(Summer ’17) Ruth Park, ’17
Ruth Park (’17 Electrical Engineering and Biology)
Ruth will spend the summer in Ghana working with Practical Education Network (PEN) to produce support for professional development for teachers outside of in-person workshops. PEN promotes hands-on learning within classrooms through development of hands-on curriculum using locally available materials, and professional development for teachers. Ruth will be creating step-by-step videos to supplement the curriculum in order to enable teachers to freely use the curriculum without having to attend a workshop for each activity.
Classes here in Ghana typically consist of teachers writing notes on blackboards, students copying them into their notes, and tests. Although this may be a good way to fill a notebook quickly, it’s not particularly engaging for the students and leads to a superficial understanding of a wide range of topics. The problem is circular in that the teachers also learned that way, so naturally they also often have a superficial understanding of a wide range of topics and are uncomfortable guiding their students through hands-on activities.
PEN attempts to break this cycle through the day-long workshops where teachers roll up their sleeves and partake in design challenges and activities that range from mixing chemicals to produce a gas, to burning a fuse, to visually representing a food chain, to measuring their lung capacity. It was heart warming to glimpse the bright eyed child in these teachers that were young and old, inexperienced and experienced, private and public, male and female. Rowdiness that comes from excitement and lack of previous experience surfaced as they worked together, came up with new ideas, and saw things that they’d only ever learned in theory come to life. Teachers were genuinely proud of their work, taking videos of the process, posing with their work for pictures, making sure they got to do each activity, and excitedly explaining their findings during the discussion at the end of the day.
A group photo with public school teachers in the Accra Metro school district after one of the workshops.
A glimpse of me while doing user testing with videos I made of activities.
It’s clear that the PEN workshops hit a chord with the teachers. However Heather, PEN’s CEO, was finding that more often than not, teachers were not passing their excitement on to their students. The theory is that the workshops spike inspiration and interest, but the every day struggles of the teacher makes this hard to sustain without some extra support. That’s where I come in.
Although videos can’t replace the chaotic but transformative workshops with almost tangible excitement in the air, it can provide a reminder by the visually stimulating examples that clearly lay out how they too can do these activities with their students.
My goals for the summer are to help PEN be efficient and effective by improving workflow for the various logistical things PEN must do, and increase efficacy of the workshops by developing ways to engage teachers post workshops through a recognition scheme and videos.