Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Century of posts, Quarter century of Life !

Around four years and a hundred blogs ago, I decided to start off this blog. On my 21st bday, one that I considered a bday for a lifetime. And mann, have I come a long way since then. Not just in terms of distance (Calicut -> Singapore translates to 1000s of kms :P), but mentally, emotionally, physically, academically, socially, and many more 'ally's (pun intended :P ). Change has beaten the face of my exteriors, yea. And yet, inside I'm still the same guy :). What I still crave for is company of more and more people. Yea, I'd say I'm still pretty much where I was for the last 7 years :P. A lot of change and no change (pls dont ask me how many coins I carry around :P).

A quarter of a century ago, somewhere in Dubai on a cold wintry night, another boy childs name was added to the register in New Dubai Hospital. He didnt know that he would write this blogpost afer a quarter century as a Capricornian.. oops.. Saggitarian..But while writing this, he realizes one thing. That feeling of gratitude and LIFE flowing all through him.

I logged in to Facebook to greet 50 something messages on my wall, and I'm waiting,counting,wishing for more to come :). I rubbed my ass after the butt-blowing GPLs, laughed over and over again at the entertainment show that had passed over the last 3 hours spent among an amazzing group, and whats more, stayed up till 5 am to see India win a thriller ODI with South Africa ! I just cant help thanking all of you guys out there, my friends, well wishers, for making me what I am by letting me know you atleast think of me. So I'll sum it up in the 6 letter word : THANKS !

And I just cant help get over that feeling of JOY that I feel now. So its time for a
repeat telecast of the blogpost I wrote exactly 2 years ago :). Happy Blogday to me !

Monday, January 10, 2011

Power of MANY

Remember the story your mom told you, about how its harder to break a bunch of sticks when they're together than to break them one by one ? I've come to realize how true it really is :). The power of a "group"- unbounded, unbreakable, overwhelming. After I felt the sheer mindblowing force that hundreds of minds working together could achieve from my experience with Ragam and Tathva during my college days, I'm feeling it yet again, here in Singapore.

Making a group work is making the difference between "Many Hands make work light" and "Too many cooks spoil the broth". But once a group achieves that state... "Coherence".. when you can bring together a bunch of 10 or 20 or even more people together..get them to pitch in a multitude of ideas, get different hands and minds working on different parts.. understand where to lead and where to follow.. At that point, when the group begins to function as a single individual in many bodies.. IT can achieve anything !

Apart from feeling the overwhelming power of being part of a single large entity during Ragam times, I've had the fortune of being associated with many gems of friends and friend 'groups' throughout my life.My EEE pals still remain an unchanging pillar of support to me (and I'm sure we'll stay that way) :).Through my friend 'circle' in Singapore, however, I've had the chance to really see and learn a lot of group dynamics. Over 2 years, we learnt a lot.I would'nt say we've perfected the art of acting as a united group, but we've come a far way.I've learnt that when a group is involved, even life-changing actions can be done with minimal effort.

Over 2 years, we learnt to celebrate as never before. Organized parties and trips that we will remember forever in life, celebrated birthdays in full style, made videos, dance dramas, treasure hunts, and took each one by surprise that it was no more surprising to be surprised :P. Did it all, from group lunches,coffees and dinners almost every other day to squash games on thursdays to mass movie-goings on fridays.

Well, we did "almost all". With Naren's bday, we reached another level beyond the art of celebration, that of group responsibility.The time spent with children on Naren's bday was one of the most satisfying moments for me, I'm glad I had an equally enthusiastic group with me to share and multiply it.And that is going to go on.Happen again.The small step we took towards 'encouraging' Protsahan (pun intended :P ) is going to be just one step towards whole new heights that we can scale.

And we will do more. Much more. Cos diverse as we are, we have learnt the art of doing as One :).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Teaching to teach...

A session spent teaching a junior recently reminded me of my passion- for teaching ! After the last 21 years spent in academics, I know by now that my only chance of job-satisfaction lies somewhere close to academics :). I realized something - all through my student life, I had known I would be a teacher. I had seen myself in the teachers shoes, standing right where he was, holding what power and knowledge he had, and imagined "How would I teach this if it were me ? Would I be better than him? What would I give importance to if I were in his shoes?".

And I learnt another very important fact. One that 90% of us never realized in student life. IT ISNT EASY TO BE A TEACHER, LET ALONE A GOOD ONE !

