Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Team4Tech at JWOC 2016 – The First Few Days

On Thursday 24th March 2016, JWOC was delighted to welcome two Team4Tech leaders– Julie Clugage and Danielle Martin – and ten Box volunteers to JWOC. We set them up with fruit and water and then did some icebreakers and introductions for the rest of the morning. After a team lunch at a nearby restaurant we had an hour-long session in the early afternoon exploring the schedule for Friday-Sunday as well as the project aims, the sub-teams and their goals. Then the Box volunteers went out on a tour with Josh and 3 scholarship students. Makara showed them around the squatters’ village then they went up to USEA for a tour of the campus, before returning to their guesthouse to take stock of their first day together in the heat of Siem Reap and the immediacy of JWOC.
            Friday morning we did a bit more work with the volunteers and sub-teams in the morning then they all spent the days in meetings and observing lessons. They really enjoyed being in the classrooms and seeing the teachers and students in action. The volunteers priorities were generally preparing for the workshops at the weekend, based on ideas developed in the weeks prior to coming to Siem Reap, Some of this involved working out what was actually happening in JWOC -  in the classroom or in the office - interviewing the relevant JWOC staff and proposing ideas to the staff. The volunteers seemed pretty energised at the end of it, although some of them were faced with an evening making changes to draft presentations and workshop plans!
Saturday morning brought the first of the workshops, with good representation from the scholarship students with numbers never below 30 and generally closer to the 40 mark in attendance. The workshops took place in our recently wifi-enabled, newly furnished classrooms A and B, with students now sitting in groups of 4-6 around large tables, a classroom set-up more conducive to the communication and collaboration skills we hoped the scholarship students would be working on throughout the day.
First up were the 21st Century Skills and Design Thinking sub-team, and although the nomenclature might not be the most wieldy, the ideas espoused were to form the foundations for all of the workshops. Ideas of critical thinking and creative problem-solving were defined and simple demonstrations of every day uses of such skills were explored. The workshop participants were asked to consider the importance of design in everything we do – from the shape of spoons to the workings of large engines – and then led through the different stages of the Design Thinking process. Solenne and AlanaVenosasked the students to apply these stages to the following challenge: design a better bicycle seat for a defined set of users. After interviewing other groups (the ‘empathising’ stage), students defined the task for themselves then set to work brainstorming (or ‘ideating’) and prototyping their proposed models. The finished products were displayed around the room and students invited to question and comment on each other’s designs – the closest we could get to the ‘test’ phase.
After lunch the scholarship students were introduced to the projectors that are part of the investments being made into JWOC’s IT infrastructure. This session was led by Alan Leung, who is part of the SIMS sub-team working behind the scenes to train JWOC staff on how to use a piece of software called Airtable to better manage the copious amounts of data we gather about the beneficiaries we work with in our different programmes. Then Sumat Lam greeted his audience in some well-received Khmer and explained his ancestral ties to Cambodia and delight at being able to return for a third time to his parents’ homeland. He discussed some basic ideas about digital literacy, including the ways in which every teacher can teach digital literacy just by incorporating any smart technology into the way they deliver lessons. The final presentation for the day was about the tablets which are such a huge part of this phase of the engagement between JWOC and Team4Tech. Alex Reynolds explained about some simple functions which will help teachers more effectively control their students’ use of tablets in the classroom, including a type of parental control app and some of the basic tenets of sharing files online. Then it was time to draw the curtain on the day’s interactions and for the workshop participants to disperse in their different directions, tired but with heads full of new ideas and perspectives and looking forward to another day of developments and revelations.
Sunday’s focus was on educational technology. The three subject-specific sub-teams took the lead on leading scholarship students through a range of different tablet tools and apps which could be used to create more interactive and dynamic classrooms. From simple whiteboard tools and voice-recording games to curriculum-length English teaching game-based apps the morning session was a crash course in the potential that devices such as the tablets have for accelerated learning and sharing opportunities in classrooms. From scanning the night sky for Orion’s belt to making videos based on interviews with each other via a quick taste of some salty potatoes there was something for everyone to engage with as Nate Schlein, Lauren Swartz, Jasmin Pamukcu, Matt Jones and Kelly Halamekrolled out multiple options for all the different subject teachers who were in attendance.
Having learned so much over the previous three sessions, Sunday afternoon brought the turn of the students to apply their learning. Alex got them viewing and uploading documents in google drive then Danielle brought them through a design thinking lesson planning task, with scholarship students sitting in small groups depending on their experience and area of expertise. The aim was to develop a lesson plan which incorporated a selection of activities and apps from the weekend’s workshops. The Science team came up with a new Astronomy lesson while General English teachers created review lessons for their students ahead of the end-of-term tests in two weeks. Digital Storytelling teachers worked on an interactive lesson based around effective interviewing skills and using voice-recording apps and the Digital Literacy concocted a lesson plan whereby students would learn how to create an email account and then make a video of that process in Khmer for other students. As any of the numerous photos from the weekend show, the smiles stayed huge, collaboration and creativity were the order of the day and everyone who participated came away from the day fully confident that they had not just learned some new information but whole new ways of thinking about teaching, learning and even thinking itself.
In the week ahead we look forward to putting these lessons into practice, as well as doing as much work as possible in the different sub-team focus areas. The bonds formed between participating staff and Box volunteers over the weekend promise to become stronger and lead to some interesting collaborations and developments during the remainder of their stay with us here at JWOC. A massive thanks to them all for their efforts and commitment, as well as to everyone who attended the workshops for their energy and determination to understand and learn.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

