Thursday, June 21, 2012

[work] Teaching Environmental Science : Experience & Feedback

After three years of teaching Programming Languages, Databases & Objects, last semester I felt like doing something different. I chose a subject I've never handled. It also happened to be the one that most faculty members consider a nightmare. 'Environmental Science' is one of the driest subjects, according to my previous year students. I never studied it as a student. It was introduced as a compulsory subject for all engineering students a few years ago. I was excited and pumped up until I opened the textbook. It was like I was back in my high school sitting with my chemistry text book the day before my exam. A subject that is always, and I guess, will always be, on top of my hate list.

I promised to myself to never open that text book again. I am happy that I kept my promise. From the designed syllabus, I prepared a set of activities and recorded interesting stories related to environmental issues. This took a lot more time than what it would have taken to prepare lecture notes based on that textbook, but for the results that I was expecting, every minute I had spent seemed worth.

After my first lecture introducing the course and how I plan to take the next few months forward, I screened Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth'. We watched the entire documentary and had a brief discussion on arguments that support and are against Al Gore's theories.

As our next classroom activity I asked my students to review a 'man vs environment' movie each, such that no two students should review the same movie. In our next lecture I was surprised to find 70 students ready with review of 70 different movies. Each student in less than 30 seconds explained the environmental issue addressed by his/her movie. Now we were able to classify those movies by the environmental issues. For example Jurassic Park, Anaconda, King Kong fell under the same category of what happens when natural habitats are disturbed. Wall-E, Erin Brockovich and a few other fell under pollution. We had around 13 such classifications. We were now able to see most environmental issues via the movies that we loved watching. This activity gave a great start to all of us. We knew what we were heading towards in the next few months.

After our lecture on garbage classifications and disposal methodologies, I invited my students to a beach cleanup activity organized by Chennai Trekking Club.

There is no better way to learn about recyclable and non-recyclable garbage than to collect loads and loads of them by hand! The sight of that clean beach after a strenuous 3 hr cleaning with 200+ volunteers was priceless.

When we were discussing about marshlands, I invited Photographer Shaju John, who has been photographing Pallikaranai marshlands for the past 15 years, to give a talk to my students. Shaju took us through a journey to show how this marshland, where thousands of migratory birds rested a decade ago, is now one of the primary dumping yards of Chennai. A sunrise photo where a little girl stands on top of a mountain trying to reach the sun was so beautiful until Shaju zoomed the photo to show that the mountain was made out of plastic bottles.

A week later, we took the college bus to visit the marshlands to see the birds on one side of the road and a huge mountain of dump on the other side.

We discussed effects of consumerism on environment and analyzed impacts of 70 TV commercials. It was around the time when we were investigating policies of various industries towards protecting our environment, I asked students to blog all their activity reports, studies and thoughts on the subject. A few students were hesitant initially but gave me time to convince them why it might make a difference. These environmental blogs I planned to evaluate towards their third assessment.

Our trip to Anna Uyiriyal Poonga, Vandalur pretty much covered one unit of our syllabus, as we walked some 10+ Kilometers exploring birds and animals most of us have never seen. It was the first visit for a big majority of my students. It was a hot day. A few managed to walk the entire stretch and click photos all the way. Check out their blogs (I'll provide links in the later part of the article ) They've published some good photos and write-ups.

Before every lecture I tried to find stories related to the topic of discussion. I kind of got addicted to this habit later. I would rate the story of capuchin monkeys from Super Freakonomics, when discussing Animal Testing, my personal favorite.

We had small student expert groups in our class room. We had around 14 groups specializing in one environmental issue each. Pollution, Over Population, Genetic Engineering, Climate Change are are few of those issues. We consult the expert group whenever we have a doubt. The expert groups also gave presentations on their environmental issue with images, stats and stories. I was not very happy with this part because many students preferred to read long text articles from wikipedia for their presentations. On the other hand, some student presentations were amazing. The way they narrated their issue with examples, stories and even came with solutions was wow.

The blog idea for third assessment worked in a way that at end of our course we had 70 blogs that talk about environmental issues from students point of view. The flip side was that many articles were plagiarized primarily from sources such as wikipedia. Plagiarism in many other countries leads to expulsion from institution and to the loss of degree. I find that we take plagiarism lightly. It has now become part of norms. I see school kids printing out their homework directly from web articles. Plagiarism is not seen as an act of theft here. At the same time I should also accept that many articles carried good research and originality in presenting ideas.

In the end, this course turned out to be the best thing that happened to me in the past three years. I thank all my students for their cooperation and my University for giving me this freedom.

