STEM

My Favourite Experiments Ghana 2021


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Introduction

Hello! I’m starting this mini-blog as a way of sharing some of my adventures on my fourth trip to Ghana to share ideas and promote access to hands-on science education. Once again joining Christoffer Akpeloo, founder of the Ho International Exchange Program (HINTEGRAM) and teacher at Saint Francis College of Education, this trip has been a long time coming, after being delayed and rescheduled continuously throughout the pandemic. This time we’ll focus on developing the new resource centre at Saint Teresa’s College of Education in Hohoe, the HINTEGRAM Hub resource centre and expanding the HINTEGRAM Ambassador program I started last year to increase the impact of donated laptops that I have been collecting and preparing with help from my school community.

I’m thrilled that these blog posts will be published on the Scientix Blog, and excited to be sharing my adventure with eager educators across Europe and beyond.  Please be in touch if you have any feedback or ideas for experiments or how to improve what I’m doing, as well as if you have any questions or requests for ideas, experiments or collaboration to help increase access to science education in your part of the world.

Preliminary Itinerary

As the pandemic would make it difficult and unwise to gather large numbers of teachers together, we won’t be running any large workshops this time around but will focus on the development of resource centres at Saint Teresa’s College of Education (TERESCO) and Ho International Exchange Program (HINTEGRAM).  At both centres, the goal is to create teaching and learning materials (TLMs) inexpensively out of local materials and a set of guides for teachers to make their own.  Some exotic materials (ex. lenses for cardscopes, laser pointer, books, laptops, etc.) are available for loan as required. I think there is a lot of potential for centres like this, as long as they are run well, and I think they are an excellent compliment to the workshops I usually run for teachers.

In the first half of the week, we’ll also be working with young teachers who have come back to TERESCO for a top-up “sandwich” course, where recent graduates of the former three-year teacher qualification program come are invited back to colleges of education for sandwich courses equivalent to the fourth year of study.

In the first half of the week, we’ll also be working with young teachers who have come back to TERESCO for a top-up “sandwich” course, where recent graduates of the former three-year teacher qualification program come are invited back to colleges of education for sandwich courses equivalent to the fourth year of study. Later in the week, we’ll go to the remote town of Kpasa, several hours north, to encourage high school students to take an interest in science.  In the past few years, the new principal of Kpasa Senior High School has managed to increase enrollment in science classes from 2 up to 24 students and he has asked that we come to further increase interest.

Over the weekend, we’ll travel south to Ho, where we’ll work with the Ho International School and the HINTEGRAM Hub, to expand the resource centre and laptop program.  I’m excited on Monday we’ll be having a virtual visit of the ATLAS Detector at CERN, as a prize for their participation in my Particle Physics for Kids Colouring Contest.  (Check out the kids’ drawings here: https://youtu.be/Q_F5ELvmYt8.)  We’ll be joined by winners from 5 or 6 other countries, and I’m happy it was possible to time the visit for when I’m in Ghana so that I can help support the school connecting and following the visit.

Saturday April 17th – Preparations and Travel

It’s very good to be back in Ghana! I was nervous about travelling during the pandemic and had delayed and rescheduled this return trip several times before finally having the courage to go through with it, and I am very happy to finally be here. 

The most stressful part of any travel for me is getting ready and packing my bags. I don’t mean putting some clothes into a bag – that is quite easy, especially for Ghana where it is always hot, so no need for any layers, and a few changes of clothes are plenty because laundry always drys quickly in the heat.  It is considerably more work planning experiments, collecting donations of computers and materials, sorting out visas, covid regulations, and authorization papers for exemption from France’s ban on non-EU travel.  It was a big relief once I was finally through immigration and on my way to Ghana.

Laptops – donors, students, ambassadors

My most noteworthy baggage on this trip (and by far the heaviest and most fragile) is a new donation of 19 laptop computers.  Many thanks are due to the donors, especially BlaBlaCar and Groupe Hervé, who each donated 9 more laptops. They have been the backbone of my laptop program, with the new donations bringing the total from BlaBlaCar up to 29 laptops and from Groupe Hervé up to 15 laptops – together they account for most of the 62 laptops I have brought to Ghana to date. Having many of the same models of the laptop also makes preparing and managing much easier, and the models provided are surprisingly performant.

Groupe Hervé has donated Dell Latitude laptops, which have large hard drives, ideal for using Kiwix to read large zim files like offline Wikipedia (84 Gb), Gutenberg (57 Gb), Crashcourse (20 Gb) and TED-Ed (22 Gb) and other video libraries.  Some of these files are large enough they become awkward to share even offline, with the slow read/write speeds of older hardware requiring an hour or more to copy a few tens of gigabytes.

BlaBlaCar has donated Chromebooks, which are excellent for being lightweight, rugged and long battery life. The only downside is Chrome OS, which was designed as an online operating system, far from ideal for offline use. I was thrilled when a couple of students from my school came up with a solution to install Xubuntu on these machines.  If you’re interested in the method we’re using, here’s a guide written by Vaino, who also helped me prepare the first 8 laptops I brought to Ghana in 2019:  http://tinyurl.com/MFE-Ghana-Chromeprep.

