Whew- day one of the workshop is done! I survived the whirlwind.
After working to the wee hours of the morning frantically testing a couple of the activities on the floor of my room (would the flowers I picked up actually work as pH indicators? kind of!), and leaving the house by 6 AM to “beat” the traffic, I made it to the National Science Resource Center, where the workshop was being held.
45 minutes after our supposed start time, we got started. We had waited for the staff to arrive to unlock the doors and for a critical mass (~half of the 20) to arrive – Is this Ghanaian time? Or is it the traffic? Or do they see coming to this as a chore?
After an opening prayer and introduction from the Regional Science Coordinator, I jumped in and gave an introduction to PEN: who we are, the kinds of things we have done, and how we hope to work with them to promote hands-on activities.
I began with a demo that involves fire! Although it is one I have done before, I didn’t have a chance to practice it with my materials here yet, so I was thinking in my head “Oh man, this better work. How am I going to convince them to listen to me lead a hands-on science workshop if I can’t even get the first one to work?” But thankfully the chemical laws of nature have not changed since I last tried it. Manganese dioxide (the black powder you can get if you open up a dry cell battery) still successfully acts as a catalyst to decompose hydrogen peroxide to hydrogen and oxygen. This method for the production of oxygen gas can take place inside a water bottle and can be visualized with a glowing splint flaming up upon contact.
The participants were impressed. Compared to what is required to do this experiment using the suggested lab equipment, this seemed very do-able and effective at demonstrating a concept.
We discussed what they see as the benefits/challenges of doing hands-on activities. In general, people agreed that they can enhance learning, and connect science to real-life activities. If a kid saw the glowing splint in the oxygen demo, they may go home and see a connection to what happens as they blow on the flames of their stoves. They described the main challenges as being big class sizes and time. Interestingly, they didn’t think materials were too difficult to acquire. I wonder if that perspective was influenced by having just seen the oxygen demo.
What I immediately noticed as the discussion unfolded was that having this group of people together in one room could in and of itself be a powerful thing.
Something important I found out only a couple of days ago (due to some miscommunication), is that my co-organizer was so excited about the potential of this workshop that he decided to invite all the District Science Coordinators from Greater Accra to participate, rather than current teachers themselves. That totally changes the dynamics in the room and the desired outcomes for the workshop. The potential though is great. These people are already responsible for overseeing the work of a group of science teachers and providing them assistance. If we can get the Coordinators on board with doing more practicals and if they can brainstorm together how to make that happen, the result can be greater than what we had originally envisioned.
It’s just that “training the teacher trainers” is a tall order for someone who is running a workshop with adults abroad for the first time. We had intended this to be more of an exploratory session where we all could begin probing this space together and I could learn how to do this kind of thing. Well, here we go 🙂
The discussion could have continued for a while, but the Coordinators decided that they would have another meeting afterwards to discuss more about what they themselves could do to promote practicals. For now, they wanted more demos.
So I showed how one can use the pigment in flowers to serve as a pH indicator. A couple of excited volunteers came up to help grind petals, but most people stayed back, comfortable in their seats. Once the indicator was finally ready, we combined one sample with an acid (vinegar), one with a base (baking soda), kept a control, and noted a color change. Indeed the pink flower I picked turned brownish in the base and lighter pink in the acid. Those that were involved in the setup were intrigued: “Does it matter what color it turns? Does it matter what kind of flower to use?” Berthi had also brought some purple flowers, which we tried, and they worked even better. The color was green in base and light pink in the acid.
“Does that mean all acids will make the flower indicator turn light pink?” “You can test it out – here are two other types of flowers.”
One person was reminded of bitter leaf, a plant with acidic properties, which perhaps could also be used in some type of experiment.
Another person thought ahead and wondered out loud if we could take a piece of paper, crush the flower petals on it, and make our own litmus paper.
How invigorating to see their curiosity and impetus to do additional experimentation themselves!