Tag Archives: teaching

Teaching Small, Thinking Big

It is without a doubt that I am teaching my students ICT in a way that no syllabus in Kenya would have them learn. This is mostly because for the amount of time I see my students (2 hours per class per week), if I taught based on any syllabus I have seen they would learn specific aspects of computing that would never help them. What good is knowing how to make something bold if you can’t even turn the computer on in the first place? My whole goal is to make my students comfortable with computers overall, so that they might someday purchase their own. It helps that they are not examined at the end of the semester and they know full well they aren’t even getting a certificate for work they do in my class (it’s just how the situation is run here) because it means I have a little more freedom in how I teach and they have no expectations. It’s taken a while, but I think my students are starting to trust me that I am really trying to teach them, even if what I am teaching doesn’t match up with pieces of paper they are slipped from friends on the outside who are taking the notorious, “Kenyan Computer Packages,” courses widely available to anyone with 3,000 shillings and a week of time.

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Linux: KTouch

It is the dream of every open source enthusiast to have a problem of theirs nearly perfectly solved by a pre-existing piece of FOSS software, especially one that sits above the version 1.0 marker and has a degree of polish one would expect from a paid-for, closed source project. As a Peace Corps volunteer teaching basic intro to computers, one of the most important topics to teach is typing skills. There exist many typing programs, but the FOSS world only has a few worth mentioning, and after trying a couple, the one I found to be most complete and conducive to my teaching style is KTouch (easily available in most major Linux Distro repos).

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The difference a laugh can make

Such an inspirational subject, eh?  I wrote that because I felt that “The difference a threat can make,” sounded far too intimidating and non-peace corps like and I am always trying to be oh so peace corps like…  But let’s get serious and let me be honest with you: with it only being halfway through my third week teaching this semester, I will glady predict it is going to be my best yet!  Why?  Well, I feel the indirect reason is that principal has informed all the students that my class will now be examined.  Who knew.  Not me!  At least not when he told the entire assembly of students, but that’s fine.  It just kicked me into high gear and got me prepping as a teacher.

The end result?  I don’t know, but for some strange reason I am now having full attendance, which I now feel obligated to call, as well as somewhat punctual students.  For Kenyans, the fact that even ONE of my students arrives BEFORE class is amazing.  Like, pants-peeing amazing.  The fact that I have whole majorities of classes showing before class starts almost causes anuerisms.  On top of that, they all respect my rule of, “You must have a pen and notebook in front of you.  I don’t care if you use it, I don’t care if you sleep on it, I don’t care if it just sits there unopened the entire time, it must be in front of you.”

On top of all this, they ask questions.  And when I answer them, if they don’t understand the answer, they ask again!  This is a huge improvement.  I gave them a test today, and asked them in as reassuring a manner as possible, how can I make this test better.  They said my questions were too long and they did not know what was expected of them.  This is a perfectly legitimate concern considering they have a grasp of english roughly consistent with an 8th grader in america.  It’s just not their primary language, and I need to know how to utilize it so that they understand me.  Last semester, if I had asked them to critique something I had done, they would have stayed quiet and I would never have known something so simple was causing so much distress.

Finally, they laugh at me.  They laugh at my jokes.  They laugh at my energy in class.  They never see one of their kenyan teachers energetically moving around the room telling people to treat their computer mice nicely like a lady (don’t ask…).  It’s different; I am different, and either they are getting used to me, or to being first years, I don’t know, but they laugh when they should.  And I don’t treat them like children, untrustworthy children like some of my peers say I should.  How are we ever going to teach trust here if a teacher cannot trust his students.  Connecticut College drilled into me the importance of its Honor Code, and I saw what an amazing academic environment springs up around such inherent trust placed in individuals.  But how can a student here ever feel trusted if the teachers call them liars and thieves blatantly to their faces.  Maybe I am naive on this point, but I have a lot of work on my plate, and if I don’t start trusting my students, it’s going to make life much more unecessarily difficult.  So they have my trust.


