Friday, November 9, 2007

Nyota getting there … Professional Insights

Nyota getting there … Professional Insights

Activity 7 Update

Location: St Johns’ Secondary School

Speaker: Mr. Musungu

Profession: Public Relations Officer, Kenya Polytechnic

16th October, 2007


This was our seventh session into the Nyota getting there … Professional Insights program and our fifth visit to St Johns’ High school.

We, Alice Dande, Kevin Kinyua and Evalyn Mwihia – the volunteers in attendance, arrived at the school at exactly 3 pm bringing with us the speaker of the day – Mr. A.N. Musungu to the school.

Mr. Musungu – Public Relations Officer at the Kenya Polytechnic

Third form students were already gathered in the designated class room and we went ahead to open the session with a short introduction. Shortly after, our speaker took to the floor to make his presentation. He introduced himself as the public relations officer at the Kenya Polytechnic located in the city center along Haile Selassie Avenue. He described his occupation as a marketer of the polytechnic to the public.

Mr. Musungu informed the students that the polytechnic had been in existence since 1960 - a total of 47 years - with the aim of providing midlevel training to diverse groups of students. He went ahead to tell them that it is a constituent college of the University of Nairobi and that it currently offers 1500 courses at various levels e.g. certificate, diploma and higher diploma levels. In addition, it had recently been given a mandate to offer various courses at the degree level. These courses are taken either as full time classes – 8am to 4pm daily, evening classes – 5pm to 7pm daily, distance learning – as per student’s availability or holiday classes – April, August and December.

The polytechnic has 13 academic departments catering to 11 000 students. They include: Graphic Arts; Applied science; Business studies; Building and Engineering; Computer Science and Information Communication and Technology; Electrical engineering; Health sciences and Biotechnology; Institutional Management; Information and Liberal management; Mechanical engineering; Surveying and Mapping.

Mr. Musungu talking to the students about Kenya polytechnic

Mr. Musungu also talked about the minimum requirement for entry into the polytechnic as a mean grade of C plain in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations. He mentioned the ranking system of recruiting students into the institution encouraging the students to select the right subjects for their chosen career and also to improve on their overall mean grade. He gave the students hope by telling them that the government subsidizes cost of education at the polytechnic.

In addition to talking about the polytechnic, Mr. Musungu gave the students some very good words of advice encouraging them to work hard in their studies using quotes such as, ‘Everything that works is made to work.’, ‘At any one time, you are standing on someone’s shoulder and someone is standing on yours’, ‘Reading a book connects you to someone else’s thoughts’ , ‘The deeper you go the more value you get.’ and ‘One who does not think for himself will be thought for’. He gave examples of Albert Einstein and Bill Gates as sources of inspiration and depiction of determination. He encouraged the students, especially the ladies that everything is possible with hard work, determination, practice and concentration. He touched on issues of drug abuse and the negative impacts of drug taking. His final advice to the students was: to do the right thing at the right time.

Mr. Musungu answering a student’s question

At the end of the session, the students were very enthusiastic and asked a lot of questions to which Mr. Musungu answered adequately. We made a conclusion and wished the students success in their coming end of term/year exams.

After leaving the school, we interacted with Mr. Musungu further, finding out about him in terms of his inspirations, educational and occupational background.

Mr. Musungu gave hope to the students at St. Johns High school convincing them that there is life after not making it to the public universities which are currently taking students with very high grades.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

“3 rd Chemsha bongo ……Engineering Challenges” Update

Chemsha bongo ……Engineering Challenges” Update

Location: St Johns High school.

Activity: Chemsha Bongo

Date: 9th October, 2007

Today’s session saw us go back to St Johns High school for the second chemsha bongo engineering challenges.

All the form three students at St Johns were present for today’s session and four members from Cosmos Education Kenya were present, these were Bridgit Syombua, Evalyn Mwihia, Alice Dande and Kevin Kinyua.

The representatives hard at work trying to formulate words for the first challenge

We started off by reminding the students of out 3 golden rules: -

Rule no 1:-If we speak too quickly for you to follow, tell us to slow down (with a special hand signal.)
Rule no 2:-The key to all of science: You must ask questions.
Rule Rule no3:-The key to learning: You must have fun.

We then broke the students up into 4 groups which the students named Banju, Israel, Chicha and Sanchez and this led us into the first challenge. This was a simple challenge and a test of the student’s prowess in English. The students were given five letters to work with these were B O W L E, with these letters the students were asked to create as many English words as possible from these five letters. Each word was to have a minimum of 3 letters and no repetition was allowed.

Each group selected a representative who was to per take the challenge. Banju group emerged the Victor with Leon, their representative managing 10 correct words. This earned the group 10 points and Leon a reward.

The first challenge had the teams energized and each team determined to win the second challenge. The second challenge was the “Connect the dots” brain teaser. In this challenge the students were to join a series of nine dots using only four straight lines. This activity was aimed at stimulating critical thinking and to think outside the box.
The teams were given ample time to discuss the solution and send a representative to partake the challenge.
This challenge proved easier than we had anticipated as Cyrus from the Sanchez team had it figured out in less than a minute. This earned his team 10 points and a reward for himself.

The third challenge, “Spaghetti Levers” was a test of ingenuity and team work. Each team was given 3 items: - spaghetti straws, some tape and a desk to work on. The challenge was to anchor the straws to the table a using the tape and use the tape again to join the spaghetti straws together and build a structure that extends from the table either vertically or horizontally. The winning team was the one that created the longest structure. In this challenge Chicha emerged the victors.
Students from group Banju working out a way forward for the spaghetti levers challenge

The final challenge was the Egg drop challenge. This challenge was a test in team work, and ingenuity. In this challenge an egg was tied with a sting and tape onto the ceiling the students were given an A4 sized paper and a matchbox. The challenge was to get the egg off the ceiling without touching the egg, string or tape. The egg was to drop in the piece of paper without breaking.
Breaking the rules attracted a point deduction and in the end Israel had the most points and emerged the winner.

