18 February 2020


Science workshops at Gambia College

An early breakfast saw a 7.30 start. Linda had already been picked up by Yankuba, Abdoulie and Wandifa. A good journey to Brikama gave us plenty of time to do final preparations for a 9.00am start. We were made aware yesterday of a misunderstanding. We wanted 40 students to attend the workshops. 20 to do the microscopy and 20 to do the physics on Saturday, then for them to swap over on Sunday and for each student to do the other workshop, However like last year this had been misunderstood by the college who arranged for the students who were to attend. They had just selected 20 students for Saturday and a different 20 for Sunday. The college organisers had been asked on Friday afternoon to phone round all the students that afternoon to tell them all to come for both days. We were not therefore sure just how many we were going to get.

As it was, we started with 25 students, but more arrived soon, and we did end up with almost a full house.

The timetable for each workshop follows a similar pattern. Introductions are followed by the students carrying out practical work in the two morning sessions. About 30 minutes or so before lunch, which is at 2pm they stop work and get into groups of 4 to prepare a lesson to deliver to small groups of students or children recruited from either the college or a nearby school. Lunch is provided by the college catering staff and again was excellent. Fish benachin on Saturday and chicken yassa on Sunday.

After lunch and prayers, the lessons were given to between 15 and 20 students in each lab, so the teachers taught groups of three and four.

The physics workshops were given by Joe, Yankuba, Abdoulie and me, with the microscopy by Pippa, Kathy, Wandifa and assisted by Linda. On the Sunday we were joined by Musa and by a BBC journalist whom Joe had met on the plane over and had expressed an interest.

I will give a brief outline of the physics and Kathy the microscopy.

In physics we needed little introductory time and went straight into the experiments. Joe would give a demonstration and the students would then carry this out in pairs. We manged to do lever law and moments so that the students could calculate the weight of an unknown object using a metre rule and pivot and a known weight. This was followed by demonstrating hydraulics using syringes of different sizes. A pendulum with a cord of 25 cm takes exactly 1 second to do a full swing, so using this principal we did some timing of students running for 20 metres outside. Reaction times were calculated by dropping a ruler and catching it between two fingers. From the distance dropped it is possible to calculate reaction times. Rocket balloons were prepared to demonstrate Newton’s laws of motion and by using springs joined together. Separately the students created a simple flute from a drinking straw. From these the students could see transference of energy by waves.

Joe demonstrating hydraulics using syringes

Using balloons as rockets

Using a pendulum as a timer for racing

In microscopy it is slightly different. The 20 students are arranged over 5 tables, 4 to each table. There were four simple compound microscopes and two larger compound microscopes on each table as well as four sample preparation kits that included simple hand lenses. We started with objectives for the day which mainly emphasised the need to become familiar with the microscopes and kit which we went through in detail. Simple hand lenses of different magnifying power were tried with everyone looking at their skin or some item of clothing or a watch just to see the difference in lens magnification. Then the microscopes were unpacked and each student was shown how to focus on printing in a handbook. This always generates interest as it might sound boring but when you look at black printing under the microscope you can see other colours present in the letters. This is a good example of how you can see things that are not visible by eye. The larger compound microscope had 3 different objective lenses and light that went through the sample as well as top lighting. This microscope allows for quite high magnification of cells and sometimes the cell nucleus is visible.
After breakfast of a baguette, containing fried egg and salad typically, the students looked at a range of samples we had gathered. These included fabrics, insects, plants and flowers, different foods (potato, onion, parsley, oranges etc) and water from a nearby puddle. This usually has small animals living in it. Seeing insects moving under the microscope was very popular. Using a microscope in teaching science should allow the teachers to demonstrate features in a wide range of different subjects including biology, home science and agriculture.

Unpacking the microscopes

Using microscopes to look at samples

Hard at work examining samples and recording their observations

For the teaching sessions each group of teachers showed one of the experiments to their group of students. It was impressed on them that the key to a successful practical lesson was for the students to do the practical work rather than just watching the teachers do it. We observed the lessons given. Some were much more successful in achieving this objective than others.

Following this the equipment was packed up and everyone gathered together for presentation of attendance certificates and some speeches. This year we also presented to the head of science at Gambia college, Nakulang Ceesay,  a certificate of appreciation and recognition and an inscribed pen and case for all his help in organising the science workshops. Nakulang is retiring from full time teaching later this year.

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