Introducing Malini Maria Narnoli: Head of School, Geekz Microschool

We have an exciting announcement: Malini Maria Narnoli a Montessori certified multinational educator, Kathak dancer, Aerobic conditioner, Bokwa trainer for kids, Swimmer, Baker, Banker, Backpacking explorer, perhaps more than that of any other epitome – a Mother of two lil kids and will serve as Head of School for Geekz Microschool, our elementary school in Velachery. Malini brings a decade of experience leading and teaching in American and British International schools in Middle East. She is currently backpacking Bali & Langkawi, and is looking forward to growing Geekz Microschool community.

Get to know Malini, her interest and passion.

Meet Malini Maria Narnoli

Malini Maria

Over the past decade, I’ve had the great privilege of creating change in education, which has only deepened my passion to continue down this path. I hold an English Honors from Jesus & Mary College, New Delhi and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Indian Institute of Management Technology. I started my career with GE, HDFC Bank, The World Bank(United Nations) in India & NCB Capital in Jeddah and then moved to American and British International School. At both schools, I worked to model and integrate student-centered teaching techniques powered by technology. I helped redesign the personalized learning program. Students began by writing proposals about what they wanted to learn. We then assigned them to advisors who worked with them to achieve their goals. This process enabled students to develop responsibility, which I believe is deeply important to become lifelong learners.

I’ll bring these learnings with me to Geekz Microschool, where I look forward to examining the problems we face locally, nationally, and globally with elementary school students—and investigating solutions together.

Angry Birds Transdisciplinary Education

I was dreaming a trans-disciplinary lesson using game apps as my inspiration for fun learning experience. Everyone including kids and adults love to play games in iPad, tablets, phone and other smart devices. Why not design education using game apps? This will kindle kids curiosity as well as interest to learn everything compared with real life experiences.

Immediately game apps started running in my mind but I want to do user study and pick a famous app which everyone love. I asked my wife, Nandhini to list famous game apps. Without even thinking she said “Angry Birds”.

Yes, you read correctly. Angry Birds for trans-disciplinary education and the potential it has to help kids learn Math, Science, History, Language Arts, Music, Technology etc.

It doesn’t seem to matter what age group or demographic that I talk to, kids (and adults) everywhere are fans of Angry Birds. As I was playing around with Angry Birds (yep I’m a fan too), I started thinking about all of the learning that could be happening.  I have watched kids tell adults that “you have to pull down to go up higher”.  I have watched as kids master this game through trial and error.  Being the technology educationalist that I am, I started dreaming up a trans-disciplinary lesson with Angry Birds as the base.

Following is the trans-disciplinary learning that I came up with:

  1. Math – positional math language (above, below, up, bottom, left, right, biggest & smallest), shapes, measurement (distance), angles, quadratic formulas, trajectory, velocity, parabolas
  2. Science – simple machine (lever), force, energy, speed
  3. History – history of the catapult, it’s invention, change in its technology throughout history, how it’s used in modern inventions, people who lived during the age of catapult, their culture, food, living habits, climatic conditions
  4. Music – popular music and instruments during the age of catapult
  5. Arts & Craft – what era of art and craft was happening during the age of catapult
  6. Language Arts – reflecting the learning happened by writing and reading (blogs and websites)
  7. Photography/Cinematography – Take photos, shoot videos and create short film of the entire angry birds game based learning and associated projects
  8. Technology – Blog, create website and share learning to friends, families and community using social media (with the help of Educators and Parents)


Let students play Angry Birds for few minutes considering measurements, directions, angle, speed, energy, force, etc. as they played based on respective age group. Invite students for Socratic discussion to collaborate with others, ask questions and get clarity. Also suggest them to refer google or books if they want to learn more. At the end of play time, encourage every student to reflect on what they learned playing this game.


