Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Closing of TechKobwa 2014

The Closing Ceremony on Friday signaled the end of TechKobwa 2014.   Scheduled for 10:00 am to give time for visitors coming from Kigali to arrive, some campers had to miss it in order to arrive home before nightfall.  But the majority were able to be there to celebrate their accomplishments over the course of the last week.  

In addition to the camp organizers, teachers and campers, the Closing Ceremony was attended by Kalema Gordon from the Rwanda Ministry of Youth and ICT; Father Alphonse Twizerimana, the Director of Groupe Scholaire de Janja;  Jen Hedrick, Peace Corps Rwanda Country Director;  Michael Amerson, Peace Corps Volunteer;  Jacqui Bah, Peace  Corps Response Volunteer; and Rhoda Kayisenge, Peace Corps Grants Coordinator; and Hyo Jung Yoon, KOICA Volunteer Program Manager.

The Salle was decked out for the ceremony, which began with a  heartfelt rendition of the TechKobwa '14 cheer.    

We were then treated to two videos:  The first  was produced by PCV Lauren Wright and showed highlights from the week, and the second was produced by Amber Lucero-Dwyer from the work campers did during their photography lessons.  (Both videos are posted at

Campers and visitors watch the TechKobwa '14 photography video at the Closing Ceremony

A teacher and a camper delivered testimonials of what the week meant to them and how they would share what they learned at TechKobwa with friends and students back home.  Two very proud sets of campers demonstrated tasks that their robots performed.  Each family of six campers had assembled and programmed a robot from lego pieces in eight hours of robotics training. The visitors were suitably impressed with all the campers accomplished.

Teachers and girls beamed going through the line to receive their certificates of achievement.

Camper receiving her certificate.  Receiving line from the left: Kalema Gordon, Hyo Jung Yoon, Alphonse Twiaerimana,  Celestine Metuassalol, Jen Hedrick, Louise Hemond-Wilson, Laura Dillon, Elisabeth Turner, Ryan Steffani, Aimee.

Afterwards all shared refreshments, more congratulations, hugs, and best wishes.  

Most had long journeys ahead of them.  Leaving the gorgeous Janja area, campers, teachers, and organizers felt blessed to have achieved and experienced so much.   A tremendous debt of gratitude is owed to those who made Camp TechKobwa '14 possible, some by their financial support, but many more by generously giving their time and energy to organize this tremendous undertaking.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Putting it all together - The "Mission: Innovation" Research Project

We had several themes running throughout the week at Camp TechKobwa.  Students learned:
  • Basic computer usage and touch-typing skills
  • Internet and internet safety skills
  • Computer science and logic concepts
  • Programming using Scratch
  • Sensors and robotics concepts
  • Self-confidence and life skills including written and oral communications
This was all good content but we wanted to integrate everything somehow.  We landed upon what we called the "Mission: Innovation" project, a small research project.

The Mission: Innovation project was divided into four modules that occurred throughout the week:
  • Part I: Introduce the Mission: Innovation project, divide into teams and select a topic
  • Part II: Conduct internet research
  • Part III: Create the presentation
  • Part IV: Deliver the presentation

Camp schedule for the first half of the week

Camp schedule for the latter part of the week
The name "Mission: Innovation" came from a presentation IBM uses for community outreach.  It overviews a few big global issues and then shows examples of how technology helped address these problems. It's meant to get people thinking about innovative ways to solve problems.

In the standard IBM kit, it is simply a presentation.  Since we decided to make it into something more...a research project...I had to customize the presentation.  I altered the presentation to discuss problems and solutions found in Africa and even in Rwanda.  I also added content to outline the full project and the different modules the campers would work on throughout the week.

Using the presentation as an inspiration to motivate the girls, the campers were introduced to their mission - to be innovative to help solve problems. At the end of the presentation I asked the 60 girls to stand if they accepted this mission. Girls literally jumped from their seats with arms raised and fist pumping shouting affirmations that they accepted their challenge.  Ryan, the activities director laughed that he thought they were more energetic about this project than they had been for his first set of ice-breaker activities. What can we say...girls get excited about solving problems...  (Side note: to Ryan's credit, the first round of ice-breakers occurred after the girls had journeyed all day by bus to arrive at camp...let's face it...their energy had been taxed in the trip.)

Girls accepting their "mission" with great enthusiasm
Girls worked in teams of three since most problems are solved by teams rather than through individual personal heroics.  The team's first task was to agree on a topic.  I asked the teams to choose as a topic some problem that personally impacted them.  Many teams chose topics like soil erosion, famine, energy, water, and HIV because they encounter these issues regularly if not on a daily basis.