I'll leave you with some feedback from my students and links to some of their blogs.

"Unlike usual learning we do, the current approach of learning and teaching proves more beneficial since we are learning a lot"

"instead of the boring/long lectures you made the class interesting with your short lectures filled with interesting stuff"

"This cannot be called 'teaching'. This is an interactive and innovative method to learn a subject. Now I know more about environment than compilers, dsp,…"

"Creation of blog is a bit too much work. It would be better if you reduce that part"

"many of my other department friends complain that this subject is boring and unnecessary. But you made it a fun and highly informative. I wish all subjects were like this"

"This is the best course in my entire life"

"The weekly assignments were very useful. It helped me to find things about the environment"

"I think every subject should be taught in this way"

"Visit to pallikaranai dump yard made us aware of the waste disposal problem."

"It has ben conducted in a well planned and holistic manner. I enjoyed the pattern of evaluation. It was refreshing to have a pop quiz as one of our internal assessments"

"The questions could have been more well defined and not vague"

"I believe that the way the classes are handled is more relative to modern day standards. I appreciate the informal and free atmosphere during your classes One thing is that you almost never smile in class room"

"Neelangarai beach cleanup was really a useful activity. Your assessment is a refreshment for our minds. There are no negative points to mention"

"Never felt any pressure in your class"

"The only thing is you could have taught the text book content also somewhere in our classes. On the whole the way you handled was different. We need more staff like you."

"I now effectively segregate waste in my house. Thank you for making us aware of these issues." 

"In a week filled with excessive work and deadlines, your classes were stress relief for us. Field visit to Pallikaranai and Vandalur was a great experience"

"You always make sure that the classes are informative with stories that ensure long standing in our minds."

"The best part of the course was the screening of 'An Inconvenient Truth', It really did awake the 'do-something-to-save-earth' self in me. Student presentations was a good idea, I wish it could have been meticulously planned. This is one of the best courses."

"Capuchin monkey story for Animal Testing lecture was funny and thought provoking. Liked all your stories and how you quickly relate them to the topic and make us go wow."

"Creating blogs is a tedious task. No mini project please"

"Activities enabled us to learn many new things. The way of conducting assessments is also interesting and enhances our creativity." 

Links to my Environmental Science Students' Blogs :

Thursday, June 07, 2012

[lyric] நீ இன்றி

AG Creations
பொன் மாலைப் பொழுது
பாடல் : நீ இன்றி [அந்தாதி]
இசை : சத்யா
இயக்கம் : துரை
குரல் : சத்யா

நீ இன்றிக் கிடக்கும் இருக்கை அருகே
நெஞ்சம் ஏனோ தவழுது?

தவளைக் கிணறாய் சுருங்கும் உலகம்
கொஞ்சம் மெதுவாய் சுழலுது

சுழலின் உள்ளே உறங்கும் மீனாய்
வகுப்பில் நானும் இருக்கிறேன்

இறுக்கிப் பிடிக்கும் உனது நினைவில்
உறக்கம் கலைந்தேன். நீ எங்கே?

எங்கே எங்கே எங்கே? 
ஓஹொ... ஓ...

ஓர் ஆண்டிலே நேராதது
விலகித் தவிக்கையில் நிகழ்வது ஏன்?

ஏனோ உனைக் காண்பேனென
இதயம் துடிக்கையில் உணருகிறேன்

உனது சுவடுகள் தொடருகிறேன்
தொடங்கும் இடத்தினில் சேருகிறேனே
சேரும் வரை கண்ணில் தூக்கம் தோன்றாது
தோன்றும் வலி நீ வரும் வரையினில் நீங்காது


[lyric] வாற்கோதுமைக் கள்

AG Creations
பொன் மாலைப் பொழுது
பாடல் : வாற்கோதுமைக் கள் 
இசை : சத்யா
இயக்கம் : துரை


வாற்கோதுமைக் கள்ளோடு
வா தோழனே என்னோடு
ஊர்விட்டோடி காற்றை சுவாசிக்கலாம்

நாற்காலிகள் மேசைகள் 
நாள்தோறுமே தேய்த்தோமே
மேற்கூரையாய் வானம் நேசிக்கலாம்

கோப்புகளோடு கொட்டிய குப்பை
கோப்பைகள் முட்டி மறந்திடுவோம்!
பகலிரவைந்தும் நிகழ்த்திய தப்பை
ஓரிரு நாட்கள் துறந்திடுவோம்!

