3…2…1…Blast Off!

13 07 2016

Today we ran a STEAM workshop for the first time in Bugembe at an elementary school about 15 minutes outside of Jinja. This school is in a town, not a village but the resources are still very limited (there is no power or water). We met with the P. 3 and P. 4 students to make balloon rockets. We started the lesson off with talking about rockets and spaceships. This was met with a lot of blank stares so we backed it up a step and explained how these went into space. We then realized that the students had no idea what outer space was. It is funny to us how often we do this when talking to people in Uganda, especially students. We make basic assumptions about people’s knowledge and often forget that we have to back it up two (or 10) steps. Realizing we were in way over our head discussing outer space we gave the best account that we could to describe the concept of space with their understanding and showed them a 5-minute video about a rocket launch. We had saved these to our laptops and watching a video was new to many of the students. They were silent and stared at the computer screen in awe. After the video we gave them a demonstration of the activity that they were going to complete along with a short video tutorial (thanks YouTube!) and then handed out the materials.

Planning these workshops and activities required a lot of forethought and the majority of materials were gathered and purchased before leaving Canada. This year everything was assembled and put into mobile kits so we really only need to grab the ones that we need for that day and go. Our goal of limiting our trips to the market here has been achieved other than a quick stop this morning to round up random supplies for the Rube Goldberg machine we are working on (more on that later).


The first activity was for students to build a balloon rocket using a balloon, a drinking straw, two pieces of tape and shooting them along a string for distance. Once again, we had to back up our instructions after realizing that many students have never blown upa balloon before. Once they caught on and understood the task the excitement spread. A few of the students caught on quickly and were shooting their “rockets” which the others used as an example. The scene was about as much chaos as you can imagine with 40 + students whoDSC00017have never engaged in this type of activity and the joy of successful rockets and heartbreak of popped balloons. We did a debrief after and asked the students what they had learned. It was awesome to hear the answers range from “how to blow up a balloon” to “what a rocket is.” We also discussed basic science concepts such as the variables that made some rockets that made some rockets go further or faster than others and the concept that a power source (energy is needed) to make something move.  This lead us to our next activity where we used another source of energy through a battery to power another moving device, this time a motor.

DSC00055The next activity involved using HEX Bugs which were donated to us by Innovation First International (IFI).  These “bugs” work on a 1.5 V battery and a vibration motor.  This was easier to explain as students understood the concept that vibration creates movement when we showed them how a cell phone vibrates and moves. The bugs are quite entertaining to watch and have been a hit everywhere we have taken them so far. The students found some used plastic tubing in the DSC00062courtyard and spent the next hour racing the bugs side by side. We experimented with the bugs by having them crawl one at a time, adding more and we also changed the angle of the tubes to see if they could climb uphill or what would happen if they travelled downhill. At the end of the task we regrouped in the classroom and again did a question and answer session. They understood how a motor worked and the concept of energy in a battery and how the bug would slow down as the battery started to die. We were especially impressed by the students who made a comparison of how the rocket was powered by air and the bugs were powered by batteries.


To finish this exciting afternoon we made a summary video on the fly set to music of the video footage and still pictures that we had taken during the balloon rocket activity with English subtitles and captions to review key concepts. For many of the children who had never seen a TV let alone seen themselves on camera this was almost too good to be true. They were intent on watching and looking for themselves in the pictures and cheering as the rockets were successful or laughing at the unsuccessful ones. They all wanted to watch it again and forfeit their recess time for this. We asked the students to gather specific items for the next workshop which will be happening this Thursday.





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