The egg drop challenge.

Overall Chichi and Sanchez tied in first place with 25 points each. To get an overall victor a game of rock paper scissors was played with between 2 members of the 2 teams. In a best of 3 Kamau from Chichi got 2 points leading chichi to victory.

Leon receiving an Award from Bridgit

Cyrus receiving an award from Evalyn for winning “connect the dots challenge"

Silas from group Sanchez receiving an award from Alice

Kamau from the wining team receiving an award from Kevin.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Nyota "getting there ...professional insights" update

“Getting there….Professional Insights”

Location: St Johns High School

Speaker: Vivian Nchogu

Profession: Film Maker

Date: 2nd October, 2007

This was our third talk of the Nyota getting there…professional insights phase two. We arrived quite early and found the students already assembled in our usual meeting place eagerly waiting for us. I must say this was a very unique session since for the first time we managed to get a film maker. Vivian Nchogu is a Kenyan film maker based in Uganda. She happened to be in the country for the just concluded Kenya International Film Festival. After persuading her she agreed to come and introduce the students to the world of communication and film making.

Present was Angela Kimani, and Isaac Musyoka, all CEK volunteers. After the general introduction, Vivian took to the floor and did a thorough introduction of herself and her career – what she does for a living. Vivian talked about virtually everything in the mass media. She however dwelled more on film production, where she’s an expert. She explained all about film producers to DOP – director of photography!

On the journalism career, she told the students that one needed the passion and conviction that this was his/her career path. She used the famous phrase: “Do not venture into journalism if you can help it” she talked about the ups and downs of the profession: “sometimes you rub people the wrong way and find yourself in the wrong places for the wrong reasons,” Vivian said. For all the aspiring journalists, Vivian also had this to say, “Journalism is not for the fainthearted, and rather it is for the strong willed.”

Vivian explaining what DOP is to the students.
Vivian however, did not forget to tell the students how the profession can bring you glory and prestige – but it takes time! She said that as a journalist, you get free entry to high profile meetings, seminars, and you also get to have the chance of interviewing and even covering presidents and high profile personalities – the who is who in the world! She emphasized the importance of consistency and patience in the film industry. She said that you got to be honest and open minded all at the same time as the profession is dynamic.

After such a passionate presentation, the students held her captive to answer a myriad of questions to which she was glad to answer. They were reluctant to let her go – in her they saw a role model, a star who could mentor and bring out the journalism in them. They wanted to know if they could be in some of her productions, and she promised to have them be part of the cast for an upcoming documentary, coming out early next year.

At the end of the session, our mission had been accomplished and more effectively for that matter. Vivian lived up to CE’s Inspire, Engage, Empower, motto and we could not ask for more. It was evident from the students’ questions and comments that all was accomplished – someone somewhere had been mentored!

She came, she saw, she mentored and she did it in style!

Friday, September 21, 2007

“Chemsha bongo ……Engineering Challenges” 2nd Update

Activity 2

Location: Kamukunji Secondary School

Activity: Chemsha Bongo

Date: Thursday 20th September, 2007

This was our first session with Kamukunji Secondary School but the second session overall of "Chemsha Bongo....Engineering challenges” We arrived as scheduled at 3:30 pm to be greeted by the Deputy headmistress who was eagerly awaiting our arrival. Due to the fact that the third and fourth formers were having a meeting with their teachers, we were content working with the availed second formers who were assembled into a classroom. There was a total of about 30 students altogether since some of them had already left for home.

The Cosmos Education Kenya volunteers in attendance were: Lizbeth Mate, Bridgit Muasa, Evalyn Mwihia, Carol Muli and Kevin Kinyua. We introduced Cosmos Education and ourselves to the students as we had never worked with that group before. They were very enthusiastic to know what we were to do with them for that one-hour session we were there. We explained to them that we will be having six sessions with them that term and three of them would be “chemsha bongo” activities while the other three would be mentorship talks.

When all this was said and done, we jumped right in to divide the students into two groups. One of the groups chose the name “Macadiff” where as the other chose the name “ODM”.

The first activity was the “Connect the dots” brain teaser whereby the students were to join a series of nine dots using only four straight lines. The groups each chose a representative who would take the challenge on the blackboard while the rest of the group tried to figure it out on paper where they were seated. Several attempts were made by the students but to no avail. Many came close but not enough to get it. This activity was aimed at assisting the students to think far and wide and also to think outside the box.

Foreground: Bridgit explaining the challenge to the students
Background: students attempting the challenge in groups

The second activity was the “Towers of Hanoi” activity. We first explained the concept of exponentials. We then asked the students to guess the least number of moves it would take to move three disks with varying sizes from the smallest to the largest to a different spot using only three open spaces and without placing a larger disc on top of a smaller disc or moving more than one disc at a time. Guesses made included: 2, 8, 10 and 7. A number of attempts were made and the students arrived at the number 7 as the least number of moves to make. We explained that the activity used the algorithm 2n-1 where n represented the number of discs. We therefore calculated the least number of moves it would take to move four discs with the same rules to follow and we came up with 24-1 = 15 moves. This activity was aimed at teaching the students about exponentials. The first group, “ODM” won both the 3 and 4 disc challenge.

1 2 3

Towers of Hanoi Challenge

We headed outside the classroom for the final activity which was the “Balancing act” challenge whereby the students were to empty some water from a plastic cup that was suspended in mid air by 6 strings to which 6 group representatives held on to. The challenge was that, if the strings were tugged at, the plastic cup would drop and if any of the handlers was to shake, water would spill off the cup and the group would be penalized for each drop of water spilt. This activity was aimed at testing the students’ team work spirit, leadership skills, strategy methods and efficient use of time. The students showed a good sense of teamwork and one of the groups actually managed to empty the cup more than half way.

With the last activity done, we headed back to the classroom to wind up the session. We tested the students’ memory by asking them to repeat the volunteers’ names and also to recap on what they learnt from the activities done on that day. The students were very excited to hear that we would be back the next week for another session.

