Education Beyond Borders

The experience in Kenya during the summer of 2008 was a great one. We were so well received by our Kenyan colleagues. I look forward to the next one.

I would like to suggest the following for the math science portion of the last experience and one coming up.

For people who went last year, what do you believe were the strongest parts of what we did and should be retained or further developed?

What new materials can we develop or bring with us?

What new approaches should do you feel we should initiate?

For newer people, what questions or comments to do have?


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Here is a start and I will add to it as things come to mind.

Last year's experience was phenomenal. We were very well received by the Kenyan teachers. As there is very little professional development beyond teacher's college the activities and methodologies were like a breath of fresh air. There is a program, SMASSE, developed by the Japanese that many Kenyan math and science teachers attend training for but from most accounts (Dennis knows more about it than I), the program is a start but not as effective as intended.

A few of the challenges faced by our Kenyan colleagues to keep in mind when thinking about activities:
-class sizes are huge (40+ with most secondary classes aroung 50 & primary even more...up to 112!).
-teachers are required to mark A LOT. They pretty much are required to mark something from each class every day.
-improvisation of lab equipment is a must. Most schools we went to had some glassware, even a few microscopes, some chemicals and physics equipment but this was quite spotty. Primary schools (gr. 1-8) had basically no science equipment.
-many of the Kenyan teachers stated that the curriculum is very 'full' and they find it difficult to get through it all
-At present, students take final exams at every grade. The exams at the end of gr. 8 and 12 are high stakes exams. Entry into high school is competitive and not all get accepted (~50% make it right now) so there is a lot of pressure from all angles.
-Poverty, although the children are eager to learn as they can see the value in education. However, in math & science, motivation continues to be a problem.

Things I would recommend continuing/trying:
-Group work models that can be achieved in a crowded classroom. The Kenyan teachers were quite interested in these models. It would be neat to hear if any of them have tried it & how it worked out. At present most classrooms are heavily lecture based. Perhaps getting a returning participant to try leading a group activity.
-Any activities with minimal materials. eg: meiosis with yarn, lung capacity with a 'chicken feeder' bought at the local grocery store, refraction with pencils and cups.
-Any activities that make math learning fun. Games were very well received.
-More and more schools are getting connected to the internet which opens a world of possiblities. Keep in mind that if a school has computers there are usually only about a dozen or so max.

Conversing with the teachers and finding out about their classrooms and day to day teaching experiences was very eye-opening. Visiting some schools helped put in perspective their challenges and made it easier to plan activities.

Areas that teachers indicated they need help with:
Primary: Energy unit, Simple Machines & Work, & one more (I'll have to check)
Secondary- it is similar to Canada in that students take biology/physics/chemistry but they start this in gr. 9 (form 1) to gr. 12 (form 4). Earth science is lumped into geography. No one area stood out but activities/demos were well received. It may be a good idea to have the secondary teachers indicate specific areas of the curriculum they would like addressing. This may produce a broad array of topics but it may also allow one to pick out common threads.

Feel free to ask questions!
Kim's comments are excellent, well done Kim!

It would be helpful to have the science and math curriculum documents available here. It might also be a good idea to have last year's booklets on this site.

For people new to this kind of process, the team looked at the curriculum and put the learning outcomes from the Kenyan curriculum at the top of each lesson so teachers could see where it fit (grade level and number of outcome). The Kenyan teachers are very tied to the curriculum since the final exam at each grade counts for 100% of the mark. The daily marking that they do is not factored into the student's mark, but used to track how they are doing and seems to be required by the school administration.

I agree with Kim that teachers need lesson plans that will work with large class sizes. It also seems that the students tend to stay in one room and the teachers move around to the classes for teaching. Some of the high schools did have science labs and a lab exam at the end of the year, but supplies were not always readily available. Labs using basic materials would be very useful to most teachers.

The workshops last summer were lots of fun. I'm looking forward to this summer and seeing some of the teachers again to find out if the lessons we modeled were of help.



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