Dear SeedKit Friends,
I am currently sitting in the Balme Library at the University of Ghana. Students are on vacation, yet the campus is still vibrant! On my way here in the trotro (the small buses that take me everywhere) I sat next to a guy who looked like a student. He was very nice and told me how to get to the library once I arrived at my stop. I soon found out that he was a biochemistry student and was on his way to his research lab. Having studied biology, I got super excited and started asking him a million questions about his research at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research. He is currently working on a paper on the effects of serotonin on the malaria parasite life cycle—never thought I could learn so much about malaria during one trotro ride! I was so interested that, naturally, that I asked if I could follow him to the research center (he definitely thought I was crazy). He showed me around the center and even introduced me to some of his colleagues. During the little tour, we shared complaints about running PCRs and writing long research papers in college.
Why am I telling you all this? First, I am constantly amazed by the welcoming nature of the Ghanaian people. Everywhere I go there are people willing to go out of their way to help you or teach you something about their culture. Second, after spending 6 weeks here and constantly struggling to overcome the language barriers, it was amazing to have a conversation about hardcore science where language was no longer a problem. At first the student mentioned biochemical terms and techniques with caution making sure I understood. Once I started asking him questions he realized that I was following his explanations and we dove deeper into discussing the next steps of his research. We were both speaking English, but better than that we were both “speaking science”! Our conversation was an exciting reminder of why I loved studying biology at Wellesley. I guess the hard problem sets were worth struggling over—analytical and creative thinking is the kind that leads to answering all the important questions being asked around the world!
Some other exciting updates:
All the SeedKit protocols have been performed in the two classes that I have been working with! Each class carried out the biology, physics, and chemistry protocols. I cannot even begin to explain how much I learned facilitating each of them. Some days were as exhausting as they were exciting. I thought I admired the jobs that teachers/professors do, but I have truly gained a completely new appreciation for the amazing work they do everyday. Teachers in government schools here have to learn to handle 60+ students in one Junior High School class. Do you know how hard it is to keep 60 teenagers quiet? Well, it’s almost impossible (I’ve been hoarse for a couple weeks and I only had to handle about 30 at a time). Huge shout out to those patient souls out there who have dedicated their lives to teaching!! I could not have finished facilitating all the protocols without the help of the teachers, Vivian, one of The Exploratory team members, and, of course, the amazing students who have taught me so much. Here are some pictures of the classes doing the protocols:
Students performing the SeedKit protocols.
I have also been attending some of The Exploratory Clubs during the past few weeks. I have enjoyed working with the big classes, but working with a smaller group of girls has definitely been my favorite. I have helped in activities using the Science Sets and demonstrated the concepts of acids and bases using carrot juice as an indicator. I particularly loved leading an activity that introduced the girls to the main functions of the heart. We talked about what it does and then identified the different spots on our bodies where we can feel our pulse more accurately. It was priceless to see the surprise on their faces once they found their own pulses! After practicing how to measure their pulse a couple times, we performed a short experiment on ourselves. We measured our pulses at rest, after 1 minute of walking, and after 1 minute of doing silly jumps around the classroom (there was a ton of laughter involved). After recording some of our heart rates on the board they saw that our pulses were generally increasing with activity level. As a class, we discussed why our hearts needed to pump faster when we were more active and why some of the girls’ heart rates were so different from each other. I repeated the experiment with a few classes and each time it was so much fun! I hope the girls enjoyed the activity just as much as I did.
The students and I after the heart activity with our data on the board!
I only have a couple weeks left here in Ghana and it seems like there isn’t enough time to do everything! For the next two weeks I will be working on administering focus groups with The Exploratory Clubs and preparing for the annual Exploratory teacher training taking place in the first week of August. More updates soon!
Some more pictures: