Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Daraja Mobile Prezi Presentation

Great YouTube Videos!!!

What is 21st Century Learning??

The History of Technology in Education

Apple Education Learning with iPads US

Monday, July 23, 2012

Going to Church Daraja Style

I have to admit that I am not normally a church-goer, but if every sermon I attended could be as rich and engaging as the one I attended at the little village church just outside the gates of Daraja, I would most certainly become an addict. Walking form Daraja, we could hear the music as soon as we crossed the gully, which cut through the landscape as far as the eyes could see. I accompanied a group of Daraja girls to the church on Sunday morning so that they could worship and also inform congregants of the community health event which was scheduled to take place the following Thursday. As we entered, we found the church empty except for the music system which had been set up in advance and was running off of a generator that roared steadily, just outside the church's windows. The girls started dancing and singing and mingling as the congregation steadily filled the sanctuary.

At least 50 children sat on the benches in the front while adults filled the pews behind them. I noticed an elderly gentleman in a grey suit sitting amongst the parishioners. He was wearing a bright orange tie and had a bulky orange bag that he set carefully on the floor next to his feet. Two young men got the service started by welcoming everyone in attendance. The entire service was conducted in Swahili, but despite a significant language barrier and with the assistance of nine bi-lingual Daraja scholars, I was able to follow the general program. All of the little children were soon invited to the front of the church to perform several songs with the support of their motivating and energetic leaders. Next the older children performed, then the young adults, and finally the church's choir.

About forty-five minutes into the service, the elderly gentleman was invited to the podium. I got the immediate sense that this man was highly revered and authentically appreciated. After welcoming everyone and providing a little background, he began to tell a story. He pulled a clear plastic container from his bag and as he spoke about the innocence and purity of every living creature, he filled the container with clear, sparkling water. This was to represent each of us as individuals and all of us collectively as a society. He told us that each of us are essentially kind, good, and loving creatures whose role on earth is to leave it better than we found it. Then, he pulled a clear vial from his bag which contained a dark liquid that he slowly emptied into the container of water. The darkness filled the upper portion of the vessel, but about an inch of purity remained on the bottom, representing the goodness that is always there, but sometimes so covered in sin that it is difficult to distinguish.

Next, the pastor proceeded to pull out three smaller containers about the size of four inch water glasses, that represented generations of elders. As he emptied the dark contents into the clear water of each, he discussed the sin that has been modeled for us by those whose charge it is to educate and guide.  When our norms are defined by sin, it makes them even more difficult to recognize. As he emphasized the darkness, I could feel the congregation's gradual discouragement. How can we possibly overcome so many challenges? the pastor pulled a beautiful red cross form the plastic orange bag and enlightened us to the power of Jesus Christ. There must have been some magic potion on the base of the cross (I am sure that teacher Mercy could assist us in identifying the chemical!) because as he thrusted the cross into the large container of dark water and stirred, the water became instantly clear again. As he poured the smaller glasses of dark water into the bigger container, the purity was immediately strong enough to absorb the sin and bring back the clarity. The congregation became increasingly amazed as each cup was poured, demonstrating the power of the presence of the Lord to combat sin in the world.

He spoke more about the power of individuals to make a difference and also about the power of collectives to change the world. His message reminded me of the following words by Mother Theresa who said,

"It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving."

I felt moved by the pastor's words and demonstration because it appeared that he had planned with so much love and thoughtfulness in his heart--- which is exactly what great teachers do.

Friday, July 13, 2012

July 13th: Kwa Heri Daraja

It was our last day at Daraja... It was somewhat a bittersweet feeling - sad to be leaving Daraja but at the same time anxious to get back home to our loved ones. Daraja was such a fulfiling experience. The stories of these girls really made you look at your life at a different perspective. Despite their circumstances, these wonderful girls continue to live life full of love, hope, courage and determination. It was very inspiring to see how passionate these girls were. Their infectious smiles and positive spirits are some of the many things I will remember when leaving Daraja.