Here's the deal.When you teach, you aim multidimensionally. You aim to

- Impart the idea about the topic to the student,
- Not making yourself too boring and repetitive,
- Making sure the student develops a passion/interest for the topic by giving real-life examples,
but you want to
- Make sure the student practises/implements what he learnt. For eg., that ever irritating word called 'problems' :P,
then again you have to
- Reach out to all sections of the class - help the weaker ones survive, help the intelligent ones aim for greater heights in the topic

And all this through one hour of classroom teaching ? Seriously, its just not enough ! So what do you do when you have no time in the classroom? Prioritize and prepare outside your classroom. You prioritize what it is you aim for through your course. You do this by

- Proper course design - deciding what should be taught : Make the course relevant and useful to the students.
- Preparing the teaching presentation/lecture well beforehand : Not making it boring, at the same time making sure the information reaches the students.
- Being ready to take questions and answer them : This involves reading heavily and understanding the topic yourself beforehand.
- Preparing good tutorial/problems and handouts : Cos you might know what the relevant material is, and sometimes putting it together yourself might help the students (spoonfeeding ? :P I wonder).
- Setting a good question paper that tests everything in a balanced way : Not too easy, cos you want to appreciate the understanding of the ones who really learnt the topic. Not too hard, cos you dont want to grill the students, just test their knowledge.
- Correcting and examining the students : Not just the papers, but minute things like assignments, classroom participation etc. Extend this to a class of 60 students, and you realize that a teacher would require superhuman memory to do this !

And all the above 6 require the most valuable of all resources: TIME ! Observe that in order to make 1 hour of classroom teaching effective, you needed to do such a lot! One hour of complete sincere effectively delivered classroom teaching requires atleast 4-5 hours of outside classroom preparation for the teacher. And this is for one who is assumed to have a good understanding of the topic already !

Now do you understand how much of sweat your teacher actually went through to give you that one lecture you bunked effortlessly ? :P When I realize this, I cant help but bow down to some of my teachers for the amount of effort they put in to deliver an effective course.

So I set about Project Teacher.Teaching myself to teach.I remembered my teachers (the good ones). Which ones possessed qualities I wanted to imbibe in myself? How did they prepare their material ? Who was effective in making me finally learn ? Jeevamma ma'am (DSP, EEE NITC) came foremost to my mind, followed (closely) by KSK, SreeRamkumar Sir, and many more.I may be jumping 10 years too far already :), but I began imagining.Prioritizing. Deciding what sort of a teacher I would be and what I would not be. And to end this record of my thoughts, here is what I finally decided in a few hours what to do for the next 40 years of my life. Irony ? :P

Priority ONE: NOT to be labelled a cliched Boring teacher ! So? HUMOUR :). I am going to crack every single PJ on earth I can find with respect to the lecture :P. Forget the time involved. The talent of PJ-Cracking is for using, so my dear students, beware, here I come with a really new poverty level of jokes :P. Another way for this is to make sure I have really catchy slides and presentations :).

Priority TWO: I want the lecture to INSPIRE.How many hundred times have you got out of a lecture wondering why the heck did I learn this shit? If that should not happen in my course, I should give them examples. Real life stories, real implementations, real applications of whatever I am teaching them.The student gets out of my class satisfied, this is important ! Atleast 5 minutes devoted to this one.

Priority THREE: The lazy/weak ones in class should not be left behind.Hence I need to find an alternative to make sure they catch up to the class topic, atleast after a few lectures.And I cannot find a way to do this other than provide them some course material.But seriously, isnt this spoon-feeding? :)

Priority FOUR: The really interested ones need something to keep thinking about my lecture even after I leave the classroom.So at the end of every class,I give them a question about the next step, or something creative that they need to find out themselves.Another way to do this is by giving really creative questions in the tutorials, as KSK would. These so-called 'starred' questions were bound to lead to questions, which I'm sure the old man enjoyed answering :). And that would be one hell of an answer, one that would leave us mouth-wide-open for sometime :).

Priority FIVE: I dont want to be labelled a 'fake'- i.e., a teacher who doesnt really know about his topic. This according to me, is the hardest of all, since I need to read enormously well beforehand and have an excellent understanding of the topic before I start.Time spent reading and studying myself seems to be the only way out.

Priority SIX: Making sure the course goes way beyond the course and classroom.This can be done by explaining the state-of-the-art in the topic to them, and inviting students for their ideas/projects/questions and pointing out further reading in the topic.

Project Teacher is still on. If you have any more comments and suggestions, I will incorporate them into my future plans and even this blogpost :). @Naren, Joseph, Sid, Kishore, Laxmi, and all the fellow aspiring teachers out there...