Our teachers and girls in Pokuase are eager to go on a field trip to the Akosombo Dam before the end of the year. Can you help?
What you can do
This full-day education excursion will cost $20 per person. This will be an all-day trip for the 140 girls and 20 teachers, who are planning the trip. It will take about ~2 hours each way to travel to the Eastern region and back. They need water, food, admission and most importantly, to rent two buses. Fuel cost in Ghana is high right now because of inflation, and it is too far and too many people to take public transportation.
For the cost of a movie, popcorn and a drink, you can sponsor a girl to go see one of the largest reservoirs in their own country and learn about clean water and energy.
Why this trip?
EDUCATION In this past year or so, Ghana has been suffering from electrical outages that typically lasts from 6-24 hours, seriously impacting livelihoods and daily life. The girls in the club last year have been learning about electricity and energy. This trip will connect what they have learned to the real world and real people.
EXPLORATION The girls have not travelled outside the town of Pokuase much, and have certainly not travelled east to the Volta River, even though they have learnt about that their country has one of the largest reservoirs in the world that was created by the Akosombo Dam.
INSPIRATION We are definitely requesting that they meet female role models on this trip! Those of you who have travelled know how eye-opening a trip to a new locale gives you new perspective about yourself and what you can achieve in the world. Help us give this gift to these amazing young women!
The teachers were like giddy teenagers who just laid hands on the newest gadget. They were smiling from ear to ear, posing, taking photos of each other. What caused such excitement?
The marvel that was in their hands: a colorful balloon inflated by a reaction between eggshells and vinegar. Remember the joy and wonder when YOU first did it?
We were excited to test several activities created by SeedKit. SeedKit stands for “Science Education Equity Development Kit“, and is a collaborative of like-minded folks based at Wellesley College. The group was started by the amazing Kayla Bercu, a soon-to-be senior who, since high school, had been working with the SEGA School of Secondary Education for bright but impoverished girls in Morogoro, Tanzania.
Based on her observations in the classroom and discussion with teachers there, Kayla has been working with her fellow students at Wellesley to develop a set of experiments that can be packaged and used for hands-on instruction in low-resource countries.
The SeedKit is a actual lab-in-a-box, designed for senior secondary school, with proper pre-labs, worksheet and a post-lab evaluation.
For this training, we tested the brand new chemistry experiments, adapting the activities and concepts for our after school clubs, and for teachers who work in p2 to p7 (JHS2), a wide range of expertise and knowledge.
Below, we “rate” the few activities that we shared with the teachers, based on the ability to delight and engage (wow factor), how adaptable the activity is for explaining related concepts for younger students (adaptability), how conducive the activity is to further investigation and invites questions, especially if presented before the “theory” (inquiry) and if the materials in the kit might be obtained locally or substituted with locally available materials (materials).
1) Eggshell and Vinegar Reaction
A simple variation on the baking soda and vinegar experiment to demonstrate chemical change.
Wow factor: 5
As mentioned the teachers were charmed by the inflated balloons.
Even without understanding the detailed chemistry and stoichiometry, teachers and students can appreciate the phenomenon of combining two reagents – one solid, one liquid – to produce a different substance – gas.
In addition to the suggested follow-up to measure the volume of gas produced, teachers decided that students can (visually) compare the difference in volume of gas produced
a) by varying the amount of vinegar added, or
b) as a function of the surface area/size of the broken pieces, if each group started with the equivalent of one egg shell.
A few who didn’t read the instructions sheet wondered what the gas was – some wondered if it was flammable. Since I knew it was CO2, they tested the gas by releasing it over a flame! This gave us a chance to discuss safety procedures.
We wondered but didn’t have time to try if the addition of a pH indicator, will allow a visual progress of the reaction to be followed as the amount of vinegar decreases.
The glass jars can be substituted with other similar containers.
Vinegar is cheap and readily available.
Large amounts of eggshell can be obtained from street vendors who sells hard boiled eggs (yum).
Balloons might be substituted by polyethylene bags (though we do care about the environmental impact of both). In either case, both can be re-used.
Wow factor: 4
Truthfully, anything that can light up an LED is a win! =-)
The teachers wondered whether citrus fruit juices might be used.
They discussed using water, and water with salt as comparison.
Upper primary and JHS students should be able to grasp concepts related to circuits, electricity and electrolyte solutions. Light emitting spectrum may be more difficult to understand. The investigative activities listed above are certainly doable for .
Materials availability: 5
Vinegar and cardboard are readily available
We wondered if any of the Ghanaian coins can be substituted for the US pennies provided. Need to do some research/testing!
A simple and affordable way (OK, maybe except the batteries) to visualize this reaction, which typically involves expensive equipment.
Wow factor: 5
The teachers loved the easily discernible bubbles that emerged.
The SeedKit suggested a pH indicator. Teachers were delighted to know that they can use hibiscus to make a pH indicator (red drops below) and that it changed colors at one of the electrodes!
Adaptability for younger grades: 3
Students can visually estimate the differential production of bubbles at each electrode.