Next phase of the activity – Demo video on catapult and question students on what is a catapult? what can be done with this catapult? One will say it is used in war to throw fire balls (as in Gladiator), other will say pigeons can be hunted. Collect all the answer, form students into small groups of 2 to 5, ask them to come up with one primary use of a catapult per team (e.g. hunting pigeon), pitch it in 30 seconds and sell it as the best use to educator. This will help students learn collaboration, negotiation, creativity, innovation and pitching skills which will eradicate stage fear and improve language fluency and critical thinking.

Based on the pitch, next task is each team to design/draw how their catapult will look like. We encourage students to be creative and innovative in their design approach. At this point educators will give random materials (like straw, string, wood, duct tape, paper, thermocol balls, rubber bands, popsicle sticks, cups, etc.) that the team could use to build their own catapult. We offer no instructions but just let them go to town, trial & error and build working models for their proposed primary use.

Let students test their catapult and experiment with speed, angle, distance, force to list a few. They can also extend their creativity by painting paper/thermocol balls to look like angry birds and pigs. After launching their paper fire balls or birds, they can record and measure distance. We share set of question for students to experiment by changing angle, force, etc. to log varying distance and analyze the impact to learn science and math real time.

As students tested, we ask them:

  1. What makes the bird go furthest?
  2. What is speed?
  3. What is acceleration?
  4. Does mass affects the result?
  5. What happen when you adjust the angle?
  6. What makes the catapult more accurate?
  7. What are some forces that act on objects in motion?
  8. What kind of energy your catapult use?
  9. What are simple machines?
  10. What are other kind of levers?
  11. What is the relationship between force and distance?


Older students look at the math and science behind Angry Birds, using screen shots to determine if a bird would make it to the pigs based on parabolas.

Younger students label their catapult diagram with the language they learned about simple machines, force, and motion.  Students also label the Angry Birds diagram.

Third phase of this game based learning will be to educate kids about history, culture, music, arts and crafts associated with catapult and the age of its invention. We also talk why catapult was a necessary invention. We connect all of this with how the technology is currently being used on air craft carriers. Students will have fantastic time learning through trial and error and working together to build a game.

To wrap up, students will have the opportunity to reflect on what they learned, literally about how a simple machine works, measurement, directions, etc. we encourage them to write a blog/website on catapults and angry birds using their reflection and photos. We will help them to shoot videos of their projects, edit/create a short film and post it in social media (with the help of Educators in school/class page) along with sharing it in their project blog/website.

Who knew you could learn so much from a game of Angry Birds?

Once Upon a Time in the West

A good, successful, famous and most sought out model (Mastery Learning) was forgotten. Why? Why was it smothered?

In Mastery Learning every student must reach a prescribed degree of mastering a concept before advancing to the next concept. They are not time bound, they just keep practicing until they master the concept. In this model students learned at their own pace, teacher served as guides and mentors rather than lecturers. Peer interaction was encouraged, peers helping peers was of benefit not only academically but in character-building as well. Some students might struggle, but none were given up on. In study after study, mastery learning model kicked butt when compared to instructional classroom models.

To run this model, each student must have their own text books and study materials to learn at their own pace – based on their passion and interest. Mass produced common curriculum text books won’t be enough because one kid will learn about Earth but the other kid would have went to learn Mars due to his passion on celestial bodies and space. So, educators and school have to give unique materials for every kid, every day.

Let’s get back to some history, In terms of making knowledge available to the many, the most important technology since spoken language has been written text. Early writings were so expensive, only privileged had access so does the special knowledge and therefore greater power.

And to make it clear how privileged a thing books were in their early days, think about how they had to be produced. They would be hand-copied by very specialized people with good penmanship. Consider how much it would cost to have one of the most educated people in your town spend a few years copying, say the Bhagavad Gita – definitely on the order of a Ferrari or Lamborghini in today’s terms. So you can imagine how many would have access to touch them let alone reach them.

Then came primitive block printing in second century. Now a skilled artisan could carve text and images on the surface of a wooden block, dip it in ink, and press it onto a piece of paper. This was an advancement, but books were still expensive. Depending on the number of prints, this could actually be more labor-intensive than hand-copying text. It is hard to inflation-adjust the price but roughly the cost of Rolls-Royce or Bentley, so well-off families might have one or two but they were by no means common place.