Once back in the main city of Nairobi, we were only able to catch an hour of 'The Boma's of Kenya' due to traffic. It was epic! The acrobatics were amazing. I took notice of the many schools that were there to watch the show. After the show, we were taken on a tour around the villages. Different tribes had different ways of building their bomas. Some are made out of wood, straw etc. There were huts for the husband, the grandmother, the first wife, second wife and third wife!

Later in the evening, we headed out to try to some Ethiopian food for dinner. Our last dinner together as a group!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12: Community Health Project

After weeks of preparation, today the Form 2 students presented their community health forum. It was amazing to watch as more than 300 primary school students, families, and community elders came across the savannah toward the red and white striped tent that had been set up at the entrance to the Daraja campus. The students did a magnificent job educating the community about health concerns and disease prevention. They used drama and humor as they presented instructional skits in Swahili. They drove the point home with Q&A sessions after each skit and held the audience's attention with puppetry, music, and original songs. At the conclusion of the event, students passed out donated soap, bananas, and water to all in attendance. It was a fantastic example of project based learning in action and a testament to the strength of the Daraja students and the vision of their teachers -- Awesome!!!

Puppets entertain the crowd between health education skits
Teachers Carol and Victoria and their students
Puppets were provided by Nurse Jacinta
Grade 7 &8 students from the local primary schools.
The "Doctor" is in!
Students teach about water-bourne illnesses
Form 1 students take videos of the skits on their new iPods
Community elders watch student presentations

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 11: Habari from Daraja

“Habari" or "Hello" from Daraja!

It's amazing that our team arrived here just a week ago from Nairobi - the experiences we've had at Daraja have been so rich that it seems like we've been here longer.

Today's experiences were centered on observing classrooms in action. We were hoping that some of us could break off and visit one of the nearly 2,000 Kenya Independent Schools Association (KISA) secondary schools today, but the plans didn't come to fruition. The benefit of this is that it we got even more time to see Daraja teachers and students at work.

The lessons we saw included rich instruction built upon inquiry and discussion. In Charles’ biology class, I viewed a lesson in which he masterfully guided students through a discussion of the skeletal system starting with their observations of their own experiences playing sports. At one point, he had them shift their chairs slightly, and suddenly this room which had been in two forward-facing rows was transformed into a Socratic seminar discussion led by a student. In Victoria’s business class, I observed a brilliant discussion strategy in which student experts in an inner circle paired with two students in an outside circle who needed help clarifying some details about the types of unemployment. What was so significant to me is that during the process the girls in the outer circle asked such good questions that the “experts” in the inner circle were really pushed in the knowledge – at one point one even realized that she had a misunderstanding on a key concept. The wonderful thing is that all three in the circle left with a much deeper sense of the topic. In Wycliffe’s Swahili class, he immediately put one of the new iPads to use by playing a recording of a dialogue between himself and another teacher as a model prior to asking students to create dialogues of their own.

There were many other wonderful teaching and learning moments from throughout the day. The good thing is that many of the class sessions were recorded so that we can view and share them in the future.

In the afternoon Chris and Annie led an excellent follow-up session with the Form 1 (freshmen) students to help answer questions and increase their comfort and abilities with their new iPods. There is so much excitement around campus that all the girls really want access to the iPods. Heather and Victoria met and talked with the girls in the other forms about why the Form 1 students were chosen to receive the iPods, and they came up with a system for some sharing to take place with their sisters in their dorm groups, each of which is comprised of a student from each grade level.

Before dinner, our team trekked up to Jenni and Jason’s house for some conversation and sodas – oh yeah, and a little bit of chocolate too! Their house sits on the hill above Daraja and the view is absolutely amazing. Swallows and swifts swoop through the air surrounding the balcony, which has a nearly 360-degree view of the surrounding savanna as far as the eye can see. It got a little chilly once the sun was down, and Chris needed a blanket to keep him warm, so he ended up wearing a traditional Maasai blanket – he looked every bit the Massai warrior (well, minus the being tall and carrying a stick to fight off wild animals and all that).

