Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mentor program between High Schools and Primary schools kicks off in January 2010

We have finally started the mentor program between Kenya High school and Kileleshwa primary. Kenya High school is an all girls boarding National school located in Kileleshwa area in Nairobi. The school has a track record of excellence and discipline and is the only girls' national school in Nairobi. Kileleshwa primary is a mixed primary school in the Kileleshwa area and has students mainly from Kileleshwa. Most of the young girls in that school dream of going to Kenya High school. For this reasons the members of Kenya High interact-HOU club identified the school and are dedicating their time to mentor the students.
The 25 member team started visits at the primary school on the third week of January, we had 60 primary school students with us to work with. Diana, the chair of the high school club coordinated an interesting intro where 5 girls talked to the students about life in high school but emphasized on the importance of balancing education student and play, sports and talent. This excited the primary school students who quickly demonstrated their different talents.
The girls thereafter introduced the solar system to the students. Using charts they were able to show them how the planets of our solar system look like and taught them about the composition of the planets and whether there could be intelligent life in our solar system. They also emphasized the importance of taking care of our home planet earth and that the young students and their parents and teachers and citizens of our planets should play a role in it. 

In our first visit we had a varied age of students from 8 years on to 13 years. It was cool to have such a diverse group of students and yet get them all to be attentive. 
The kenya high club members plan to introduce basic computer skills to the students, teach them astronomy software and games as well as basic astronomy concepts. They also plan to invite the young children and their parents to the school and teach them about the cool hands-on universe activities they have been doing. 
We hope that this project will have a positive effect of the performance of the students and will further create a good working relationship between the two schools. i am so proud of the students and i wish them all the best in their new community service project. 
Nairobi School club members also plan to adapt an orphanage and mentor the young boys in the home. 
We will keep updating the project as it continues. 

Lets Mould and Paint

Universe Awareness Kenya volunteers ended the year by visiting an informal school in Dagoretti. The aim of the informal school is to rehabilitate the youth who have been affected in their homes by abusive parents and guardians. Some of the children have abused alcohol and drugs and have been kicked out of school. The younger children aged 6 whom we end up working with are affected children. Most of them are from abusive families and attend the informal school everyday. This is a very needy school that is supported by AMREF and other organizations. Most of the people who help run the school are university students who spare some time to volunteer at the school. 
The road to the school is not very easy and we get up pretty early to find our way there. Of course we get lost but eventually find our way to a waiting audience. We are welcomed by a group of volunteers who are very interested in the program. After running them through our plan of activities for the day we are finally allowed into one of the classroom. 

I start by introducing my self in Kiswahili and later on inform the children why I am there. I am with an international film crew who are interested in covering my story, my work in the classrooms and my journey as an Astronomer and Science educator. After I introduce myself, and take them through some basic fun games I start the lesson. I have charts with me that I use to teach the young children about our solar system. They are young and do not understand much of what is happening or about the solar system and any questions I ask them has to be answered in Kiswahili. for example when I asked them about the things they see in the sky, they respond in Kiswahili. I decide to conduct my lesson in both english and Kiswahili. 
In Kenya, English is our official language and Kiswahili is our national language. In all formal schools, everything is taught in English. At this school is when it dawns on me that there are very many disadvantaged children in m y country. Children who cannot have access to free education because of their background. I appreciate the work the Dagoretti Centre is doing for these children as it is in places like these that children can get an opportunity to compete with their peers.

Though not well equiped, the school provides basic meals for the children, basic education and recreational facilities. 

Back to the class, the students get the charts and with the help of the volunteers at the centre they begin to mould and paint their planets. Seeing the children enjoy their task and get creative I feel that I have done some work. After we have all our planets, the asteroid belt, comets and other celestial features in our solar system created, I begin to receive questions from the students about what they have noticed. "Why is Jupiter so big? Why is the moon so small? How many moons does Jupiter have?"   