Then something epic happened in 1450 in Strasbourg, a German-speaking town that is now part of France. A fifty two- year-old blacksmith named Johannes Gutenberg decided that he could simplify the creation of the blocks for printing text. Instead of each block being separately hand-carved, he realized that the individual letter blocks or “type” could be made in metal once and put together on a block for a given page. They could then be rearranged for the next page. Instead of multiple weeks of a skilled artisan’s time being required to make a block for one page, it could now be done by a typesetter moving around type in a matter of a few hours. Even then it’s not cheaper but the cost compared to that of a Tesla, Maserati or Jaguar.

By the nineteenth century, movable type and the printing press had been perfected to the point that books were reasonably affordable in the order of a BMW, Audi or Porsche. By the twentieth century, textbooks became mainstream of education.

A small, wealthy school system like Winnetka’s could afford self-paced mastery learning model with surplus unique text books and materials, but the technology of 1920s paper publishing was expensive and impractical to afford at national scale. So, part of the reason for non-existence of mastery model, no doubt was economic. Also, this model needs retraining educators, it demands different set of techniques and skills to be guides and mentors, which in turn called not only for money but initiative and flexibility on the part of educators and administrators.

As like our politicians, they shot down the model as it required them to change. This is what happens when you give keys to the thieves and ask them to take care of the house.

Thirudanaai parthu thiruntha vittal thirutai ozhika mudiyathu!

What is Mastery Learning?

Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

 – Swami Vivekananda

As we recall my previous article, a tenth grade student doesn’t know to read, write or speak in her second language (English), thanks to the broken system. For a decade, we go to school and learn same second language, even then how come we don’t know the basics? How such an education model was designed? Why does it even exist in this modern world?

In 1919, before there were computers, or televisions, or antibiotics, a progressive educator named Carleton W. Washburne was named superintendent of schools in affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka Illinois. Winnetka was a manageably sized school with the community (parent, educator, students and school LT) willing to experiment and excel. In 1922, Washburne introduced what became widely known as Winnetka Plan, comprising of two radical concepts. First, all students could learn if provided with conditions appropriate to their needs and no one must be held back or put on a track that leads to academic failure. This one is aced by our government and education system, no student can fail until Grade Eight, kudos – but every student have the conditions appropriate to their needs? Let me give a rain check on this debate.

Before going to second concept, let’s see how our existing traditional model works. I’m taking the liberty to pick a leaf out of my school life as an example – 9.15 AM sharp, school bell will ring. By then we must be inside the school gate, whole school assembles for morning prayer. At 9.30, we go to our classes, sit in the place allocated to us, educator will come and start taking lectures. After 45 minutes, a bell will ring, immediately the educator will stop her lecture without even fully finishing the concept because the next educator is waiting at door step for their subject. After 2 such period, a bell for the break and after four, a lunch break. Similarly afternoon session comprises of 3 periods. Each time when the bell rang for breaks or end of school day, the next minute, we will run out of class without even considering whether the educator finished the concept or we honed it. We just ran home. There is nothing curious or compelling to tie us in the class, it was so boring – we love to go home and play.

Let’s come back to the Second concept, Learning is structured not in terms of time but in terms of certain target levels the student achieve. This is not 21st century idea, back in 1920s Washburne introduced this concept part of Winnetka Plan. He was advocating the opposite to then and now traditional model. What should be fixed is a high level of comprehension and what need to be variable is the amount of time students have to understand a concept.

Every student must reach a prescribed degree of mastering a concept before advancing to the next concept. They are not time bound, they just keep practicing until they master the concept. In this Masterly Learning, students won’t be in tenth grade without knowing to read, write or speak their languages. They would have mastered the language. They won’t have ran home without finishing the concept. They would have practiced until they master it.