The chemical reaction can be taught to the JHS students – one JHS teacher definitely wrote out the equation “spontaneously”.
Teachers were very curious about the gas produced – volumetrically and the chemical nature. (Again, we didn’t do a pre-lab). As the SeedKit and post suggested, we were able to determine which electrode produced hydrogen based on the color change of the indicator. Teachers were also able to confirm this by thinking about the ratio of hydrogen to oxygen in a water molecule and their composition as gases.
Materials availability: 4
The pencils are great but might consider using the electrodes from a dry cell (to be removed carefully by a teacher or supervised student). For older students this may be
The use of rechargeable batteries and affordable DIY solar panels are laudable and should be pursued. The rechargeable batteries would be an investment but be economical in the long run and better for the environment.
In all, we give the Chemistry SeedKit a solid 4, which is high marks since it wasn’t originally developed for the age group that our teachers would be addressing. Science is awesome because the same reaction / activity has multiple ways to engage and for learning to happen, from observing cool phenomenon, to simple investigations, to big ideas and concepts, to specific details.
We are so grateful to have partnered with SeedKit this summer and hope for many more opportunities to come!!
Increasing the quality of teaching is one of the main objectives of the Girls Science Exploratory Initiative. We tried to model the type of interactive and engaged learning that we hope teachers will adopt. By seeing how our trainer structured hands-on activities, encouraged movement for learning, facilitated small group discussions and reflections with ~45 adults, teachers see that it is possible for them to do the same thing, certainly with the smaller 15-student science exploratory clubs, but even in their classrooms of 50-80.
The training had three main goals.
Transforming teachers into designers of learning experiences
Introduction to the learning cycle and questioning techniques to generate meaningful discussion
Creating inclusive classrooms, with special attention to gender responsive pedagogy
Teachers examined practices in the school, classroom and community the limited girls’ participation in society and learning. They were also introduced to Carol Dweck’s theory of mindset. We also provided examples of female scientists from sub-Saharan Africa to break the gender myth and to inspire.
Empowering teachers to facilitate and create practical activities in science (and other subjects)
By introducing a sequence of simple tools and hands-on activities in a variety of topics, and sharing and brainstorming what can be effectively used as substitutes for more traditional equipment, teachers develop mental and manual facility with practical learning, and begin to see their surroundings as sources of materials.
Our focus for this project was implementation and dissemination of existing resources. We heavily relied on the amazing handbooks created by Shika na Mikono that addresses science teaching in resource-poor contexts, the NPASS professional development materials for after school science facilitators, the materials developed by SeedKit at Wellesley College, the FAWE handbook on gender responsive pedagogy.
Check back as we develop additional posts with more details on how we addressed each of the goals of the training. Here’s one for the SeedKit.
45 teachers from 11 schools in 4 towns.
Partnering with CPASGhana, and College for Ama, we trained 22 new teachers from Nsawam and Berekuso, in addition to our teachers in Pokuase and Accra.
3 days, 756 hours of discussion and experiential learning.
15 hands-on STEM activities.
Teachers had time to explore, investigate and experience activities in topics ranging from electricity, magnetism, chemistry and close looking.
180 personal and school goals created
Each teacher created 4 goals for the school year. This included specific and general pledges to incorporate practical lessons, identify local resources, request teaching blocks for science, establish after school girls science clubs, and becoming advocates for girls’ education in their schools and classrooms.
A brief musing from board member and lead trainer Dr. Connie Chow.
It was Monday morning at 9 am in early August. School had only ended the Thursday before. The next day (Friday), we dragged invited our teachers from the 6 schools in Pokuase to bring their 130+ students to the St. Sylvanus Roman Catholic School for a 3-hour dress rehearsal – from demonstrations to dances to drama to a debate to guest introductions.
The Durbar, celebrating girls in science, would last till 4 pm that Monday, because, well, speeches by important people from the high table. (No, not ALL of them spoke).
They pulled me aside, and asked about the 3-day training we had planned.
“It starts tomorrow? How many days again? Does it really start at 9 am? What time does it end?”
“9 am to 5 pm”, I said. “We’ll feed you breakfast, lunch and snacks. And it will be fun”.
“Teachers from two other cities will join us,” hoping to inspire good behavior. But no.
“But some of us live very far. We haven’t had a break since school ended. The traffic will be very bad. We have to go home and cook dinner for our families. One of the new teachers is a friend of mine. She has to travel from Tema, almost two hours each way.”
Yes. Of course I had been self-centered, trying to pack as much in as possible since I have a limited time in Ghana. I had so much to share. But I forgot that these hardworking teachers had to take care of themselves. That I need to model empathy and build a caring community and an empowering learning environment.
So I listened and adapted. We did start at 9 (with a group arriving at 8:30 each day), shortened lunch, took out 1-2 small modules. The first two days ended at 4pm, and the last day at 3pm.
With board member Sheri Moore’s infectious joyfulness, the teachers started and ended each day with song.
We still covered a lot of ground. Everyone was engaged. There were lots of smiles.
So what did they say at the end?