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Of Mice and Men… and Butterflies… and Bicycles… and Electricity

Hellooooooooo Alll

I am back!  Did you all miss me?  Where did I go?  Well, it wasn’t really me who went away, it was my computer.  I have been doing some upgrades here and there and wanted to get everything up and running and whatnot, and of course the Internet gave me problems, but it seems to be working now, knock on wood.  So some life updates!

These have to be the biggest rats ever.  I am talking monkey sized rats living in my eaves.  I have only seen one, but I hear more.  And it sounds like a construction site.  I don’t know whats going on.  I have two peanut butter laden traps ready to kill the buggers.  No one’s taken the bait as of yet.  These are vicious traps to.  These aren’t your Audobaun Society Friend Hav-A-Hearts!  These are the cartoon bear traps of the rat trap world, metal teeth included.

Have I ever told you all that Mombasa is blessed with heaps of butterflies!  That is correct!  Everywhere I look, all the time, butterflies.  Dark ones, bright ones, spotted ones, striped ones (read that line aloud, it’s almost poetic…).  They love the mangoes like the monkeys and flutter around everywhere.  It’s nice to have so many around all the time.

It’s fixed.  I picked up a nice, stainless steal Allan key wrench and was able to realign the spring on my brake.  I do need to tighten the brakes a bit, but otherwise it is working fine, finally.  No more jumping.  I promise.

Do to some administrative snafus, I am currently without electricity.  Meh.  Not a big loss.  Just means no music over the speakers.  I like using my oil lamp.  And I have my flash lights as well, though I prefer the light cast by the lamp.  My stove is gas powered, so I can still cook… my ramen… fine.  Admin says the power should be on “soon.”  I tell them no worries. 

That’s about it.  Teaching goes on, slowly by slowly.  The network and keeping it running and maximizing what the students can get out of the resources we have continues as well.  We shall see how it all goes!

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My NYS Teaching Update

My last post, I kindly offered to split into two because I knew that both portions were going to be large.  And then, as sometimes happens, I got distracted by Peace Corps life (mostly reading actually….) and never got around to updating you on what’s been going on at my primary project, NYS Mombasa.

Well, it’s almost all good news actually!!  I know, shocking isn’t it!  I was just as shocked when this ball started rolling as well.  So let’s begin with me getting back from Nairobi.  I had just gotten back sunday night when on monday morning principal talked to me and informed me that we would be moving the computer lab that morning and I would be teaching starting that week.  I believe this was on May 15th or something.  Hold on, let me look at a calendar… May 11th.  So on May 11th, we moved the computers into the new, shiny computer lab.  it’s big!  The ceiling isn’t falling down!  There is minimal dust!  And it even has an office, and space for 24 computers!  And that’s not even cramming.  I could cram another 12 in if I really wanted to!

We moved all the machines, which were thankfully just imaged, and then I began what other would consider boring, but I found one of the most exciting things i have done here:  i began setting up the network!  And dual booting the machines, so now each machine runs Windows XP and Ubuntu 8.10.  They are all networked, and networked to a printer, which the teachers are loving, because before they would have to go to a special single computer to print.  I also got a rudimentary server running, but that hasn’t seen much work since install.  Not enough time.

Why?  Because I am now working 11 hour days in this lab.  I get in at 7am and do about an hour of maintenance before the walk ins start happening.  I am still on a 6 class a week schedule, which is only 12 hours of actual, official teaching, but on top of that I also have two scheduled classes for teachers, and then a policy of “If the door is open, use the computers.”  Foot traffic has exploded from the people who want me to “give them deep knowledge of computer,” to people who want me to teach them AutoCAD (which, sadly, I cannot do aside from finding and making available free CAD software).  I am also running open lab from 4pm – 6pm where I specifically stay to answer any questions people have.  Needless to say, I have been very busy at site since May 11th.  Or was it the 18th?  I forget.  Peace Corps time.

I regret to inform though that the new crop of students has not really affected the teaching experience as related last semester.  These are completely fresh students, whereas before they were end-of-first-year students who had had computer, but nobody told me, not even them when I asked them.  I was hoping that maybe with completely fresh students I could get off on a better footing, so we went outside for all first classes and just talked about ICT.  I am trying really hard to slow my speech, speak simpler english, use kiswahili, but still same results: nobody talks, the blank stares, everything.

