Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Posts Tagged ‘Sri Lanka

GIS Developments at OSC in 2017

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GIS as a tool for teaching and learning in the DP Geography program (the field, Survey Department and in a final Geography EE map).

November 15th marked GIS Day, a time set aside to recognize the important role of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in our lives. With a theme of GIS as the “science of where” it seems like a good time to look at ways in which we are using GIS as a tool for teaching and learning at OSC. Ten years ago, I put in the first proposals to adopt a GIS program at OSC as a part of our MYP and DP Geography courses. Since then the school’s small program has grown steadily while there have also been enormous leaps in the technology. This post reviews the newer applications and data sources that I am using as a tool for geospatial teaching and learning in the OSC environment.

Curricular Links in the International Baccalaureate DP

As far as I know, there are no explicit requirements that GIS skills be taught in any IB course. There are references made to GIS in the revised DP Geography, First Examinations May 2019 syllabus though they are not required (unfortunately, from my perspective). On page 19 it says “it is recognized that the ability to use GIS as a tool is a valuable geographic skill that goes beyond many of those listed below. Where GIS is accessible and practical, its use is encouraged.” Of course, there are many geographic skills listed in the guide that can be taught using a GIS platform. The Environmental Systems & Societies, First Examinations 2017 syllabus in the Investigating Ecosystems (2.5) section mentions GIS as a tool to use when tracking land use change (see p. 38).

At OSC I take time to teach several basic GIS lessons in DP Geography that allows students to use it as a told for case studies and then work on the internal assessment. In the past, I have worked with MYP students to introduce them to skills and methods for using our ArcGIS software. This year we are once again introducing GIS skills for MY 5 so that they can map spatial patterns from their Galle socio-economic survey work.

Survey Pan

Mobile Data Collection & Tracking

The advent of wide spread use of smartphones and improved 4G cellphone networks has opened up opportunities to use mobile data gathering apps on phones. There are a variety of options including open source apps (Open Data Kit, etc.). I am using ESRI’s Survey123 which comes with our ArcGIS site license. For the first time this year we recorded all of the DP Geography Sinharaja field surveys on Survey123. The class set up a common survey with questions about gender, housing, water access, land use and other variables. Before we went to the field we trialed a simpler version in Colombo. In the field, every student had a phone but we also backed it up with paper copies. At times, there was no cell phone access. We were able to upload the data later when we had cell phone connectivity (this worked quite well although photographs attached to the survey slowed down the uploads considerably). It was a much better way to tabulate the data (there were more than 70 individual respondents in total) and the class could map the data points since each had a spatial reference.

At the same time, I have been experimenting with using phone apps to track and record hikes and trails that we walk on CAS experiences. Strava, a fitness oriented app, offers an excellent way to record tracks. I am exporting GPX trails and then putting them onto Google my maps and sharing them with participants. I’ve taught students how to use them as a way to record key paths on their CAS blogs (see Maha’s Off the Grid post or my Mannar account for an example of this). We are currently using Google My Maps for this and layering the GPX trails onto a map that we make public. I would like to use an Openstreetmap for the base layer but this requires a WordPress plugin and $$$.

Hardware & Online Software

In terms of hardware we are operating a basic system with a server/desktop and then four lab desktops (each with decent specs-16 GB RAM, fast processors, graphics cards, large (2tb) drives and wide HD monitors. Geography students have access to ArcGIS Online on their laptops (both OSC and Windows platforms). When it comes to working with imagery I find it easier to use the desktops where I have spatial data stored for specific class assignments.

There are a variety of software options for using GIS as an educational tool. The most widely used open source GIS software package must surely be QGIS. It has an OSX version and the interface is quite similar to ArcGIS. At the school we continue to use the industry-standard, proprietary ArcGIS group of applications and have maintained an advanced license for over the last eight years through GIS Solutions here in Colombo. I am able to get technical advice from IWMI’s GIS lab when there are new operations or application that we want to put to test. I have also developed relationships with other major GIS users who are working on environmental issues in Sri Lanka.

Openstreet Map Contributions

In the last two years we have been using Openstreet Maps and have made minor contributions in our neighborhood and areas of interest. I value the idea of an open platform wiki space where users can contribute spatial knowledge. It is also an excellent source for downloading shapefiles of houses, building, roads, and other features in our Sri Lankan study areas. This data is often more update to shapefiles that are commercially available. We have had students download OSM data and then use the shape files to design studies of land use in the Colombo CBD (see attached image).

