New Website Coming 2/27!

The communications team at SeedKit has been busy at work on a brand new website. Be sure to check back towards the end of February to try it out!

SeedKit Internship Summer 2017

SeedKit is excited to announce that we will once again be sending an intern from Wellesley to Ghana with The Exploratory this summer. If you are interested in this opportunity, please fill out an application for the summer internship. If you are interested in joining the team this semester, we are currently accepting applications for new members as well.

In honor of the exciting opportunity this summer, here is team member Mehak Sarang’s reflection essay from her time in Ghana — a snapshot into life in Nsawam:

This summer, I worked with an NGO in Nsawam, Ghana, The Exploratory, which runs after-school science programs for girls in junior high schools. This off-shoot of the Cambridge-based NGO, Science Club for Girls was founded and directed by Connie Chow, a professor here in Boston.

When I came to Wellesley, I was already passionate about many aspects regarding education reform. My first semester I joined the Wellesley campus chapter of Science Club for girls, and I began tutoring in after school programs about 15 minutes away at Pine Manor College. Last year, I designed my own curriculum for a fourth grade class, incorporating aspects of astronomy and math into fun, low-cost hands-on activities. As my interest (and belief) in STEM education outreach increased, I looked for other opportunities on campus, which is when I came upon SeedKit (Science Education Equity Development Kit). This project was founded by Wellesley College alum Caleb Bercu ’16. The SeedKit is a low-cost lab-in-a-box used to teach hands-on science activities in low-resource environments. My two years on the team culminated in this internship with Connie Chow’s organization – a summer in Ghana testing our kits, networking with other leaders in STEM education, and learning from teachers on the ground.

Every week was a new adventure. When my fellow intern Caleb and I first arrived in Ghana, we began by visiting as many schools as possible. The schools we visited were a part of The Exploratory network, and were already implementing after school science clubs for girls. Right away, we met amazing, enthusiastic teachers who were ready to jump in to help us with our project. Their interest in helping us develop the project was crucial to the success of our internship.

While we were in Ghana, one of the major ways I developed my understanding of STEM education was through direct observation and conversations with teachers, students, and my advisor, Connie Chow. The people I met in Ghana who were truly inspiring change-makers were the ones who were creative, out-of-the-box thinkers and pushing for hands-on STEM education. While we were in Ghana, Connie hosted the first ever “STEM Education in Ghana” meetup. This was an informal ideafest where we met these inspiring change-makers in STEM education startups and NGOs. From leading teacher trainings to after school science clubs, to scale-up fellows from the MIT Development Lab, the group we met with (and are still in contact with) were diverse and dedicated to the same mission: improving STEM education in Ghana. As entrepreneurs, they see a similar need for hands-on science activities that we do, and they only reaffirmed our belief in the power of science to inspire creativity and great problem solving thought processes. Through this amazing group, I gained some insight into all the challenges one may face when developing a social enterprise. I also learned the importance of networking and collaboration.

I was profoundly impacted by the experience I had this summer both professionally and personally. Personally, I was incredibly surprised and honored by the warm welcome Caleb and I received from teachers, neighbors, and our advisor Connie. Our neighbors treated us like family, inviting us over for dinner almost every other day. By living with Connie, we were able to have daily discussions over the things I’m passionate about like STEM education policy and politics. Before we left, our teachers invited us to a school-wide celebration with food, painting, singing, and dancing. All of these people taught me what it means to live in a community where everyone is reliant on and cares for one another. We were all working together towards the same goal, and that work environment, where everyone is equally passionate about the end project is one I now know to strive for.

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From left to right, our advisor Connie Chow, founder Caleb Bercu, and Mehak Sarang

 

 

A Lesson in Free Falling

This week we’ve been teaching using the SeedKits. I’ve focused on teaching the physics lesson as we observe how the students are interacting with the material and protocols. The sample physics protocol we tested requires very simple materials: string, paperclips, and a tape measure.

The students create two strings of paperclips: one with paperclips spaced evenly on the string (every 10 cm), and one with paperclips spaced according to the natural progression of squares (1, 4, 9, 16 cm, etc.). When the students release the string of paperclips onto a metal dish, they can hear the rhythm created. Due to the laws of gravity, the string with the evenly spaced paperclips creates a rhythm that sounds as though it is speeding up while the string with paperclips spaced at different intervals creates an even rhythm.

