluded with him trying out four of our innovative bicycles designed in our lab.
Overall, this experience was precious to each and every member of the lab. We made some treasured memories and it was a privilege and honour to be recognised at this scale!