I have thus adjusted my curriculum and my own expectations.  Upon reviewing the Internataionl Computer Drivers License (ICDL) syllabus, and realizing it takes 150 hours to complete, whereas I have only 20 hours with them, I have come to the conclusion that teaching to this spec would be impossible.  Thus, I just go slowly by slowly (a kenyan english-ism) and try to be practical, but while trying as much as possible to still teach concepts over specifics.  For example, at the login screen, I try to explain the simple concept of username and password, and how they are very common in all of computing, instead of just saying click here and type this.  But on the other end of the spectrum I have actually dropped the class on hardware vs. software, etc.  It’s just not practical enough to keep them interested.  I don’t quite know how or when I will explain what the Operating System is, but I feel like when I tell them to switch to Ubunutu for the first time, it might be appropriate.

I have also come to the conclusion that I am just not a good “Intro to Computer,” teacher for NYS.  I am coming to terms with this fact: it just does not itnerest me overly so.  I do wish NYS would finish with creating their new curriculum and send all the real computer teachers back to the camps, so that the volunteers could go back to their inital goal which is new-idea generation, as I understand it.  I do like teaching the teachers: they are attentive, seem to be taking notes, and in general seem to appreciate the potential impacts computers can bring to their lives.  And the open lab sessions bring the students who are eager to learn about comoputers, so that can be a very rewarding time as well.

I will end with a list of pieces of tech I am either using, are intrigued in and whatnot, as well as some projects.  I will also try to put up links where appropriate.

  • I plan on using Ubuntu’s apt-cacher to make updating the ubunutu side of the computers far easier.  It allows me to only download something once and then it distributes it to all of the other computers.  It is not working properly at the moment, and I have not come upon a definite reason why not.  I may end up setting up my own repository instead.
  • For free CAD software, I plan on using the Community Edition of qCAD.  It is open source and available in most major Linux Distrobution repositories.  However, I have not fully looked into the best way to compile it for windows.  Also, one of the teachers, Njau (who is loving linux at the moment), needs to sit down and learn it because he knows CAD software and I don’t.
  • I am currently working on a set of scripts that snag full-content RSS feeds from the net, and then generate a “Daily Newspaper” style website on a completlely local server.  I feel this is the best way to provide daily updated information to the teachers, in a networked environment.  By leveraging the standard formatting of RSS, I am hoping to minimize development times of the software, as well as reduce overall size, letting me focus on making it user friendly.
  • Hopefully soon I will be able to sit down with the Italc suite of tools which will allow for an open source means of screen watching and remote-control, though it will also allow for on screen demonstrations to all the computers at once I am hoping, which is the next best thing to me having a projector. 
  • I want to also set up a local authentication and storage server so that all the students can get a networked space to store work and whatnot.  Right now my data policy is, “If it’s on the computer when I image it, sorry.  I will try to give 48 hours before I image a machine.”
  • For imaging, I ended up using PING.  It is small, lightweight, comes with heaps of other low-level disk tools, and just worked when clonezilla wasn’t.  Not to say clonezilla is bad in anyway, and there seems to be a lot of development effort going on there, but it just did not work.
  • I need to start writing up tutorials for basic computer use.  I am just currently torn between writing it up for ubunutu or windows.  I still don’t know if I should switch to Ubunutu, just for practicalities sake.  I think I will do a post on that later.

Ok, this post is certainly long enough.  I hope you have all enjoyed it.  I have been busy, and I am hoping to stay that way until august, when school goes on holiday, and I am sure I will need one too!

Til next time, cheers!


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An Update on teaching Part II

Many of my readers have raised a concern that my posts are too long to read in some free time.  Sorry.  I have a lot of time, and like to express completed thoughts, being as objective and non-ranty as possible.  This usually results in long posts.  But I took the initiative and split this one into two parts.  It’s technically one big post, but I wrote it in such a way that you can read the first part first, and then come back to the second.  I even left a cliffhanger about solitaire!  Please scroll down to read Part I before reading Part II, or just read Part II and be partially confused, if you feel partial to that method.  But before I depart on some tangent, let me impart with you the rest of the my story (did you get all that?).