During the progressive 1920s, interest in the Winnetka Plan ran high. Students of this school system graduated with flying colors. Washburne himself became Edu Star and president of Progressive Education Academy. But then a strange thing happened to the notion of Mastery Learning. It soon went out of vogue and for decades, it was all but forgotten.

A good, successful, famous and most sought out model was forgotten. Why? Why was it smothered?

Didn’t you hear the School Bell? Done with First Period. Wait for the Next…

Hello English – Indian Version of DuoLingo

Discipline: Language Arts


Platform: Android


Price: Free


For What:

Hello English is an Indian version of DuoLingo to learn English if you know any of the 19 supported Indian regional languages. As you all know, I started researching apps to help my mom learn English. DuoLingo helps learning English but you have to know one of the language it supports like Spanish, French, etc. and unfortunately it’s not yet supporting Tamil. As my mom knows only Tamil, it didn’t help her. We tried couple other apps and finally found Hello English. If you know Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, etc. and of course Tamil, you can easily learn English.

Hello English

It has a huge customer base with 10+ Million downloads and 4.5 rating in Google Play store. It uses crowd source and English educators to help answer your questions. It consists of more than 350 lessons, games, news and articles. It also has an inbuilt dictionary.


Hello English smoothly drives you through learning language. Install and on opening the app, it asks for access to your contacts to use your family and friends names to give you the real world experience while learning English. Choose to give access. Next step, select the language using which you want to learn English. In my mom case, we chose Tamil. Now, interface started to appear in Tamil and my mom easily navigate and play with the app. You can also change interface language to English if you’re comfortable in it. Also, choose a profile photo, name and reasons to learn English. Say, To go abroad, better social life, watch English movies, to educate kids, prepare for exams or job hunt. Finally rate your English proficiency and you’re all set to Learn English, Walk English, Swim English.


App will guide you through the lessons, games and essays. In each of those, you can read a sentence, listen each word with Tamil translation, tap a word to learn about it, fill in the blanks, choose the best answer, match the following and record your audio to gauge speaking skills. All of this with the help of visual pictures, audio and videos to make audience curious, keep learning, practicing and good news you need not memorize as it is similar to watching movies, playing games in your smart devices. On mastering the lesson 1, next game, articles and lessons will get activated. You can also take the test to skip one or group of lessons, if you’re already familiar with it. Based on your mastery level, you will win coins and your Global/City rank will be listed. These exercises help you hone reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.



  • Supports Indian regional languages like Tamil to learn English
  • Intuitive, Easy and Self-paced learning app
  • Need no educator to teach
  • Beautiful User Interface
  • Works Offline



  • Supports only English, can’t learn other foreign languages like Spanish, Mandarin, etc.
  • Lack of Human interaction
  • Lack of support for all Indian languages


How to Integrate in Classroom:

Decide how you will use it in your classroom. You must have a smart device, chrome book, PC or Mac and a projector so that you can screen-cast and project the app to entire class but I will recommend each student have access to a smart device preferably Android tablet as it is cost effective. So, they can self-learn and educators can mentor them.

Let’s say Students have a smart device and learn independently. They need not even create user credentials to login. All they have to do is open the app, enter their name, choose a profile picture and the regional language from which they want to learn English. App will drive them to their daily lessons, games, articles and news. Students must use the app during Core Skill time to learn and revise English reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.

As I mentioned, Hello English lacks in human interaction. During Socratic discussion time, educators must facilitate group of students to apply their learning from the app to speak, listen closely to the comments of others, think critically for themselves, understand, articulate their own thoughts, connect learnings with real world scenarios and respond to thoughts of others. Also, integrate the learning in trans-disciplinary projects. Say, write a blog about the project activity in the language students learning and socialize sharing it with family, friends and our community.

You need not worry about testing students as the app covers it and tracks the progress my means of mastery level indicators on each lesson.

Talk English. Walk English. Swim English.

