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Practical Physics Workshops 2007

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Following the successful 'Practical Physics' session run by Pippa and Frances at Gambia SSS in February 2006, (see previous report) Joe Brock of Collyer's agreed to write a further book for Upper Basic Science (roughly GCSE) and Senior Secondary Science (roughly AS level). Copies were to be taken to The Gambia in February 2007 - even better, he would visit The Gambia himself, taking two levels of Science kit with him (one for GCSE level science and one for AS level Physics). 20 sets of each kit were provided, to be delivered to 40 different schools. The method of delivery was to run a series of Science Seminars, each seminar being hosted by a school whose headmaster then invited teachers from other schools from the area to attend. In addition there was also to be a trip to Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) in Kanifing to deliver Electronics teaching equipment along with another book written by Joe on GCSE Electronics and a seminar for Sinchu Baliya Lower Basic (Primary) School, which has 3,250 pupils.


This involved a lot of kit - with a donation of £1500 from Collyer's, and £2000 donated from Fusionex, an outsourcing company dealing with Malaysia. Approximately £90 was allocated to each kit. Collyer's also paid for the printing of 50 books for use with the kits, this time covering 73 experiments. In addition to this, boys at Christ's Hospital had raised £500 with which we designed and purchased the science equipment for Sinchu Baliya. So, the next problem..... how would we get all this kit out to The Gambia?

Getting the kit out there

With a weight limit of 20kg per person there was no way that we could carry all of it out in our baggage. Frances had asked a small group of friends if they would like to come along on the basis of going on holiday. Kayur, Chris, Lauren and Charlotte all asked for time off college to accompany the trip. Joe's family plus Ian, Pippa and Tina made 12 altogether - still not enough allowance for all the kit, let alone clothes! Enter a good fairy - a Pageant member contacted Monarch Airways who very kindly agreed to increase our weight allowance to include the kit. We have sent Monarch our grateful thanks for this concession - it made all the difference to our trip.

The schedule of seminars

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We arranged one Upper Basic and Senior Secondary seminar on both North and South banks to spread the benefit as widely as possible. Our final schedule was as follows:

Tuesday 13 February Bakalarr BCS (North) Roughly GCSE level
Thursday 15 February Essau SSS (North) Roughly AS level
Saturday 17 February St Augustine UBS Roughly GCSE level
Monday 19 February Sinchu Baliya LBS Primary
Wednesday 21 February Gambia SSS Roughly AS level
plus GTTI City and Guilds etc

Pippa had already discussed the seminar programme with each host school and invitations had been sent out outlining the arrangements:

Registration and welcome 9.30am
Session 1. 10.00am - 11.00am
Session 2. 11.30am - 12.30pm
Session 3. 1.30pm - 2.30pm
Session 4. 3.00pm - 4.00pm

The first three sessions were aimed at teaching around 12 experiments to the Gambian teachers. The final session used for the teachers to teach groups of students in order for us (and them) to assess how successful the day had been.

Travel to and from the seminars

The first two trips had us getting up at 5.30am to catch the ferry to Barra on the north bank, and returning at 7.30pm that night. At the end of the session at Bakalarr Joe thought it was great to see everyone crowding round the taxi to see us off - then he realised that they weren't waving, they were getting in! 5 in the taxi on the way out, 9 in the taxi on the way back - a typically Gambian experience!

The later trips were all on the South bank, but still, having taught in temperatures of around 35 to 40 degrees we'd had enough by the end of each day.

What were the Gambian teachers like?

The Gambian teachers turned out to be receptive to new ideas and very motivated. They knew their theoretical science very well, but had no experience of how to apply it to practical situations. Success with experiments was absolutely crucial. When you are trying to convince a new group of teachers to use equipment which is totally unfamiliar to them in front of a crowd of students (with classes of up to 50 children) you need to convince them that it works. The only way to ensure that happens is to try each experiment out with the kit that you're providing. And you need to think of everything. You can't just pop back into the prep room and get a blob of Blue Tac or a piece of string. If it's not in that bag of kit it simply will not be available.

What was in the equipment?

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The choice of kit sort of evolved. Joe says:

"Fancy kit like heart monitors and model torsos all looks great but you're limited as to what experiments you can do. It's a bit like buying general Lego with which you can build anything instead of the Harry Potter Lego kit for Hogwarts where all you can build is a drafty castle. It looks good but limits imagination. It's actually funny but if you start with being able to measure the basic quantities in science you can do loads. Mass with scales, time with a stop watch, length with meter rules, 10g masses, string, springs, Newton meters, it's all basic stuff but boy can you do a lot with it. Making a CD hovercraft out of a balloon, a holed cork and a CD allowed us to show how Galileo's thought experiment on the black board could be extrapolated into frictionless motion in front of their very eyes.

We did indulge ourselves for the Senior Secondary schools a bit by slipping in a market laser (£1.50) and scratching Young's double slits on a painted microscope slide. Measuring the wavelength of red laser light in a poor school in Essau was really fantastic. With £90 worth of kit in each bag we were able to do all 73 experiments in the book. We tested reaction times by dropping a ruler through your hands and using a formula* to work out the time. We used Whirly tubes from Hawkins Bazaar to show standing waves down a tube and the list goes on.

I was asked recently why 73 experiments particularly and all I could say was 'well I ran out of ideas at 73'. I've since thought of many more. The emphasis was on fun in practical science but each experiment had a serious science message that it conveyed. The UK students who helped check the equipment suggested that it would have been great if they had had this equipment in their science lessons. This got me thinking that it would be a great kit of equipment for schools in England. It's the practical that everyone wants to do after all."