After the students were dismissed for the day, we headed back to the office where we discussed the session in detail, noting all that went well and areas of improvement.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

“Chemsha bongo ……Engineering Challenges” 1st Update

“Chemsha bongo ……Engineering Challenges” Update

Location: St Johns High school.

Activity: Chemsha Bongo

Date: 18th September, 2007

This was the first session of the “Chemsha Bongo” Engineering challenges. The session was at St Johns high School and was done with the forms three and four students.

The session was attended by seven Cosmos education volunteers, Bridgit Syombua, Vice president CEK, Evalyn Mwihia- Secretary CEK, Isaac Musyoka- Treasurer CEK, Benard Kariuki, Sylvia Indagasi, Caroline Muli and Kevin Kinyua.

We started off by introducing the “Chemsha Bongo” Engineering challenges as a session that encourages critical thinking and the power of team work. We then gave the schedule for the challenges for the whole semester and our team together with the students set the expectations for the each session and overall expectations.

Top on the list from the students was that they expected to learn new things and strengthen their team work ability. As cosmos education our expectations were that we hoped to empower the students to be able to think critically and learn to build on each others abilities.

After the brief introduction, we divided the students into four groups; we then started off with the first challenge, Towers of Hanoi which is a simple challenge that encourages the use of logic. In this challenge the students were given 3 pieces of paper all of different sizes which acted as the disks and 3 pencils which represented the towers. They were then to move all 3 disks from one tower to another, moving only one disk at a time and only placing a smaller disk on top of a larger one.
Each group then chose a representative to take on the challenge. The first group to complete successfully was then named the winner. In this first challenge there was a tie with 2 groups finishing at the same time. To find a winner, a fourth disk was added and the challenge repeated, this time Gor Mahia, one of the groups, emerged the winner
One of the volunteers explaining the rules of the 2nd challenge
The second challenge was a test of team work, the students were given a plastic cup filled with water and suspended by 6 strings tied to a rubber band placed around the cup. The students were only allowed to hold the string at the tip and they were to pour the water into a second cup placed inside a circle drawn on the floor. The cup holding the water was not to move out of the circle. The first team to complete the challenge with the least spills was declared the winner.
One of the groups attempting to empty the cup

The last brain teaser of the day was a mathematical problem which also employed critical thinking

The session was concluded with the winning team being announced and an analysis of the lessons for the day and a review of how best the students would have accomplished these challenges.
Analysis of the session with 2 of the students

Friday, August 31, 2007

Holiday Science Learning Camp (HSLC)

The coming down to kenya for the Holiday science Learning Camp (HSLC) as a member of cosmos education Zambia was one of the most intriguing experince.
The Cosmos Education kenya did an awesome thing to involve the new volunteers and teachers to participate at the HSLC it was a positive contribution to the organisation in a way that this people were able to bring new ideas and skills to the organisation more especially during the trainings were i observed a huge flow of ideas and creativity from both the volunteers and the teachers and such great minds are essential for the organizations knowledge base and quality programming. Though the volunteers and teachers expressed that the three days was not enough for the training.
Secondly, i feel that the MCEDO Beijing was a good school to work with and that the pupils were very coorporative looking at the social background from what we knew it was totally different when it came to real life experience in the classrooms.
The pupils really participated well in all the activities though a number of girls had difficulties in opening up in most of the instances, maybe its something to do with culture backgrounds were you see boys are more superior in all aspects of life.
There was also a wide base of knowledge from some of the kids and i observed that when i was presenting a module on the Green house gases. it came a stage were we looked at a number of solutions and from that, some pupils questioned the issue of carbon pricing that its not a good thing to go with in terms of reducing the carbon emissions for it can lead people losing there jobs and hising the prices of commodities.

Having this camp in Zambia it will be a great achievement for the Cosmos team and that we will work with the Zambia open community schools which has been one of our long understanding partner in Zambia. we really worked together the time we had the Lusaka school Campaign project. we shall try to do our best and come up with an effective science camp, from the exeperience we got from the Kenayn side was an eye opener for us to improve on some failures. we can do it in Zambia as well with the support of all the Cosmos branches.
Our suggestion is to have it by mid December and its possible to be done.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Holiday Science Learning Camp (HSLC)

The Holiday Science Learning Camp Kenya was a lovely and well coordinated project. I was very impressed with the way modules were prepared and the volunteers were of that high spirit and eager to do the modules. I think CEK did a great work to prepare them for the whole week activity.

About the Volunteers, I like the energy they portrayed as if they have already participated in similar activities. They were just out for the project and that encouraged me to move at the same pace with them and just the association and interaction they had exhibited was beyond tribe, religion, custom, education and race background. I think they just showcased the image of COSMOS EDUCATION.

I think with such projects being implemented, I see the future and achievements that Cosmos Education Kenya and Cosmos Education as a whole is getting at. I want to give my credit to the team behind the organizing of the project; I can’t go by name for they all did one or two things to make this activity a success. THUMB UP!

About the students, I never expected the spirit they had towards learning. Despite different grades from almost different schools, I found all the students to eager to learn more about science and the role that science plays in their daily lives. Each grade had a very bright student and very challenging for they asked questions I was expecting coming from a primary student and of such a poor supported community with a disadvantaged learning aid. If only the government looked into the pride of this future generation, a lot will be achieved out this small community.

I wish next time something of similar activity will be organized, we should consider introducing small awards to the most outstanding students in all the grades in the coming future to motivate them and also to encourage the others to work extra hard with spirit to be award next time.
I strongly believe something similar can happen in Zambia. I am of the idea that the same project be extended to the Zambian Branch hopefully in the late weeks of December this year for that will he a Holiday period for the students. I am confident we will have it and with the experience that I have gained during this Holiday Science Learning Camp (HSLC), we will definitely organize it to the expectations.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Holiday Science Learning Camp

The last day of the camp started with all the volunteers converging at the CE Kenya office. The truck came shortly after and started the five km journey through the ever busy Thika Road dual carriage way. Within a couple of minutes, the team arrived at the school where the students waited anxiously. The weather was a little chilly albeit some signs of a shinny day.