DuoLingo – Learn International Languages at Your Own Pace

Discipline: Language Arts 
Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Web 
Price: Free 

For What:

DuoLingo is a language learning app offering 16 languages for English speakers. Say, as an English speaker you can learn Spanish, French or German along with million other learners. It uses crowd source to help you understand your learning or discuss doubts and queries. Speakers of non-English languages can also learn using this app. These include Spanish, Greek, Czech, German, French, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese speakers. 

DuoLingo smoothly drives you through learning language. On mastering the basic module (lesson), next module will get activated. You can also take the test to skip one or group of modules, if you’re already familiar with it.



Each lesson has range of activities such as matching words, translation, listening and speaking exercises. It identifies your weakest words to strengthen it. Under the module, a bar will show the mastery level. It will get weak progressively if you don’t practice the same lesson regularly as our brain will start forgetting. DuoLingo keeps track of it, sets the revision schedule and reminds you. It is so much intelligent that, as our brain masters the lesson, interval between our revision schedule increases – as obviously we don’t forget and eventually become geeks.


  • Intuitive, Easy and Self-paced learning app
  • Need no educator to teach
  • Beautiful User Interface



  • Lack of Human interaction
  • You must be a speaker of one of the language supported to learn new languages. Say, you know my mom passionately trying to learn English and that’s why I started researching apps. She knows only Tamil but this app doesn’t support it so she can’t learn English. DuoLingo won’t help my mother but I ended up learning Spanish. Hope Tamil will be supported soon. This is the best free app to learn new languages. Period.


How to Integrate in Classroom:

Decide how you will use it in your classroom. You must have a smart device, chrome book, PC or Mac and a projector so that you can screen-cast and project the app to entire class but I will recommend each student have access to a smart device preferably Android tablet as it is cost effective. So, they can self-learn and educators can mentor them. 

Let’s say Students have a smart device and learn independently. They must create a profile, login, choose target language they wish to learn and setup weekly goal. Students must use the app during Core Skill time to learn, practice and revise new language like Spanish.

As I mentioned, DuoLingo lacks in human interaction. During Socratic discussion time (open ended discussions), educators must facilitate group of students to apply their learning from the app to speak, listen closely to the comments of others, think critically for themselves, understand, articulate their own thoughts, connect learnings with real world scenarios and respond to thoughts of others. Also, integrate the learning in trans-disciplinary projects. Say, write a blog about the project activity in the language students learning and socialize sharing it with family, friends and our community. 

You need not worry about testing students as the app covers it and tracks the progress my means of mastery level indicators under each module (lesson) and weekly goals.

Set your own goal. Learn at your own pace. Welcome to personalized learning!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This story starts with a mom and a kid. It begins as a family story. Mom lost her loving husband couple months ago, so did the kid – a caring father. It all happened in 7 days, in front of their eyes. The Shock from which they couldn’t recover.

Few weeks later..

Out of the blue, one fine morning – mom told the kid, she wants to go to English classes. She wanted to read, write and speak English. Kid couldn’t understand what’s happening with her. She enrolled and started going to the classes as well. Few took by surprise, few thought she is crazy. She is none other than my mother, 51 years old.

I initially thought, she wanted to keep herself busy but as weeks passed I understood this is something she wanted to do since I started my schooling. She is super passionate, never missing the class and practicing her learning all through the day. I can see learning English got mixed in her blood, skin, brain, breath and everything like Baasha Bhai (Super Star Rajinikanth’s cult classic don/gangster movie character), at this age. Everyone around us started talking about her dedication and passion in English at the age of 51.

Early this week at dawn (around 6am), I was driving home dropping my wife to catch her office van, hearing Jubal in the morning in Seattle’s famous FM station. Jubal shared a question (which I don’t remember, as I was in fused state early morning) and asked for top 5 reasons. One of his co-host guessed, high school dropout. Suddenly my mom came to my mind, she studied till tenth grade but she don’t know to read English. I started digging deep, in spite of English being her second language till tenth she is not able to read, write or speak English. Whose fault? Definitely not the student’s but our pathetic education system’s fault.

