Why bother?

The second of 4 rounds in our final ‘C Session’ trainings had SESIM in the two farthest districts from the capital, Dili. Lautem composes the easten tip of the island and includes Timor-Leste’s largest national park. Covalima is only 70km from Dili as the crow flies, just over a half hour plane flight, but fully 9 hours if you travel by car down the mountainous roads.

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Sunspots were non existent this week. The sun without spots is not one of the more impressive objects for celestial viewing, but these Lautem students had a go at it.

I’ve trained in both of these municipalities before, and returned this time to Lautem with Mestra Mimi and Mestra Sandra working with the science teachers and Mestre Bernardino and Mestre Hortencio working with the mathematics teachers.

Now that we’re nearing the end of our program, I often become philosophical.  What have we gained?  Several things:  Teachers have now witnessed how to teach and learn with simple hands-on and inquiry activities using only simple, everyday objects.  They understand a lot more basic science and mathematics concepts.  They can’t argue that it’s not possible to carry out this sort of education in their classrooms, because many teachers are now actively doing this.

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I’m ever impressed by my colleagues’ enthusiasm for model volcanoes. This one is has a bottle built into the earth holding the soda and soap, while the vinegar and red color comes down the tube to meet and make the eruptive reaction. Students will go gaga over this.

We want them all to take these new skills, all this valuable knowledge and understanding, and apply it in their classrooms. I’ve written in previous blogs about our strategies to make this happen. But another perspective on this challenge hit me during this week. Even after enjoying and benefiting from three trainings over the past year, the path of least resistance is still very clear for many teachers: keep on lecturing.

  1. It’s what the students and their parents are expecting.
  2. It takes less time and effort in preparation and cleanup.
  3. Though school directors have been informed that pratika is now part of the curriculum, most are unsure of what that means, and so there is rarely any positive pressure or support from above.
  4. When lecturing, unanswerable questions rarely arise. With pratika, they’re almost a sure thing, which can be awkward if you are not confident.
  5. Few teachers anywhere have much experience with pratika, so it is unlikely that anyone will be able to help if the activity is not working.
  6. Though these pratika can all be done with simple materials, still most schools do not have sufficient cabinet space to easily store many science supplies. Also, most classrooms don’t have good tables for doing pratika.
  7. If one is to carry out successful pratika, there is some chance other colleagues and/or the director will be jealous and make life difficult.

How about the reasons to do pratika?

  1. Students love it and learn better from it.
  2.  It can be quite fun and rewarding, once you get the hang of it.

So this is what we’re up against. We’re asking an enormous amount from individual teachers and also the Ministry of Education. Only the best, bravest teachers are doing this well right now. To get pratika happening in every classroom is a huge step that will take years of ongoing effort.

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You can stand at the board and talk about velocity, or you can get a measuring tape and a clock and go measure it.

SESIM has various plans to continue meeting with these teachers, around 1000 across the country, but nothing is quite sure. We know that some are doing well already and we’re giving them as much enthusiastic boost as we can as we send them off after the final training. SESIM has begund working with the Ministry on a pilot program called GTP, short for Teachers Working Groups, which will meet regularly in each municipality and continue increasing teachers’ abilities.

We’re in an election year here. Timor-Leste has already chosen a new president and in July is scheduled to choose a new parliament. New ministers and vice ministers will be placed according to the outcome of these elections. In the past this has always meant big changes in the Ministry of Education, and we at SESIM are expecting the same this year. Just as in my native land, newly placed officials are not often impressed with existing programs and would rather put their names on new programs.

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Modeling genetics with white and yellow corn kernels in an egg carton. Again, nothing complex, but a bit more prep, a bit more effort to get everyone headed in the right direction.

At SESIM, we’re gearing up presentations for the new minister, vice minister, director general, and heads of various critical departments. We’ll show them what we’ve accomplished and hope they’re impressed. We’ll show them the evaluations from teachers that say they love our trainings and student assessments that show they love it too. And then we’ll hope for at least a bit of support to continue working with these teachers in some way. Wish us luck.

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The soil analysis activity is simple, but requires a good bit of prep: three kinds of soil, many little bottles or cups, vinegar, hand lenses. It’s not the path of least resistance.
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The pratika on characteristics of rocks is super simple. Once the few materials are passed out, the teacher’s job of encouragement, suggestions and confirmation is actually easier than lecturing.
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These teachers are pushing crackers around on top of mashed up banana, modeling the earth’s tectonic plates moving around on the magma below. Divergent, convergent and transverse boundaries, mid ocean ridges and mountain ranges are all possible to demonstrate.
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This demo models the forces that moves the tectonic plates. Ketchup or rice porridge is boiled on a stove and the floating crackers move around on the convection currents.
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Preparation for the cow eye dissection we know is difficult, due to the rarity of cow butchering. We tell them to keep their ears open for big parties where cows are often killed, such as weddings or funerals, and then request the eyes to use in class the next day.

One thought on “Why bother?”

  1. The rural areas benefit so much from your science and maths input. It is the way forward keep up the good work and the teachers and students will benefit for the future of Timor Leste


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