Here come the Korean Science Teachers!

July 2016

Baucau, Timor-Leste

A group of nearly 20 teachers has arrived in Timor-Leste to carry out a short training with fascinating and simple experiments and demonstrations.  They are from the Korean Science Teachers Association, and this is their 10th year coming to Timor-Leste.  A few are new, but most have been on this voluntary mission of support and educational solidarity at least once before.

Their main connection here is Padre Palomo, a Filipino priest who has lived in Timor for decades.  He works with both Catholic and public schools, supporting their teachers and programs in many ways.  He has also set up what is essentially Timor-Leste’s only science center: a treasure-filled room for the exploration of mathematics and sciences of all kinds.

Padre Palomo and the Koreans’ coordinator Mr. Kim give a short introduction before the training of trainers begins.

I will not be able to attend the training next week, so I took part in the ‘training of trainers,’ in which some top Timorese junior-high and high school teachers spend two days with the Koreans and learn their activities, in preparation to work side-by-side with the Koreans when the bulk of the local teachers show up for the training.

In this joyful effort, communication is a challenge, mostly carried out though the activities themselves, together with whatever English both sides can muster and the occasional Tetun phrase learned by the Koreans. I’ve seen this sort of haphazard communication work quite well, because it is rooted in concepts that both sides are passionate about, concepts expressed in simple, surprising, and universally attractive pratika activities.

I spent time with each concept group, helping a bit with translation and gathering up all the great ideas the Koreans shared.  All their pratika employed simple materials, however in several instances, I saw that a certain item, though common in Korea or my native U.S. and perhaps in the capital Dili, was simply unavailable in the districts of Timor. In these cases we brainstormed together for substitutes and in most cases were successful.

Opening or closing the hole in the base of the cup determines whether the floating lid rises or falls. Transparent lab trays are nice, but kitchen basins or buckets will also work. 60cc syringes can take small balloons inside and crudely demonstrate a vacuum chamber. Here only 10cc syringes are widely available, but they can show the same effect with just a dab of soap bubbles inside.

To use simple materials for pratika is critical, even if schools happen to have enough money to buy commercial lab kits.  When students learn a concept, electricity and magnetism for example, from a commercial, turn-key kit, they may learn the concepts well enough, but they also learn that in order to explore this concept the first step is to obtain one of these fancy kits.  Thus, when the kit is not available, the learning stops.  If instead the student tears apart a transformer or the broken alternator of a car and extracts the varnish covered copper wire, numerous fascinating pratika can be done leading to all the same conceptual insights as the kit offers, with the additional understanding that this is all present in every transformer and alternator found in daily life.  That is to say, the student learns that life is a laboratory, ready and waiting for the creative scientist.

In fact, Padre Palomo is not so concerned about the individual pratika going on.  His primary goal is to have the Koreans ‘infect’ the Timorese with their highly contagious love of science and the fun of teaching science.  I could see that this desirable contagion had already taken hold of many of the Timorese participants.

Biology teachers make elaborate paper models of DNA.
A straw and wire go up the middle and the short clip of DNA is complete.
Aside from the DNA pratika, the biology group had a lovely model of the digestion system, starting with real food and going through each critical phase in the process. This is the mouth: yellow liquid represents the saliva, and stick represents teeth chewing. After that the food moved into the stomach, a big zippered plastic bag, and more digestive juices were added.
This stocking represents the small intestine, with the food juices oozing out the sides represent the absorption of nutrients into the blood.
After the small intestine comes the large, removing excess water and finally, the feces we’ve all been waiting for.
The Koreans prepared large posters in Tetun for each pratika. This one shows three related activitieswater drops sitting unexpectedly on the top of a coin, pollen (dust) sitting on water’s surface then sinking when soap is introduced, and a boat scooting around powered by the same soapy reaction.
These feather-light creatures with big feet can also be supported by the surface tension of water. They sink if soap is introduced.
To convey the science of surface tension, three or four languages go back and forth here, not including Padre Palomo’s native Tagalog.



As this teacher blows his carbon-dioxide rich breath through the slightly basic water, the acid indicator turns yellow, showing a move down in PH. It’s difficult to prove, but this seems to be the same carbonic acid currently lowering the PH of the ocean as CO2 increases in the atmosphere.
Any chemistry teacher worth her credential will find a way to burn something in the course of a training. This one will pass water through these ashes and end up with a slightly basic solution, as shown by a local indicator made from purple sweet potatoes.
The Korean chemistry teachers took their group deep into the formulae, and the Timorese high school teachers were pleased to be making real life connections to these equations.
The electricity and magnetism group had several nice pratika, including this Plexiglas sandwich of iron filings. The brilliant part here is that the inside of one of the pieces has been scratched in a 1/2cm grid, which has the remarkable effect of keeping a tiny heap of filings in each square, thus forming a superb pattern showing the magnetic field of the two magnets beneath.
A rail gun using only 1.5 volts, bare copper wires, and any random chunk of magnet. Video here. Blue fingernails are absolutely essential for this activity.
Here is an elegant wall-mounted exhibit of the motor effect. The cup is stuck to the wall and supports the magnet on top, allowing the dangling wire to swing when current flows. Video here.
An astonishingly simple model of Faraday’s original motor, without the mercury. Video is here. Those are two cylindrical neodymium magnets the wire tail is circling.  Once Faraday achieved continuous motion, the washing machine and hair dryer were not far away. 




1 thought on “Here come the Korean Science Teachers!”

  1. Hi team pratika,

    I read with interest what the Korean teachers are doing in Baucau. I am the principal designate of a Methodist school which we intend to build in Dili end of the year. A private school for the locals with English as the medium of teaching.

    Am keen to look at Timor’s only science centrE and see if there is a possibility of future partnership in the area of science.

    Cheers, David chan Director MMS-TL


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