STEM Girls in Dili: More action at first phase schools

SESIM is getting good news from the 6 schools who participated in the first phase of STEM Girls in Dili earlier in the year.  Although it is exam season and nearing the end of the academic year, these clubs are full of activity and planning for a productive year next year as well.

September 4 High School has begun a lovely little garden, marked out with eco-bricks, on one of the brilliant solutions available for plastic waste.  You jams scraps of plastic into used bottles and they last forever.  The group at this school thus cleaned up their campus and beautified their garden in one step, while also raising awareness of the issue of plastic waste.





They were also busy preparing their entries for SESIM’s World Science Day competition coming up in November.  I think they’re going to win something for sure.


At Finantil, they also made eco bricks and are plotting what to build with them.


As you can see, we don’t require these groups to completely exclude the boys.  We do require that they are led by girls and that the vast majority of participants are girls.  This flexibility seems to be working, so we’ll continue this way.

The Finantil club also experimented with pressure and state change with the old egg in the bottle neck activity, and then tried pressure activities with an egg and plastic water cup.



Finantil is entering the World Science Day competition with an alcohol combustion powered rocket bottle on a string.  Stand back!


Long live the STEM Girls groups in Dili Timor-Leste!


STEM Girls in Dili, fourth session

Visits to local STEM related sites continued in the fourth week of our STEM Girls in Dili phase II kick-off program.  The groups of girls from 9 local schools visited the Technical Vocational school in Tibar, under the Secretary of State for Professional Training and Employment; the Institute of Petroleum and Geology, under the Ministry of Minerals and Natural Resources; and the directorate of Meteorology and Geophysics, within the Ministry of Transportation and Communication.

At the Tibar tech-voc school, we were shown each of the programs they run for local out-of school youth, including around 1/3 women.  We were told they actively recruit women now, and the numbers are rising.  Several of the current training staff were women.  We saw programs of masonry and house building, welding, wood working, plumbing, electricity, and side projects about solar power and auto mechanics.  Students usually attend for less than a year, and recently, graduates have been snatched up even before they complete courses.  It seems like a great opportunity for youth who did not complete their high school courses, and also a center for the best practices in these areas of STEM technology.  In each training center we were shown state-of-the-art machines, such as arc welders of various types and machines capable of milling wood to very small tolerances.  The staff seemed quite competent and welcoming.






At the Directorate of Meteorology and Geophysics, we learned that Japan has provided data from a satellite to help forecast Timor’s weather and that this info is put into broadcasts on national radio and TV every morning.  Darwin aviation authorities help to provide relevant weather information for pilots flying in and out of Timor-Leste.  General climate information is also collected for records and future analysis.  While their setup looked quite impressive, staff said they were severely limited by the lack of staff and equipment to comprehensively carry out their mandate.





Finally, at the Institute for Petroleum and Geology, we learned about the work they do in various areas including surveying and map making, identifying rocks, and monitoring seismic activities.  Students were able to do a pratika about identifying rocks and the minerals they contained.   IGS staff demonstrated some of their instruments including  GPS, compasses, sample bags, rock hammers, and others. They explained about their network of seismic monitors through the nation that shows Timor is indeed on the edge of a tectonic plate in motion.





Next week is the final session when the students will gather again at the SESIM lab to share experiences and plans for the next year’s STEM Girls club activities.

STEM Girls in Dili, third session

On the third week of our STEM Girls pilot for high school science and math clubs in Dili we visited three more local STEM-related sites: the Dom Bosco Training Centre in Comoro, Telecomsel’s main office, and the Ministry of Health’s National Health Lab.  Thanks to the U.S. Embassy for the funding being used to carry out this important program!

The Dom Bosco Training Centre is one of the major technical training centres in the country, helping youth learn useful skills such as electrical installation and welding.  The good staff there showed the group of girls several of the shops there, demonstrated wiring up a parallel circuit as used in homes, and even set them up to do a bit of arc welding – not your everyday activity for most of these students.





At Telcomsel the company representative gave a profile of their company. It’s an Indonesian company, one of three telecom companies in the nation, and has been in operation since 2012.  The representative led the students through the technical details of how a cellular telecommunication works, including the phones, the various antennas and the central data station.  The students were shown the difference between data and voice connections, and introduced to various types of connections, including fiber optic and radio frequency.  Finally they were warned of the security dangers of the internet, basically that no information is truly private, and given strategies to make sure they can access the benefits of the internet without harm from the negative aspects.



At the National Health lab, students were shown the wide range of activities carried out by the professionals there, including work in the sections of toxicology, malaria, STDs, microbiology,  and tuberculosis.  In each section, the students were shown quite sophisticated instruments used to analyze and understand the diseases suffered here. While many instruments are now available at the national lab, some are still lacking that would increase the medical establishment’s ability to fight sickness in Timor.  In addition, students were told of a severe lack of qualified personnel in this area, a shortage that these very students could help to alleviate.  The visiting students asked many questions and the staff were eager to give as much information as possible to these future scientists.





