I had some good news a few weeks ago.
Among the many hats I wear, I am a science content consultant to a company in India called HeyMath! I work with them on a project called HeyScience! developing short (3-5 min), interactive animations used to teach physical sciences for students ages 14-18. Founded in 2000 by Nirmala Sankaran and Harsh Rajan, HeyMath! is a well established company in the e-learning sector, being one of the first companies to bring interactive maths learning online. Their work has been profiled by the BBC, the New York Times, and the Economist as far-reaching and innovative.
Over the past 15 years, they have extended their reach to students in over 50 countries, with major footprints in India, Singapore, South Africa, the US, the UK, and Colombia. The company keeps growing in new and exciting directions. In 2011, they decided to extend their focus to include sciences, and thus HeyScience! was born. I joined as an independent consultant in 2012, which I wrote about here and here. I have had the joy of working with the team in Chennai on the HeyScience! project for the past three years.
Some high points: In order for me to work with HeyScience! whilst being based in Cambridge, I needed to set up my own business, which in addition to supporting my work with them has since grown into my creative writing business, Spilling the Ink. There was an amazing trip to India when I first started (photos and more photos). That initial trip felt like stepping out into the unknown in a way I hadn’t experienced for years. I had never been to India, I didn’t know what to expect, and it was the first time travelling so far by myself (without kids) since I had been in university. Over the course of two years, we developed approximately 400 short animations covering topics in physics and chemistry from Newton’s laws of motion to reaction rates. Completing materials to cover three years’ worth of high school physics and chemistry curriculum was a definite high point.
Another high point was the news last October that the team were ready to start development on the middle grades project for HeyScience! creating materials for grades 7-9, teaching natural sciences. Again, I was so excited to be a part of the team and I happily joined. January brought the chance for another visit to Chennai. It was wonderful to see old friends and make new ones.
Flower seller in Mylapore market, Chennai
Vegetables for sale, Mylapore market, Chennai
In February, we had the great news that the first contract for HeyScience! to be used in classrooms in South Africa had been signed. And in March, my colleague who led the development of the product brought the software and materials to South Africa, establishing the programme in about 80 state-funded schools in the Northern Cape province.
We waited with fingers crossed and holding our breaths. Would it work well in the classroom? Would it engage, challenge, clarify? Would it bring science to life the way we have enjoyed it ourselves? There have been so many people who have contributed to this project, so many sources of creativity and passion, so many hours of careful artistry, computer programming, and content development. It felt like a lot was at stake when it was finally rolled out.
And now it’s in classrooms! Our materials are being used! Early reports (after about 4-6 weeks of use in the class) indicate that teachers and students are using the programme in many different ways to support learning. Some teachers have been able to use our materials to get learners caught up on previously covered concepts that were tricky to learn; some schools have been able to provide students with learning copies of their own. Of course, there are cases where the programme still needs help to unfold, to take root. But we are in classrooms! Our work is being used!
This is such a rewarding thought; knowing that all that hard work and imagination is finally in the classroom, reaching students and teachers. Experience and common sense tells us that we will learn much from these first users. Some things will work well, others not so well. There will be areas for improvement that we couldn’t have seen without deployment in the classroom and there may be aspects which work well that, likewise, we couldn’t have predicted. It’s so exciting because the work is live! It’s in the hands of students and teachers.
And that’s my good news.
We now continue, developing the next phase of curriculum, and I can see how all our experience from the first project is making this phase both more efficient and more focused. The team is an energetic and imaginative bunch with whom I love working. The high of seeing ‘ready’ animations pop up after hours and hours of hard work is just as thrilling as it ever was. This is work I am immensely proud of and so honoured to contribute to.
Some of the many many people who are part of the HeyScience! team.
With Nimmi Sankaran at Cambridge, recruiting graduates to work for HeyMath! in Chennai for a year (or longer).