And so its official! The school holidays, which is a period of rest for most teachers (well, atleast some of it) was my official start to my new role at Victoria University, Wellington as the Outeach Coordinator for School of Computer Science and Engineering. My first assignment was in Samoa, a beautiful island nation in the Pacific. A country with a population of about 190,000 and with the addition of a recently connected Pacific submarine fibre cable, Samoa has a strong scope for developing its younger generation in the field of computing. A lack of existing infrastructure meant that we had to run a lot of programmes offline. Luckily, with the exception of batteries(which we preordered in an electrical shop in Samoa), we were prepared with the gear for the job.
The team comprised of five staff from Victoria, of which 3 were directly involved in setting up a wireless network at the National University of Samoa. Myself and Sue, Manager of the Engineering department were running the outreach. Prior to arrival, schools were notified to send teachers to the University where we were running the Outreach programme. We had a range of activities setup in a computer lab. Scratch was installed to run in offline mode. We had sessions to create basic movements using the drag and drop blocks and then went to some advanced lessons involving loops and variables. The teachers were amazed, especially the ones who haven’t used computers before, with the learning curve of scratch. The second activity was making some bristlebots, an easy offline activity with toothbrushes and motors. We had some issues with the high humidity when using tape as well as some batteries just wouldn’t work. The broaches using the led and coin battery provided the teachers with some food for thought to implement it in their classrooms when teaching about circuits. The MAKE Easy Electronics kit was a success too!
Next week, we went out to different schools to run the same activities with students. We soon realised how under resourced they were, with some schools having just two computers for staff to access. Teaching them about Scratch would be absolutely useless if they cannot access it once we were gone! So once again, we decided to run unplugged activities.
These two weeks have been significant in my teaching practice. I have an personal challenge for myself to be able to come up with a ‘Learning Package’ for the island of Samoa (possibly some other neighbouring islands too) which would assist teachers to get going with using the concept of unplugged activities to get into Engineering and CS.