Archive for March, 2010

Planning for Holiday Training

For the first two weeks of April, Rwanda has a break period for commemoration of the genocide (which began in April 16 years ago). As with most holiday breaks, we take this time to work with teachers and students, so that they can work in longer-term projects, important to them, while continuing to develop of baseline of knowledge for laptop use. The projects are usually created under a theme, this time, one of our colleagues, Desire, requested that we choose the theme of malaria. Malaria is a big issue in Rwanda. Malaria currently kills more people than AIDS, and like AIDS it is a disease that many people do not know much about. Working under the theme of malaria also provides some great scientific analysis opportunities and  allows teachers/students to address a social need in their communities through awareness and spread of knowledge.

For the camps we have decided to focus on just public schools: Kagugu, Nonko and Rwamagana. We will work with teachers, developing their own projects for the first week and a half and for the remaining 3 days we will invite students to the camp, where teachers will guide them to create their own projects on malaria. This will give the teachers an opportunity to practice teaching with the laptop, with the help of us, the trainers.


What is Linux?

During the past week’s tech team training at ESCAF school (see first posting for details on each school) we worked on ways you can customize the laptop…change the color, change the name, change the language, etc. This is when I realized, that often, teachers ask us if they can get a normal laptop for use themselves. What they really mean when they ask this is where is MicrosoftWord and Excel.  We usually spend some time discussing the limitations of a software made for office workers, but never or rarely do we talk about what software IS on the laptops, why it is there and the great things about it. None of the teachers knew the name of the software or what open-source meant, so we spent some time just talking to them about the benefits of open-source, one of which, is allowing them to customize their own laptops. In the end they were very excited to learn about Sugar and Linux. They even asked that we print out more information for them on Linux for the next session.

Teacher Training: Day 2

This week for teacher training we focused on the question:

“What makes a good teacher.”

Here are some examples of the work of the teachers:

The good teacher

I asked them to write down what they thought in words, then try to imitate what they had written in photos. I lost some really creative, good projects in the conversions somwhere, but in addition to this there was some really creative work.

One teacher asked for a volunteer from the students playing outside tp pretend that he is beating them with a stick. One girl volunteer and laid on the ground, while everyone laughed, and made a face of pain to pretend the teacher hit her. (The teacher’s sentence was to never beat the students.)

The same teacher also asked ones student to pretend like they were very sick, as he hugged them. (The sentence was “take care of your students when they are sick.”)

Another teacher said teaching outside in nature was important, so she asked Jimmy, one of our colleagues to take a picture of her while she explored nature in the schoolyard.

While school is not traditionally a place for fun and creativity the teacher showed that if it is something interesting to them, they can be very creative. It was also great to see them include their students so much in their projects.

Capacity Building

This week, we are focused on capacity building on two different levels:

1) Our first initiative was building a maintenance team made up of teachers at the schools where we are working. For various reasons the local core team in Rwanda has not been able to adequately address technical issues at the schools. Many laptops brake and remain broken. In order to fix this issue and further empower the school we decided a team in the school would be best. We first suggested this idea to ESCAF, the private school. The Headmaster was excited and found three teachers who were equally excited to become the “tech team.” The headmaster purchased 2 USB keys and 2 screwdrivers and we will donate 3 laptops for spare parts. We had our first session this week on Monday. We started with the basics

  • How to fix the mouse when it “jumps”
  • How to find activities that have been removed from favorite
  • How to fix the battery when it won’t charge
  • Proper ways to shutdown

Next week we will work with the USB key, concluding our training with a demolition session.

2) This week we re-started our work with local university students from KIE. We contacted a small number who worked really well with us during the past year’s summer camps. We asked some to stop by our office to discuss supporting the current teacher training program. They were all very excited and one student even asked if he could volunteer to work with us even more hours then requested. Working with these students is very important because not only do they support our training efforts, but these students will be future secondary school teachers, so they are equally eager to learn education pedagogy. Working with local entities also ensures future sustainability for the project.

