PAGEANT - "Education is the future"

Pageant Gambia Trip February 2012 - Blog Posts

home > projects > science & microscopy workshops > 2012 > Blog posts Feb 2012

Microscopy & Science Workshops and Other Visits

Pageant is running two workshops for Gambian trainee science teachers this February. Both are taking place at Gambia College, the main teacher training establishment in The Gambia. In our Microscopy Workshops teachers will  be given hands-on experience using a variety of microscopes, especially suited for use in schools without mains electricity. In our Practical Physics Workshops, teachers will take away the skills and teaching kits to add a practical aspect to science lessons in schools with no practical science facilities. The Pageant team consists of both scientists and teachers. Chris Robertson is one of the team, and he is making regular posts on the Pageant News Blog. For your convenience, we are collecting his posts on this page.

Further information about Pageant's workshops can be found on this page We are still raising funds to help pay for the costs of our workshops, so if you can help with a donation, please follow this link.

Links for this & other pages on Menu 2

1 February - Day -4: Ready for the off? Well not really

see original post by Chris

What with Cape Town, Soul Survivor, Micklepage, JCU and Mentoring I'm afraid packing and pinhole cameras have taken a back seat (if such things are capable of occupying this position). Invested in new (and hopefully improved) plug in mosquito killer +a bike pump today. Guess which is going to the Gambia?

5 February - Packed!

see original post by Chris

All sorted. Looking forward to a transition from about -3C ish to + 35ish as we head off to Banjul; what is known as thermal shock. Meanwhile, does anyone really understand how polarising filters work at the molecular level?

6 February - Day 1: Arrival


see original post by Chris

3.40am start. Carried bags to the taxi through the snow.

11 hours later and 30C warmer Ian and I were met by Pippa, Wandifa and Abdoulie at the airport - no problem getting through customs with all our science teaching kit thanks to Pippa's hard work behind the scenes.

Our landing was delayed by a sand storm restricting visibility of the runway. The pilot aborted landing and went round again.

snowy garden
snowy garden

We are now settled in - had drinks by the pool while watching 12 vultures hanging and wheeling in the onshore Atlantic breeze. Tomorrow I think the plan is to visit some schools/students - Pippa has already seen loads. Here is a map of this part of Africa-taken from a classroom wall

Gambian market
Gambian market
map of The Gambia
map of The Gambia

7 February - Day 2

see original post by Chris

Not too early a start (Ian and I were let in gently). Before leaving we met a quiet boy in school uniform who had come to show Pippa a painting he had just finished. After year 12 his hope is to take a multimedia and technology course because he is good at graphic art. We decided to give him the laptop I had brought out (kindly donated by - well you know who you are). Here he is with me. He was nearly in tears having no idea this was coming.

Chris and laptop
Chris and laptop
children playing
children playing

The rest of the day was spent visiting schools and sponsored children in the Kombo (south of Banjul and behind the coastal tourist strip).

Since my arrival there has been a constant sandy haze which has kept the temperature at an almost chilly 29C. Showed some students at Tujure photos of our garden covered in snow - they were quite amazed. Earlier start tomorrow - off to Brikama to check out the set up for the science workshops starting Saturday.

Pippa and Ian at a school
Pippa and Ian at a school
 
can you spot the novel adaptation of the horn in this photo
can you spot the novel adaptation
of the horn in this photo

8 February - Day 3: More Visiting

see original post by Chris

Still not too hot today, the sand hanging in the air is still keeping off the hottest sun. Our first assignment today was visiting Gambia College to check out the rooms to be used for the science workshops. The head of the college had this arranged very well. We also bumped into a young reporter from a national paper who hopes to come and report on the workshops. Three or four of the best student teachers I met at the course last year who are on teaching assignments nearby should hopefully be able to attend as the microscopy and chemistry will be new to them.

Gambia street scene
Gambia street scene
Gambia street scenes

Thereafter we visited several schools where sponsored children attend. Some appeared well organised and reasonably well maintained, others less so. While waiting for one sponsored child to turn up at a Lower Basic school, I vacated the head master's office and chatted with some of the children. This evolved into mental arithmetic and "Simon says". At that point I decided a strategic withdrawal as the crowd increased in size and there was danger of a ruck forming.