When the day was done, we were reminded once again that Daraja is a remarkable place and that we are blessed to have been able to spend time here to learn from the remarkable staff and students.

(PS – Anyone from the USD team…please feel free to add pix to this post – I won’t be able to until we get back home and I can load them from my camera. Thanks!)


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 10: Let's Connect...with Mobile Technology of course!

Today was a day where I felt that all the work that Annie, Heather, Jeff & I did in preparing these iPads & iPods was very worth it. Yesterday (Monday) I had made a how to video on the basics of an iPad and how to take care of it. I was able to present it today to the amazing teachers of Daraja Academy. I seriously felt like Oprah giving away some of her favorite things, but with an objective to see results technologically.

Annie and I spent around an hour and half giving one on one tutorials and answering questions for each teacher. The teachers were amazed at the applications that they had encountered. The chemistry teachers were in awe of how many (and how interactive) the periodic tables were. The math teachers couldn't get over the amount of graphing calculators they had access to. What I found most teachers playing with was the Swahili and English translating application.

However, if I thought the teachers were ecstatic I was wrong. The Form 1 (Grade 9) girls of Daraja Academy were beyond excited to receive and participate in the mobile technology research project. For some of them, this was the first form of computer they had ever received, yet their instincts to maneuver a touch screen was very natural. They too were amazed at all the applications, yet found themselves playing with the Swahili and English translating application too.

Check out the blog from Daraja about how the iPod distribution went. http://daraja-academy.org/news/ipods-expand-classroom-learning-2/


Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9: USD visits Ol Girigiri

A typical public school classroom
Mondays are exceptional days at Daraja because they are assembly days.  The whole school congregates around the flag pole to pay tribute to their country and to address news, motivate each other to remain on track, and to also celebrate life with song and dance. 

On this occasion we had a special treat – the new Form 1 (Freshman) group of girls led the assembly. Forms 3 and 4 were in Nanyuki attending Set Books, an all day event in which a professional acting troop performs scenes from the books that they are required to read in those Forms, those books that will play a prominent role in the looming Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (K.C.S.E.) examination. One of the books being performed was Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s The River Between.  Thiongo is a famous Kenyan writer known for his fearless pursuits of highly controversial sociopolitical topics, which he surreptitiously (and sometimes not so surreptitiously) weaves into his plot lines, cleverly avoiding naming names. 

After the flag was ceremoniously and solemnly hoisted (an event complete with rigid salutes and synchronous marched steps), their pledge of allegiance recited, and the country song expertly sang, a group of Form 1’s performed a traditional song and dance and zipped off a motivation quote.  Principal Jason Doherty then offered some enthusiastic words of encouragement.  Matron on Duty, teacher Mercy (biology), concluded; she was her usual eloquent and captivating self. 

Kathleen and I spent the morning clumsily hopping from classroom to classroom, observing best teaching practices and student reaction to teacher methodology.  I conspicuously sat in a corner video recording with an iPad.  Kahleen diligently took notes and transcribed dialogue.  She didn’t miss a beat.

Camel crossing on our trek
In the afternoon we were scheduled to descend upon the local public primary school: Ol Girigiri, which is located just a few miles northeast of Daraja along the Dol Dol Road.  A road, who’s use past Daraja, is relegated really only to the remote residents of Il Polei and Dol Dol, and an army of sand trucks that lumber back and forth carrying well-over the permitted weight in stones and sand to construction sites country wide.  Famous primatologist Shirley Strum’s baboon research site, Chololo, is also located along this road.  As you head northeast from Daraja the climate becomes dryer and the heat oppressive, hence the sparse human population being engulfed by the wild and surrounded by resilient African beasts, and the invasive prickly pear cactus now thriving is this desert.  The humans here are resilient as well, often in times of drought burrowing into river beds to extract the most prized and elusive item: water. 