After our learning session the young children carry their tiny feet to the dining hall for a cup of tea. We are thereafter invited to the Hall to watch them entertain the rest of the school with a play. That was one of the places I visited that I will never forget. I would love to thank Vincho, all the children and teachers for giving me the opportunity to visit that centre. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

IHY/SCINDA 2009 Livingstone Zambia

The second IHY/SCINDA workshop was held in Livingstone Zambia on June 7th to 12th. There were many space scientists, undergraduate and graduate students in the workshop, most of whom were Africans. During the IHY opening, the guest of honour was the Minister for Science and Technology Hon. Gabriel Namulambe, other guests included the Vice Chancellor University of Zambia Prof. Stephen simukanga and the dean of University of Zambia, sponsors and other representative organizations.

I was requested to give an oral presentation and this was an opportunity for me to recruit more African countries to the Hands-on Universe and Universe Awareness programs. Other than my presentation I decided to do a little demonstration on one of the astronomy software we use in the classrooms with students.  Of course so many students and professors showed interest in developing the same activities in their countries. I managed to give some of the students the software, which they immediately installed on their laptops. I also had an opportunity to meet Prospery Simpemba, the NPoC for SGAC Zambia

I also set some time aside for training some of the interested students on the readily available software. This team building allowed us to share our thoughts and ideas as African educators interested in promoting Astronomy in schools. We also shared our experiences and decided to create a network where we can always communicate and share different resources and also network our students across Africa.

I was invited by Mr. Mokhtar Mohsen, a physics teachers at Hillcrest Technical high school to give a talk to his students. This was an opportunity for me to visit the school with the trained students and so I decided to visit the school with some of the undergraduate physics students from University of Zambia. Hillcrest Technical High school is a boarding mixed school less than 1 km from the conference venue (Fairmount Hotel Livingstone).  The teacher was eager to have us at the school and he even came to pick us in his saloon car. Since we were a large group some of us decided to take the longer route and walk to the school.  We were a team of 10 students and young professionals, comprising 8 Zambian undergraduate students, 1 Congolese student and myself.

We found the students patiently waiting at the hall. After the introduction, we introduced the basic science concepts and then presented the stellarium software to the students. Emphasis on the need to protect our plant was one of the key topics and there were many ideas that the students came up with on how we could change our home for a better place.  The highlight of the lesson was after a demonstration of stellarium when the students had lots of questions about the blackhole and how stars are formed and how they die. Melody and Nawa undergraduate students at University of Zambia attempted to answer some of the questions. I installed all the software on the teacher’s machine, we hope that the students will have access to the software and we will be able to do more activities with the students. The school has Internet connection so I hope we will be able to keep in touch and share more resources. 

After the session, some of the students followed us to ask questions about careers in space science. We each spent some time with small groups of students encouraging them to form an astronomy club and keep in touch with us. The Zambian team were excited that the students looked up to them as role models. One of them remarked that he was not ready to leave the school as he felt he still wanted to discuss more with the students, unfortunately we had to live as it was time for their lunch and they had to return to their afternoon session.

Unfortunately we did not get an opportunity to visit a primary school but on our way to Hillcrest Technical High school we managed to teach some young boys and girls some astronomy on their way home from school. 

It was not always work but there was a good time for relaxation and team building by visiting some of the great spots in Zambia. Victoria falls (on of the seven wonders) visit at the night and during the day was an inexpressible experience.  We also went for the cruise in the Zambezi river with lots of local alcohol. I have never seen a group of excited people. Some of the evenings were spent in the nightclub dancing to our best African and western tunes. Lastly the young and elderly spent a good time

Monday, March 30, 2009

UNAWE Kenya at Uhuru Gardens Primary school

I have been invited to my former primary school to work with some of the students and teach astronomy. I do not know what to expect, as I approach the school flash backs of my primary years go through my head. I remember the parades and the CATS (continuous assessment exams) and my teachers. Are some of them still here? Are they going to remember me? I approach the administration block, which is a new building that did not exist when I was there. I go to the secretary’s desk and inform them that I had been scheduled to work with some students. The secretary requests me to wait for her as she confirms with the head teacher. She takes my information and points at a chair that I can sit. 