Recent OSC Student GIS work

Support from Local Contacts

OSC’s GIS initiatives continue to enjoy support for several key Colombo-based players. The International Water Management Institute’s (IWMI) GIS lab has been our main resource. They provide us with technical guidance and share public data that can be used for student learning. Their Water Data Portal is an important source of publically available spatial data.

Dr. Ajith Gunawadena at the Central Environment Authority’s Research and Development (GIS) unit  has become a good friend. He has helped me understand the ways in which the CEA and other government agencies are using GIS to tackle a range of national challenges. He helped guide the production of district level spatial databases (resource profiles).

I have developed good relations at the Sri Lankan Forest Department. Their GIS unit is working on updating the forestry map of Sri Lanka (last completed in 2010) and I have had a chance to see how they are using remoted sensed imagery to inventory different types of forest cover. The best way to access their basic forest data is on the FAO-sponsored REDD+ National Forest Monitory System portal. At the invitation of Anura Sathurasinghe, several of our DP2 students and I participated in the recently held 27th Asia Pacific Forestry Commission meetings here in Colombo.

Colombo is now growing rapidly and this has given students an opportunity to study process of urbanization and urban environments first hand. The port city project, still controversial but speeding ahead, is moving at a rapid pace. While the Urban Development Authority used to be the key agency for getting urban data, the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project  now seems to be the main agency with data and information about Colombo’s urban projects. Master plans are available on their website for download.

SL Survey Department Developments

The Sri Lankan Survey Department continues to be a remarkable government agency that supports geographic teaching and learning in the country. I have always appreciated their open view to public access to maps and spatial data. At the GIS Day 2017 event several of their team members spoke about developments at the SLSD. Sarath Jayatilaka and N. Wijeyanayake, traced the historical development of mapping at the department. Mr. Sivanantharajah bought the audience up to date with new developments in remote sensing including the use of lidar to generate highly accurate elevation models. The Survey Department is at work on a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) platform but this is expected to be another six months or a year before it is unveiled to the public. Meanwhile some of their maps and data can be viewed on an interactive portal and their land information system. What would be nice is if Sri Lanka’s larger neighbors would be willing to learn from the island nation’s open approach to making spatial data and maps available to the public to improve overall geographic knowledge and understanding!

Accessing Population, Development, Environmental, Energy & Poverty Data

When addressing core concepts of the Geography and ES&S syllabi there are now an amazing variety of map-based data portals to access up-to-date statistical data.

  • I have been using the Washington DC-based Population Reference Bureau data tables to study and analyze population patterns for nearly 20 years in my teaching and they now are accompanied by interactive map portal.
  • World Resources is sponsoring a useful Data portal on deforestation called the Global Forest Watch. Their data is built on a Google Earth Engine
  • World Bank data, a leading source of data on economic development and poverty, can be found on their data portal. DP1 students made an important discovery when they accessed the Interactive Bangladesh Map. We were able to download the GIS-ready data and then view and manipulate it in an ArcGIS environment. I understand that they will be doing similar sites for country and global data.
  • For data on the Himalayan region ICMOD maintains the Mountain Geoportal.
  • The Sri Lanka Census & Statistics department has always been a good source of data. They now have an interactive geoportal to access some of this data. It is layered on an Openstreet base map.

PAST GIS BLOG POSTS

REFERENCES FOR GIS TEACHING & LEARNING (2017 Update)

Bolstad, Paul. GIS Fundamentals: A First Text on Geographic Information Systems, Fifth Edition. Acton, MA,Xanedu, 2016. Print. Web Resource Link, (GIS lessons).

Brown, Clint and Christian Harder Eds. The ArcGIS Imagery Book: New View. New Vision. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press. 2016. Print (Web version).

ESRI. Advancing STEM Education with GIS. Redlands, CA. 2012.   Web.

ESRI. K-12 Education portal. Web.

Harder, Christian and Clint Brown, Eds. The ArcGIS Book, 2nd Edition. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press. 2017. WebPDF.

Jensen, John R. Introductory Digital Image Processing: A Remote Sensing Perspective, 4th Edition. Glenview, IL: Pearson GIS, 2016. Print.

Keranen, Kathyrn & Lyn Malone. Instructional Guide for the ArcGIS Book. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press, 2016. Print (Web version).

Kimerling, A. Jon. et al. Map Use, Eighth Edition. Redlands, ESRI Press, 2016. Print. Web Link. Review by Daniel G. Cole.

O’ Connor, Peter. GIS for A-level geography. Geographical Association/ESRI, 2008. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2017-12-01 at 11:39 pm

Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands WWW Experience 2017

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Afternoon composite view of Sri Pada from Horton Plains National Park.

Afternoon composite view of Sri Pada from Horton Plains National Park.

