EHPA goes to the Municipalities, continued

The following week, two more groups set out, first to Maliana, in Bobonaro, then to Gleno, Ermera.  In Maliana, again we concentrated at the Knua Pratika at the local public high school, and again we spent a full day doing a seminar with over 50 students and a group of interested science and mathematics teachers from nearby schools, followed by a great evening of science videos, star gazing and night creature study.


The crew all got on the bus, after hoisting some of the stuff up top.  It’s only a day-long seminar, but we also provided enough materials for the receiving students to teach each pratika activity again several times.  This is the crux of EHPA: students teaching other students.

Here is the formidable team upon arrival.


At far right here is the main mover and shaker, KP director Noemia, who also happens to be the shortest person in the room many times.  (Her physical stature is not consistent with her respect and reputation in the community!)


The mathematics of weaving was especially attractive on this trip.  We stopped on the way and cut some palm leaves for the students to use.





The standard rhombus weave used in so many local baskets also gives a perfect demonstration of 60 and 120 degree angles and the creation of equilateral triangles.  With just combinations of these angles, a world of figures is possible.

Here is the group doing another mathematics pratika: Timorese hopscotch, with the results then graphed and compared.



The astronomy pratika was also full of mathematics, starting with the 23 degree angle of the earth’s tilt.


Natural indicators were found in the plants and flowers surrounding the school, and processed with mortar and pestle for the pratika on acid/base indicators.  Here they’re grating turmeric.


Teachers from the local schools followed along from behind and learned a lot from the students.  It was a win-win-win-win situation, as we had planned.


At the end of the evening, students got into their tents, or just laid out on pads, all in the security of their own classroom.



A final photo session next morning, extended with many cameras, sent us off in style.


The program in Gleno was a bit different.  As it’s only an hour from Dili, we didn’t stay the night, but rather provided just the full-day seminar. The students from three schools lined up under their graciously shady trees on the morning of our arrival.  Coordinator Francisco and the director of the school were there to make a short welcoming speech.



Then we split into groups.  Each group did two mathematics pratika and two science pratika. These students are working to get their motorized physics toys working: an airplane on a stick and a battery powered string wave machine.



Here SESIM teacher Daniel steps in to raise a toast to natural indicators: each with a slightly different color, though all indicating the same substance, vinegar water I believe.


This group had a particularly interesting graph resulting from their hopscotch game.


The pentaminos pratika goes on for hours after we leave, because there are so many parts of the puzzle to solve.


This final shot is Coordinator Francisco standing with his core group in their little Knua Pratika space, the wall of which has been turned into a giant periodic table of the elements.


SESIM will continue supporting these Knua Pratika into 2019, and there is serious rumors of the Ministry making KP a standard part of the support offered to science and mathematics teachers at all levels throughout the municipalities.   There will undoubtedly be more great activities to come!

EHPA goes to the Municipalities

Part of the continuation grant we received from the US Embassy in Timor-Leste was to send out to the districts (now termed municipalities) our team of university students known as EHPA – that’s Estudante Hanorin Pratika Agora, meaning “Students Teaching Pratika Now!” Early in the year, they presented the pratika activities they had been trained on to student groups at 50 high school in the capital city, which then went on to put on expositions for their fellow students.  With this funding, the EHPA students geared up 8 of the best pratika activities and headed out to 4 of our Knua Pratika sites: Ossu, Suai, Maliana and Gleno. These are the small science centers detailed in previous blog posts.  Following are some photo highlights from the first two of these trips: Ossu and Suai

Ossu is one of my favorite places in Timor.  Five hours from Dili, it’s high in the clouds, just beneath the mountain Mundo Perdido, the Lost World.  We have a group of active teachers there wanting to start another Knua Pratika there. Here are two groups working on constructing the body system models, urinary and digestive.



The EHPA students in Suai also led the groups in the pratika about the earth, moon, sun system, involving a cheap soccer ball, a pingpong ball, and a light.  The guy in green is a local teacher who jumped right in to help. This was one of the almost inadvertant gems of this program set up: teachers of the schools were invited, but since they were not the direct subjects of training, they felt less pressure and were more inclined to hang around and learn what they could.  We noticed a keen difference from when we have given conventional trainings to teachers.


