Saturday, August 15, 2015

Electronics Module

The camp began with the training of the ICT teachers in order to provide them with the knowledge to assist the students in teaching fundamental electronics concepts. The ICT teachers first completed all the lesson plans that were expected for the students to complete.   Each lesson was ninety minutes long. A general snapshot of the technical big ideas transferred included: Circuit Basics, Ohm's Law, Sound-Activated Switch and Light-Controlled Circuits, Series & Parallel Connections, and fundamental Logic Concepts. 

Volunteer Inès and Instructor Blair teaming up to explain parallel connections.

The other primary aspect of this module was to improve learners' "soft" skills which include leadership, teamwork, communication, and presentation skills. In order for students to directly experience and practice these skills, I designed project roles for each of the students to execute in each mission. Students switched roles for each project to give each student the necessary practice in executing the different roles effectively. I am personally a strong believer in words having the ability to carry an insurmountable amount of power. So I find it very important for children to role play by identifying themselves as leaders, managers or engineers. The project roles for a mission were:

    Students starting on one of their missions for the day!
  • Project Manager (PM): oversees the tasks, boosts and maintains the team’s moral, and keeps the team on track.
  • Circuit Designer: responsible for building, and following picture and written instructions exactly.
  • Materials Engineer: collects and organizes all pieces needed to complete the current mission.
  • Quality Control Engineer (aka Checker): find potential errors with design, and be held accountable for finding and correcting the errors found in the mission.

Since students worked in pairs to complete the "Mission of the Day," each student had to serve as two roles at a time: one student served as the Project Manager/Circuit Designer and the other worked as the Materials Engineer/Quality Control Engineer. We alternated partners each day so that students could experience first-hand working with different personality types. That means that for the duration of the module, a student never worked with the same partner twice. 

Students explaining the "Sound Activated Switch" to Instructor Rodney

A typical lesson flowed as follows. First, there would be a review activity to gauge what students already knew and/or what they learned during the previous lesson. Then, we gave mini-lectures exposing the students to the big ideas they would form connections with as a result of completing the assigned missions. Students spent the majority of the instruction time building and testing their projects for that day. I also like to keep my classroom fun and engaging so I try to incorporate little "twists" (mini-challenges) in instruction. One of my favorite, as well as the student's favorite was adding to the project the challenge of blindfolding the Circuit Designer/PM while she/he attempts to complete the mission. This experience is symbolic of a leader's vision being clouded and/or obstructed; the team has to find ways to navigate through this challenge to complete the mission. We see this type of phenomena in industry, and especially bureaucracy, so allowing the students to be exposed to this challenge early on in life will hopefully better prepare them in future encounters of the same nature. We would conclude each lesson with discussion of concepts and skills learned, as well as address concepts that may still be unclear or confusing to students.

Blindfold Challenge
The primary instructors for the Electronics module were myself (Blair Singleton) and Rodney Singleton II, a MSU PhD Electrical Engineering graduate student.  Three Creation Hill volunteers, Ange Inès, Prince Gashongore and Basazababo Honoré, and one teacher, Iragena Pascal, provided vital English-to-Kinyarwandan translations

Thursday, August 13, 2015

IPRC West School Tour

After the Closing Ceremony, IPRC West Principal MUTANGANA Frederic, invited our students on a tour of the schools vocational campus. In addition to the computer labs we had occupied all week, the school has extensive on-site training facilities for mechanics, electronics, and hospitality.

The students were eager to see the spaces they could one day learn in if they continue to study and achieve well in science and technology courses.

Our tour began with a series of labs used for electrical engineering. Many of the ideas about wiring and circuitry that the girls had learned throughout the week were put to use and explained by current IPRC West secondary and vocational students. The best moment came when one of the tour guides clapped his hands and a single lightbulb instantly lit the room. The girls went crazy! They had used Elenco Kits to explore sound activated circuitry but here it was becoming a reality. Needless to say, the rest of the electrical engineer's speech was drowned out by incessant clapping as the lightbulb was repeatedly flashed on and off.

The students visited a metal working studio next on the tour. Heavy machinery used for metal work, carpentry, and welding were explained. The girls were able to view the various items made by IPRC West students, including doors, bed frames, and even a miniature helicopter frame! Another machine was turned on to demonstrate its use in carpentry as it rapidly widdled a block of wood into one of the traditional wooden staffs given at dowry ceremonies around the country.

The coup de grace of the tour was IPRC Wests brand new Hospitality Management Center. Built to teach every aspect of hotel operation, the building looks just like a fancy hotel. The girls pretended to check each other in at the massive front desk and were impressed by the VIP suite with two separate bathrooms. They had a LOT of questions about the industrial-sized laundry room, complete with steamer and a washer that several people could easily fit inside. The stainless steal kitchen was last on the tour - a far cry from the smoke-filled outdoor kitchens used at most Rwandan homes.

The IPRC West tour sparked a great deal of curiosity among the girls. Many of them became determined that they would one day study at IPRC West. The glimpse they had of the technical and vocational facilities not only directly complimented many of our lessons from throughout the week, but it gave the girls realistic school and career options to aspire towards, providing an excellent finale to the TechKobwa program.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Career Fair and roles models

Each year TechKobwa features a panel with Rwandan women leaders in technology, business and government.  Students identify strongly with these women and find their stories truly inspirational.