 * formula s=ut+½at2   distance = (start velocity x time) + ½(acceleration x time x time)

Joe demonstrates the CD hovercraft with balloons

showing Gambian teachers how to produce standing waves

Gambian teachers showing their students what they have

Joe demonstrates the CD hovercraft with balloons

showing Gambian
teachers how to produce standing waves

Gambian teachers showing their students what they have

pendulum & simple harmonic motion

whirly tubes

pendulum & simple harmonic motion

whirly tubes

Organising the equipment

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All this equipment was made up of probably around 200 components in each bag, a nightmare to organise and to check. Joe has an excellent technician, Philip Hardy, who is supremely organised. It was a testament to him and the dedicated team of five UK students who helped check each and every component in the bags, that when Gambians inevitably said 'That's not in my bag', we knew that it would be in there somewhere - and it was.  (see news item about packing the kits) Each teacher received a plastic bin bag of kit but it quickly became apparent that searching for small items in a bag full of around 200 components was slowing the pace down considerably. We later fixed this problem by putting out each teacher's small bag of components into an enamelled metal bowl, ten of which were bought locally after bartering in the local market.

Choosing the experiments from the 73

There was no way that we could do 73 experiments in three one hour sessions so we had to choose - which ones should we do? Joe had a 'break the ice' demo right at the start of the seminar, to relax everyone and to show that the emphasis of the day was on how much fun you can have, just as the emphasis on the delivery of the science to the children should be. This was the 'super teacher and door' demo. Here you get your biggest strongest teacher/student to push a door as hard they can but at a small distance from the hinge, while you push with your one finger at a point the furthest from the hinge that you can get. It's great fun and gets things off to a good start. It also shows them that the first experiment was using a piece of kit that they had there all along - a door.

super-teacher & door

making a solar-powered buggy

super-teacher & door

making a solar-powered buggy

The next thing that we always did was the metre ruler and masses demo to show lever law. Now this is just a wooden pivot, ruler and masses but they absolutely loved it, even at advanced level. It is very important that you show the kit and the idea but get the teachers to have a play. Set them a task. We did, 'Find the mass of a rock'. They came alive as they started to use the kit, and Joe suggested to them that the students would too. Keeping the Gambian teachers away from the board was a problem. That is what they are comfortable with, but we were trying to get them to take on a new approach.


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levers and masses (1)

levers and masses (2)

levers and masses

Syringe hydraulics was next, again getting the weakest student to push on the small syringe and the strongest student to push on the largest one. Force = Pressure x Area. The only problem here was the temperature. In England the plastic tubing was stiff and stayed on the syringes well even under huge pressure from the students. This was not the case in The Gambia as the tubing had gone soft in the heat and flicked off with water spraying everywhere. Great fun. At the end of each day, when everyone was flagging we'd finish off with the Water 'Rokit' kit. We had pupils diving for cover, teachers screaming, everyone pushing and shoving to get a go. It was a great way to finish off and the lovely thing was each teacher had one in their kit to take back to their schools.

syringe experiment

straw recorders

syringe experiment

straw recorders

the Water Rokit (1)

the Water Rokit (2)

the Water Rokit (above and below right)

Help at the Seminars

The five Collyer's students who had come out on holiday to help turned out to be absolutely fantastic. They were quick to help any floundering Gambian teachers and also took pictures and videos - it was amazing that after a session you'd look at the photos and see all sorts of activity that you had no idea was going on. We also had our two Gambian PAGEANT representatives, Kemo and Wandifa, who quickly got caught up with the fun of it all and were delighted to be able to do some of the experiments themselves.


the Water Rokit (3)


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Kemo and Wandifa doing one of the experiments

team, teachers and students at St Augustine's UBS

Kemo and Wandifa doing one of the experiments

team, teachers and students
 at St Augustine's UBS

the team having lunch at Sinchu Baliya with Ed the croc (Ibrakeforcake rally team mascot)

Collyer's team at the end of the trip

team having lunch at Sinchu Baliya with Ed the Croc (Ibrakeforcake rally team mascot) Collyer's team at the end of the trip


Success was due to several factors. Pippa is getting the hang of how the Gambian people think and actually managed to get them all (nearly) organised. Joe has 18 years of experience teaching science in a practical way and knows what works and what doesn't. Philip's meticulous approach meant that everything was ordered on time and everything was there. The students' enthusiasm and willingness to muck in meant, that when the Gambian teachers were struggling, there was someone on hand to help them. Kemo and Wandifa acted as local backup when we needed things done all of a sudden. We saw 61 teachers in the end including 21 from just one primary school of 3000 children. The other teachers came from 40 different schools and if each teacher interfaces with just 200 children then we have worked out that PAGEANT, Collyer's, Christ's Hospital and Fusionex will have introduced practical science to 11,000 children in The Gambia. We reckon that counts as a success.

Future projects? Maybe.....

Although we had started to turn our thinking caps to being able to do electrical experiments we decided that this was too difficult for this year. BUT, Joe is currently experimenting with LEDs with the limiting resistor already on board to act as lamps (much lower current), solar rechargeable batteries (we already use them out there for other things) and the use of 3B pencils to draw circuits on paper that actually work using the graphite to conduct. Watch this space....

Pageant would like to take this opportunity of saying a huge public thank-you to Joe Brock and the five students from Collyer's for the enormous amount of time, effort and good humour that they put into this project. It was a real privilege to work with them all.

Find out more about Collyer's on their website.


Pageant is a UK Charity - Registered No 1093963

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