Last week during the surprising, but welcome, return of monsoon conditions OSC’s secondary school set out across our island home to experience Sri Lanka as part of the annual Week Without Walls program. Students and teachers spent the week learning in unconventional classrooms that emphasized Sri Lankan culture, history and ecology as well as service and outdoor education. I had the privilege of leading a modest-sized group of MYP5/DP1 travelers on a circuitous tour of the Central Highlands. The learning focus of this “microtrip” was on photo documentation to better understand the ecology and landscape of Sri Lanka’s mountainous interior.

Aerial image of montane forest canopy at @ 1,000 meters.

Montane forest canopy at @ 1,300 meters near to Belihuloya.

Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) a rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka. Photographed at Nuwara Eliya’s Victoria Park feeding on a tree () that is also found in the Western Ghats.

Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) a rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka. Photographed at Nuwara Eliya’s Victoria Park feeding on a tree () that is also found in the Western Ghats.

This is the third year that I have led the Highlands WWW experience. Once again we had a group of enthusiastic students who didn’t’ mind getting up early or living in somewhat primitive conditions while we were on the adventure. We spent the first night in tents at Belhihuloya followed by two nights in a basic dormitory on the Horton Plains plateau. Our final night was spent in comfort in Nuwara Eliya where students and teachers were able to clean up, use their phones, eat well and then participate in several frog and bird outings. A wet snap caused by a low-pressure system in the Bay of Bengal gave us rain (and precious little sunlight) on almost every day. We were able to do almost all the walks but were not able to hike to Kirigalpotta because of wet and windy conditions. I used the extra time to go deeper into the ecology of HPNP and teach photographic skills to the group. All the students brought functioning cameras and they were able to experiment with composition, lighting and photographing lizards, birds and moving water. Joshua, an MYP5 student, got several impressive night shots during a rare clearing of the night skies above Mahaeliya bungalow in HPNP.

From a biodiversity spotting point of view we did well. This year we saw and photographed both the Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii) and Pygmy (Cophotis ceylanica) in HPNP. While in Nuwara Eliya we did the wonderful frog walk with Ishanda Senevirathna. Aside from some of the usual endemic species we spotted the Nest Frog (Pseudophillauts femoralis) that we had not seen last year. Bird-wise the whole group got to see the rare winter visiting Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) in Nuwara Eliya’s Vitoria Park. At HPNP we saw the Dull Blue Flycatcher (Eumyias sordida), SL Whiteeye (Zosterops ceylonensis), SL Wood Pigeon (Columba torringtoniae), plenty of Yellow Eared Bulbuls (Pycnonotus penicillatus) and several other species. On a damp, misty hike up Totupola Kanda (Sri Lanka’s 3rd highest peak at 2,360 m), we came across at least three different piles of leopard scat and observed scratch marks on tree bark!

One of the new developments this year was to use a drone to better view some of the areas that we were visiting. There were rules against using it in HPNP but we were able to do an excellent series of flights over forest near Lanka Ella falls. The Phantom 3 recorded some amazing scenes of the forest canopy with a new flush of leaves. DP1 student Anaath Jacob did the piloting while I directed the forest sequences. I am now learning how to pilot the drone and look forward to better understanding forest landscapes using this important new tool.

Up close and personal to a female sambar (Rusa unicolor) deer in Horton Plains. They have become habituated to people thanks to the propensity of visitors feeding them (against park regulations).

Up close and personal to a female sambar (Rusa unicolor) deer in Horton Plains. They have become habituated to people thanks to the propensity of visitors feeding them (against park regulations).

Endemic cloud forest lizaed species from Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Left (& possibly center): the Pygmy lizard (Cophotis ceylanica). Right: the Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii).

Endemic cloud forest lizaed species from Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Left (& possibly center): the Pygmy lizard (Cophotis ceylanica). Right: the Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii).

Cloud forest on Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) .

Cloud forest on Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) .

Pseudophillauts femoralis, a rare endemic shrub frog from Sri Lanka’s cloud forest. Identification courtesy of Ishanda Senevirathna of St. Andrew’s.

Pseudophillauts femoralis, a rare endemic shrub frog from Sri Lanka’s cloud forest. Identification courtesy of Ishanda Senevirathna of St. Andrew’s.

More diversity from the Highlands WW: Montane Hourglass Frog (Taruga eques), fungi (Phallus indusiatus) at Belihuloya and the endemic Yellow Eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) in Nuwara Eliya.

More diversity from the Highlands WW: Montane Hourglass Frog (Taruga eques), fungi (Phallus indusiatus) at Belihuloya and the endemic Yellow Eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) in Nuwara Eliya.