I gave them a test.  I was still unbelieving about their thought
process, so I wanted to see how they would handle some random
thinking.  I posed seven questions.  The entire exam was in English and
Kiswahili, with the option to reply in either one.  I would like to
think I  had removed language as an issue (another topic for another entry for another day).  The exam was as follows
(kiswahili removed):

1) What is your name?

2) What do you like to do in your free time?

3) Why is the sky blue?

4) Why is the grass green?

5) Why do people build houses?

6) Why do you have friends?

7) Why do you fall in love?

Four out of my six classes received this exam.  I missed my monday class due to Peace Corps related travels and nobody passed me the memo that we were not having friday classes that week due to something about recruiting for the Adminsitrative Police.  They laughed and they chuckled.  Some interesting things happened though.

First of all, there was a question about the first question.  Apparently in kenyan english it is appropriate to ask for someones nameS if you want their first name and last name.  Some of my students overcame this hurdle and answered with both their names anyways, some had questions about this which I clarified, and gave them a cultural lesson that it was my fault because in America when we say Name, we mean both first and last name.  Of course, they don’t call it last name in Kenya either, but nor do surname or family name seem to work.  I’m baffled how to address that issue.  One time I tried “Father’s name,” but then people wrote both names of their father, first and last.

Question two posed no issues.  Though there was some obvious brown-nosing going on in my opinion with such responses as “play solitaire,” or “use computer.”  Whatever, I won’t hold it against them.  And heck, maybe they really do like playing solitaire in their free time.  Who knows?  They wouldn’t tell me even if I asked them.

Question three had three stock answers.  I’ll let you mull over them yourself.  Answer 1: Because it is as far as the eye can see.  Answer 2: Because it reflects the color of the ocean.  Answer 3: Because God made it that way and man hasn’t made it better.  Each student, of the almost 100 that took this exam answered question three with one of these answers.  Slightly different wording, but not significantly different.  I will come back to question three.

Question four had a similar set of responses, though they got a little more scientific.  Answer 1: Because of the chlorophyll.  Answer 2: Because they have life. Answer 3: Because God made it that way.

Question five illicited expected answers of “For protection from animals,” “for protection from people, ” and as such.

Question six did not quite reach the level of thinking I had hoped for, but apparently my students only have friends for support in times of need.  I think one or two of the 100 answered differently, but for the most part, apparently friendship in this country is only for supporting each other in times of need.  Maybe there are no times of joy, or maybe no times of fun.  Maybe there only are times of need?  I don’t know.  But I did find that response… interesting.

Question seven truly revealed the cognitive dissonance surrounding love in this country.  Some of my students answered like, “For support and someone to share my ideas with,” but others were more apparent examples that the youth in this country are fully aware they are sexual beings.  Listed below are some choice responses in my opinion.  These are not meant to mock in any way, but rather to applaud the frankness of character of my students.  For once, I got a straight answer from a Kenyan.

“I fall in love because of that inner emotion and lust for loving.”

“I fall in love because of having sex satisfaction and having good relationship with other people.”

“I do fall in love so that I can find a partner who can comfort me in good and bad time and also for sexual satisfaction.”

“I fall in love so that I can have conjugal rights (sex).”

“I fall in love so that I can satisfaction of sexual desire.”

After administering this exam for the fourth time though, the answers to question three got to me.  Too many people were saying the sky was blue because it reflects the color of the ocean.  And I’m not saying Americans know why the sky is blue (it has something to do with color dissipating from gases in the atmosphere and something called the Rayleigh effect), but at the same time, I wanted to see how they would react to me challenging their belief.  So for class four, my thursday afternoon class, I challenged them: If the sky is blue because it reflects the color of the ocean, why is it not green or brown or red or yellow over the land?  No one had a response.  So I went on a little spiel about asking “Why?”  It had nothing to do with computers really, though I tried to tie them in.  I just wanted them to start challenging accepted beliefs until they believed them for themselves and not just because someone told them to believe them.

