I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s hot in Kisumu, Kenya. On March 10th, we saw its hottest day on record, 37o C. Kisumu, my home for the month, is located on the eastern shores of Lake Victoria. It lies in a woodland savannah ecoregion with two distinct rainy seasons – one in March and April and another in the fall. Outside the city, the third largest in Kenya, people fish or rely on subsistence farming in homesteads that sprinkle the landscape.
Just south of Kisumu, TAHMO began its School-2-School project in earnest last spring when Zach Dunn installed our first school weather station. TAHMO piloted the program at Koyoo Mixed Secondary School, near Rangwe, and partnered Koyoo with East Boise Jr. High in Idaho. This March, I’ve come to Kenya to visit Koyoo and several other schools as the program expands. The goal of TAHMO is to install low-cost, robust weather stations across sub-Saharan Africa in response to the critical need for weather data in a region where livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to climate change. While doing so, TAHMO is also committed to enhancing primary and secondary education by using schools to host our stations and creating science, technology, geography, and math related educational resources for teachers. Using TAHMO weather stations provides schools with hands-on material for lessons, and partnering with TAHMO ‘sister schools’ from the U.S.A. creates the excitement and motivation that accompanies cultural exchange.
TAHMO’s S2S program published its first set of teacher resources in January of 2015; these lesson plans were designed to help teachers in low-resource contexts use innovative ideas and go beyond theoretical learning, such as allowing students to download and analyze their local weather data. This past week I visited four schools throughout western Kenya, meeting teachers, assessing future school sites, and testing TAHMO’s hands-on lessons with students. During the way, I interviewed 10 teachers to better understand their perspectives, how they gather and incorporate new material into their lessons, and the obstacles they face to increasing the use of applied activities in the classroom. I also trained teachers from Koyoo and Homa Bay High on how to access data from their TAHMO weather station and use it to discuss the local environment with their students. Koyoo’s staff was eager to look up the data from their weather station online and compare notes with East Jr. High – and maybe put to rest the mysteries of life on a cold snowy winter day from their seats in a hot and dry classroom.
As TAHMO’s S2S program moves forward, we are working with teachers and encouraging them to share their most successful lesson plans on TAHMO’s resource portal. Many teachers I met wished they could use field trips, chemistry experiments, computer work, or school gardens to improve their students’ experiences. They wanted to ground topics in the real-world, but felt they could only use demonstrations methods due to their resource constraints. Despite these challenges, the same teachers had great ideas to share with one another for explaining concepts and engaging students with the limited materials available. Their passion was incredible. By tailoring our lesson plans to low-cost activities within the curriculum of Kenyan teachers, and spreading well-tested lessons contributed by fellow teachers, I think TAHMO could become a great educational tool for our partner schools!