2017 WWW group at (Left) Baker’s falls in Horton Plains and (right) on the 2nd day on the way to Lanka Ella falls.

2017 WWW group at (Left) Baker’s falls in Horton Plains and (right) on the 2nd day on the way to Lanka Ella falls.

2017 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW group photographed at the strange telephone booth in Horton Plains National Park. Note the dry grass-a result of a severe drought and failed North East Monsoon in the months prior to our arrival.

2017 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW group photographed at the strange telephone booth in Horton Plains National Park. Note the dry grass-a result of a severe drought and failed North East Monsoon in the months prior to our arrival.

 

PAST WWW TRIPS

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). Western Ghats and Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot. May 2007. Web.

De Silva, Anslem. The Diversity of Horton Plains National Park. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2007. Print.

Pethiyagoda, Rohan. Horton Plains: Sri Lanka’s Cloud Forest National Park. Colombo: WHT, 2013. Print.

Rodrigo, Malaka. “Lanka’s central highlands win heritage battle”. The Sunday Times. 8 August 2010. Web.

Werner, Wolfgang. Sri Lanka’s Magnificent Cloud Forests. Colombo: Wildlife Heritage Trust, 2001. Print.

Learning in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands (Part 2): Understanding Ecology through Biodiversity

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Male Pseudophilautus femoralis in cloud forest above Nuwara Eliya.

Male dull green shrub frog (Pseudophilautus viridis) in cloud forest above Nuwara Eliya.

Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands have been recognized for their significant biodiversity. The area is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site yet (adopted in 2010) and there is a growing awareness about its unique flora and fauna. The Highlands are composed of the mountainous region at the heart of the southern island and include significant areas such as Peak Wilderness, Horton Plains National Park, the Pidurutalagala forests, the Knuckles protected area and several smaller tracts of forest. Most of the Central Highlands have largely been cleared of original vegetation in support of the plantation (mainly tea) industry. This happened during the 19th and early 20th centuries during colonial rule though recent decades have seen loss of forest to hydroelectric dams, plantations expansion and other human land uses. Today the remaining protected areas may be a small percentage of the total area, but they are well protected and offer the opportunity to experience some of Sri Lanka’s unique biodiversity.

Collage of low res snapshots taken of life forms and waste on the trail to Sri Pada during the DP1 ES&S field study there in December 2015.

Collage of low res snapshots taken of life forms and waste on the trail to Sri Pada during the DP1 ES&S field study there in December 2015.

The elusive Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii) one of the most difficult birds to see in Sri Lanka. Spotted at Nuwara Eliya’s Victoria Park with the expert guidance of Ishanda Senevirathna, the naturalist at Jetwings’ St. Andrew’s Hotel.

The elusive Pied Thrush (Geokichla wardii), one of the most difficult birds to see in Sri Lanka. Male above and female in the inset image. Spotted at Nuwara Eliya’s Victoria Park during the Week Without Walls with the expert guidance of Ishanda Senevirathna, the naturalist at Jetwings’ St. Andrew’s Hotel.

Calotes nigrilabris, the black-lipped lizard, basking in the sun just off the precipitous slope of Kirglpotta’s summit. This agamid (dragon) species is endemic to the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka.

Calotes nigrilabris, the black-lipped lizard, basking in the sun just off the precipitous slope of Kirglpotta’s summit. This agamid (dragon) species is endemic to the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka.

A study of Pseudophillauts femoralis, a rare endemic shrub frog from Sri Lanka’s cloud forest. All females except the bright green male in the upper right. Identification courtesy of Ishanda Senevirathna of St. Andrew’s. Kamilla found the male that is photographed here and the MYP5 students helped with holding lights.

A study of Pseudophillauts viridis, a rare endemic shrub frog from Sri Lanka’s cloud forest. All females except the bright green male in the upper right. Identification courtesy of Ishanda Senevirathna of St. Andrew’s. Kamilla found the male that is photographed here and the MYP5 students helped with holding lights.

Several different shrub frogs including Pseudophillauts sp. and others (to be updated shortly) from the Nuwara Eliya nocturnal frog walk.

Several different shrub frogs including Pseudophillauts schmarda and others (to be updated shortly) from the Nuwara Eliya nocturnal frog walk.

The Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii), an edemic cloud forest species from Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. This female (top image) and male (middle and lower image) were photographed in Horton Plains National Park where their populations are stable though not always easily seen.

The Rhino Horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii), an endemic cloud forest species from Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. This female (top image) and male (middle and lower image) were photographed in Horton Plains National Park where their populations are stable, though not always easily seen.