I don’t care if your Kenyan or American, related to me or not, this is the one thing I truly believe in and want everyone in this world to do.  Don’t just blindly accept something.  Challenge it, play your own devil’s advocate, and if at the end of the day you still believe it, fine, great, but only believe it because you have convinced yourself, not because someone else told you to just believe it.  And I know that we all cannot conduct our own experiments and whatnot, so come up with a system that you trust.  If you trust and believe the BBC for providing factually correct news, fine, but why?

Be able to defend it.  And your defense does not even have to stand up against much, because ultimately trust and “the truth,” become a thing of faith, but at the same time, have some defense.  And I know there is no winning this argument.  That one can just argue back at me that this is my students’ level of trust.  That my perception is just skewed by having grown up in the West.  Why shouldn’t they trust their teachers the same way I trusted mine?  Why are they wrong and I am right?  Well, I never told my class they were wrong.  I even specifically told them that I did not say they were wrong.  I just wanted more of a defense than blank stares.  We will see if I get the homework handed in tomorrow afternoon.

So what am I teaching this week then?  It’s back to lecture and some hands on time.  This weeks topic is word processing.  I refuse to teach simply “Microsoft Word,” because it’s going to be gone in the next five years anyways, or at least as we know it, and I want to prepare them for that.  So I have abstracted and taken my lessons up a level from the top-down perspective.  Instead of Microsoft Word, I am trying to teach the concept of word processing using MS Word as an example (because at the moment it’s what I have).  I will try to do the same with spreadsheets and whatnot.  But I have also implemented some exams.  They have one review quiz at the beginning of class and one write-down-three-things-you-learned-today quiz at the end.  I need to start gauging what these kids are taking in.  Of course, the end of class exam nets me responses like, “How to word processor,” and “Solitaire,” so I may need to refine those instructions.

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An Update on Teaching Part I

Ok, so here’s my long-awaited update on teaching.  So let’s backpeddle a few weeks now and describe what has been happening.

A few weeks ago I noticed a critical deficiency in the ability of my students to think critically about a given situation.  If a task was not spelled out for them word for word, they would have much difficulty completing it. In my opinion, this will make it very hard to use computers.  Modern day computing is all about being able to read new instructions, mostly ill-written and ill-conceived, and follow them using known computer-interaction paradigms and whatnot. 

For people in the West, these interaction paradigms are drilled into us early and almost as much as learning how to breathe and walk.  We live with computers, we use them every day, it is obvious that we would be able to learn new things on them quite quickly.  This is not the case for most Kenyans, who most likely are coming from a life in a very rural area; where living at NYS is probably their first encounter with consistent electricity, running water and maybe even food.  And no, I am not trying to be dramatic.  That’s simply life here.

Combine this unfamiliarity with computers with a learning style completely alien to the learning style of the society that developed modern computers in the first place.  The notion of interacting with learning is a foreign concept.  I think it’s even more foreign than the concept of a white guy from America trying to teach it.  At least they can see people like me on TV.  For so long they have been drilled that wrong answers are unaccpetable, that experimenting is pointless, and that whatever a teacher tells you is absolute truth.  Computers were invented by people who were wrong a lot, were experimenting in their basements and garages, and were certainly not cut from any “normal,” mold.  And I would bet most of them were arrogant and cocky enough to argue with their teachers… a lot.

But you cannot lecture computers.  It is impossible. Sure, you can lecture computer theory and more abstract concepts, but this requires two things: 1) a basic understanding of the fundamentals of computers in order to understand the more abstract, theoretical concepts and 2) a brain that has been trained to analyze, deconstruct, and apply theory to practice.  My students have neither, sadly.  It is no fault of their own, they are simply products of their education system.

So what do I do?  Hand hold them through every word of a research paper or number in an accounting spreadsheet.  I’ve reconciled that I will have to teach them more specifically than I first desired, but still, how?  It doesn’t help that some of the kids have the fundamentals of computer interaction down and others don’t.  Some know how to click and type fairly well, others don’t even know how to hold a mouse.  It also doesn’t help that I only get about half attendance per class, and that it’s a random attendance.  I don’t even know who’s dedicated!  Frustrating in its own right.  Heck, I had an entire class not show up yesterday.  An entire class!