Notes from Science Class

While the team and I were holding a quick session with students at Kagugu Primary school. We noticed on the chalkboard that there were notes from a science class. My boss and I noticed that one side of the chalkboard had instructions for lab work: “be sure to turn the gas tanks off,” “always use gloves,” etc. But Kagugu does not have a lab. The teacher most likely copied this down from their curriculum book they were given (in English, a foreign language to most) and now students were studying these things as part of science class.

This is all the more example that the question is not whether school reform is necessary, but how quickly and effectively this change can happen. Hopefully, as we continue our work with teachers, we can work with them to customize lessons that they understand and are comfortable with, and then use with their students.

The First Day

Because of past training experiences, where the teachers felt unimportant in the process, we decided to start off slowly to build a trusting relationship and rapport with the teachers. So for the first day, we decided to start off by brushing up on some basic laptops use, but more important to introduce one another. We started by asking the teachers (and students of ESCAF) to pair up with one another and interview their peer and record their answers in Write, and, if they know how, they can import a picture to that same document. We encouraged the teachers and students to think of really creative questions to make everyone laugh.

We started the day at 8am at Nonko. The first group was six teachers. They reall enjoyed the introduction project. All of the pairs were laughing and being very creative with their questions. They wanted to continue working on the introductions for an hour long than I had anticipated–which is great. The teachers came up with fantastic questions and when we shared we laughed and one of the teachers  announced she was pregnant.


We concluded the session by talking about the way we were going to work moving forward. Since the teachers had, prior, to this session not felt like an important part of the process, I wanted to ensure that the teachers understood this required work and dedication. The teachers said that they were ready and even that they were proud to have this training opportunity.

Next we went to ESCAF to work with the students for an hour. We did the same thing with the kids as we did with the teachers at Nonko. When we first asked the students to find a fellow peer that the didn’t know that well, all of the children were hesitant to move from the desks. Which makes sense, because I am sure they were never before allowed so much freedom in the classroom. So, to get the students to start to feel comfortable, we asked all the students to get up and get real close together in the center of the room. I then asked them to act like bumper cars and then find another seat somehwere else in the room. The students liked this. Once the will all partnered-up the began the interview. It took all of the hour session, so only a few students were able to present, and the one’s who did had great questions for each other!

One of our colleagues stayed at ESCAF to continue training with the teachers, while mself and another colleague continued on to Kagugu to work with the teachers. 45 of the 51 teachers showed up. Some of the teachers were new and had no experience with the laptops, so we made sure to suggest that those who don’t know much, work with a peer who does. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t provide any step-by-step guidance to complete this project because we wanted them to see that they could work together, and also to show them that they can figure out solutions on their own.  This also worked well. This time, I had a teacher as a partner. He asked me “would I marry a Rwandese boy?” “would I live in a Rwandese family” and “what do I love most?” Great questions!

Again, we wanted to start with something to build a relationship with the teachers and to get them to feel comfortable using the basic activites. Most of the teachers have experience using these activites so it also allow them to feel that they have a good understanding of the laptop.

Sidenote: the following day our team went to Kagugu to work with kids and we saw, that teachers were actually using the laptops in their class, doing the same activity we had just done with us!

Lesson ideas

Now that we knew most of the teachers needed project-based lesson ideas from us, so we created some very basic lesson ideas based on the National Cirriculum Development Center (NCDC) of Rwanda. We knew this would be the best way to interest the teachers. Here were some of our initial project ideas:

Lesson Ideas, Cultural Traditions

This lesson idea is important here in Rwanda. The national cirriculum reall focuses on developing the student’s knowledge and awareness of one’s culture. At the same time the students learns about their traditions they are able to be creative and create a short video, etc.

Lesson Ideas, Tourist Advertisement

Tourism is another important topic for Rwandese as it is one of the biggest money generators for the country. The national cirriculum asks students to understand the important of tourism. This will also allow the student to express their personal love for their country.  

Write, Ramp Project

An easy introduction to deep scientific ideas. This project asks students to classif, observe, create an hypothesis; then prove of disprove that hypothesis.

Lesson Idea, Geometry

A simple introduction to Turtle and angles.