Stay tuned for glimpses from next week’s excursions!

Science Nomad at the Launching Seminar for STEM Girls at Knua Pratika

After a packed trip to visit two of the Knua Pratika, Timor-Leste’s fledgling small science centers in the districts, Aussie Science Nomad Stuart Kohlhagen continued helping SESIM with the first two days of a four-day launching seminar for our new program “STEM Girls at KP.” This is a 15 month program in which we’re using a small grant from UNESCO Paris to support STEM clubs for girls at secondary schools near the KP in 6 different districts. Stuart’s job was to inspire the STEM girls club coordinators, both teachers and students, as to the enormous possibilities of learning science through tinkering with real stuff.  It was task he carried out with considerable skill and effectiveness.

The momentous first day was opened with expansive speeches by representatives from Ministry of Education Director Generals in Science and Technology and Secondary Education.


With the higher-ups’ words of encouragement still ringing in our ears, we got right to work, facilitating each group to build around 6 simple exhibits to bring back to their KP, among them a pendulum drawing table, a snake pendulum, balancing nails, and a crude distillation setup. We hauled our collective tools to our satellite lab space and made a joyous raucous constructing these exhibits. The student leaders and the teacher coordinators all learned to use the tools as they built these working exhibits.







Mestre Caetano showed the entire process of fermentation and distillation of the mimosa seedpods, both with the crude steel pipe arrangement as well as with our fancy lab distiller. They each cut pipes to haul back and try it at their schools.




Stuart led a couple of nice mathematical exploration activities including linking cards according to their three dimensions of characteristics and then deciphering another groups’ linkages; and another chalk-on-pavement computer, this time to sort human “data” according to a rule set up in the “program.”




He did a few old favorites including pinhole images and pinhole viewers, the hand battery, and Cartesian divers.





He also introduced us to the amazing paper flower-opening-in-the-water conundrum.


We were able to use our little icey bags, a thin wire and a piece of PVC to put together a model of what could be happening in the fibers of the paper as the water soaks in.

We also wet newspapers under microscopes to see the water moving in.  Thanks to the Science Nomad for the generous dip he made into his bag of tricks for us, and also for supporting his own trip to see our operations here in Timor.  May our collaboration across the Timor Sea be long and prosperous.

We set up each site with plenty of phone credit and access to the central facebook page we’ll be using to share activities.  You’re welcome to check it out as well: STEM Feto KNTLU-SESIM  (That’s Komisaun Nasional Timor-Leste ba UNESCO – Sentru Estudu Siensia no Matematika. In English, STEM Girls, Timor-Leste National Commission for UNESCO – the Center for the Study of Science and Mathematics.)

After our final lunch together, the groups packed up their newly made stuff and headed back to their districts to begin making science and mathematics magic with local girls!


Science Nomad visits Knua Pratika: small science centers in the districts of Timor-Leste

In September, SESIM was fortunate to host Stuart Kohlhagen, Science Nomad and previous director of Science and Eduation at Austalia’s Questacon museum. We had been corresponding with him for several years, and finally the good nomad just bought a ticket and made this collaboration happen.  He spent just over a week, and what a productive week it was.

We shared ideas and resources for three days at our national lab for pratika, and then took off to the districts where we visited two of the small science centers SESIM has been supporting for a couple of years.  Called Knua Pratika, or simply KP, they are local resources for all science and mathematics teachers.  At the Maliana KP, Mestra Noemia hosted us to give an all-day seminar for more than 50 students and teachers from local schools.  Here are some highlights:


We got away with a remarkably short introduction by the school director, after which we got right to work building the exhibits we were to leave at their KP.


Stuart brought some fancy cordless tools to complement the ones the KP has already.  We found the girls ready for action.  Here they’re cutting out a hyperbolic slot for the exhibit where a straight pipe is swung surprisingly through the curved hole.

Another group worked on center of mass demos with randomly shaped pieces of cardboard.  By hanging them two or three times together with a plumb bob, the center of mass could be determined and the whole piece could then be balanced on that point.



After a break, we brought the students back together and Stuart showed them some light phenomena with “pinhole” mirrors, round and square, holes in papers letting the sunlight through, and pinhole viewers.



Then we brought out the classic string model, in which you demonstrate the light path with volunteers acting as the light, the hole and the screen.  It’s so clear that little explanation is necessary.


After that we played with pressure and air motion in various ways, including blowing little aluminum foil balls around cups with straws, which is a remarkably fascinating thing to try.



We wrapped up the pressure activities with compressed air rockets, of the soda bottle variety.