Acacia scrub land
We took a short cut through scrubby-bush, acacia abundant, habitat to the school and were warmly greeted by the school director Dickson.  He proudly recited the statistics for the gradual improvement of Kenya Certificate of Primary Education scores (the K.C.P.E. is a culminating and cumulative exam required for secondary advancement) within the school since his appointment.  In Kenya student performance is highly competitive and schools fight to turn out as many A students as possible – it is a sign of prestige.  The top scoring schools are read aloud on the radio after results are posted.  Everyone knows which are the top schools and the director is similarly well known.

We toured a few classrooms – received sonorous greetings from Class 4 (4th grade) student and Class 8 (8th grade) students.  The majority of the 8th graders declared that they wished to be lawyers when they grew up.  The female 8th graders were prompted to stand tall while we celebrated their achievements.  Many of the students at Ol Girigiri are children of pastoralist peoples and females often do not move on to or complete their secondary education.  It made me happy that our representative USD sample was a majority female, but they will need much more motivation and support then receiving the encouraging words of a successful yet strange, backpack-toting assembly of white-ish females to motivate them to continue in their studies.  Life is hard in these parts.
The Dol Dol Road

Our day also concluded ceremoniously, we handed gifts of school supplies to the 8th grade class.  Each gift was to be delivered separately by a different USD spokesperson.  They then chose one student to bestow the gift upon.  The exchange culminated in an exaggerated handshake, and a simultaneous turn of the head and smile for the camera.  The students clapped and sang as we filed out the door.    


Sunday, July 8, 2012

July 8: Hiking the neighboring hills

Lovely not-so-lazy Sunday! The girls of Daraja led us on an eventful hike around the surrounding areas.  We met camels, laughed, munched on prickly pear fruits, and shared stories.  Several pictures were taken by Tina, Form 4.

Form 4 Carol and I (Old Media Club buddies)

 And then we spent some time reading and relaxing

Form 2 Charity & Form 4 Bennie

Form 2's Julia, Moreen, Irene, & Molly


July 8: Church services in Naibor!

Today was dedicated to observing spiritual services for the various religions represented in Daraja's student population. I would have liked to attend a Muslim service, but because the Islamic holy day is Friday, I found out after breakfast that a Muslim service was not going to be held. Instead, I walked with some of the Form 2 girls, other people from USD (Chris, Shirin, and Rob), and Ashley (one of the Daraja interns) to Naibor to hang posters and make announcements about the Community Health open day meeting. We took a different route to Naibor than the first time I went (on Thursday, 7/5). It was sunny but cool, so we had a nice walk to Naibor at a very easy and relaxed pace.

We passed the river on our way to Naibor. Lilian is about to throw a rock into the water to see how high the tide is.
I would have loved to take pictures at the church (or at least of the church), but thought it may have been disrespectful to do so. In any case, I went to Celebration Gospel Church (at the end of the road in the photo below this paragraph) with three Form 2 girls and Ashley. I am Catholic, so the service was very different than what I am used to. There was a lot of singing, which was the first thing that I noticed about the church before even going inside. When we entered the church, I was surprised that we were the first people there--the pastor and four women from the congregation were singing very loudly into a bad sound system (so it was kind of overwhelming and grating to listen to), so from the outside it sounded like there were a lot more people in attendance. After about 20 minutes, Ashley and I went outside so she could give me kind of an informal tour of Naibor (we didn't understand anything that was going on and after the singing into the bad sound system started up again, it was really hard to be in there). We returned maybe 30 minutes after that; the church was almost full and our girls were doing a dance up on the stage! There were single churchgoers, couples, families, men, women, children, old and young alike. Additionally, all the children that I saw were incredibly well-behaved. I found out later than the pastor asked the Daraja girls to come up to dance with them--the girls were taught the dance, which seemed pretty simple and easy to learn, and were just finishing up when Ashley and I returned.