The opening session which normally consists of songs, stories and prayers marked the start of the days’ activities. This was lead by Peter Kanja (the President CE Kenya)who joined the group for the first day due to some official commitments. He was formally introduced to the group by Bridgit. He led the students to sing several songs before narrating an interesting story about a king, chameleon and a hare. The moral of the story was that students should use all their efforts in critical thinking in their studies especially now that they are in the middle and upper primary school. He also lead the students to demonstrate how one should “Think Big & Wide”.

After this session, the students went into their classrooms and the first session begun, the theme of the day was ‘The Environment’. The students were introduced to the three ‘R’ acronym. This simply means:
1.Reduce; People should try as much as possible to reduce the waste materials in our households.
2.Re-use; Most of the materials used for domestic purposes are re-usable. It is not only wise to reuse things like plastic containers as mush as possible but also very economical.

3.Recycle; Materials like polythene bags, plastics, rubber, paper etc, can be recycled and made in to new usable products.

The planting of trees was not left behind since the desertification and the global warming has been experienced worldwide. This is an activity that was done in practically after the tea break and the second learning session. All the students, teachers and members of the school sarboninate staff gathered at the school farming demonstration plot where the plantig of trees was to take place. Kanja had arranged the purchase of tree seedlings of Gravillea Robusta (Silky Oak) from a nearby trees nursery. The holes were already prepared by the schools’ gardener. Each class from standard 4 to 8 had to choose representatives who had to plant a tree. The planting activity was lead by Kanja who started off by demonstrating to the students how to remove the seedling from the paper without tearing it or even making the foster soil to disintegrate. This method leads to “re-using” the same paper in planting another seedling in it.

The planting session kicked of with the students from all the represented levels, before the Zambian team planted theirs lead by Billy. The schools that took part in the camp also planted theirs with the teachers and the staff of MCEDO-Beijing leading the lot. The volunteers followed suit with the CE Kenya closing the chapter.

Soon after this, the students converged at the assembly point where they were issued with certificates of participation. This activity was lead by Bridgit assisted by Lizbeth and Kanja.
The headteacher of MCEDO later addressed the gathering where he thanked Cosmos for organizing the camp and requested for another camp in November. He noted that the students were highly interested to have another camp that they requested to be longer in time.

After the closing remarks, the CE team boarded the truck, which was waiting nearby and headed to the evergreen serene environment of the Nairobi Arboretum for a picnic lunch. The place was full of people from all walks of life who had come to experience the nice leafy environment. Lovers, youth groups, families, academics, nature lovers and researchers not forgetting several institutions all thronged the more than 100ha of untouched natural forest with over 4000 trees and plant species. The team finally spotted a good spot with a green soft grass with an inviting texture. This is the place where we had our mouth watering Nyama Choma (barbecued meat) and tens of delicacies accompanied by a soda of ones choice. After the lunch, an open discussion moment run the air as the team shared the experiences of the tiring week and the way forward. Kanja chaired the session, which lead to the issuing of the evaluation forms where the volunteers had to read and answer some questions in writing. Kanja emphasized to the members the importance of filling in the forms which he said will help in making a better planning of any future event of the whatever kind.

Then came the time to cut the huge dark brown iced cake with a CE HLSC script on the upper side. Isaac lead the group in cutting it not forgetting little Shiru who was representing the students. Carol & Justa lead the cheering squad in song and dance as the knife was driven all the way down the width of the tasty cake. ”Kila mtu alete sahani yake” (everyone bring a plate) Bridgit shouted as the team members put their plates ready for a share with heaps of the sweet anticipation showing very well on their faces! No more noises were made during the cake swallowing time…..jokes aside please!

The final part consisted the presentation of the certificate of Participation to the volunteers. This activity was lead by Bridgit assisted by Kanja. Evelyn and Angela were the days camera ladies. They captured all the moments with lots of ethuthiasism and ease…to the joy of the team.

The presentation marked the end of the days activities and the camp at large. Lucy lead the team with the closing prayers before thee group collected the refuse and disposed it safely in the designated collection bins and walked towards town, where everyone rushed to catch the his/her transport home. The CE Kenya executive went straight to the office where they held a meeting before leaving at 9pm.

Surely this is a camp to remember!!!
Memorable quotes of the day:
You people have changed my thinking style…..why didn’t you start coming to teach us while we were in standard 4? Kevin Odhiambo of MCEDO standard 7.

2.I now know just how easy it is to solve any given sum! Nancy student Old Mathare primary school
3.Ha! Next time you come, I will have made my own rocket with tins, Isaac standard 4 pupil MCEDO primary school.
Holiday Science Learning Camp, Day 5 – Friday 23, 2007

Today was the fifth day of the HSLC. The day being a Friday, everyone was upbeat – I guess from the fact that it is an official day out for most Nairobians. However, the general feeling was that of reluctance – participants not wanting to accept the fact that the camp was coming to an end! No one was ready to let go!

Figure 1: "Science for me." an excited pupil during the opening session, courtesy of Carol and Dickson.

We left the office at exactly 9 am and by 20 past 9 we were all at the school where we found the pupils expectantly waiting for us. The pupils were once again ready for our inexhaustible hands on experiments on diverse science subjects.

Figure 2: Liz and Alice explaining the intricacies of Decryption and Encryption to class six pupils.
We were served with porridge – Kenyan Hospitality, and thereafter Beatrice presented the day to the Almighty before Carol and Dickson opened the day’s session with a variety of chants – to get the already psyched up pupils even more pumped up.

Figure 3:"This is how your scores will be
recorded." Angie taking class six pupils through a bowling experiment.

The pupils thereafter, broke into their respective groups and our volunteers got down into serious business, of course not forgetting our third most serious rule – HAVE FUN! The sessions were punctuated with topics like Pythagoras theorem, finding pi, calculating volume of cylinders, measuring the height of a tree, et cetera – a confirmation that it was a MATHEMATICS DAY. This however did not deter the pupils from having fun – COSMOS EDUCATION is known for making science a fun experience and that is exactly what happened.