 

PAST WWW TRIPS

PAST SRI PADA STUDIES

  • OSC Class of 2010 (Sri Pada 2008 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2011 (Sri Pada 2009 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2012 (Sri Pada 2010 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2013 (Sri Pada 2011 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2014 (Sri Pada 2012trip)
  • OSC Class of 2015 (Sri Pada 2013 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2016 (Sri Pada 2014 trip)

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). Western Ghats and Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot. May 2007. Web.

Pethiyagoda, Rohan. Horton Plains: Sri Lanka’s Cloud Forest National Park. Colombo: WHT, 2013. Print.

Rodrigo, Malaka. “Lanka’s central highlands win heritage battle”. The Sunday Times. 8 August 2010. Web.

Werner, Wolfgang. Sri Lanka’s Magnificent Cloud Forests. Colombo: Wildlife Heritage Trust, 2001. Print.

Class of 2017 stopping at the clearing on their way up to the summit of Sri Pada. We had clear views of the peak and surrounding forest all the way up to the temple at the summit.

Class of 2017 stopping at the clearing on their way up to the summit of Sri Pada. We had clear views of the peak and surrounding forest all the way up to the temple at the summit. Back row: Carolyn, Brittany, Ahnaf, Sanoj, Shenali & Erika. Front row: Ian, Ariana and Jamaal. Photograph by Abbi Pilapitiya.

 

Pigeon Island Explorations

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Underwater snapshots of branch and soft coral in waters near Pigeon Island.

Underwater snapshots of branch and soft coral in waters near Pigeon Island.

My son Lenny and I had a chance to explore Pigeon Island National Park on Sri Lanka’s north-east coast just before the school year started. For Lenny this was an informal extension of his IB PYP 5 exhibition project where he studied the ecology and conservation of marine turtles in Sri Lanka. The visit to Pigeon Island on Sri Lanka’s north-east coast near Trincomalee was a brief, lightening trip enabled by overnight train travel. July and August is high season for (mainly European) visitors on the east coast and we were challenged to find a place to stay. However, that was not so much a problem given that we spent as much time on the island and underwater as possible.

Significant coral gardens still survive around Pigeon Island in spite of growing numbers of tourists that visit (as many as 500 on the first morning that we were there). It is an ideal location for both diving and snorkeling (which we like because of the simplicity and lack of complicated gear- we hope to get our PADI licenses later this year). Overall the national park is well managed and we were lucky to do an initial snorkel session with one of the park guards, who was knowledgeable and helped us better understand where to see fish and coral. There is significant pressure on the island, mainly from the sheer numbers of visitors. Damage to shallow coral by careless visitors and small bits of food which attract crows were two obvious issues. Highlights for us included a dozen or so sightings of Black Tipped Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus), green turtles (Chelonia mydas), and numerous reef fish. The pictures here were taken with a basic underwater camera.

OSC PYP5 students Lenny and Tristan study the conservation of Sri Lanka’s marine turtles for their culminating IB Exhibition project. In this initial part of the study they visited Hikkaduwa National Park (HNP)and the Kosgoda turtle hatchery. At HNP they had a close and intimate encounter with Rosy the Green Turtle…a great way to embark in a project of inquiry-based exploratory learning!

OSC PYP5 students Lenny and Tristan study the conservation of Sri Lanka’s marine turtles for their culminating IB Exhibition project. In this initial part of the study they visited Hikkaduwa National Park (HNP) and the Kosgoda turtle hatchery. At HNP they had a close and intimate encounter with Rosy the Green Turtle…a great way to embark on a project of inquiry-based exploratory learning!

Google Earth view of Pigeon Island in 2015

Google Earth view of Pigeon Island in 2015

Fish at Pigeon Island

Fish diversity (and Lenny) at Pigeon Island, including anemone-fish (Amphiprion sabae) fish and a black tipped reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus).

Vareities of coral, much of it bleached, but otherwise undisturbed near Pigeon Island.

Varieties of coral, much of it bleached, but otherwise undisturbed near Pigeon Island. The parasitic “crown of thorns” starfish in the center. Green turtle over coral in the bottom left.

Snapshots from Tincomalee’s KoneswaramTmple (Swami Rock) a fascinating place that I have childhood memories of.

Snapshots from Tincomalee’s KoneswaramTemple (Swami Rock) a fascinating place that I have childhood memories of.

FURTHER READING

IUCN. Reefs: A resource book for secondary school students. Colombo: IUCN Sri Lanka, 2003 . Print.

Jayawardena, Dharshana. Dive Sri Lanka. Web.