This experiment turned out to be a hit. They had fun learning how to measure, work together, and loved using their hands! Students don’t often have time for lab practicals, so even this simple lesson that involved tying paperclips onto a piece of string was incredibly engaging. Furthermore, this experiment is a good qualitative way to learn (and remember!) the equation associated with free-fall motion: d = 1/2*a*t^2. After dropping the paperclips, and looking at the equation in association with the intervals of the paperclips, the students quickly realized why each string sounded the way it did. Immediately, they were able to utilize terms they had learned to describe what they heard: “the paperclips that were spaced evenly sounded like they were speeding up because of the acceleration due to gravity”.

Using the SeedKit with students in classrooms has been an invaluable experience. Due to the incredible kindness of science teachers at the schools we have partnered with, we have had the opportunity to work alongside students and teachers for full hour lessons. We hope to sustain the partnerships we’ve created here as we continue developing the SeedKit.

–Mehak

Brave Girls

Check out this amazing TED talk by Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. Her organization has aimed to close the existing gender gap in computer science fields. She is truly an inspiration and role model for SeedKit!

Cheers!

Isabella

Dumso Times in Ghana

It’s currently 7:51 PM and Caleb and I have been sitting in complete darkness for about an hour [update, 10:20 PM and still no power]. We’ve finally experienced our first blackout. Everyone we’ve met so far has warned us that the president has been cutting power recently, but we keep telling them “nothing’s gone wrong so far!”. Our naive optimism didn’t last very long. Even with the blackout, however, the city isn’t quiet. In the background, there is the faint sound of drumming and laughter – Nsawam is awake. And if Nsawam’s awake, then so are we!

By the light of Star Wars and our little solar lantern, we are stapling together evaluation packets that will be used by the students in the coming weeks. With 150 booklets to staple, we’ve gone through two movies of the trilogies on this task alone. The mundanity of this task, however, was a welcome change of pace from the rest of the day. Printing the booklets earlier in the day proved to be harder than we expected.

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Lights out means stapling, Star Wars, delicious mango, and a solar lantern to make it all possible (thanks for leaving this behind, Connie!).

We found a little copying center outside of one of the schools we visited today where a woman named Becky helped us on our printing mission. Unfortunately none of the three printers in her center printed front and back, so printing 150 copies of our 5 page booklet took quite a bit of maneuvering. But after three hours and two packages of cookies to tide us over, we were finally done and on our way home with 150 booklets and a new friend in Becky.

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Our new friend Becky at the printing shop. Note the huge stack of SeedKit papers on the chair. We were probably her biggest printing order this week.

We began our day early (thanks to the wonders of instant coffee) in Pokuase at a Junior High School run by a man named Mr. Tanko. As the head teacher at Methodist A school, he told us about a lot of the problems his school has, including a well that has recently only provided salty, dirty water.

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The well at Methodist A School. Students need this well because they only bring enough money for food, not for water as well. Right now, the well is only producing salty, dirty water.

According to Mr. Tanko, the only science resources the school was provided with from the government were roughly one beaker, one flask, one pipette, etc. that they kept in a plastic bag. Those items are long gone, having broken when an object fell on the plastic bag. Now, when his teachers want to do a science demonstration, they must pay for the materials out of their own pocket. These materials are not easy to find, either. Many times, teachers must visit other schools to borrow materials or go to the science center to try and find supplies.

Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about having their teaching supplies being destroyed. They shouldn’t have to pay for resources out of their own pocket, and they shouldn’t have to spend time searching for ways to expose their kids to science demonstrations. SeedKit will be able to address these exact problems in a big way, and we hope our talk with Mr. Tanko was just the beginning of a great partnership that will last for years to come.

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Caleb and Vivian in front of the Methodist A School in Pokuase. We will  be returning next week to begin pre-examinations with the students.

You Are Welcome! (To Ghana)

Only four days ago we arrived in Ghana at the Accra airport. We were picked up by our new friend Mustapha who works with The Exploratory. After getting caught in a bit of traffic, we arrived at Connie’s residence in Nsawam. Do we like it here? We’ll let’s just let the view from our home speak for itself.

 

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Everywhere you turn, there is another green lush mountain to gaze at. Both the landscape and our new friends seem to all speak the same phrase to us, “You are welcome.” It is true, since arriving here we have felt extraordinarily welcomed.