Figure 4: "When I grow up I wanna be an Engineer." A class four pupil shares his dream!

After lunch, the Roots group from Mathare came to give a talk to the lower primary pupils. They spoke on different issues, but the bottom line was – “Stay in School, Avoid Drugs and Bad Company, Dream Big and Respect your Parents and your teachers.”

Figure 5: A Roots group member from Mathare takes class four pupils through the "I Pepeta" song

Meanwhile, our teachers were doing what they do best with the upper classes as the volunteers did a recap of the morning sessions and brainstormed on the best closing style for the final day of the camp – Saturday.

Figure 6: Dr. Bridgit knows how to implement our third "most serious" rule - HAVE FUN!!

At the end of the forty five minutes, the Roots Group had done their thing – so did our teachers. Caitlin and Ben did the closing. It was such a fulfilling day and at the end of the day our tag line had been effected: Inspire, Engage, Empower. I could tell from the look on the pupils’ faces that they really had been inspired, engaged and empowered.

Figure 7: "Cosmos Education is......" Isaac explaining a few things about CE to the African Youth Congress Delegates who had paid MCEDO a visit.

SCIENCE FOR MCEDO… SCIENCE FOR ME…… SCIENCE FOR MATHARE…… That was the chant as we hoped into our waiting van and reluctantly left behind the MCEDONIANS!!!!!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Holiday Science Learning Camp- Day Four

Rocket launches, engineering challenges, and simple optics- today was physics theme day at the Holiday Science Learning Camp at MCEDO school. Under the burning sun (fickle weather this week), students learned about properties of matter, light, and heat, and tested their knowledge through fun experiments.

Working with certified teachers, students studied light, matter, work, heat, electricity, and sound.

Students use engineering concepts to retrieve an egg

In the sessions with young volunteers, students conducted a variety of experiments.

They guessed which objects would float or sink in water, learning about density and how to make hypotheses. Students investigated the phases of matter using various solids, liquids, and gases. Students then experimented with how light moves. We observed how light moves in a straight line. Using objects such as balloons, rulers, and salt, volunteers taught students about static electricity.

Other popular experiments included the rocket launch and engineering challenge. Groups learned to launch a small rocket using antacid and water in a film canister. We explained Newton’s three laws of motion and how they apply to the launch of a rocket.
Students experiment with gases

In the engineering challenges, students had to think hard about problem solving as they figured out how to retrieve an egg suspended from the ceiling using only a few obscure materials- without breaking the egg of course. Teams of six also had to work together to carry a cup of water suspended from a rubber band and six strings, and then to pour the water into a basin on the ground, touching only the ends of the strings. Students were creative in their plans, and were interested in the field of engineering.
CEK Education Director Evalyn defies gravity

We closed the day by singing what are now camp favorites: the banana song, MCEDO disco song, and Old Kireboto (not sure how you spell this Kenyan version of OldMcDonald) Had a Farm.
MCEDO students are enjoying being at the camp all day. Their admiration for the volunteers is evident,
and we are forming real friendshipd.
Comments from the student evaluations completed on Tuesday included: “I love science”, and “I want to learn more science.”
Cosmos Education Kenya is fulfilling its mission to inspire, engage, and empower students in science.

Students look at the movement of light

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Holiday Science Learning Camp- Day Three

Today marked another successful day of the Cosmos Education camp at MCEDO-Beijing school in Mathare. The theme of the day was geography. Students learned about everything from the solar system and the planets to earthquakes to population and exponential growth.

Teachers taught about Kenyan and African geography, the tectonic plates and fault lines, people and population, and the solar system. Corresponding experiments carried out by our young volunteers included dropping a stone in water to simulate tremors in an earthquake, using balloons to show components of air, and making a compass.
Justa, a Primary school teacher, teaching human geography

Students demonstrate air molecules with volunteers Theo and Sylvia

A student experiments with oxygen consumption of a flame

We also revisited an experiment on crystals that we set up yesterday. Yesterday, after explaining what crystals are and how they form, volunteers Kevin and Theo made a saturated mixture of borax and water. They had the students suspend a washed in the mixture from a string. Overnight, crystals formed on the washer and string. Today, we looked at the crystals and volunteers discussed with the students how and why the crystals formed.Students look at borax crystals

We also set up a new experiment to determine the conditions that cause rusting. After discussing rust with the students, we put pieces of steel wool in three containers. One contained water covering the steel wool, one contained only the steel wool and air, and one contained water and oil with the wool. Students came up with hypotheses about which steel wool treatment will rust the most and the least. We will continue monitoring the experiment for the remaining days of the camp.

The day was filled with songs, dances, and games to break up the class sessions. The kids had lots of energy from eating omena, small fish that are especially popular with people from Nyanza province in Kenya.

For those who may not know, Mathare is a slum in Nairobi estimated to be home to about half a million people. The sanitation conditions in Mathare are poor. Residents cannot afford metered water, so they get water illegally through tapping pipes. The water company shut off the water supply to Mathare today, which means the few toilets that serve thousands of people will not be working. Mater is available at about a fifteen-minute walk from the slum (students will be making this trip to collect water for use during the remainder of the camp).

Although Mathare is a tough place, the children who call it home are as smart and enthusiastic as any CEK has worked with. The people living in Mathare, especially the volunteer teachers who work in MCEDO, are dignified and gracious people. Our volunteers have shown immense compassion and inspiration working in the slum, which can be an emotionally and physically taxing experience. One volunteer told me today, “I am grateful for this experience, to know how my fellow Kenyans are living, and to just get to be with these kids here.”


The PFM (participatory Forest Management conference was held in the Kenya Forestry Research Institute in Muguga, from 6th to 8th June 2007.The conference brought together Foresters, Government Institutions, Donors, Development Partners, CBOs, NGOs, Private Companies, Individuals and Professionals from across the board.