JWOC goes to the Cambodian Science and Engineering Fair!

I introduced myself a month ago and talked about working to bring science to JWOC, but I wanted to post again to tell about my favorite experience so far in Cambodia! Last week I had the opportunity to represent JWOC at the 2nd Cambodian Science and Engineering Festival, where our goal was to showcase JWOC’s science program and inspire visitors about the possibilities afforded by science, technology, engineering, and math (more commonly known as STEM). We prepared six exhibits; each covering a different topic. We wanted our exhibits, covering everything from electricity to biology to chemistry, to teach something new while allowing students to get hands on.Aside from me the team consisted of Nesa and Vantha, two JWOC staff members, and Phally and Thoeu, two JWOC scholarship students. Each did an incredible job all week explaining in Khmer to students about our demonstrations!

The first day of our trip we took the long six hour drive to Phnom Penh, got our booth ready, and went to bed early, ready for a busy week. Our goal on the first day was to teach two things: first, the reasons for the differences between plant and animal cells and second, how plants drink using capillary action. To teach the first we had students look through two microscopes showing plant and animal cells and think about the benefits a cell wall offers plants. For the second, we had students guess and discuss why cabbage is stained different colors when left in colored water.We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but we hoped kids would enjoy our demonstrations. Luckily, immediately after the doors opened (and constantly for the next three days), we had a circle of students surrounding our booth! It was clear just from the looks on their faces that kids were enjoying learning in a hands-on manner.

Throughout our time at the fair, that didn’t change. We alternated exhibits, showing something slightly different each day, but no matter what we had on display we never seemed to run out of smiling and laughing kids as they played with the exhibits and talked to us. Probably the most popular exhibit was Oobleck (look it up!), a non-newtonian fluid that is either a liquid or a solid, depending on whether you apply pressure to it. The last two days we had bowls of Oobleck out for students to play with while investigating the material’sproperties, and they could not get enough of it. It was a bit messy, but it was worth it to see the surprised and curious faces as students tried to figure out why the Oobleck flowed like a liquid, but turned into a solid ball when squeezed. I don’t know who had more fun, the kids or us at the booth, trying to explain it! By the end of the third day, we were exhausted from having spent three full days at the fair, but thoroughly happy that we were able to be involved.

Stepping back a bit, I want to talk about why the science fair was so meaningful for me.The slogan for the science fair states that “Cambodia runs on science. Let’s make that science Cambodian!”I think that’s such an important goal to pursue. There’s so much promise amongst the Cambodian youth to make an impact on both their own country and the world as a whole, but in order for that promise to materialize students need to realize the opportunities that are available.

At the fair, students could learn about robots, bugs, 3D printers, physical therapy, and so much more. Over the course of the fair, nearly 20,000 students had the opportunity to be inspired by ways they can improve the world with various STEM disciplines; just as importantly, they learned that science and engineering can be fun. I love that I had the opportunity to help inspire thousands of students, and I know that because of events like the science fair Cambodia is becoming a better place. Without a doubt, being able to be part of that impact makes my time at the science fair the most rewarding thing I’ve done in Cambodia.


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