I am tt the school with Jonah, who is also a former student of the same school. He is also very excited as he points to me where the school canteen is and some of his classrooms. As we wait for further instructions, a lady walks towards us with a beautiful smile. She greets us and walks to the head teacher’s office. Later we realize that the lady is the contact teacher we are supposed to work with. She informs us that she can let us work with all the students from class six to eight but we are only two and cannot handle 300 students in 2 hours. I request for a smaller number of students and we settle for class six students. 

The teacher organizes the students in the school hall and we are escorted to the hall. As we walk there we meet one of my former teachers, mathematics teacher to be precise. She is so excited to meet us, she volunteers to introduce us to the students. She hugs us and finds out about how we have been fairing on with our lives. When we get to the hall, Mrs. Loyelo, my former mathematics teacher introduces us to the students. She keeps telling us that she is happy and proud of both Jonah and I. 

Jonah starts by introducing the team and Hands-on Universe and why we are there. He asks the students if they like science and think that it is fun and some of them say they find it boring and full of some many diagrams. We promise to have fun with them and they all become excited. 

After Jonah introduces the group, I take them through the Earth and how we need to take good care of it, I also teach them about our solar system and introduce the laws of gravity. The students have fun and are excited to participate in all the activities when we request them. They also ask many question. The most interesting part of our session was when I introduced them to Stellarium and Celestia. They were all amazed by the beauty of most of the planets that they knew by name. I explained to them why Pluto was demoted as a planet and that it is a dwarf planet. 

We distribute the students into 10 groups and give them different materials to mould planets, paint planets and draw planets. The students chose planets of their choice and begun working on different projects. After the session we gave the groups a chance to present their work to the rest of the class. Some students wrote beautiful poems and shared them with the classroom, others wrote beautiful stories and others molded planets and other celestial bodies. 

Two volunteers with 100 students, Jonah most of the time had to assume the role of the photographer and I the filmmaker. We were exhausted after almost three hours at the school and left the school tired, hungry but fulfilled. We hope to return again and work with more students. It was also fulfilling returning to a place I call home. My school many years back. Seeing some of my teachers and visiting some places made me realize that I have a huge role to play as an African female astronomer and i hope I will visit many otehr such schools. 

This trip was sponsored by FourTell eAfrica Ltd

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Nyota" for kids " The Universe is bigger than all of us", Venus, Moon and Jupiter

Young professionals and children in Kenya had a celestial treat this month. From 1st December 2008, we have had star gazing sessions with young children and professionals. The month begun with a chance to engage young children and members of the public in astronomy. 

The children were amazed that the two "stars" were actually planets, Venus and Jupiter. Some said the site reminded them of a smiling face with two eyes while others insisted that the site looked like a smile with two dimples. "Wow". Since then we have had to invite them for more sessions. 

Asking them which of the three celestial bodies is biggest, some of the really young children shouted "the moon", while the older ones said Jupiter. Explaining to them why the big planet appears smaller and dimmer while our moon appears much bigger made them ask more questions.

The children then had a chance to look at the moon with the aid of the telescope and were impressed by the craters and mountains they saw. They were shocked to see the full moon and not the crescent shaped moon. we explained to them why we only saw the crescent shaped moon. It was fun explaining to the children how the telescope works. They really enjoyed looking through the telescope and wondering whether there was life out there. Some actually asked if there was life in the moon and the planets. 

The children have to run back home and as they are heading home, some start discussing how they would love to travel to the moon some day. These children are aged between ten and two and live next to the Hands-on Universe Africa/Universe Awareness Kenya donated office. I have made new friends and hopefully through this science they may be inspired to become scientists in my country. the fact that they have asked the question why gives me enough satisfaction for that day.

We are able to see five planets with our unaided eye, Venus and Jupiter are the brightest of the five partly because, Venus is the closest planet to our own while Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system. Jupiter and Venus are actually far apart although they may appear close. They are approximately 800 million kilometers apart. 

For the children, it was a short treat but it was worth it. The sponsors were eager to see how the bodies look through the 4.5 inch reflector telescope that they donated. It was exciting for them when they saw the detail on some of the bodies we looked at. A discussion on astronomy issues followed, some tried to remember the few astronomy classes they took many years back.