“We should have accommodations next time so we can have more time for training”.
“This training should be longer”.
“The training should be held every term (3 months)”.
The January teacher training workshop was a wonderful way to connect AWAP members with Ghanaian educators and community organizers, as well as students at the local universities. We count ourselves fortunate, and it is a testament to the importance of this project, to have so many take time out of their their busy schedules to help us out.
Champions for the Girls Science Club Initiative
Ms. Georgina Quasie, the former director of the Science Education Unit of the Ghana Education Service, was there to facilitate discussions, and, most importantly, to model curiosity, humility and life-long learning. (Below, she tries a new activity helped by the new teachers).
Ms. Olivia Opare (in blue), the national science coordinator, showed the teachers that trouble shooting is just as important as having the right answer. She had also offered AWAP a lot of tips on acquiring and developing locally-sourced science materials.
Rev. Joana Koranteng, the former science, technology and mathematics coordinator for GES (in pink), listened to teachers as they shared their ideas on effective teaching and learning. Ms. Sola Boateng, the current mathematics coordinator, (in orange behind Ms. Koranteng) is doing the same with another group.
Science hero to the rescue! The Ga West district science coordinator, Mr. Doli, saved the day (as we neglected to pack the bag of incandescent and LED lights) by contributing bulbs (in the black bag!) to the electrical circuit activities, having just come from delivering a similar workshop to a group of teachers under his charge. Phew.
In the absence of learning materials, science is often taught by rote. The transmission of this pedagogical style is entrenched in the public schools of Ghana (and many other places, including the US) because we teach the way we are taught. The Girls Science Exploratory Club Initiative seeks to change this.
Our goal is to interrupt the transmission of rote learning in science.
In early February, we conducted a pilot teaching workshop for ~25 teachers who have been recruited to join the initiative. The training was designed to introduce the teachers to two key ideas. One is the use of questions – to encourage sciencing skills, from observation to critical thinking. The other is to illustrate the range of freedom at which an “activity” can be set, from highly guided/prescribed to largely exploratory.
First we asked the teachers to recall someone whom they thought was a great teacher. As expected, they shared experiences with teachers who had passion and made their topic come alive; who had empathy, caring for the students and their families outside the classroom; of course those who were resourceful and brought in materials or arranged field trips, and importantly, those who believe in them and inspire them to be better people and to try harder as students. There was a long, healthy debate in one group, when one of the teachers said it was someone who told the students exactly what they had to do and expected them to obey.
Get up and do it
Our teachers didn’t sit for long though. Using the concepts of building simple and complex electrical circuits, transmission of sound waves through solids, and reflection of light, we introduced the use of stories to create relevance and to set up explorations, modeled for the teachers how stations can be set up if materials are limited, and showed them that group work is much more effective than passive “lecturing”.
Imagine you are a carpenter, and but you don’t have a toolbox or workshop. You can only describe the beautiful designs you have seen, explain with crude drawings how you might put a joint together, and point to pictures in a book to illustrate how different tools can be used.
This is the situation for most science teachers in Ghana. The classrooms are typically bare but for a few posters, some hand-drawn, on the wall. The teachers are forced to “teach abstract”, without “practicals”. For some, it is how they learned science, so it seems normal. For others, it is frustrating. Any professional deprived of their tools will agree.
The classrooms are typically bare but for a few posters, some hand-drawn, on the wall. The teachers are forced to “teach abstract”, without “practicals”.
One of the goals of the Girls Science Exploratory Club Initiative is to inspire the girls about science, and to increase the quality of teaching. One way to do this effectively is by introducing teaching and learning materials.
Creating Science Kits for Learning
We started with basic concepts like sound, light, electricity and magnetism, where a majority of ideas and activities can be done with low-cost, and in many cases, locally available materials.
We created two basic kits. The first is for teaching about sound and light. The mirror paper (bottom left) for making kaleidoscopes were brought from the US.
The other is for electricity and magnetism. The iron filings and magnets were bought in the US, and the various electrical wires were from a previous project.
We also provided the teachers and clubs with a basic kit, consisting of mostly stationery staples, which we also obtained mostly locally.
The girls helped us put together the kits and they and the teachers were so excited to receive them. They couldn’t wait to put them to use!
Where we got the materials
We went on a shopping spree in the sprawling Makola market area in Accra, visiting fabric supplies stores for yarn and scissors. Zongo Lane nearby and emanating alleys have several electronics stores for LED lights, resistors, wire etc. Street vendors provided laser pointers and batteries, and Melcom was a good place for flashlights. We also visited a “hardware store” for sandpaper, nails, wire strippers; and various vendors for plastic cups etc.
The bag must have weighed more than 35 kilos!
We also went to the local market in Pokuase looking for hand-made mirrors (not shown in the kit above) and containers to put the kits. Surprisingly, balloons of uniform size were really hard to find. We bought ours at a supermarket along with the coffee filters. With the help from teachers, the science coordinators and folks from the Science Education Unit, we continue to identify reliable sources in greater Accra for hands-on materials. Let us know if you have any ideas!!