Here are some notes from the meeting that I would like to share:

What is PFM?
PFM, also called Collaborative, Co-management, Joint management of forest resources refer to a situation where some, or all the stakeholders interested in a forest resource are involved in a substantive way in its management. This includes:
Management Arrangement; This is normally negotiated by the stakeholders and based on a set of rights that are recognized by the Government and widely (unanimously) accepted by the resource users.
Power; Equal powers among the stakeholders in sharing the resources sustainably in line with non-interference with the ecosystem.

Is PFM Important?

The PFM is important in many ways, which include;
I. Strengthening the civil society to demand and have powers in an effective forest management and benefits sharing.

II. It also enables the communities to ensure that natural forests, woodlands, wetlands, catchment areas etc, are utilized sustainably, and conserved with increased benefits lifting the living standards of the communities that depend on the forests products.

III. It provides a wide range of awareness and understanding, information dissemination, networking and collective responsibility in wise decisions making.

IV. It also promotes a Pro-poor approach that is more equitable in addressing the interests, while more advanced networks are established that will institutionalize this approach.

V. It’s an easy tool to have the capacity building using the bottom-up approach.

VI. For the ceremonial purposes, it provides a safe and sound venue for traditional cultural practices like boys circumcision, child naming ceremonies and traditional medicine men training.

There are several very Essential outputs (themes) that are addressed in PFM. They include:
1. Information: The communities need to be provided with the much needed information to make PFM properly performed and reap benefits.

2. Advocacy: The communities need to be enlightened on the land policy, forest policy, Forest Acts etc.
3. Organizational strengthening: This normally determines the proper governance and negotiation capacity.

4. Direct Technical Assistance: This helps in the hands-on activities carried on the ground during designated all-inclusive avenues like meetings.

5. Evaluation: This helps the community to do an evaluation and realize what have been achieved, and to also learn from the experiences. It also serves as a good avenue to have a stronger base and a healthy forum to chat the way forward.

PFM Case Study:
The Mukogondo Forest
This is a dry land forest situated in the northern part of the Rift Valley in Kenya. It is a forest reserve with a total area of well over 30,000ha. It provides vital grazing pastures for the adjacent community that consists of pastoralists, mainly the Maasai community. The community members in this area have a traditional governance system that has ensured a sustainable use and a proper conservation system in place. The forest have been traditionally subdivided in four main parts which are further divided into smaller portions which enable the community to graze their livestock in paddocks resembling the ones used in ranches. Grazing is one of the most treasured benefit, others include, non-timber products, firewood, herbal medicine, bee keeping, community meeting venues, and other traditional purposes.

There are tens of water catchment areas there with some streams emanating from there, gradually becoming rivers and eventually flowing towards the adjacent lakes that include lakes Bongoria and Baringo. Indigenous trees like the Nandi Frame, Meru Oak and the Cordia Africana are the most common tree species there. The forest is also home to hundreds of herbivores with buffalo population being the largest. The Laser Kudu population is gradually increasing after years of illegal poaching in some resent years. Leopards and several other animals of the cat family are also found but normally tend to live/hide in the innermost part of the forest that is very dense.

The traditional system have worked very well over the years but there is need to introduce hybrid modern ways of forest sustainability where fast growing exotic trees need to be planted along the forest edges, this include Gravellier Robusta, Sydney Blue Gum, and Cypress just to mention a few. These trees will help in checking the fire wood imbalance since the pollarding method of harvesting is advisable. It will also increase the grazing area, hence preventing the livestock from entering deep in the forest, which will leave the inner ecosystem intact.

Birds & Environment:
The Sokoke Arabuko Forest;
This is a natural forest situated in the coastal province of Kenya. It is a haven of thousands of insect species not forgetting the hundreds of herbivores and the animals of the cat family. The community around this forest have reaped millions of Kenya Shillings trough the thriving tourism, butterfly farming, beekeeping not forgetting the building materials. There are more than 400 bird species recorded in this reserve with Sokoke Scops Owl having the largest population. The people living around the forest have over the years used the birds to foretell important natural occurrences through the way they feed, breed and behave. Some bird species can be used to determine an imminent dry spell or rainy season by virtue of their presence, absence or unusual behavior like breeding or building of ground nests. One of the most notable cases is during the 2005 Tsunami natural catastrophe that caused thousands of deaths in the Eastern countries, with the East Coastal African countries recording well over 100 deaths. Prior to the dooms day, the herders in Sokoke had watched the birds migrate in colonies from Arabuko to the Tsavo East National Park that is well over 200kms to the west, quite a distance away from the coastline! The community around the forest have over many years restrained themselves from encroaching the forest so as not to threaten the birds and the animals habitat and cause un-reversible trend.

Biodiversity & Ecosystem Sustainability:
The forests need to be sustained in order to cater for the needs of the communities adjacent to them and the public at large. Conditions should be put in place to ensure a smooth workable plan as far as the sustenance is concerned. Planting of more trees is a major boost. The cutting of trees should be drastically reduced, or else banned depending on the case at hand. Grazing should also be banned or controlled as it normally depletes the ground cover hence encouraging the rill and Garry erosion during rainy seasons. Non- timber products should be harvested under trident care and sustainable measures in accordance to avoid depletion. The rotting matter also should be left to increase the humus and add the quality of the soil, making it hold water for long periods.

Seasonal Wetlands:
Seasonal wetlands cover a larger area than permanent fresh water during the rainy season.
They play a vital role in the collection, storage, purification, and discharge of fresh water.
They serve as breeding and feeding grounds for fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and birds, including migratory waterfowl.
Seasonal wetlands provide people with water, food, building and weaving materials and ceremonial grounds.
They are especially important in arid and semi-arid areas, where there is little permanent fresh water.