Perera, Nishan. Coral reefs of Sri Lanka. Colombo: The National Trust of Sri Lanka, 2011. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2015-09-01 at 12:53 am

Taking The Plunge in the IB Diploma

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OSC's Class of 2015 IB Orientation...a collage of activities

OSC’s Class of 2015 IB Orientation…a collage of activities

“I have always thirsted for knowledge, I have always been full of questions.”

― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Every August in the midst of the South West Monsoon new batches of students enter OSC’s IB Diploma Program. We are a relatively small school and usually have cohorts around 30-35 students from a dozen or more countries. For the next 18 months these young women and men will undertake a series of academic, extra-curricular and personal challenges. There are significant peaks and troughs and the exercise culminates in rigorous exams that are assessed alongside thousands of other students worldwide. In addition to six subjects divided between three higher level and three standard levels subjects, they write an extended essay, participate in the Theory of Knowledge class and take part in the Creativity Action and Service (CAS) program. For many the goal is university entrance but there are basic skills in being a human being in an increasingly interconnected, sometimes perplexing world that are just as important. It is a daunting challenge for even the most organized, brightest and/or hardest working individuals and yet our students do amazingly well. In order to prepare them for this exceptional learning experience, we conduct an orientation program that emphasizes team building, leadership and experiential education using the outdoors. The program is facilitated by Borderlands Sri Lanka at their Kitulgala base camp. The idea is to give OSC’s students a sense of the DP, highlight a few keys components and help them to take the plunge both metaphorically and in the flesh!

Much of the program involves physical challenges set in the wet, densely forested Kelani River valley. The river, originating on the slopes of Sri Pada, runs through the small town of Kitulgala located about 100 km due east of Colombo. Water and the river play a key role as students and teachers raft and canyon their way into the camp on the first day. The team at Borderlands has an impeccable safety record and time is taken to emphasize safety in the different spheres of the challenge. Some of the students have been here on past school trips or with their parents but a few came with limited swimming skills and were nervous about the challenge. We rafted through a series of rapids, took time to play in the river and then made our way through a gorge (“the Canyon”). By the end of the first day the team was exhausted, but exhilarated from the river and canyon. We took time to reflect on the day both as a group and individually. This is where CAS came in and the four step learning cycle (plan, act, observe, reflect) was emphasized.

OSC's Class of 2015 Rafting the Kelani River.

OSC’s Class of 2015 Rafting the Kelani River.

Abseiling in heavy afternoon rain. Borderlands instructors Mahesh and Nirmal guiding OSC students over the edge.

Abseiling in heavy afternoon rain. Borderlands instructors Mahesh and Nirmal guiding OSC students over the edge.

Learning to think  about knowledge in Belilena Cave.

Learning to think about knowledge in Belilena Cave.

The Theory of Knowledge component of the orientation program is set in the historical Belilena Cave located amongst rubber plantations above Kitulgala. This is a significant Sri Lankan archeological site and is thought to be one of the oldest locations showing evidence of early Homo sapiens in all of South Asia (estimates range from 12,000 to 30,000 years before present)! The setting is sublime to say the least and the echoes of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave ring loud in this setting (a link pointed out by OSC’s mathematics HOD and philosophy junkie last year). The students were invited to think about knowledge and test their senses as they grappled with a series of cognitive challenges. In the second part of the afternoon the tasks were much more physical and the class hiked up to a 100 meter waterfall to be tested in a slippery abseil in an intense downpour.  The sense of accomplishment and elation at the end of this was palatable.

Waterfall on Belilena Cave with OSC students exploring the meaning of knowledge on a monsoon soaked day (taken on IB Orientation 2012).

Waterfall on Belilena Cave with OSC students exploring the meaning of knowledge on a monsoon soaked day (taken on IB Orientation 2012).

Top of "the Canyon"...taking the plunge.

Top of “the Canyon”…taking the plunge.

Making our way through "the Canyon"...falling the stream over a series of falls, pools and gorges.

Making our way through “the Canyon”…following the stream over a series of falls and through pools and gorges (note the Impatiens sp. on the wall!).

Lower canyon

Lower canyon…almost finished.

On our final day we explored ideas of community in the changing landscape. Students broke into small teams to meet a cross section of local inhabitants and talk to them about their memories, experiences and dreams of the river. This is a new initiative and will hopefully lay the ground work for follow up work when subsequent OSC classes return here. We returned to Colombo exhausted, slightly bloodied by leeches but exhilarated by the experiences of taking the plunge into the IB Diploma Program.