A view of Naibor from the main road. There is a herd of camels right behind that first building!

During the readings, the pastor called up different people from the congregation to translate his Swahili into the mother tongue. After Ashley and I returned, the pastor spoke in English and whoever was translating spoke in Swahili. I was touched by the thoughtfulness of this simple act, and after the readings and another round of singing, the pastor asked Ashley and I to come to the front of the room and introduce ourselves to the rest of the church. I told them my name, where I'm from, why I'm in Kenya, and how I came to be in their church. The pastor translated everything we said, and even though it was just for that short while I felt completely embraced within the little community of Celebration Gospel Church. The congregation was so friendly and I thought it was funny that the smaller children kept turning around in their seats to stare at me (and Ashley). 

Faith, holding a Community Health poster written in the local tongue, is from Naibor.
When everyone from USD reconvened outside in town (we had to leave the service before it ended to get back to Daraja in time for lunch, which ended up not happening anyway!), Chris, Shirin, and I decided to buy sodas for all the girls. At 30 shillings each, it was only about $0.36 for glass bottles of Coke, Fanta, and Sprite. We had a long walk in front of us back to Daraja, so everyone appreciated the refreshment and I felt good about our little gift to them. We also bought a ton of lollipops on our way out to the main road and passed those out to enjoy for the walk.

We finally arrived at Daraja around 2 pm. In all, it was an incredible bonding day for me and it was extremely enriching to spend time in a local community and attend a church service that was in several ways very different and foreign to me. If I ever find myself back in Naibor, I would love to say hi at Celebration Gospel Church!

Shirin, Chris and Rob smile for the camera on our way back to Daraja!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

July 7: Exploring the local area of Nanyuki

After seeing the safari sights on Friday the next day was spent exploring the local town of Nanyuki.

Lily Pond Art Center
We started our adventure into town at Matumba Arts. This organization was started by an Expat who wanted to help disabled women find economic independence by selling handicraft items. Most of the items for sale and display are made from recycled materials such as t-shirts and other clothing items. Charity was working during our Saturday visit and helped me find some awesome wine bottle holders to bring home as souvenirs.

We loaded into our rented Matatus (Kenyan minibus) and headed to our next stop at the Lily Pond Art Center. The lily pond provided a peaceful retreat away from the busy street traffic. The founder of the Lily Pond Art center was a British woman who traveled to Kenya as a tourist several years ago. She was an Artist and Art Teacher at home and noticed that there was a lack of art galleries in Kenya. She was inspired to create a center that would allow local artists to display their creations. There was also a nice restaurant that doubled as a bar area at night.

After a quick Western Style lunch in town with a side of Wifi we headed back to the Daraja campus.

Bean Sorting
On saturday night the girls change out of their school uniforms and morph into your typical giggling and gossiping teenage girl. The weekly event of Bean Sorting brings the campus together in one of the more relaxed Daraja nights. The girls make their way to the dinning area where they sort the rocks out of the beans and lentils that will be cooked in the upcoming week. As an outsider the whole idea seemed odd to me but once you sit at the table and hear the girls chit chat and sing songs you become immersed in the playfulness and energy of the night. We sang my "Heart will go on" and other local swahili songs. The girls asked questions about what life was like for me back in the states. We talked about our favorite movies - the girls love Romantic Comedies - Whose team are you on Edward or Jacob?! All the while our fingers were busy sorting the beans and rocks. After about two hours of fun and laughs dinner was ready and shortly thereafter lights went out on another day at Daraja!


Friday, July 6, 2012

July 6: Ol Pajeta Conservancy Safari Day

Today we were able to visit Ol Pajeta Conservancy and we were so lucky to see so many amazing animals in their natural habitat.  Thanks so much to our amazing guides Eliud, James, and Lucy from Odyssey Safari!
With our guide to see Baraka

Baraka the rhino