Seasonal wetlands include:
Flooded grasslands
Seasonal marshes, lakes and springs
Temporary pools in grassland, woodland and bush
Ephemeral rock pools, flooded rock slabs and seeps

Wetlands are highly productive ecosystems. In seasonal wetlands, plants and animals grow rapidly and in great abundance for a very short period. Microscopic plants and animals fill the water. They include phytoplankton such as algae and diatoms, and zooplankton, urchins, crustaceans, worms, insects and molluscs. These serve as food for mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Several measures should be taken to conserve and protect the wetlands. This include:
1. Identification and Inventory.
2. During land demarcation, seasonal wetlands should be set aside. They serve the whole community for water collection, storage, purification and discharge; for dry season grazing; for collection of materials for ceremonial purposes.
3. Roads should be built around, not across, seasonal wetlands.
4. All seasonal wetlands should be protected since they are the reservoirs of biodiversity.
5. Trees and friendly vegetation should be planted around the wetlands.

Lots of thanks to Carol and Damian (CE Uk) for partly funding me to attend the conference. I am very grateful. Other regards go to the Executive board of CE Kenya, Dr. Bridgit Syombua, Dr. Evelyn Mwihia, Mr. Isaac Musyoka and Caitlin Sanford, for the support you accorded me.

Kanja Peter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Holiday Science Learning Camp - Day Two

The day looked brighter than the one before, cold... but bright. The rush was to obtain material we weren't able to, the previous weekend. Luckily, material was found and bought. This day, we left the office at 8:45 am, knowing there was no jam as we got to the school. We picked up one of the teachers along Thika road while we met another two already at the school waiting to start the day. The kids were all fresh and lively from having their breakfast - tea. As everyone was taking a cup of tea, the group collected their material and prepared to present their modules. Everyone then went to their designated classes. The students, all bright and alert, were listening attentively and asking questions when they did not understand. A couple of students were even brave enough to carry out the experiments themselves!

On this day, the experiments were Chemistry based. Students were very excited to see a balloon blown by a mixture of vinegar and baking powder. Others thought it was magic to see water rise in a glass jar after lighting a candle in a dish with water and covered with the jar. The teachers on the other hand, had an interesting time interacting with the students. After the first two sessions of experimenting and having fun, we had a photo session. The students were very eager to have their images frozen for the rest of eternity. The Cosmos group too did not shy off.

Unfortunately, lunch was late. We decided to have a third session as we waited for lunch but this did not deter the students. Their energy was unequalled and their thirst for knowledge insatiable. Amongst the fears of having lunch of omena and ugali, we waited patiently. Long before we knew it, it was time for lunch – githeri (much to others relief/peril).

This was then followed by another session of science experiments and classes interrupted occasionally with songs to keep the students attentive and interested. The students were asked to fill out an evaluation form listing what new thing they learnt that day; their favorite session of the day and what they would have liked to learn more about. Before we knew it, the day was done. The students were directed outside where we did our end-of-day ritual – the Science chant. The students were then dismissed.

Back at the staff room, the group sat down and discussed the day. We went through the evaluation forms and discussed the effect we had on the students. It was unanimous that the day went well and that we had a positive impact on the students. We left the school feeling very proud of ourselves and discussing possibilities of having the same HSLC program in another disadvantaged school. It was truly a sunny day, in every sense of the word.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Holiday Science Learning Camp: 1st Update

After weeks of endless planning, countless late nights at the office and many tired souls, the day finally came when we marked the first day of the Holiday Science Learning Camp.

We started the day at 7.30 am with the members coming to the office, most of us were on time but a few were a little late, but this did not set us back, as we embarked on loading the materials into the van. By 8.30 we were crusing down Thika Road. Luckily for us there was little traffic there so we were at the school by 5 minutes to 9.00 am.

At the school we were greated by about 100 or so young, bright and enthusiastic faces who were eager to hear what the guests had in store for them.
We started with our usual Cosmos Education introduction. We started with a general introduction of the organisation, followed by each member introducing themselves and what they do.

This was then followed by an introduction of our three simple Cosmos Education rules:-

  1. If we speak too quickly for you to follow, tell us to slow down (with a special hand signal).

  2. The key to all of science: You must ask questions!

  3. The key to learning: You must have fun!
Billy, a Zambian team member introducing the three rules

We then played a simple game " 20 question" where a team member holds something in the palm of their hand and the students have to figure out what it is by asking questions that have only a yes or no answer. The students were able to figure out what the hidden object was a pebble in a record two questions, a great achievement for a primary school! The best we have seen so far was six questions and this was from a high school.

After the introduction session the students were broken down into 10 groups, and each group chose an animal name. The theme of the day was biology. Modules included animals and feeding livestock, the cell and cell membrane activity, adaptation of animals and plants, the DNA activity, and Drugs and their effects all taught by student and recent graduate volunteers. Certified teaches taught human body, health, plants, animals and food and nutritition as the topics of the day. Beatrice Mumbi teaching the human body to class 4

Each group had a total of four sessions: two with young volunteers doing modules, and the other two with the primary school teachers.

We finished with a review of the day and the students were asked which sessions they liked the most and what new thing they had learned. These are some of their responses:

  • I enjoyed health education.

  • I especially liked the session on farm animals as I learned new breeds of animals and animal adaptations.

  • I was happy with the sessions today as I got to know the meeting of DNA.

  • I liked the sessions on drugs and its effects.
We finally finished off with the ''Science chant''

Isaac teaching the science chant to the students

Tommorrow is a new day and we look forward to inspiring, empowering, and engaging the students at MCEDO - Beijing school in Mathare Valley to use science as a tool for sustainable development.

Monday, July 23, 2007

School Still a Dream for Many

The Washington Post had an interesting feature about education for street children in Kenya. The piece also discusses how “free” education is deceptive, because students still must pay high fees for uniforms, books, and other (sometimes bogus) fees required by teachers and administrators.

The government of Uganda offers tuition vouchers for “free” primary and secondary education, and Kenya, where primary is free, is expected to declare free secondary education before the election in December. However, the government has not adequately financed school facilities or teacher training efforts to cope with the flood of new students.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chogoria School Partnership

Cosmos Education is partnering with a group of volunteers from the United States and Kenya who are working to expand Chogoria Primary School near Mt. Kenya in Central Province.

