From 12 to 30 January 2009, Cosmos Education ran a project in Lusaka, Zambia.
Carol Lo (Electronic Engineer, UK), Matt Landreman (Physics PhD Student, US), and Damian Smith (Engineer, UK) divided their time between two schools there, and concentrated their efforts on activities related to Physics, Maths and Engineering. Theo Banda (VP, Cosmos Education Zambia) coordinated this and brought in Mark Zulu (Mechanical Engineering Student, University of Zambia) to help in school visits and to be a positive role model.
Groups of students designed their own bridges using pasta
The intention behind running the project this way was to maintain a presence for enough time to get to know the teachers and students. Hopefully, with an extended and personal project, the impact will be long-lasting, and everyone will feel comfortable raising questions and asking for help.
Students count using strips of paper
Students count in different bases
The two schools we worked with were Munali Boys and Lusaka High School. After discussions with teachers at both of these schools, we agreed to provide a variety of different types of assistance. These included hands-on science activities with groups of students, providing guidance to students with science homework problems, and helping teachers in lessons.
As always, there is a focus on fun, but also on relevance - We always reinforce with the students the idea that the science and mathematics they learn in school is applicable in the real world - whether directly through work in engineering, or indirectly through the ability to analyse and think critically.
Zambian high schools currently take half of the students in the morning, and half in the afternoon. By running activities for students in the part of the day when they don't have lessons, we were able to expand their educational experience without interfering with their progress through the curriculum. We are in the process of writing descriptions of each of these activities, and are making them available online on the resources page. The titles were:
Pasta Bridges: an engineering challenge
Parallax: finding the distance to the stars
Binary and Logic: human computers and learning to count again
Electromagnetics: how electricity makes motors work
Surveying: using trigonometry to measure tall buildings from the ground
Cryptography: how to write and read secret messages
Satellites and Orbits: the physics and engineering of modern telecommunications
Sound: measuring its speed and understanding the doppler effect
Kinematics of ballistic cars: demonstrating the explanatory and predictive powers of science
Gases: chemistry, physics, and the mostly invisible
Shadows: measuring the planet Earth using trigonometry
Students extinguish matches in jars
Proving that Carbon Dioxide extinguishes flames
We also ran drop-in homework help sessions for those wanting a hand with maths and physics problems they've not been able to understand. These proved very popular as the students normally do at least some of their homework at school, so could come and ask if they got stuck. Although most of the discussions were related to current homework, quite a few students had questions on previous parts of the curriculum with which they were not comfortable.
Students look at a crushed can
Students examine the effects of atmospheric pressure on a soft-drinks can
The mathematics lessons we helped with were on Mensuration (areas and volumes), Variation (proportional and inversely proportional relationships), and Earth Geometry. This was at the request of the mathematics teachers who wanted to see some different ideas of how to present what can be rather dry subjects.
The feedback from both schools was very positive, and we will try to run more programmes in a similar vein.