As we were leaving a large quantity of materials arrived accompanied by a Swiss lady. She showed us a folder of pictures of students at a school near Zurich making and putting together all the resources before being sent to the Gambia. Her passion to move away from board based to experiential learning struck a chord with us.

Visiting several compounds, we were invited to have a meal at one compound which was very kind as I don't think we were expected. Their garden was well looked after and had a very deep well.

compound wall
compound wall
the well
the well

Tomorrow morning we will staying put to compile about 20 science kits from the boxes of carefully selected stuff we have brought out. These science kits have in many/most cases been donated as alternative gifts by kind Pageant supporters. We will be using the same items as in the kits during the workshops.

For all you chemists out there you will be overjoyed to hear we now have potassium permanganate! Finally, the creaking wheel bearing on the minibus has been fixed (Abdoulie you are a star-the new shades suit you). Finally, finally, Fatoumata (the one studying politics etc.) is really looking forward to seeing you, Frances :-)

9 February - Day 4: Sorting Stuff

see original post by Chris

Not gone anywhere so far today. However, we have not been twiddling our thumbs. Each of the 80 student teachers who will be attending the workshops at Gambia College will be receiving a pack of teaching information specifically covering the subject matter of the workshops.

Thanks to generous donations from many, about half of the teachers will receive a starter pack of science teaching materials for Physics and Chemistry including a simple good quality binocular microscope each (kindly donated by Motic and a college in Newcastle).

microscopes being unpacked
microscopes being unpacked

So today has been splitting up materials for each teacher pack - either in a bedroom or out on the terrace. Several guests and many staff were curious to know what we were up to and even had a go using a hand magnifier or microscope. Notice how our Tesco carrier bags are in Pageant colours - how clever of them to know.

Nine more of our party arrive this afternoon all being well (the sky is much clearer today thankfully). Tomorrow morning we are off to Gambia College to set up.

experiment bags ready for the workshops
experiment bags ready for the workshops
experiment bags ready for the workshops

10 February - Day 5: Set up for workshops

see original post by Chris

Friday night and we are all set, experiments mostly sorted. The whole team (now 14) arrived minus one suitcase :-( . Two minibuses were needed to transport team and kit this morning. One set off straight for Brikama and Gambia College, the other went by the MRC in Fajara where we were kindly given some potassium permanganate-essential to one of Bob's more spectacular experiments.

experiment bags ready for the workshops
experiment bags ready for the workshops
loading the minibus
loading the minibus
school compound
school compound
goats etc
goats etc
ripple tank
Building a ripple tank
(from a plastic tray, straws and tape!)

Set up was reasonably straightforward. Abdoulie and some students made an excellent stand for our deliberately basic ripple tank made from a shallow plastic tray and straws. Illuminated by a wind up torch it shows reflection and diffraction very well. In the afternoon Bob was intent on tracking down local sources of chemicals; spring onions, sweet potato, a galvanised pipe fittings. Sadly no red cabbage. Citrus fruit juice to be picked up at breakfast which will be 7am. Hum...

PS Ian now has a very trendy pair of swimming shorts foregoing the opportunity to invest in some beautiful floral ones.


11 February - Day 6:
Let the workshops begin!


see original post by Chris

A 7.45 departure to arrive in plenty of time for the workshops picking up Yusupha (whom we sponsor) on the way.

First problem - we can't unlock the classroom door - the lock is well past fixing. 20 minutes later, Joe finds another way in and then a college maintenance guy gets the door open anyway.

!0 minutes to prepare and off we go...

Struggling with bust lock
Struggling with bust lock

In one room we have optical microscopy led by Pippa and Cathy, in the other us physicists and chemists. In our room we have 5 "stations" covering, electricity (Dan and Jason), levers (Joe), radioactivity (Katie and Emma), chemistry (Sally, Ian and Andrew) and waves (me).

Teaching electronics
Teaching electronics
Teaching chemistry
Teaching chemistry
Teaching refraction
Teaching refraction
Teaching about waves
Teaching about waves

Each group of ~3 student teachers has 45 minutes at each station to experience some hands on science. My station is deliberately minimal as kit is so difficult to get here; we make an eye using the bottom 100mm of a plastics drinks bottle, corrugated cardboard iris, milk and two proper items, a lens and a wind up torch.

