Teachers Discover Computers and PASPORT Technology in Ethiopia
By Chris Wilde
The following success story comes from Ethiopia, and it tells how teachers with virtually no computer experience were entranced by PASCO's Xplorer and sensors.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- They were 17 amazing days. Invited to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by an Ethiopian biologist, Dr. Getachew Tikubet, Chris Wilde and Christian Grunder from Central Catholic High School in Modesto, Calif., taught the first of a five-summer series in teacher training institutes.
The Ethiopian Science Teacher Training Institute (ESTTI) is a grass-roots project of teachers reaching out to teachers to help them strengthen their teaching and prepare to become master teacher trainers. We discovered that only one-third of Ethiopian high school teachers graduated from university, and those graduates had no teacher preparation classes at all. The other two-thirds of high school teachers have just graduated from high school and are immediately hired to teach -- you guessed it -- high school! They get no university preparation and no pedagogical training. Combine that with a six-period teaching load with 70 to 90 students per period and poverty-level wages in an already very poor country and it is not surprising that Ethiopia is hemorrhaging teachers!
We were able to introduce them to concepts such as learning styles, cooperative learning and engaging students by introducing fun into the classroom. We were asked to tantalize them with some high-tech applications that free them from the classroom, as well as teaching with cheap materials from the local markets (my husband was the "go-fer" and scrounger extraordinaire!) Although most of the teachers had zero computer experience, they were entranced by the PASPORT Xplorer, the temperature and pH probes, as well as the voltage probe. Since we were teaching in an integrated Biofarm setting, the teachers quickly discovered what interesting questions they could answer with these few probes in the greenhouse, the biogas digester and the compost piles. The Biofarm is a demonstration farm used to teach sustainable agriculture practices, methane production with simple biogas digesters, soil conservation and enhancement with the digested sludge, and the use of indigenous plants for medicinal purposes and pesticide-free insect control.
It was wonderful to watch the light bulbs go on as the teachers began to have genuine fun in an academic context. You could see the gears turning as they visualized their own students doing things like the egg drop competition we did. (Directions: Take 30 or so drinking straws, a roll of electrical tape, and one raw egg. Design and build a container to allow your raw egg to survive the highest possible drop.) It was a huge step for these 27 teachers to go from notes in chalk on the board as their sole teaching technique to a diversity of engaging activities.
At the end of the institute, we asked the teachers what they wanted in the next summer institute. Computer training was high on the list, as well as work on their English communication skills and classroom management. My goal for next summer is twofold: 1) to get 40 laptops (gasp!) for the training, and 2) to bring a total of 6 teachers.
While we were there, a representative from Kenya asked us (begged us) to come to Nairobi and replicate the program, eventually folding the two programs into the East African Educational Initiative. Although I have been selected as training director for ESTTI, for right now, Ethiopia's beauty, her gracious and beautiful people, and her great needs have captured me. Who can say no to such an adventure of the heart?