The Career Panel at TechKobwa 2015 took place Wednesday afternoon.   It included:

  • Crystal Rugege,  Director of Business Strategy & Operations at Carnegie Mellon University-Rwanda
  • Lucy Mbabazi , President of Girls in ICT and Business Leader VISA
  • Emma Marie Ndoringoma,  Founder of Fidalix Ltd. and Product Manager at Promelec
  • Happiness Uwase,  Operations Manager and Membership Coordinator of PSF ICT Chamber
  • Mariam M. Muganga , Chief of Operations at Academic Bridge
  • Vanessa Mutesi, Miss Geek Rwanda 2015

We are truly grateful to these accomplished and busy women for making the long trip to Kibuye to talk about the paths that led them to where they are today and the satisfaction they derive from their careers.

I could not understand the talks (they were in Kinyarwanda).  But I could appreciate the intensity with which students listened to the panelists—and that students certainly did not lack for questions!

After the panel, students gathered around Vanessa to learn more    
The presentation by Vanessa Mutesi , Miss Geek Rwanda 2015, elicited an excited exclamation from the students. Rusty explained, “She just told them that she is 16 years old!”—not something you would have guessed from such a self assured and well-spoken young lady.  We could not have asked for a better role model for our 60 students ages 12 through 20!

This year at TechKobwa, students made the most of two other opportunities to connect with inspiring role models. 

Two students from the Akilah Institute—a non-profit, accredited women’s college offering professional degrees in technology, business, and hospitality management with campuses in Rwanda and Burundi—visited overnight.  We thank Aimee and Sandrine for presentations on their goals and aspirations and on their experiences at the Akilah Institute.

We were also fortunate to have a representative from Kepler Kigali with us for the entire camp.  Simon Niwemugizi spoke to students about opportunities for continuing their education through the Kepler Institute.

Thanks to all volunteers, teachers and guests for their mentorship, and for igniting the imaginations of 60 young Rwandan women.   The message came through loud and clear:  Determination, work, and education can change the course of your life, opening the way for fulfilling careers.

Written Communication life skills lesson and continuing the Mission Innovation project

The “Mission Innovation” research project continued with students researching their topic on the internet.  Students needed to understand why their topic was important, what solutions had already been tried and why the topic still needed attention, and also to research their ideas to see if someone had already tried their ideas.

The research project is structured such that students receive a lesson or sometimes multiple lessons that build their skills.  They then have another session where they can practically apply those new skills as they complete their research project’s next step.

The internet research session occurred after students learned about the internet and internet safety.  Students also had a Life Skills module on written communication.  This lesson described the importance of a presentation’s objective, the main sections of a presentation, and also discussed the five Ws of Who, What, When, Where, and Why.  We left "how" for another day, given the aggressive time schedule.  Before answering the 5W questions for their research topic, students did an exercise to document their presentation objective and then another of matching various statements with the appropriate “W.”

For example, “because it will increase the food supply” is an example of answering the question “Why?”

Some students were asked to hold signs with one of the five Ws.  Other students took a sample statement and, with the audience’s help, chose the correct W to stand by.  Students enjoyed the activity, though it inspired some questions regarding nuances associated with the English language.

Students received worksheets which they began completing to answer as many of the 5Ws associated with their project as possible.  The questions they could not answer were either questions they could research or decide that the question did not apply in their case.  For example, the “Who” section of their worksheet asked:
  • Who is involved in with your research topic?
  • Who is in your group? Who will your audience be?
  • Who are the experts on your topic?
  • Who is impacted by your topic?
  • Who has tried to help solve the problem?
  • Who might be able to help solve the problem?
Excerpt from the Written Communication Worksheet

Family leaders played a vital role mentoring teams in deciding and documenting their objective as well as in discerning which questions to answer, which ones to research and which ones to skip.  They also played a significant role in helping students, especially students inexperienced in internet usage, in selecting search terms that would quickly yield information.  Finally, they helped students determine if the site they found had credible information or not.

Students also began brainstorming on solutions ideas as they saw what solutions have already been tried or implemented by others.  For most students this was a new experience and family leader mentors were essential to helping the students explore ideas.  This usually best happened if mentors asked students to tell them what they had learned about the topic, what they had learned about solutions, why they chose this topic, what they thought might help, and what role they thought technology could play in helping.

Immediately after conducting their internet research, students began writing their presentation.  This again required heavy involvement by the family leader mentors because students had varying experience levels in summarizing ideas for presentation format versus writing prose in paragraph form.

As student began writing their presentation drafts, they further explored their solution ideas.  By this time in the project, students were very engaged in their topics but also working against a deadline since they needed to present the very next morning.

For some of the teachers, mentoring a team in problem solving techniques was new so the students and ICT teachers both developed skills.  As was the case last year, by the end of the presentation creation session with markers, notes and flip chart pages strewn about, some folks doubted the students would complete in time.  But, I had confidence in them and they did not disappoint.