Yesterday, I was talking to my mom – she brought up about her English learning, spelled letters of a word and asked me how to pronounce? I said enclave. She stopped and corrected me that it needs to be pronounced as “aNG,klav”. She asked me its definition and to the embarrassment, I don’t know. She gave the correct definition and spelled other word, its entrepreneur – thank god at least I know that. She asked same words to my cousins who are doing engineering, they don’t know both words. It doesn’t stop, to make it worse my cousins couldn’t even read the word entrepreneur. This is when I decided our education system is not flawed but completely broken.

I believe current education model was product of Industrial Revolution, that’s why a batch of students go into a classroom, listen to lecture and move to next grade whether they are prepared or not. Are we products of a factory wielding? As a result, we have 10th grade student who can’t read, write or speak second language.

No two brains are same. Every person is unique. Have we ever saw 2 identical persons? Then how is it expected in education with a one-size-fits-all model? We must not doubt students capability, they are very much capable that’s why they cope up with this mechanism until they can make a choice to dropout of schools.

At 51 years, my mom is showing extreme interest in learning a new language. Under the circumstance, It will be tough for her to continue learning with the same interest if her curiosity is not kindled or thrown under this industrial age education system. So I’m planning to research intuitive game based apps to keep her engaged and feed her curiosity to learn a new language. At least she is not memorizing for the sake of getting state first, admission in top schools or land a job and my responsibility is to not let her go in the same path as her schooling.

Schools and education must help kids learn life at their own pace – marks and jobs will follow automatically. Let me help my mom learn life with technology integrated re-imagined education. Hope you will join my journey in helping our community.

Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.

– Rabindranath Tagore

Think Different


School failed a K-5 kid? Weird. That’s a topic to discuss, lets deal with it little later.


Why a K-5 primary school kid fail? As the video illustrates, it may be because of the quality of educators along with many other factors. If we have high quality educator, how will they fail? Kids will be engaged because the educator will tap their curiosity, guide their curiosity and feed their curiosity. It will evidently show up in their learning and results.


We have huge talent pool as Engineers and Entrepreneurs but why we lack that talent in education? Is it because educators are not well paid? They don’t get the luxury afforded by Software Industry? Or they’re not attracted to education? True, schools can’t pay that money or lucrative abroad opportunities but with the budget they have why can’t they be innovative? Why can’t they attract talent pool? Why can’t they Think Different?

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I still have a dream…

I was born and raised in a small town Chengalpattu near Chennai, India. We had couple established schools, most of my town went to one of it, I’m not an exception. We went to the school, we had classrooms, sat in benches, in rows, facing the blackboard where educators lecture for an hour while many students sleeping, playing and only few listening. When exams came, we memorized, scored good marks and walked away happily with report card. I never had the exposure then which I have now at Microsoft but hey I’m now what I’m because of the school and we had no Smart Phones, iPads, iTunes, Apps, not even computers for the most part so the education we got is just fine.


Think about the modern world, we’re in the digital era but still education is old school. Kids are taught the same way, lectured in front of blackboard, memorizing and forgetting after exams. We’re in the society where everything is individualized and personalized. We can get out computers built to our exact specification, we can customize our smart phones, we can even get the food customized and yet in this world of customization, one main thing we fail to personalize is education. It is not engaging and definitely not interesting, that’s why students wait for the school bell to run home and play games, hear music, watch videos.


We’re not preparing our students for the world they’re expected to be in, we’re not giving the exposure they need to compete with this opportunistic society. We’re just letting them prepare for the world their ancestors lived. Is it going to help them?


I still have dreams of education. I have dreams of how a school should look. I have dreams to gamify the learning. I have dreams of replacing classroom with school space. I have dreams of innovating school space utilization. I have dreams of optimizing operation cost. I have dreams of reducing education cost. I have dreams of personalizing education to each individual and identify their unique passion. I have dreams of integrating games, music and videos in the learning process. I believe in the power of technology to transform classrooms.

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