The HINTEGRAM Ambassadors are a handful of young teachers and trainees who we’ve selected to facilitate and increase the use of donated computers.  I had noticed that the first laptops I had brought were eagerly received, but then mostly sat around collecting dust because teachers were not used to using them in the classroom, and hadn’t received training on how to use them to support learning in their classroom.  The Ambassadors program aims to solve this problem by selecting a handful of eager young teachers for a long-term loan of laptops, renewable based on evidence of impact.  The goal is to train and support these teachers to work together, and to encourage use of donate materials throughout their whole school and beyond.

Sunday April 18th – Accra to Hohoe and initial meeting with HINTEGRAM Ambassadors

The ride from Accra to Hohoe takes almost as long as the flight from Paris to Accra, and is significantly less comfortable. The hot bumpy ride too up most of the day. Soon after we got to Hohoe, we met with some of our HINTEGRAM Ambassadors, to help unpack and finish preparing the laptops.  To my relief, all arrived intact with no visible damage, despite the boxes being in rough shape after the travel. There is much work to be done to get the laptops ready for use – I had overestimated the progress my students in Paris had made and had not left enough time before leaving to sort through the semi-ready state and fix their oversights and mistakes. 

Dominic, William and Rachel, who work at the Volta Regional School for the Deaf and Blind were chosen as ambassadors last year. It was great to see them again and discuss their feedback on the first year of the program. They helped unpack the laptops, check for damage and assess how much still needs to be done.

We will be spending Thursday morning with Dominic, William and Rachel at the Volta School for the Deaf and Blind, where they teach in the deaf section of the primary school. I am very eager to return there and see the excellent work these young teachers are up to, and how I can help support their teaching.

Monday April 19th – TERESCO Recource Centre and Sandwich Students

It was really good to finally see the resource centre that Chris has been working so hard to develop the science component of. It was also great to be working on idea development and sharing experiments with eager groups of teachers.  Much of the morning was taken up picking up labels and organizing the laptops – another example of the laptops taking away from the time and energy that I’d prefer to spend on experiments.

When we got to TERESCO, we met with the vice-principal and with the science teacher to sort out plans for the upcoming days.  Chris showed me around the resource centre, then we planned some of the materials to develop over the coming days. We held a couple of sessions for teachers to show them around the resource centre and take them through some of our favourite experiments.

We finished the day meeting with a small group who had shown interest in the HINTEGRAM Ambassador program.  There were some differences in our thoughts on selection criteria.  I wanted to propose that we ask for their help finishing the installation of offline software, which would have the combined goals of saving me time, familiarizing candidates with the laptops and software, and demonstrating their ability to use the computer and the effort they’re willing to put into being an Ambassador.  Chris felt this would take too much of the teachers’ time away from exam preparation, so we spent an hour or so asking questions like “who has touched a computer before”, counting hands, and eventually making a short-list based their claimed comfort at using excel.

We finished the day meeting with a small group who had shown interest in the HINTEGRAM Ambassador program.  There were some differences in our thoughts on selection criteria.  I wanted to propose that we ask for their help finishing the installation of offline software, which would have the combined goals of saving me time, familiarizing candidates with the laptops and software, and demonstrating their ability to use the computer and the effort they’re willing to put into being an Ambassador.  Chris felt this would take too much of the teachers’ time away from exam preparation, so we spent an hour or so asking questions like “who has touched a computer before”, counting hands, and eventually making a short-list based their claimed comfort at using excel.

It was a great day sharing ideas and experiments, and I’m looking forward to the days to come.

The pictures are the author’s own.  – (Attribution CC-BY)

Check back here every few days for more updates.

If you’re interested in seeing more photos and videos, updated daily, check out my:

Ambitiously, I’m also hoping to host a couple of “Virtual Science Camps” via Zoom to show anyone interested around the resource centres I’m helping to set up at TERESCO and HINTEGRAM.  Tentatively, I’m hoping to hold them at 17:00 Ghana time (19:00 Paris time) on Wednesday 21/04 and Monday 26/04, but if you’d like to be informed with more regular updates, consider signing up for my mailing list: https://tinyurl.com/MFE-Ghana2021-Mailing

For videos of the experiments I’m discovering around the world, check out my YouTube channel:

www.youtube.com/MyFavouriteExperiments

If you’re interested in my blog posts from last year, including a brief history of My Favourite Experiments, tinyurl.com/Ghana2020-blog.   

About the author: Michael Gregory is a Scientix Ambassador for France, coordinator of science programs for students of particular capacities at a bilingual school in Paris, and an active member of numerous teacher groups. In his spare time, he travels to give workshops to teachers and guest lessons at schools, always looking for more ideas to share forwards.  He has crossed over 30 countries by bicycle to connect with science educators and share ideas, many of which are shared on his YouTube channel. Once travel becomes easier again, he hopes to undertake another long bike trip, possibly from Paris to Ghana or Iran.

**All pictures are the author’s own.  – (Attribution CC-BY)

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