Here are two groups working outside in a cloud to measure the height of things using trigonometry and angels.  Half of the activities presented were on topics of mathematics.



Here is our parting shot, the morning after we camped together on the school grounds. The beauty was breathtaking, and these students live and breath it every day.


Suai was a longer trip: more than 8 hours by bus over the central mountains and down the the south coast.  Our Knua Pratika there is one of the most active, and received us with students from three primary schools as well as the STEM Girls group from the local high school.



Here Suai students are constructing their body system models – circulatory this time –  and earth-moon-sun models.




They also measured distance with trigonometry, and played children’s games that involved mathematics.




Our motor projects teach simple electrical circuits and concepts of force and motion, as well as the use of tools and various materials.



The mathematics group also taught the wonders of pentaminos and some of the rich mathematics of local weaving.



We also did the chemistry of natural indicators and brought out the telescope to view the starts and planets in the evening through the partially cloudy skies.



On the way home, we stopped to see the old oil well famous in the area.  It doesn’t give much, but some believe it means there is more petroleum available for drilling.  Others say small surface wells like this one mean there is no larger pocket below.


Stay tuned for more highlights from Maliana and Gleno!

STEM Girls in Dili: Final session

The final session this year for the STEM Girls program was held at our laboratory at 30 August school.  We mostly pumped the girls’ groups up with enthusiasm and ideas, had them listen to members of successful clubs from the first phase, and took photos with the US Ambassador to Timor-Leste, Ms. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who continues to support this great program.

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Each school’s group sat together to make a plan for the coming year, and many have started facebook accounts to share their progress.

Please see facebook:  Stem Feto SESIM-KNTLU.

SESIM/NatCom Timor-Leste celebrates World Science (and Mathematics) Day 2018

SESIM, the Center for the Study of Science and Mathematics, within the Timor-Leste National Commission for UNESCO, commemorated the occasion of World Science Day (adding also mathematics) with a camping/seminar/exposition event on November 7th through 10th in Venilale, Baucau. More than 500 participants enjoyed the event, sponsored by ConocoPhillips, the Ministry of Education, and the UNESCO Jakarta office.

We started by preparing the space at the Catholic high school, Escola do Reino do Venilale.  We set up a massive filter system and passed out canteens so that everyone could have free drinking water.

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Water in general was in short supply, and our participants made best use of the giant tanks at the school.

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Food was provided by a great team of women based in Venilale.  We were never hungry and often ended up stuffed.

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After everyone had arrived on Wednesday evening, we held an opening ceremony during which our team from the Central Lab in Dili launched a blinking projectile more than 30 meters in the air using hydrogen that resulted from the reaction of iron and battery acid within a specially prepared pipe.  Nearby was our artificial friendship fire, a light dancing on blowing streamers, which symbolized our commitment to environmental conservation, by not unnecessarily burning wood or petroleum.

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Forty teams from junior highs and high schools across Timor-Leste had already been chosen as winners in our pratika lesson plan competition, and these winners – 3 students and a teacher – were transported to the event as part of their prize.  The expo showcased their ideas to the other participants.

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The morning of the 8th was spent with the teams setting up their displays and creating their presentation boards. The boards were donated by the U.S. embassy, an excellent idea from their visit to the event last year.  The boards helped focus the presentations and give a synopsis of the pratika quickly to all observers.  In addition, a group of mentor teachers from the national university of Timor-Leste went from group to group and listened carefully to the explanations to be sure the concepts were correct and clearly presented.


A floating sensor to monitor the height of a river or lake.



A model of a system for waste water filtration and reuse in a small watershed.







A remote control movable mirror for surveillance.


2- and 3-D coordinate systems allowing the display of various geometrical functions.

While the winners were preparing their displays, SESIM offered 10 different seminars to the other 200+ participants, students and teachers alike.


That’s Mestre Hortencio teaching about the volume formulas of geometric solids.


This student is hanging at such an angle that the force pulling her against the wall is 1/6th of her weight, thus equaling her weight on the moon.  She can jump and walk around horizontally as if she’s walking on the moon.