One of the Happy Happy Receivers teams brainstorming about their topic
Once they selected their topic, they brainstormed about what they already knew about it.  Then they researched it on the internet to understand more about their topic including what has already been done to address the problem.  Due to the bandwidth issues and many girls' lack of familiarity with the internet, the family leaders took their own time to research the problem before this module.  In some cases teams had success getting on the internet and in others, teams relied on the research that their family leader did.

Researching on the internet
After that, they had to use critical thinking skills to articulate why they believed there was still more work to do on addressing the problem.  Armed with a broader concept of the realm of possibilities thanks to learning about the internet, programming, logic concepts, sensors and robots, they offered suggestions for new approaches that involved technology.  Some teams even thought through some of the dependencies or challenges associated with implementing their ideas.

Once they had done some research and critical thinking, they created a presentation which involved determining their objective with the audience.  Did they want to convince their listeners, educate them or get them to change their behavior?  This influenced how they arranged their ideas and the points that they chose to highlight.

Judith reviewing the outline of presentations

Teams creating their presentations

Another team working on their presentation

Emmanuel mentoring his teams as they create their presentation

More hard working teams creating presentations

Origene mentoring his teams

Adding finishing touches to the presentation

Anna and her teams creating their presentations

Marie Rose mentoring her teams

Teams had a chance to practice giving their presentations to their family leaders and other camp instructors.  This gave the girls an opportunity to give and receive constructive feedback. 
James giving feedback to a team practicing their presentation
Finally they presented their topic.  Each girl on the team had to speak during the presentation and at least some portion of the presentation was done in English since this is Rwanda's official language for instruction.

Each of these modules were timed so that the morning before or the day before they learned some new concepts that would help them complete the module.  For example the morning before they had to conduct internet research, they learned about the internet and search engines.  The day before they had to create their presentations, they learned about creating effective presentations.

The result?  15 teams of girls gave outstanding, thoughtful presentations about serious problems and how we might tackle them in new ways.  The girls did such a great job, I wish I had photos for every group.  But, here are photos of a few teams' presentations as a sample.

As an example, one team talked about using sensors and data analysis to proactively predict the most likely places and timings for erosion and landslides.  They thought that such insights would help individual farmers and villages determine the optimal placement of trees for prevention.

Another team discussed famine.  Being newly introduced to the internet, this team thought that through using the internet, subsistence farmers in a region could make each other aware of their surplus crops so that rather than lose food through spoilage, they could share.  This would diversify their diet using a bartering trade system.

It was great to see the girls problem solve but, for me, the most profound impact was watching the 60 girls blossom as they found their voices.  When many girls arrived at camp, they spoke very softly and were a bit reluctant to participate.  By the time the presentations occurred, not only did each girls speak loudly, clearly and confidently when presenting their own material, many girls exhibited self-confidence and critical thinking by asking other teams very challenging questions.
Innocente asking a question during another team's presentation

When we designed this project, we weren't sure what to expect but after going through it, even with the internet challenges, I think this was a really strong addition to the camp curriculum.  The smartest engineer typically needs to work with a team and typically needs to be able to express their ideas confidently in a way that others can understand.  This project gave them an opportunity to practice that.  Plus, though this was a technology camp, chances are good that not every girl will actually pursue a technology career.  Yet, the skills used and developed via the research project will be useful skills no matter what career they pursue.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Life Skills: Finding and using your voice

Every morning of camp began with a Life Skills lesson.  I think these lessons were essential to the camp's success.
  • Day 1: Self-Confidence
  • Day 2: Finding Your Voice
  • Day 3: Written Communication
  • Day 4: Oral Communication
  • Day 5: Setting Goals
  • Day 6: What to do after Camp
Liz from the Peace Corps trained the ICT teachers so that they could conduct the Self-Confidence session for each of their groups.  I created the module on Finding Your Voice, trained the teachers and Sandrine presented it to the campers.  Emily created and delivered the written communication module and Anna did likewise for the Oral Communication Module.  Liz, Elisabeth and Lauren from the Peace Corps created and delivered the modules on Setting Goals and What to do after Camp.

In self-confidence, students learned different ways people convey self-confidence.  But they also learned the importance of feedback to building self-confidence.  As an exercise, campers drew a flower and had another person tape the flower to their back.  Then campers walked around the room with a pen in hand and were to write affirmations about other campers on their flowers.  At the end of the exercise, campers learned that many people notice and appreciate things about them that they never realized.

Finding Your Voice began by asking campers who they admired and what was different about those people.  They were also asked who invented the mobile phone.  This was used to demonstrate that most problems are not solved by one person but by teams of people contributing from their diverse backgrounds over time. 

Women inventors associated with mobile phones were featured such as Katherine Blodgett who invent the glass used on mobile phones, Hedy Lamarr who created the secure message transmission used in mobile technology, Randince-Lisa Altschul who invented the hand-held mobile phone, and Krisztina Holly who invented visual voice used for voice messaging for many mobile phones.  This provided the campers with female role models in technology.

