I am Tibetan by ethnicity, Nepalese by nationality and American by accent! Though born a Tibetan-Buddhist in a Hindu country, North American Jesuits schooled me. As such, when in school, I grew up praying to the Christian God, while outside, at times, praying for peace and harmony amongst, and prosperity of, all sentient beings lighting butter lamps at local Tibetan-Buddhist monasteries, and, at other times, visiting Hindu temples, getting blessed by Hindu priests applying vermicelli on my forehead. Socially, I grew up singing and dancing to Hindi songs, sometimes alongside Muslim friends. Since leaving Nepal 24 years ago, over the course of my education and travels abroad and keeping with my background, I have acquired some unusual interests and hobbies. I am an avid Salsa dancer, a self-taught didgeridoo and an avid Ultimate Frisbee player. Drawing on the depth and breadth of my unique background, personal experiences, outlook on life and love of Chemistry (and Science) I endeavor to impart problem-solving skills, higher level thinking skills and make of my students life-long learners.
Recognizing the importance of context in Science education, I draw on my students’ everyday lives. Using dramatic, and some times explosive chemical reactions, I bring the magic of science alive for them, while imparting transferable skills. At the center of it all are discrepant events, which I call “Magic Shows”!
To begin with, the shows have titles such as Magical Beakers, Magical Crystals, Magical Colors, Magical Solution, and Magical Candle etc. Ranging from simple but unusual processes to dramatic and sometimes explosive chemical reactions, the show firstly brings the magic of chemistry alive for my students. Secondly, it appeals to their natural curiosity inducing, and sustaining, interest in the subject. And thirdly, when used as an investigative exercise they impart problem-solving and higher level thinking skills, namely those of application of concepts and skills, of analysis of scientific phenomena, of synthesis of different topics, and finally of evaluation of scientific method, principles, theories and information. To get them into the spirit of things, I have my students conduct the investigative exercises as a challenge, as a “Beauties VS. Brawns: Who’s the brains?” challenge.
Some of the other interesting contexts have included hot air balloons (for fuels and energy), the chemistry of gunpowder and fireworks, including crackers, rockets and roman candles (for quantitative chemistry, gaseous behavior, and redox reaction amongst others), liquid nitrogen and its applications in, for instance, making instant ice cream and creating spectacular plastic bottle explosions (for state and energy), South Park characters (for displacement reactions), and Sudoku (for symbol of elements and formula of compounds). With hot air balloon, gunpowder and fireworks, they involved not only studying their chemistry but also making and testing them
Naturally, three other passions of mine–music, dance, and Buddhist philosophy—not only provide additional contexts but also add a multicultural dimension to my teaching. In addition to jamming and performing live with local bands, I have used my didgeridoo to demonstrate the behavior of atoms. My Salsa skills come into their own again not just as an after-school activity for students and in town where I have held classes for adults, but also when studying patterns in behavior and structure of substances. Buddhist philosophy complements their studies of atomic theories and the philosophy of science.
I further enhance my teaching of science and chemistry by extensive use of ICT. I have developed a variety of electronic resources some of which I make available to the students in print, others on CDs and most on my chemistry page on my web site. I am in the process of moving on to a paperless system where all work—completion, submission, grading and feedback—are carried out electronically. To that end I have created this blog and I am also in the process of installing and setting up Moodle on my homepage.