This experience was made possible by Pulse Health Care who donated the telescope

Monday, September 22, 2008

“Nyota” for kids “The universe is bigger than all of us” at Ray of Hope

How do you sensitize and excite children between the ages of five and eleven in Astronomy? Will this science’s relevance be felt and understood by minors who are not even in a formal institute of learning and are in a community learning center? This were the questions we had in mind shortly before we started the "Nyota" kids project at the ray of hope center in the slums of Kawangware.

After brainstorming and wondering how best to make the solar system personal to the children Jonah came up with a wonderful idea; why can’t the children build up the solar system from clay. 

This idea provided us a channel to effectively communicate to the children on our planet and galaxy. We knew we had exactly three hours at the school so we were challenged in designing activities that would last that long.

Personally, I was looking forward to going back into the classroom after months of absentia from interacting with the kids. On the other hand I was apprehensive of what exactly was going to happen at the Ray of Hope community centre. After all we have to go there for a second and third time. The first time therefore has to be with a bang so that after we leave the kids are looking forward to having us back. 

It was decided that Jonah, would do the introduction, basically introducing our group to the children and why we were there. He would then introduce the earth and pass on the globe to Susan who would in turn take the kids through sense of scale and introduce the planets using Celestia. After the kids have a sense of how unique each planet is from the other they would be handed colored cards with the planets and split into groups and build their own planets. I would then wrap up the programs, with a careers talk on general science then narrow it down to relevance of Astronomy.

We arrived at the center exactly at 10.30 to find the kids having their porridge. We sat at the mini-staffroom with the two teachers at the center. We tried to find out more about the children’s background and more so their science background. The teacher admitted that their science knowledge was indeed minimal. 

The Ray of hope Center is basically made up of two classes the lower and upper classes. Basically the kindergarten and pre-unit aged children are all grouped together whereas the older kids are in another class. They have a PE room that is not so big. It is in the PE room that we had all the fifty six children heaped plus their teachers, Michaela (an American volunteer at the centre) and the three of us. Initially the idea was we would project the planet images on the wall but as soon as we saw the PE room we realised this was not possible. Besides, there was a power cut at the centre.

Jonah went straight on and introduced our group and planet Earth in sheng (Swahili slang), and the kids immediately responded. He then passed on the globe to Susan who went through sense of scale. The kids had fun guessing how the earth moved and the little Earth, Moon sun dance that Susan had three volunteers demonstrate to show day/night and eclipses. 

When she asked the kids if they knew any planets, we were shocked to hear the kids shout the names of different planets considering that their teacher had warned us on their little astronomy knowledge. 

How about a little knowledge of our own home? The children role play and act as the Sun, (boy holding torch), earth (boy with globe) and moon (girl with small ball)

Using Celestia, software on space, Susan showed the excited children how planets differed from each other. We then divided Clay to scale of different planets and divided the children into ten groups. 

Each group was assigned a planet that they were to mould and the last group was to mould the moon. Even though the clay was divided to scale, some naughty kids managed to acquire more clay to make their planet bigger. The moon group divided its clay amongst them and made little moons. This turned out well as suddenly we had asteroids.

Each group was then to paint their planet exactly the same colour it was. This proved to be a challenge at the paint we had did not necessarily have all colours that the planets have. Overall the kids did a superb job and that day, they went home knowing exactly how each planet looks. 

The Saturn group had extra fun as they had to make a ring around their planet. The Jupiter team had to enlist help from their teacher, as they had to mould huge chunks of clay into one huge Jupiter. 

It was great passing through different groups in different rooms and hearing the kids tease each other about planets assigned to them. At one point I remember the Venus team teasing the mercury team that their planet was so rough and they wonder if it represents the group members. The mercury team hit back immediately telling the Venus team that they did not even know how to properly pronounce their planets name.

At the end of the day, we had an important photo session with all the groups posing with their planets. Each team was proud of their production. They proudly posed holding their planets and smiling. 

The children then were asked to arrange the planets in order after which Susan named them and the teacher took them to a little display room behind the P.E. room.Our planets after the children arrange them in order (wish we had more space)

We assembled all the children in the PE room for my little careers talk and the relevance of today’s activity. I was nervous, but managed to psyche up the kids with a Swahili proverb – where there is a will there is a way to dissuade them from thinking of they can’t because of their disadvantage and instead think that they can. I asked them to repeat the proverb over and over until they believed it. 