Finding Your Voice included an exercise where campers reflected on their strengths and weaknesses, thinking about how our weaknesses often are what inspire us to invent.  For example Randice-Lisa Altschul was frustrated (a weakness) with her mobile phone in the days when they were large, clunky contraptions.  She was so frustrated she wanted to throw it out the window but it was too big and too expensive.  This sparked her, a toy inventor, to create the small handheld mobile phone we use today.

Questions for the self-reflection exercise
Campers also learned various techniques and games to help them define problems and brainstorm on how to solve them such as asking the five levels of "Why?"  This technique begins with thinking of a problem and asking "Why?"  Whatever the answer is to that, you ask "why" again.  Continuing to do this for five levels often leads to ideas for solving the problem.

Research project teams practicing the 5 Levels of Why using their project topic
In the Written Communications module, Emily taught campers about the importance of defining your objective.  Some examples of objectives included trying to convince your audience about something, trying to educate your audience about something or trying to change your audience's behavior. 

Students learned about organizing their thoughts as well as answering the 5 Ws of writing: Who, What, When, Where and Why.  Using an interactive lesson, campers learned how to categorize different types of information based on whether it pertained to the Who, What, When, Where or Why of their topic.

Emily introducing the Five Ws exercise
Students organizing information according to the Five Ws
Campers also learned a little about formatting their information in a way that makes it easy to understand. 

The Written Communications module ended with campers completing a worksheet about their research project that documented their objective, their outline and the 5Ws.  Students used these worksheets during the module where they created their research project's presentation.

Anna gave campers many excellent tips for effective public speaking during the Oral Communications module.  She emphasized the importance of preparing your material, your environment, and yourself before speaking.  Campers learned that self-confidence is directly related to being prepared.  They also learned that practicing a presentation is key to feeling fully prepared.

Anna using good public speaking techniques as she teaches about public speaking

Origene translating Anna's comments into Kinyarwanda
Campers had an opportunity to practice Anna's advice by interviewing another camper and then presenting some interesting information about their partner to the other campers.  This also gave campers the opportunity to give and receive constructive feedback.

Liz taught the ICT teachers the module on Goal Setting and in turn the ICT teachers led their students through the material.  Students were asked to define short and long-term goals and then to create a plan of specific actions they could take to achieve their goals.

In the final Life Skills module, campers and the ICT teacher from their school were asked to develop plans for sharing what they learned at camp with other students at their school.  Campers came up with ideas for creating technology clubs or teaching ICT concepts even in environments that lacked electricity or the internet. 

The objective of the Life Skills modules were to increase the individual campers' skills in confidence and communication and then to use those skills to create a ripple effect by training more students than were able to attend camp.  Thus in addition to building technical skills, girls developed their leadership skills and were asked to create a plan to use those leadership skills to take Camp TechKobwa home with them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Family Leader of the Happy Happy Recievers

I was fortunate to be asked to serve as a family leader. It was a memorable experience and I was able to get close to several girls because of my role as their den mother. My daughters for the week were always looking out for each other, as well as for me in some cases. They also took on the mission of  teaching me Kinyarwanda. We were very proud of our accomplishment of winning the spirit stick on the first day !!!

I loved spending my free time with these young ladies. We made memories dancing, laughing, being silly, and simply talking.

For the research project that was assigned to all the students, my daughters chose to research and present on Soil Erosion in Rwanda and on the Prevention of Malaria in Rwanda. Some of the ideas that the students came up with included using technology to educate the people of Rwanda of the radical terraces techniques to combat soil erosion and to educate people of how using mosquito nets can greatly help with preventing malaria. My family choose to do the majority of their presentations in English, and provide explanations in Kinyarwanda.  I was extremely proud of them for deciding to that on their own. Some of the girls didn't feel as comfortable speaking English as other girls, so when they decided as a team to present in English, it was a big step toward exhibiting courage. I love my girls and I know they will grow up to do amazing things :)  

Programming in Scratch

Teachers trying to help out students crowded around
too few working computers
We introduced the students to programming using Scratch in two 90-minute sessions.  With 42 machines in the computing lab and pairing students up, we thought we could teach these sessions to all students at once.  But we quickly revised that plan after the first Scratch session--too few of the machines could actually run Scratch 2.0 and the mice on a handful of the machines were essentially non-functional.  Also, the space was too cramped for teachers to reach all of the pairs that needed help or for individuals within the pairs to change roles.  Poor lighting in the Computer Lab made it difficult for students to read printouts with instructions.

