There’s electricity in the air

OK, please forgive these belated posts once again. I just arrived at our hotel in Arusha and I finally have access to internet! Please read through to find out about the second half of the Zariki SITE and my safari adventures!

Wednesday was my first lesson of the Zariki SITE that I had taught before. I planned a lesson solely devoted to electronics and electricity so that students could grasp the role of the electrical grid as an energy source and conveyor. I taught this particular lesson a couple years ago in Ghana, and I felt very confident about the class. I slept in, showed up a few minutes late, and still felt prepared for the day.

I began the lesson by giving the students a crash course in electricity. Using a mixture of Swanglish words to describe current, potential, resistance and electrical power I managed to get the students acquainted with the subject. Of course, Amos and Peter helped immensely with their translations and analogs to the Mtera and Kidatu hydroelectric damns, using the classic metaphor of flowing water as electricity. We continued with the falling water metaphor to test out the resistance of various materials, and intuited some basic rules of current potential in circuits through similar means.

Once the students semed satisfied with our discussion of electricity, I brought out the breadboards. We talked about the arrangement of the breadboard as a simple way to connect wires together, and we even managed to put together home-made breadboards from cardboard, tin foil and some tape! My roomie for the trip, Matt, sorted our electronic components earlier that morning with the help of a few students, so we were in great shape to start putting together some simple circuits. We started with the basics, and the students quickly put together LED-battery-resistor circuits that lit up. Although there were the necessary bulb casualties when students forgot to connect their resistors, we made it through unscathed and (despite the stoic expressions in the photo below!) we managed to light up more than a few students’ smiles.

I was burning through my lesson so quickly that I was at a loss for my next move, so I gave the students multimeters and solar panels to experiment with. The students had a blast connecting the small panels I brought to their circuits. They were enthralled as they probed different parts of the circuits with the multimeter to take a closer look at their productions. By lunch I had exhausted my entire lesson plan for the day, a great accomplishment in its own right, but I was left feeling a bit bewildered going in to my afternoon class.

I fumbled for a few minutes during the afternoon session before I recalled the smash-hit class I taught in Ghana a couple years ago about digital communication and the telegraph. I asked students to build telegraph machines separated by a card-board divider set between two desks. A telegraph is essentially a simple circuit that turns on and off a signal (in our case, a small LED light) based on an operator’s switch. By sharing a circuit, the students could flicker each other’s lights to send a digital Morse code signal back and forth. I sat down with Amos at the contraption to demonstrate how information could be communicated through the circuit. The students caught on quickly, and by the end of the class each group had formed their own Swahili-English-Telegraph dictionary and were conversing with each other in Binary (or Trinary, depending how you look at it). Despite my anxiety at the beginning of the improvised lesson, the class was a huge hit!

The engineering contest for the day was another ELiTE classic: bridge building! The challenge was to construct a structure out of the provided materials that could span the space between two desks (about half a meter) and hold a bag of rocks off of the ground. I gave students twine, popsicle sticks, tape, string and whatever else they could find on the ground, and about 45 minutes to build. At this point in the program, the students were very familiar with the engineering challenges and competition was fierce. We had rope bridges, simple spanning beams from reinforced popsicle sticks, the beginnings of a triangular trussed structure (not quite!) and a great creative energy in the air. The competition was dramatic, and there was a close finish at the end (the winner supported 5 rocks, 2nd and 3rd place tied with 4 rocks, and 4th place finished with 3 rocks).

After class I went for another run, did some work, and called it a night. All in all, Wednesday was a very rewarding day.

Best,

Clay

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