This student is learning to draw perpendicular bisectors of line segments, and thus identify the orthocenter of triangles using only a compass and ruler.


The Maliana Knua Pratika (Home for Hands-on; Timor’s small science centers in the districts) showed participants how to make red sugar from palm juice, as well as several mathematical games.



The Dili central Knua Sentral ba Pratika showed how to distill plastic waste into petroleum that will later power Mestre Caetano’s motorcyle. The first distillation happened in a 50 gallon drum and the long metal pipe  The second one happened in the commercial set up with the spherical flask bubbling away.


Mestre Dani is showing a way to distill and analyze the content of alcohol, both from canned beer and local palm wine.


The Suai Knua Pratika made an astonishing machine to model tsunamis.  Powered by a foot pump that pushes on small tanks made from tire inner tubes, it unleashes a destructive wave into the unfortunate model village beyond the sea wall.


The Ermera Knua Pratika demonstrated their simple string pump, with a hand-crank bicycle wheel up top.  They also showed how to make something like corn puffs from local cassava and other starches.

After an evening of science videos and discussions, everyone awoke afresh at 5:30 for exercises and the beginning of the expo.  It was formally opened by officials from Baucau municipality and the Ministry of Education, and our Secretary General.


Later, when more bigwigs came, including a representative of the Minister of Education, the local dance group welcomed them with a traditional dance under the hot tropical sun.


It was then that all the hard work paid off, as hundreds of participants made their way through the expo and the winning groups explained their presentations again and again.



Here an electric mosquito shocker is being used to power a demonstration of electrostatic force: a bottle pop top is pulled back and forth between oppositely charged cans, creating a happy din.


Here syringes are wired up to piezoelectric igniters, and when the syringes with added rocket fins are filled with a bit of alcohol and mounted on top, they can be shot more than 6 meters across the field.


This activity forces the buoyant air out of a section of green leaf, but then allows the section to regenerate its buoyancy through photosynthesis under the tropical sun, causing it to float.


The vacuum created when a syringe is closed off and then pulled back is used here to shoot a little arrow across the field.



This is a remarkably ingenious method of focus for a smart-phone camera microscope:  the twist retract of a glue stick.  The dead ant pictured above is magnified through a tiny toy laser lens, and also the phone camera. The wood is recognizably taken from a broken school desk.


This automatic peanut shelling machine won the favorite prize from the local administrator.


This group brought a submarine and a small tank for it all the way across the country.  It lifted and sank when air was pumped into and out of an on-board balloon.


Here the earth’s crust is modeled with crackers sitting on hot margarine.  The three basic types of tectonic plate boundaries were demonstrated.  A model volcano also awaits out of site to the left.


These girls analyzed and documented the chlorine content of various types of locally available sanitary pads, as well as the results of too much of this chemical for the consumers.  They won a favorite prize from UNESCO Jakarta.


This ultra-simple version of the laser water-drop microscope also won a favorite prize.


These students created oil lamps from half-eaten oranges.

After a massive lunch, the ceremony began, prizes were given to winning teams and schools, and special guests handed out additional favorite prizes.


Three “Wow” demos were carried out by SESIM. First, a concrete filled soccer ball on a pendulum was released from a position touching the face of a physics teacher with his head back against a solid tank.  The crowd shrieked as it swung away and then back again, stopping shortly before it smashed into his face.  Fortunately, he believed in the principle of conservation of energy.


After that, 12 junior high students lifted a member of parliament on a modified chair with just their fingers, showing what happens when you divide a significant weight by 12. The parliament member, Ms. Maria Barreto, was not harmed, and promised to support SESIM activities in the future.


Finally, just in front of all the local and national officials, a half liter of petroleum freshly distilled from plastic garbage was added to the empty tank of Mestre Caetano’s motorcycle, which then roared to life and was driven away to thunderous applause.



Cutting a giant cake brought the event to a close, but star gazing and other science activities with the local youth went on late into the evening.



All in all, it was another fabulous event for SESIM and the students and teachers of Timor-Leste.



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.