It also doesn’t help that the Kenyan computer instructor, who I was hoping could be my Kenyan-Thought-Process translator, has been recalled to Nairobi and may not come back, ever.  Or that his replacement, who is of an unknown teaching-stock (the first, Mr. Mutuli, being known and well-liked by Dai Kato), has an indetermined ETA.  So I am on my own effectively.  Even Dai Kato is leaving in two weeks.  Oh Boi.

So we played solitaire two weeks ago.  It’s a game that is installed on every computer we have.  It requires a decent understanding of mouse control, click, drag and drop, and a constant reevaluation of the play area.  It forces my students to think critically, but within a time frame that they control because they control the flow of the game.  I stood up and gave directions, which Mr. Dai Kato, who has never played Solitaire before himself was able to follow and learn how to play.  And he’s not even fluent in English!  I walked around and helped the individual students after explaining the directions.  They didn’t get it.  Despite repeatedly showing them that they could uncover new cards after moving top cards from the piles, they would still require my prompting to do so.  I would make a circuit of the class and come back to see the same cards flipped over on a student’s screen.  And don’t even get me started about the concept of moving King Cards to empty spaces.  Needless to say I was frustrated.  I had failed again.  How do I teach these kids?

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You might call me…unconventional

Aright, so I have been at the game now for two full weeks, and I feel that I have the ability to start talking about what it’s like teaching Kenyans how to use computers.  But first, let me explain the teaching situation:

I work for the National Youth Service (NYS) of Kenya [and a giant grasshopper has made its way into my house ladies and gentlemen].  NYS is a uniformed branch of the Kenyan government [I think its breaking things in my kitchen now], which means that to the untrained eye, it appears that I live and work on a military compound.  There are no guns however, and when I proposed the notion of push-ups I was gawked at.  Para-military would be more like it, with the focus of helping shape the youth and mould them into productive members of society.

They do this moulding by offering diplomas and trades courses.  I don’t know the full run down of everything offered, and the website has minimal information on it, though it might all be in this huge packet of info they gave me the day before swearing in.  Needless to say I didn’t read it.  There are many different NYS camps throughout Kenya, each specializing in specific areas.  Here in mombasa we specialize in the trades: Carpentry (and Joinery; they say Joinery here in Kenya), Plumbing, Masonry, Production, and Electrical and one more that is escaping me at the moment and I am too lazy to go find my day planner with.

So where do the computers fit in?  Computers is classified as a Craft course, i.e. elective.  As far as I can tell, each first year student is being required to take a computer course with me, so I see 6 different classes each week for 2 hours per class.  Why do I not know the specifics? Because no one has told me, and when I try to figure it out, no one wants to tell me.  It’s a very admitted fact about Kenyan culture that they do not directly answer questions.  In fact, even when asked a yes-no question, you will not get a yes or no answer.  Ever.  Thus it makes finding out my role all the more difficult.  So instead I just roll with it and have decided to teach a simple intro to computers class.  I have no supervisor besides the principle, no one sits in the class with me except Dai Kato, who has given me the reigns due to my better grasp on English and Kiswahili, and no one evaluates what the heck I am even teaching these kids.

Where’s the problem in all this?  Nothing really.  Enter my unconventionality.  Something you must realize though is that these “youth” are mostly all my age or older than me.  Agemates they are called in Kenyan English.  Yet they see me not as a peer but, I believe, as a Mzungu first, teacher second and then, maybe the crazy guy obsessed with the fact that there are as many monkeys here as squirrels back home.  Needless to say there is a very awkward social barrier surrounding the whole situation (obsession with monkeys not aiding my cause).  And to be perfectly honest because there seems to be no sense of officiality to anything I am doing, I am trying to side more on being their peer than their teacher.  I just happen to know more about computers and really, really want to share it with them.