Cosmos Education taught in schools in and around Chogoria in 2006 as part of the Under African Skies (UAS) program.

Chogoria primary school is registered as an official school, but there is no official secondary school on the compound. The school has become especially crowded in recent years as students stay on into Form 1 and Form 2 (the first two years of high school). The school does not have funding for to pay for secondary school teachers or materials, but many students can’t afford to attend secondary schools elsewhere, so teachers have volunteered to teach students who want to stay on, squeezing them into the existing facilities.

Chogoria Secondary School Classrooms Under Construction

Although there are secondary schools near to Chogoria, the schools only accept boarding students, and one or two local day students per year. Boarding school is significantly more expensive than day school, and these schools can’t accommodate the many local students who want to continue their education. UNESCO estimates that less than half of Kenyan students who complete primary school go on to secondary school.

To give students the chance to continue their education, Chogoria native Davis Mwera launched campaign to construct the high school classrooms that are necessary for the Chogoraia school to become registered as an official secondary school that will receive funding from the government. Davis, who was the first child from his village to attend university and now works for the Clinton HIV/AIDS Foundation’s Kenya Program, mobilized his coworkers, especially some young Americans, to collect donations for the school. From July 11-15, Davis organized a group of volunteers who worked with parents and students to lay the foundation and complete the lower half of the walls of the school.

The project organizers contacted Cosmos Education Kenya about a collaboration as an effort to ensure that the new school will receive more permanent attention after the buildings are constructed.
Davis Mwera
School donors and local community members expressed their hope that Cosmos Education Kenya team members will visit the secondary students regularly to encourage students and inform them about possibilities for continuing to study science or pursuing a career in science or technology. One mother is a teacher at Chogoria Girls Secondary Boarding School remembered Cosmos Education’s visit in 2006 and urged CE to return to her son’s future school. The new secondary school will include laboratory facilities and equipment, creating more opportunity for students to get excited about hands-on science education.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Mr. Peter Kanja
Engineer, KickStart Inc. (formerly ApproTEC)
President, Cosmos Education Kenya

Mr. Peter Kanja has been consistently involved in education and technology for five years. He holds a B.Sc. Degree in Mechanical Engineering (majoring in Agriculture & Technology) from the University of Nairobi. For five years he has been an officer and an educator for Cosmos Education.

Through Cosmos Education Mr. Kanja has established links with schools throughout Kenya as well as the Kenyan Ministry of Education. He has also been very actively involved in the on-going UNEP “Plant For The Planet Campaign” since its launch in 2003. He is also the Cosmos Education Kenya team leader in the recently launched “The Billion Tree Campaign” by UNEP. All of this, Mr. Kanja has achieved while holding positions as a Design Technician in a non-profit making NGO called Kickstart Int. (formerly ApproTEC). Mr. Kanja has inspired students in schools and universities with his concept of “Think Big and Wide” and is the current President of Cosmos Education Kenya.

Ms. Bridgit Syombua
Executive Director, Cosmos Education Kenya

Ms. Syombua has been consistently involved in education and technology for 4 years. She is a veterinarian having graduated from the University of Nairobi. For the last 4 years she has been an officer and an educator for Cosmos Education. The teaching and mentoring of the younger generations by the older ones is of utmost importance to the advancement of all the sciences. Ms. Syombua has taught in hundreds of schools throughout Africa including Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya, reaching thousands of students individually. Through Cosmos Education Ms. Syombua has established links with schools throughout Kenya as well as the Kenyan Ministry of Education. Ms. Syombua has also fundraised for computers from Scotland, which she intends to distribute in schools so that they can move with the changing information, communication and technology times. She is also spearheading the mentoring project, which has started in schools in Nairobi. The project invited professionals to schools to talk to students about their professions and what actually happens in one’s career. This is a very inspiring project for students.

Mr. Isaac Musyoka
Student of International Relations & Journalism, USIU-A
Vice President & Acting Treasurer, Cosmos Education Kenya

Mr. Isaac Musyoka has also been consistently involved in education and technology for three years. He is an International Relations Student with a minor in Journalism and Management in the United States International University. For three years he has been an officer and an educator for Cosmos Education. Mr. Musyoka has taught in hundreds of schools throughout Kenya reaching thousands of students individually. Through Cosmos Education Mr. Musyoka has established links with schools throughout Kenya as well as the Kenyan Ministry of Education. He has been a key player in organizing global activities here including the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Under African Skies trips in Kenya. Mr. Musyoka is currently involved in the facilitation of the Getting there professional insights and is working on documentary project for Cosmos Education. He is therefore well linked with the teachers in most of the schools and is keen on doing the PR for Cosmos Education Kenya.

Dr. Evalyn Mwihia
Educational Director, Cosmos Education Kenya

Dr. Evalyn Mwihia is a recent graduate of the University of Nairobi with a Bachelors degree in Veterinary Medicine. She has also undertaken a higher diploma course in Management of Information Systems. She has been a volunteer of Cosmos Education since the year 2004.
She participated in the Under African Skies program in the year 2004 held in Kenya within the Nairobi area. She has served as the Director of Education – Cosmos Education Kenya for the past one year. She has also participated in the recently completed, ”Getting there…Professional Insight 2007” program. She sees a great future in Cosmos Education and believes through science everything is possible.

Monday, July 2, 2007


Welcome to the Cosmos Education Kenya Blog!

We will use this forum to post updates about our activities, and to share photos, videos, and interesting links.

Cosmos Education Kenya (or CEK) is a registered charity in Kenya dedicated to engaging, inspiring, and empowering young people through science and technology education. The mission of Cosmos Education Kenya is to foster an understanding of global sustainable development through improved science and technology education in developing regions of the world.

Our method is working from the ground up - reaching individual students and teachers by being effective in the classroom. Our model is grassroots development within a community; we want the youth in developing regions of the world to decide how their nations should develop. In order to do this, the youth must understand the rapidly changing world around them. They must be inspired, empowered, and engaged in their education. Our goal is to encourage children to ask the questions that will drive development from within.