All the student teachers are very willing to learn and at the end of the day they each have 15 minutes to teach a class (the rest of their group) on one experiment from the day. It is interesting to see how their ability to engage and involve their students varies.

Potions with Prof Snape
Potions with Prof Snape
Potassium permanganate+glycerol
Potassium permanganate+glycerol
highly exothermic

As a finale Bob poured glycerol over potassium permanganate to produce a purple flame and smoke, while Sally started soaking an egg in a chemical I missed. Is she trying to dissolve the calcium?

We were all pretty whacked after a long but successful day. Same again tomorrow!

PS Thanks to everyone who has sent such encouraging feedback by Facebook. It is so good to have your support.

12 February - Day 7: Half time

see original post by Chris

Good day. Didn't almost knock any children down in Serrekunda (forgot to mention that yesterday - a horrid second which thankfully came to nothing).

more electronics
more electronics
radioactivity - a dicey subject
radioactivity - a dicey subject

Bob's optimised volcano was even more spectacular today and Sally, Adrian and Ian G's powder ignition went with a bang all day. My experiments on sound and vibrations went quite well but it was difficult not to get bogged down in equation manipulation which is generally not a strong suit here. I will revert to the eye and light on Tuesday. Emma and Katie's dice radioactivity exercise was very popular and I gather the fact that UK A level students (Jason and Dan) were able to devise and deliver such a clear class on electricity was noted with amazement by the college teachers. Lots of thanks at the end and a lovely group photo.

group photo
group photo

Yusupha came back to chat and play games before heading home with Abdoulie.

All the "adults" went out to eat. I felt so tired I couldn't face staying out late so ended up chatting about life the universe and everything with E,K, IG, J and D which was really great. Hardly ate anything. Now back in my room, I'm shivering in bed wearing a fleece (in the Gambia!). It took 7 days for Banjul belly to catch up with me. Tomorrow is a "rest" day between workshops. My plans to join in with teaching at a lower basic school have been sidelined. I'm fine otherwise but if you pray I would appreciate some.

Yusupha and Chris
Yusupha and Chris

13 February - Day 8: Baobab juice

see original post by Chris

This apparently is the recommended treatment for Banjul belly, so baobab juice it was for breakfast. I'm resting up today; hopefully I will be fit for the workshops Wednesday and Thursday. Sadly this means I will miss Emma, supported by Katie, Jason and Dan teaching a primary class to play straw whistles (pitch changes with length of straw), and calculating speeds in a running race.

14 February - Day 9: Bananas and Leeuwenhoek

see original post by Chris

Still feeling a bit tender but made it to the science workshops. Reverting to light, lens and the eye from strings and sound paid off. The former topic is all geometric and visual with zero maths which works here. Being a normal working day, the college was full of students and it was difficult to keep the class sizes to 20 each. For the techies among you, using a plastic bottle for the pupil of the eye works brilliantly; squashing the bottle is analogous to deformation of the pupil. Great to have Yankuba along today too-his day off and he chose to come with us.

the Pageant team
the Pageant team
(Notice Dan's hair!)

Valentines dinner tonight - feel bit wistful. Tummy remains dickey so had an omelette and retired to my blog. It has been great but I'm looking forward to home.

15 February - Day 10: Over and almost out

see original post by Chris

Last day of workshops. It all went well but we are all soooooo tired. was a presentation at the end from the students with a speech and wearable presents (wait till we get home if you are curious)

measuring the focal length of a lens
measuring the focal length of a lens
the presentation
the presentation

The packing up afterwards for the microscopists was particularly hard - packing away 20 microscopes and associated fiddly accessories.

group photo
group photo

Still finishing off this evening as we need to assess which students get the science and electronics kits - we only have enough for half of them Most of our party are settling down to a posh dinner. Mine starts and ends with rum and raisin ice cream (no vanilla to be had).

Tomorrow we are going to the airport via a primary school. By the way if you are on Facebook you can comment at http://www.facebook.com/pageant.uk Next off it's Micklepage with the wonderful youth from our church this weekend - yey!

The 20 or so vultures circling the trees nearby appear to have given up hope for the evening.....

Further Information

That was the last of Chris' posts. However, if you want to read more about the workshops, please follow the link below:
2012 Science and Microscopy Workshops

Pageant is a UK Charity - Registered No 1093963