Meanwhile, with the other group, Mestre Caetano was demonstrating the wonders of fermentation and distillation of seedpods from the mimosa tree.  With a blender and yeast to kick start the fermentation, alcohol so concentrated that it will ignite can be obtained in less than a day.


Next day we traveled to the fledgling KP in Liquica.  In 2019, the U.S. Navy SEABEES will be constructing a nice building for the #1 Secondary school there to use as their KP.  Meanwhile, they use whatever room is open, and fill it completely with eager students, as we soon saw.


Again we built simple exhibits and showed them the center of mass and fermentation/distillation activities. SESIM’s Xefa Jacinta also demonstrated her recently developed geology activity on the difference between continental and oceanic tectonic plates.





At the same time, small groups from Liquica KP were presenting to Stuart the activities they had prepared for our World Science Day competition in November.  One interesting one was on numbers that follow certain shapes: triangles, squares, pentagons, etc.


Finally, we ran through the pressure and air activities as well as a few mathematical activities that had people working out puzzles on the floor tiles.




The puzzles turned out to mimic how computers work, following algorithms and counting parity bits.  It was a quick blast of science and mathematics, but we got the feeling that the students were energized to continue well on their own with their teachers’ good support.

STEM Girls in Dili: First phase schools continue to be active

The STEM Girls groups at most of the 6 Dili high schools involved in phase one of the STEM Girls program earlier this year have continued their activities despite the end of that pilot.  The current support from the US Embassy gives a small stipend to the teacher coordinators and a modest material budget.  The idea is to keep those groups going as models for the 9 schools now starting up in the second phase of the program.

The STEM Girls group at 12 November high school in Becora, Dili has done many great pratika activities this trimester, including this model volcano they built and analyzed.


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The STEM Girls group at Sao Pedro continues to be active in many areas.  Recently they hosted an expert on environment from UNESCO who happened to be in town. They were full of questions and had quite productive discussions around the topics she presented.



The STEM Girls group at Sao Pedro also routinely does pratika in their little lab, such as the one shown below here, in which the girls looked into the characteristics of various solutions.

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As you can see, the vibrant STEM Girls groups at these two schools do not completely exclude boys. As long as girls are in the lead, a few boys can respectfully join in the learning.

Stay tuned for more photos and reports from other STEM Girls groups at Dili schools, as well as the continued kick off of phase two.

STEM Girls in Dili, second session

The second week of programming for the STEM Girls saw visits to three different local sites rich in STEM:  Twenty-three girls from the “Science and Technology” sub-group visited the studio of TV station GMN (Grupu Média Nasionál) where staff took us on a small tour and described their work in detail. The crux of the STEM work in this office was to guarantee that the news reports were generated and distributed through the various outlets (TV, internet, satellite, radio, print) on time.  This requires a great deal of work, and many of the technical staff routinely work overtime. Though we found only one woman working in their IT department (!) it was an inspiring visit, and we left with determination to make this statistic change towards more women in the near future.




Around 30 girls from the “General Science and Mathematics” group visited the Heineken Company brewery in Hera, one of the largest industries operating in Timor-Leste that actually produces items for sale both domestically and abroad.  During the visit the professionals at Heineken introduced us to beer production and the various materials used in brewing in their factory. Unfortunately, the students could not observe many parts of the factory’s processes because their regulations do not allow students under 18 years old to enter the main production area.  We were however able to see through the windows and were introduced to all the fermentation and distillation processes happening in the giant tanks and tube systems.  We learned that all of the ingredients aside from water are imported from other nations.  Finally, they showed us the system they use dispose of waste, complete with a huge filter system and a fish pond to check the toxic levels. If the fish can handle the waste, it is deemed safe to put back into the environment.



Seventeen girls from the “Engineering” group visited Hera Power Plant.  On our visit, we observed and gained a lot of information related to the distribution of electrical energy around the Timor-Leste. Only one out of 7 generators was in operation, which they mentioned was normal.  Apparently more generators are running at the other power station in Betano.  The generator was capable of producing 17 megawatts of electricity, which was enough until evening when another generator would be started.  All of us visiting had to wear ear and head protection do to the noise and other dangers.  We were also shown the network connections, run by a large computer system that can see exactly which part of the nation power is needed and the best path to get it there.  We were shown the transformer systems that move the voltage up and down according to what is most efficient for transmission.  Finally, we were shown the high tech maintenance department, where some parts are replaced after a certain time, other parts are replaced after a certain number of movements (for example, one piston would be replaced after travelling a total of 6000 kilometers), and still others would be taken apart and analyzed before any replacement would be carried out. One interesting thing we learned was that although these power plants have long been known as “Oli Pazedu,” meaning “Heavy Oil,” they have never actually used heavy oil because it was determined to be too hazardous to the surrounding environment.




Each of these tours went smoothly and we saw much enthusiasm from the girls.  We’re all looking forward to the next visit next week!