We had a little chant at the end on science for Africa and Science for you and me. My only regret at this point is not having proper video recording equipment so as to have a video diary trilogy of our subsequent visits to the centre.

The children, as a vote of thanks, sang us a song that has been ringing in our heads for the past few days and I think will stay their longer. The song starts with twinkle twinkle little star then stretches to the alphabet. We are challenged; next time we are here we must have a solar planet rhyme. Next time is next week… Mmh...

After lunch, we left Ray of hope community centre Kawangware, dirty but enriched and with a clearer vision on how to sensitise young children. Indeed it was a two way learning process.

The "Nyota" for kids project was sponsored by FourTell eAfrica Ltd.

“Nyota” for Peace “The universe is bigger than all of us”

The road to Mathare slum is not bumpy and the potholes are not as many as other parts of Nairobi. Yet to get to there is a hustle anyway. First you have to take the correct matatu then once you get there jump though various open sewers through a crowded market to get to the chief’s camp our destination sometime in March 2008.

Early 2008 was a bloody period in Kenyan history. Basically, our beloved country was on headline news in major news channels world over because of the post election violence. If you are a scientist or maybe an enthusiast in science, what role do you play in restoration of sanity? Do you just sit back and wait for history to write itself because this is not your mandate?

We knew what our obligation was as HOU/UNAWE members. We knew that we had to leave the comforts of our homes venture into internally displaced people’s camps (IDP) and reach out to children there. Albeit, distract their minds a little bit from their disrupted lives, with fun games on science.

We contacted Isaac Musyoka a Cosmos Education official to help us organise our trip to the IDP. Cosmos Education had visited Mathare IDP camp and Mr. Musyoka informed us that he could easily arrange a visit there.

On the planned day five HOU/UNAWE volunteers together with two university students literally jumped onto a fast moving matatu headed to Mathare IDP camp. 

The IDP camp was a culture shock to most of us who have never been in IDP camps. To see hundreds of Kenyans living in tents cooking outside the tents and the kids having no playground was an eye opener on how in a few months our island of peace was rivalling several war torn African nations.

Upon arrival at the IDP camp, we had no clear idea on how we were to conduct activities. Spontaneity was called for as this was not an institution where there were properly laid channels of communication.

By use of song and dance, we managed to gain the attention of the children at the IDP camps. They came gathered around us and immediately joined in. It occurred to me that what this kids craved for above all else was play. 

We conferred amongst ourselves on the task ahead; first of all here are children who main concern for all we know could be food, shelter and clothing. If it extended to secondary needs then medical care would come first and education a near second. How then, could we introduce astronomy to such a group?

It was agreed to maximise use of play. We divided the kids up. Gave each one of them a drawing paper and crayons and played a game of – heavenly bodies. The children were excited and drew variety of heavenly bodies. As they were drawing from imagination we could not make out most of the drawing. One heavenly body though was a constant- the sun. The kids longed for the sun, real sunshine in their life.
After the kids finished their drawings, we introduced sense of scale and did our standard earth, moon and sun dance. The kids found this amusing and laughed their heads off. 

We then did a physics experiment on laws of motion that included tug of war, this exercise brought most of the kids to their knees and there was little competition on which group was stronger.

One kid was dared to defy gravity, by remaining on air while skipping a rope. After several tries he conceded to the laws of gravity.

At some point I left our group to talk to the mothers and fathers at the IDP camp. The mothers shared with me their experience after the elections and how they managed to escape. They told me of a child who witnessed his father being hacked to death. The child was playing with our group and you would not know what he had gone through. One mother had to commute daily to a friends house in another slum to sleep their as she had a new born baby and could not sleep with the baby in an open tent in cold Nairobi weather.

After three hours it was time to say goodbye and indeed it was a tearful one. Most of the kids followed us to a matatu stage and we had to take them back to the IDP. They followed us again and the mothers had to threaten to beat them for them to give up.

Several thoughts rushed through my mind as we left the IDP. They all started with one though: If I were president…