OSC's Class of 2015 and a few of their teachers at a brea while rafting down the Kelani River on Day 1

OSC’s Class of 2015 and a few of their teachers at a break while rafting down the Kelani River on Day 1

Written by ianlockwood

2013-09-10 at 5:48 pm

GIS Developments at OSC in 2011

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Sinharaja rainforest in the south west portion of Sri Lanka has been an ideal field study site for OSC’s DP Geography and Environmental Systems a& Societies classes for the last seven years. Increasingly, with changes in the syllabi, we have been looking at interactions between human communities and the different ecosystems that are a part of this World Heritage Site. Use of spatial data and mapping study sites using GIS have become integral to our studies.

The last year has seen continued growth go the GIS program at the Overseas School of Colombo. We continue to maintain a concurrent license of ESRI’s ArcMap 10, together with several extensions (3D, spatial analysis etc.) in a package designed for schools, universities and libraries. We have invested in spatial data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department and have obtained vector data for our study sites at Sri Pada/Peak Wilderness and Sinharaja rainforest. Equally important has been the contribution of data and guidance from several national and international organizations in Colombo. Dilip Hensman at the World Health Organization (WHO) has helped us with up-to-date data on health outbreaks, notably dengue at a district and DS (Divisional Secretary)  level in Sri Lanka. Skylor Knoll utilized this in his world studies extended essay. He investigated spatial patterns of rainfall and dengue–related mortality over a two-year period. Tushara at the World Food Program (WFP) has been a helpful guide with understanding and using up-to-date SRTM data. In the previous year he presented a lecture on how the WFP uses GIS to better provide food to (flood and conflict) affected areas in Sri Lanka. Senior student Camie Raguin conducted a short environmental impact assessment as part of her extended essay in the northern areas. With the aid of the able skills of Alex Mylvaganam, she was able to utilize UNDP spatial data to produce her own basic locational maps of her study site. Salman Sidique and his team including Ad Ranjit and Sajid remain one of my best resources for tinkering help. IWMI’s GeoPortal is a great place for free vector data of Sri Lanka and the basin areas where they are working.

Sample student work (Satyanshu & Vera) from a study on demographic trends in contrasting countries using age-sex pyramids generated on ArcView by the Grade 11 DP Geography class in the Fall of 2011.

OSC students in Sinharaja negotiating moss covered boulders along a riparian patch of unlogged forest near the research station. Group shot with Martin at his lodge at the end of the study, a tradition started on our first study in 2005.

One result of our continued GIS development at OSC is that this year’s IBDP Geography classes produced far superior maps of the IA field study site at Sinharaja. This year almost many of the students looked at some aspect of land use in the area and all the students created their own original maps (see samples below). The 1:50,000 vector data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department may be slightly dated but it provides a good basis for ground truthing and observation. We have more GPS units and thus teams can go in different directions to gather data simultaneously. The field visit happened in May 2011 but it took several months to process the data and to finally write it up into their final reports that will be submitted for the DP Geography exams 2012.

Three different maps from the Sinharaja Geography IA showing land use data, GPS points and the ranges of colorful options that students have when putting together their individual study maps. The picture shows a transect traversing a stream in primary forest above the Sinharaja research center. Maps by Terunaga (above two) and Sascha (below).

Collecting different types of data: Harini interviewing a woman about social economic conditions and home garden crop choices, Sascha checking water quality (temperature, turbidity, DO etc.) below Sinharaja using a Vernier probe and students taking GPS points along a secondary forest transect in Sinharaja’s Core Zone.

Sample student work from the MYP Humanities course. Leila, Tomosso and Dylan’s presentations of their spatial studies of the monsoon and other factors (human population, crop choices, land forms etc.). The posters were generated on ArcMap 10 after doing individual analysis on each data frame.

The Grade 10 MYP Geography class, which is now integrated with the History course, spends its first term looking at aspects of the monsoon in South Asia. This is broad-based learning activity that looks at physical aspects of the monsoon, its affect on agriculture in the region and what impact it has on South Asian culture. Most of the time is spent exploring and extended a lesson on the South Asian monsoon that is a module in Anita Palmer et al. Mapping Our World Using GIS. The study coincides with the end of the South West monsoon and the onset of the North East here in Sri Lanka. An amusing aspect is capping the unit off with a showing of a condensed version of Lagaan, the Oscar-nominated Bollywood film. In the story a severe drought and the monsoon serve as important metaphorical backdrops to a lengthy cricket battle in a fictional location in western India during the late 19th Century. The students produced an annotated poster illustrating a geographical question and aspects of their investigation. They need to include 1-3 maps, graphs and annotations (samples above). This will be submitted as moderated samples for their Humanities course.