தோள்கள் உரசிப் பேசிக் கிடக்க
வாரக் கடைசி வந்ததடா!
செல்லிடப்பேசி மூடி அணைக்க
வாரக் கடைசி வந்ததடா!

வாற்கோதுமைக் கள்
சோர்வோயவே கொள்

விரிவுரை எல்லாம் வரிவரியாக
எழுதி விரலும் தேய்ந்ததே
அறிவுரை கேட்டு சரிசரிசொல்லி
வறண்டு குரலும் காய்ந்ததே

தேயும் நிலவென 
புன்னகையும் சுருங்கி
யானை மிதிபடும்
அப்பளமாய் நொறுங்கி

ஞானம் பிறக்க ஞாலம் சிறக்க
வாரக் கடைசி வந்ததடா
மேற்கில் பறக்க ரெக்கை விரிக்க
வாரக் கடைசி வந்ததடா

சங்கை ஊதித்  திங்கள் வந்தது
ஜவ்வாய் மாறிச் செவ்வாய் வந்தது
பூதம் போலொரு புதனும் வந்திடும் செல்லும்
வியாதித் தீயென வியாழன் வந்ததும் கொல்லும்
கவலைக்கிடமாய் நிலமை நிலமை 
தொடரும் தொடரும் தொடரும் தொடருமே

வெள்ளிக்கிழமை வந்தால் ஏனோ
உள்ளம் உச்சம் துள்ளுதோ?
யார் கையிலே யார் பையிலே 
இன்னும் மிச்சம் உள்ளதோ… 
... வாற்கோதுமைக் கள்ளோடு
வா தோழனே என்னோடு
ஊர்விட்டோடி காற்றை சுவாசிக்கலாம்

புத்தகம் எல்லாம்
மூளை திணித்தே
மந்தையில் ஆடாகினோம்

ஆந்தைகள் போலே
கண்கள் விழித்தே
மண்டையில் சூடாகினோம்

நுரையீரல் எல்லாம்
வகுப்பறை வாசம்
அதை நீக்கத் தானே வழி தேடினோம்

நுனிநாக்கும் தானாய்
ஆங்கிலம் பேசும்
அதைப் போக்கத் தானே தமிழ் பாடினோம்

நிலவோடு கரைகள் குறையில்லை என்றே
அளவோடு ஏதும் பிழையில்லை என்றே... 
... வாற்கோதுமைக் கள்ளோடு
வா தோழனே என்னோடு
ஊர்விட்டோடி காற்றை சுவாசிக்கலாம்

[lyric] Masala Chicks

AG Creations
பொன் மாலைப் பொழுது
பாடல் : Masala Chicks
இசை : சத்யா
இயக்கம் : துரை
குரல் : ரம்யா 

We are just a gang of six
They call us all masala chicks
Check us out we’ve got some tricks
We’re butterflies when shutter clicks

Reebokல ஸ்கூல சுத்துற 
Nemo கூட்டம் Masala Chicks

Facebookல அச்சுன்னு தும்மினா
thousand likes Masala Chicks

homework எல்லாம் outsource பண்ணுற
OMG Masala Chicks

Dirty Naughty Jokes எல்லாம் 
By heartஆய் சொல்லும் Masala Chicks

weekends only மட்டுமே
freaksஆ மாறும் Masala Chicks!!!

Masala Chicks!!!

எங்க life-ஏ எங்க choice-ஏ
sound ஏறும் எங்க voice-ஏ
விளையாடுற மூடுல மட்டும்
boys எல்லாம் எங்க toys-ஏ

ATM கார்டுக்கும் 
boyfriend ஆகும் லூசுக்கும்
வித்தியாசம் என்னென்னென்னு பாப்போம்

ஷாப்பிங் மால் கூட்டிப்போய்
வெக்கமெல்லாம் இல்லாம
mannequin போட்டதெல்லாம்  கேப்போம்

Masala Chicks!!!

sixteenஇல் மொளச்சது வாலு
skateboardஇல் பறக்குது காலு
ச்சுச்சும்மா அதிருது schoolஉ
இனி நாங்க வெச்சது ruleஉ

Mottoவ tattoo போட்டோம்
Blackberry வீட்டில் கேட்டோம்
QWERTY keypad தட்டி
Cuteஆ tweetஅ போட்டோம்

பசி வந்தா K.F.C
thirsty ஆனா coke pepsi
caffeine தான எங்களுக்கு மூச்சு!

கோவில் பக்கம் கை வீசி
நாங்க போனா BBC
Channel எல்லாம் எங்க பத்தி பேச்சு!

Masala Chicks!!!