Our 2017 Summer in Kenya
As shared with you earlier this year, SeaVuria partnered with Rotary International on a two-year Vocational Training Team Grant, in which Rotary International funded a team of local Seattle-based science teachers (the vocational team) to work with over 60 teachers in our Kenyan partner schools. The goal of the partnership was to collaborate on improving teaching techniques from the current didactic approach to one that is interactive, hands-on, relevant, meaningful and engaging. In addition, our hope in the schools was to positively influence students to see themselves as capable scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, that can succeed in their STEM education.
Our dedicated team put in a great deal of time, preparation and thoughtfulness into planning their professional development lessons, and in return were richly rewarded with fulfilling experiences, encouraging moments, and lasting memories.
Below are a few stories they wanted to share.
This year, we left our Kenyan colleagues with many new skills and ideas on how to make their classrooms more learner-centered. We encouraged them to continue meeting as teams, set leaders for each content area, and form Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) to support and collaborate with one another. To date, each of the teams, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics have met to share their successes, inspiring each other in creative problem-solving through the many challenges they face. We are so proud of our colleagues! A recent message sent from one of our Kenyan partner teacher’s says it all: “I have put into practice some concepts taught to us during our training, and this new method actually works. The students become engaged throughout the entire lesson(s) and the results and performance go up.”
As an educator of physics teachers here in Seattle, I had the pleasure of traveling on the International Rotary Foundation grant to Kenya this summer to work with physics teachers from the Taita-Taveta and Baringo County schools. Being my second trip with SeaVuria to collaborate with the physics teachers from these regions, I decided to bring my husband and two sons along to work alongside us, updating the technology SeaVuria has provided over the years to our partner schools; what a rewarding experience for my family!
This year, I was able to do some demonstration teaching about the physics of light in a guided-inquiry setting. This provided the teachers some examples of how to design new lessons for their students, and they were then given the opportunity to collaborate with one-another on designing and teaching a student-centered lesson on their own at the end of the week. The teachers created and taught an engaging lesson on Electromagnetism at the Bura Girls School during an extended class period. It was inspiring seeing both the girls and the teachers so excited with the learning experience, and our colleagues left that day with a genuine desire to try more lessons in which the students were actively participating in their learning.
Among the highpoints of our work in Kenya was going into schools and watching one of the teacher participants teach a lesson that had been designed by all of the teachers within a particular content-area group. When the students first entered the classrooms, they initially lined up 8 or 10 abreast behind their lab tables. However, as the lesson progressed, students leaned into smaller groups to discuss questions posed to them, often using materials, tools, and/or manipulatives to explore their conjectures. From the staff observation points on the sides or back of the classroom, it was like watching a parting of the seas, a change from being passive receivers of knowledge to becoming active thinkers and reasoners.
As a math teacher in Seattle, I found that I could not help but engage in trying to make sense of the learning target in the Biology class for myself. I wanted to reason about the by-products of respiration. I knew from the opening demonstration that I could identify one of the by-products, and in looking at the atomic models that students were manipulating, I knew that Carbon was a factor. As they talked, manipulated, and reasoned, I shared their elation as I made sense of the science ideas for myself! So the teacher became the student!
In a time of reflection after the lesson, students described their appreciation for the opportunity to make sense of important ideas, and teachers reported that it was good to see for themselves, in familiar classroom settings, that the students didn’t have to be told procedures and facts in order to learn important science concepts.
A high school Chemistry teacher in the Shoreline School District, this was my second time working with the SeaVuria partner teachers in Kenya. On our trip in 2015, our lesson focus was on acids and bases–a topic taught to some extent; three of the four years of high school as per the Kenya national syllabus.
In spending time with the teachers from Taita Taveta, and becoming more familiar with their school system, I realized that they have very little opportunity to promote student ideas and thinking–they feel so pushed for time to complete all of the requirements for the national science tests that students take. A major focus of our SeaVuria Professional Development (PD) with teachers is to promote opportunities to hear student voices in the classroom–what are they thinking? How can we guide them to discover answers for themselves? My focus this summer was on ways of structuring group work by students to encourage collaboration and help them become more confident in directing their own learning.
To this end, the Chemistry Cohort chose to design a lesson around student group work, focusing on a topic students typically find the most difficult. Given that students had never worked together to solve problems before, I was very impressed with the students’ abilities to listen to each other, question ideas, and arrive at correct responses. During the class period, they arrived at a deep understanding of the topic and eagerly asked that they be allowed to work together in the future! Other teachers told me that as they tried some of these methods in their own classrooms after the PD and the student response was equally enthusiastic.
Although lessons taught in this way can be time-consuming, teachers agreed that the level of understanding achieved by students made it worthwhile. It was encouraging to see the teachers feel that they had the ability to change how their students learned.
As a classroom teacher and elementary science specialist, I went to Kenya to learn what were the needs of the teachers. In visiting the schools, I found the shared universal creed of educators: to do whatever it takes so that students learn. I met very dedicated teachers who welcomed me into their classrooms and into their lives. We observed each other teach, asked questions and spent time learning from each other.
My goal this year was to create “Professional Development”; to provide our Kenyan colleagues with tools to engage students in scientific discourse, thereby allowing for students to actively assign meaning to their learning. I hope to return next summer, not to show, but to share and exchange ideas. My time in Kenya inspired me in my own life to forge ahead, no matter the obstacles in place. My work will be accomplished because of the relationships made and of the acknowledgement that students learn best when they make meaning for themselves.
As a high school biology teacher who also works with teachers around the Seattle School District new to using our biology curriculum, I have worked closely with MaryMargaret Welch in Seattle on curriculum development as well as other projects. When she invited me to join the group to lead the Biology Cohort, I enthusiastically said yes! It’s not often that teachers get the amazing opportunity to work with colleagues from another country, and I was excited to learn more about the Kenyan education system and what works in their classrooms and share some ideas that work well in my classroom.
This summer I worked with a group of 18 biology teachers to share and develop lessons about how plants and animals grow, move, and function. Initially, I shared and demonstrated the curriculum I use in my own classroom to teach how plants grow, allowing the teachers to become learners and experience the lesson from a student perspective. The Kenyan biology teachers were then allowed time for collaboration together, using similar strategies to develop a lesson around how organisms get energy from their food.
When I first walked into the classroom to co-teach this new lesson, alongside my Kenyan colleague Benjamin, I was struck by how many boys were in the room. They were at least 6 to a table, and all so attentive! At first, they were quite shy and reluctant to share their ideas, but once they warmed up to what was happening, the noise level went up! The teachers had created a hands-on activity in which students used molecular models to explore what happens when glucose and oxygen are broken apart to release chemical energy. Intentionally left to figure things out for themselves, I found that students did an outstanding job of puzzling through the process together rather than their previous experiences of waiting for a teacher to tell them what to do! There were smiles, laughter, and several “Aha!” moments where a student suddenly realized what to do and was eager to share their discovery with others.
Working with Kenyan students in the classroom was so energizing. They’re some of the most enthusiastic students that I’ve met, and so eager to learn. Watching students being given the opportunity to work together for the first time, watching them come alive and share their ideas with one another; it filled the room with so much positive energy. I walked away grateful for the time I got to spend in that classroom and in being able to share in the experience of dedicated teachers and wonderful students, enjoying learning.