Personal explorations with GIS Data from South Asia. The two larger scale maps were used for various assessments in MYP, while the Arugam Bay land use was an exercise in using different layers of data from Sri Lanka’s East Coast. The data on the above left map of South Asia is courtesy Natural Earth, which has a free global data set with elevations and bathymetric data.

GIS generated map showing OSC’s post-tsunami supported pre-schools near Hambantota.

On a personal level I made strides in developing my own cartographic skills using GIS when I had to design and produce several maps for my Sri Pada exhibition. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and I continue to get some of my best work done under such conditions. One of the maps below highlights the OSC service projects with Tsunami affected communities in the Hambantota area.

I have also started to explore a variety of other GIS applications, though because we have the license most of my efforts have been focused on ArcView skills. There are now several open-source GIS software packages, including Q-GIS. I have also started to build up a personal teaching Wiki for students to use as an online repository of links and references. I have a dedicated page of GIS Resources with special focus on Sri Lanka and South Asia.  In this next year I hope to polish student skills for use in their course, continue to build up our database of spatial data and to further explore different GIS applications in education.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-01-22 at 5:44 am

Winter Study and Pilgrimage to the Peak

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Sri Pada East face in the bright light of a winter day as seen from Moray Estate on December 12th morning.

The pilgrimage season to Sri Pada begins with the poya in December.  The weather is always a little unpredictable at this time with the North East monsoon still being active with gaps of cool, dry weather mixed in with violent thunderstorms. For the last several years I have been taking small groups of OSC IB Environmental Systems & Societies students up to the peak during the same time. My goals have been to give them a sense of ecosystems and the changes in structure, plant types etc. as you ascend. A trek up to the peak through the Peak Wilderness forests give one an excellent cross section of changes in vertical zonation. On the path there are numerous managed landscapes (plantations, hydroelectric schemes etc.) to observe and study. Most importantly the trip gives students a chance to be outside and to feel and breath what has previously been taught in the classroom.

Now that I have fairly decent spatial data of the area, we have been looking at the variety of land uses in the Central Highlands.  Starting with rubber plantations and home gardens  in the lower elevation and then moving up through patches of undisturbed forests through non-native eucalyptus and pine forests there is a good deal to observe and study. In the mid elevations we passed through the enormous and expansive tea plantations that are the most important feature of Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Finally as we pass through the Moray tea estate we encounter the undisturbed montane forest that represents the original vegetation of the hills. The walk up to the peak is mostly spent in these forests but near the summit (after 1,800-2,000 meters) vegetation typical of cloud forests is more prominent (Rhododendron sp. trees, Cyathea tree ferns etc.).

We had an energetic group of seven students that were able to do the walk with relatively minor difficulty. Last year several students had suffered from dehydration and altitude sickness-like symptoms that prevented us form making it to the summit. This year, under similar clear sky conditions, we went slowly. It got cloudy later and half way up to the summit  a deluge came down. Thankfully we had made it to a tea shack on the main path. It was quite wet by the time made it to the top where we spent the night. Leaches were a major distraction and the physical challenge of getting up the mountain through the wet forest made it challenging to facilitate learning on the pathway. At the top I shared my Paths to the Peak exhibition brochure with the temple monks, the first time that ‘ve brought it up. Thankfully we were able to get a room to stow gear while most of the group slept on the floor with other pilgrims. The next day’s dawn was beautiful though it lacked the first light and hence mountain shadow. We returned via the Hatton steps and we’re having brunch by 11:00. The 4,600+steps are a real nuisance on one knees and legs and few in the group weren’t limping through the rest of the week. I would prefer to take the decent more slowly but there were schedules to keep and we had the team safely back in Colombo by 3:30.

For further reading on the ecology, landscapes and culture of Sri Pada see my Serendib (2008), Outlook Traveller (2007), International Schools/IS (2007) and Frontline (2011) articles.

OSC students and teachers before climbing and on the way up to Sri Pada (December 2011).

Droppings, devotion and diversity on the path up to Sri Pada. The first image is of an unmistakable leopard stool specimen. The middle image is of a Hindu shrine on the way up through the little used Moray Estate path.

Starting the hike up to the peak through tea estates. Storm clouds to the east will soon bring on a deluge on our walk up through the montane forest.

North view over Maskeliya from Sri Pada in moonlight.

West view from Sri Pada in moonlight showing the two longer pilgrim paths through the Peak Wilderness forests to Kuruwita and Ratnapura.

South view towards Sinharaja from Sri Pada in the early morning.

North view over Maskeliya from Sri Pada in daylight.

Moon setting over the Peak. Two nights before had been the Poya night marking the onset of the Sri Pada pilgrimage season and we were fortunate to witness this scene in the early hours of December 12th.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-01-10 at 4:44 pm