This is a seemingly impossible notion to convey to them however.  There is minimal exchange of dialogue between us.  When I ask questions, general questions, I get no response.  When I ask specific questions to specific individuals, I must get to within a nanometer of [killed a mosquito; today’s count: flies 3, mozzies 3] their mouth in order to hear their response.  Having trained with [mozzies 4] teachers for two months, I have heard that this is how the Kenyan education system works.  The kids sit in school and “learn,” afraid to ask questions or be wrong because they fear to be chappa-ed (caned).  All learning is done through rote memorization with minimal critical analysis or thinking applied.

I haven’t meshed well with this, and because I did not go through teacher training, (I went through business training), I am applying my business strategy of learn about the culture and see what minimal amount needs to be changed to be productive.  From what I hear about being an “official” teacher-volunteer you need to confirm more to Kenyan ways of teaching.  You must teach from the prescribed books with the prescribed lessons and whatnot.  If I remember correctly, one volunteer even told me that if a student needs to be disciplined and you don’t feel you can hit him (which I believe is technically illegal), then you can call in another Kenyan teacher to do the deed for you.

Myself on the other hand have been given no books, no materials, no supervisor or counterpart, nothing but a room full of Kenyans and computers (that are actually quite decent and certainly useable for teaching, if only low in quantity).  I pace up and down the room, draw pictures on the white board, speak loudly, and have quite  explicitly told all of my students that class will pause when I ask a question until I get an answer.  And it’s working, a little.  I asked all my students to arrive on time for class (a near impossibility in typical Kenyan culture), and within a week of being told I even have students arriving early!

Today, being a bit sick and exhausted (I haven’t been particularly sleeping well due to the adjustment), I sat down with my students and was very honest with them.  I said that I was unable to stand and lecture on the fundamentals of an Operating System, so instead we would have a circle Q&A session about anything computers or America related (I am here to exchange culture as well).  I did this with two different classes.  Neither class responded very well.  So I had to get creative.  Don’t blame me, don’t judge. Teaching Kenyans is one of the most frustrating things  anyone can do I believe.

The first class, upon being silent, was given an option.  Either one person becomes the board writer and elicits questions from his peers or I throw a marker at someone.  They got a countdown.  A marker may or may not have been indiscriminately thrown in the general direction of one of my students.  A student became board-writer and questions were asked/written on the board.  The rest of the class was then spent with me answering those questions [mozzies 5] and then with the students having free time to use the computer.


Then back to class.  This next class was small, only 9 students (most of my classes have between 20 and 35).  I decided to try something other than throwing markers, so I tapped into the Kenyan desire for education.  Knowing these students do want to learn and do see value in an education, I informed them that everyone would write a question on the board within 10 minutes or I would kick everyone out of class and no one could use the computers for the day.  Within 10 minutes 9 questions were written on the board with minimal prodding needed for the last two.  Were they all serious? No.  Some had been answered in the previous class (making me wonder if anything gets absorbed), but just the compliance confirmed the Kenyan desire for an education, at least a little.

Spent the rest of class answering questions and then decided to be creative again.  Everyone was told that for one half hour they had to write a story.  The story had to include a male character Jack, a female character Jill, a chui (leopard) named George and had to take place in present time on the slopes of Mount Kenya.  Then we all went around and read each others’ screens (I felt it would be too much to have them read them aloud considering nothing in class gets done aloud except cell phones going off).  Two of the nine stories included references to the chui being a creation of God, two stories did not really get written (one due to technical difficulties the erased the story, and another due to … who knows what?).  One included the fact that though when Jack and Jill got married they were happy, soon their marriage degraded into sadness.  It was a good time.

That’s what I do.  One class Mondays and Fridays from 2 to 4pm and two classes Tuesdays and Thursdays, morning and afternoon.  I have wednesdays off though there was one hint, once, that I might be teaching teachers how to use computers.  We shall see.  As in all things Kenya, labda kesho (maybe tomorrow) or tutaona (we will see).  I just can’t sit and teach the same boring lesson 6 times before coming up with something new.  And without feedback from my students, and no counterpart, I get creative.  And the mombasa heat frying my brain does not lend sanity to the creativity.  More as it develops!


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