The past few days have already flown by. We had the pleasure of enjoying Labadi Beach with Mehak’s father, and began preparing for our school visits with Vivian, the interim director of the science clubs for The Exploratory. I must also note, that every single thing we eat is absolutely delicious. Mehak and I might have to learn to cook Ghanaian food before we leave…

Today was particularly momentous as it marked the beginning of our work here with SeedKit. Vivian met us this morning at the house and we took off down the road to catch the “trotro.” (The trotro is a small public bus that we have been using to go just about everywhere!) Our first stop was to meet Isaac at the Osaebo Junior High School (JHS). When we got off the trotro, we walked up a dirt road and ended up with yet another gorgeous view of the mountainous area. Once we got to the school Isaac spotted us and immediately waved us in to chat with him, the Head Mistress, and the other science teachers.

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Following giving the explanation of our idea to visit one of their JHS science classrooms three times for a pre-assessment, lab practical experimentation, and post assessment, the teacher’s gladly agreed to help us with our project. Once we mentioned how happy we were to work with Isaac from the Osaebo School a little confusion followed. We quickly learned that while were were talking to an Isaac, we were talking to the wrong one! Isaac and the teachers are part of the Sakyi Agyawka JHS. We learned that within the school compound there are two separate JHSs! The Isaac we had contacted was still waiting for us across the courtyard at the other JHS school. Luckily, we all had a good laugh and eventually met the other Isaac. In the end, we ended up with another JHS that we could do SeedKit with and two Isaacs instead of one. We then visited the Tieku School also located in Nsawam and met with Mr. Gyampoh who was more than happy to allow us to bring SeedKit to his classroom in these upcoming weeks.

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So, how is our trip so far? Well, I think Mehak’s expressionless  in the picture below says a lot about how we feel about Ghana.

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If you couldn’t tell, I already love it here. What’s great is that the best is yet to come since the teaching hasn’t even begun! We’ll keep all of you updated.

Warm Greetings from Ghana,
Caleb

6 Days Until Departure!

Hello SeedKit followers! Caleb here writing your weekly update on how we are doing. It is exciting and tiny bit stressful that in only six days Mehak and I will be leaving Boston Logan Airport to fly to Accra, Ghana. While at first it seemed like there were more than a million things to do, more and more everything is falling into place nicely through our hard work and dedication to this project.

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Caleb & Mehak. Tired but happy!

In the past week, we designed pre and post assessment questionnaires for the students and teachers we will be working with through AWAP. Wendy Robeson, our adviser from Wellesley Centers for Women, is overseeing this process. Wendy specializes in education outcomes and runs many studies throughout the Boston metropolitan area. From our assessments we are hoping to learn more about school demographics, the ways teachers utilize hands on resources in their classrooms, teaching methods, learning methods, and SeedKit’s overall impact on student’s learning and interest in science. We will hear back about our IRB approval soon and we eagerly await to get started. Additionally, we will take a feminist approach to interpreting our data. Our “feminist approach” includes special attention to gendered differences in the classroom that will provide critical insight on how to best design SeedKit to address inequities in classrooms.

Yesterday, Isabella, Mehak, and myself spent almost the entire day in the machine shop. (A big thank you to machinist Larry Knowles for helping us!) There we cut pencils to be used as electrodes, shaved copper coated zinc pennies to be used as battery parts, and sawed ice trays in half as to be used as test tubes. We still have about 500 pennies, 144 pencils, and 30 ice cub trays to go to finish our Seed Kits before we leave. Check out these videos and pictures of us getting to know the machines!

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Having fun in the machine shop

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Isabella learning to use the bandsaw

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mehak operating the automated drill press

The Power of Data

Today we begin research regarding data collection tactics. At SeedKit, we would be remiss to evaluate the effectiveness of our kits in isolation through simple pre and post testing on curriculum topics. While we are interested in knowing the impact that SeedKit has in the short-term, the ultimate goal is to track students’ progress over a longer period of time; we strive to understand how access to resources improves the way that students think, ask questions, and learn.

As interns in Ghana, we report to Connie Chow, the founder of African Women Advocacy Project and the The Exploratory . After meeting with her yesterday (with the help of Skype as she is currently in Ghana), we decided one of our goals as her interns (other than not getting malaria) would be to measure the effectiveness of the current planning and attendance documents to improve monitoring of students. This task will help us explore the importance of school systems rather than initiatives considered in isolation. Hopefully, after working with Connie’s organizations, we will be equipped with the skills necessary to improve our learning outcome examinations so that we can always be thinking of ways to improve the SeedKit.

T-16 days to Ghana.