Major squeezes in to offer some help

Given the logistical problems in that first session, Origene did a remarkable job demonstrating how they could program the Scratch cat to do a little dance (substituting "say" blocks for sound since the machines had no speakers) while changing its color, and add an animated sprite (Cassy) and a back drop. (To start the example of what students created below, press the green flag. While its running, press the space key to see the cat change its color.  It will terminate by itself after a while, or you can stop it by pressing the stop button)


For the second Scratch lesson, we revised the camp schedule to rotate students through three activities throughout the day. That gave us 20 students at a time. All could work on a machine running Scratch 2.0 and with a working mouse (important for using Scratch), and teachers could easily get to pairs to answer questions. There was ample space for students to switch roles.

Aimee did a fantastic job engaging the students in creating the beginning of a 2-act show. All got through the first act and many got through the second.  (The example below is of our complete Scratch program.  Press the green flag to start it executing and then follow the announcer's instructions.  Press the stop button to end the program.  No students got this far.  But their teachers went home with instructions for both completing and extending this project.)

Those that have access to computers at their schools are eager to finish up their projects and add new acts.

Teachers were all given USB drives containing the Scratch 2.0 installer, lesson plans, project descriptions, and links to other resources to continue teaching Scratch when they return to their schools.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Robotics Module

The camp began with the training of the ICT teachers in order to provide them with the knowledge to assist the students in building and programming robots. The teachers had to complete all of the activities in the lesson plans that were to be completed by the girls. I was tasked with creating the lessons for the Robotics Module of the camp, and would like to give a special thanks to Dr. George Stockman, who greatly helped with the development of the ideas in the Robotics Module. Each daily lesson was 2 hours long, we had a total of 5 lessons. This means that the students accomplished the learning objectives given only 10 hours! The Robotics lessons included 1) Understanding Robots and The Importance of Sensors, 2) Building and Programming the 5 Minute Bot and 3) Building and Programming the Tribot. The teachers and students had an amazing time learning about robots and especially building them. The important take-away skills in the module related to communication, leadership, team work, problem solving, and critical thinking, which are all key concepts that are essential in the real world. Another special thanks to all our supporters because the Robotics Module wouldn't have been possible without the donations of materials, equipment and time from MSU, IBM, James Holly Jr. and Dr. Barbara O'Kelly.  

The first lesson involved an introduction on why robots are important, different disciplines that use robots and the key components of robots: sensors, movement, intelligence, and energy. Immediately following the introduction, the students were able test the different sensors using the NXT Mindstorm brick. The sensors we focused on were the light, sound, touch and ultrasonic sensor. The students were able to make programs directly on the bricks and see the immediate effects of their created programs.

The second lesson was the 5 Minute Bot. During construction days, each group was composed of a Project Manager, Checker, Go-Getter and Builder, and students would switch roles every 8 minutes.  
  • The Project Manager oversaw the tasks while maintaining the team’s morale.  
  • The Go-Getter collected and organized all materials needed to complete the step. 
  • The Builder was responsible for building, and following the instructions.  
  • The Checker verified if the builder completed each step correctly. If the Checker found something wrong, it was up to her to correct that step.  
After the students built and programmed their robots, we went outside and had a race. During programming days, the group roles were Project Manager, Computer Programmer, Computer Aide and Quality Control Engineer. In contrast to construction days, the students only switched roles for different missions. 

Racing 5 Minute Bots

The remaining lessons were focused around building and programming the Tribot. An example programming challenge that the students completed involved making your robot move in a rectangular shape.

Students beginning to build the Tribot

ICT teachers inspecting their Tribot

The Tribot

Learning about algorithms

The second full lesson of CS Unplugged focused on algorithms. In this lesson, students learned:
  • A model of a computer system
  • The concept of an algorithm
  • What makes for a “good” computer algorithm
  • Several algorithms and their costs
A computer system
We had a lot of fun first thinking about “Bean Cooking” algorithms.  Students first devised a bean cooking algorithm and then critiqued two alternative bean cooking algorithms that we acted out for them.  These examples let to discussions of "correctness" v.s. "costs".

Qualities to consider for a computer algorithm
Students worked in pairs to devise algorithms for calculating the minimum of a set of numbers and for sorting a set of numbers.  The "Decider" simulated a program and the "Comparer" simulated the CPU.

Roles of the Decider and the Comparer

Working out a sort algorithm
They practiced their algorithms in pairs and counted the work involved.  Most came up with selection sort for their algorithm — fine for a small data set — not so good for sorting ID numbers of 45000 MSU students!

The algorithms that they analyzed for time efficiency

In the process of discussing these algorithms, students learned important concepts of computing — sequencing, repetition, recursion, and modularization (calling other algorithms). 

We could have used another couple of hours to do justice to the sort algorithms. We showed them queue sort as a quick demo at the very end.  The demo really got them thinking — both about why queue sort is correct and the cost tradeoffs between it and selection sort.