Questions from today at Daraja Academy

Today was an incredibly positive day.

I began the day testing Nearpod with Matteo, and it worked!  Speaking with me from Berkeley, I was able to send him a Nearpod presentation session and run it successfully with no time lag.  I sent him the slides (just the quiz slides to practice that) and he completed them.  I sent him a presentation on copyright law in education in the US.  He didn’t get any right, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was to try it, and it worked, presenting great opportunities for possible WISH administrations.  More on that in a bit.

After the test and a good Facetime conversation with Matteo, I had a breakfast of coffee and watermelon, where I met the student I would shadow, Purity, again.  Her classes started at 8am.  She had Math (seemed like Algebra 2 as an equivalent), Christian Religious Education, Business, Swahili, Chemistry, Geography, English, and Computers.  I went to 6 of the 8 classes, sharing tea and lunch with her and other students.

In all of the classes, I found myself taking notes on the curriculum and on the pedagogical strategies used by the teachers.

In Math, we were learning about variation, inverse variation, and partial variation.  In CRE, we learned about Jeremiah and his lamentations.  In Business, it was all about ledgers and the use of the trial balance system.  In Swahili, the students were reviewing a test.  In Chemistry, we learned about the properties of ammonia.  In Geography, we learned about agriculture.

In all of the classes, some sort of call and response strategy was used, the teachers using confirmation language like, “Are you all together?”, to confirm that the students were fully engaged and that they understood the content.

Some questions that I had from my time in class:
When asking the students to respond to questions as a group aloud, how does one know that all students truly understand?  In a class of 24 students, can a minority of student needs not be addressed in this model?

What is it about the Daraja environment that students feel encouraged to truly ask questions when prompted by the teacher to do so?  How is it that they feel empowered to participate in that way even without such encouragement?  How does Daraja create what seems to be such a nurturing environment where all of the students are agents, empowered by self to speak?

Why were students paired in groups?  Is this a common Kenyan schooling strategy or is this Daraja specific?

All of the teachers used some sort of collaborative group or paired activity.  Is this part of the Daraja pedagogical stance?  How does this connect with common Kenyan practice?  If it differs, how are teachers taught to teach in this way?

The teacher stands for the entire class.  The students have a classroom where they are assigned.  In each classroom, or at least in the one I visited, the teacher has a teacher desk at the front of the room from which he or she lectures/teaches/instructs.  What does this do for the power dynamic and authority in the room?  Teachers are known by their first names.  How does this shift authority from the authoritarian/totalitarian to the authoritative?

Students in the classes seemed to only take notes when directed to do so by the teacher.  This seemed to not be needed by the students as much of the teaching was spoken and heard.  Still, there was at least one instance in a class when a teacher referred to a previous lesson and the students seemed stumped.  None of them referred to notes.  I wonder if this is because they did not have any.  If this is the case, would it be beneficial to employ graphic organizers and notetaking strategies to assist students to take notes without direction?

The classroom space also houses storage of books for the students.  How do the classrooms also become claimed by the students?

All of the instructors made a conscious effort to connect the concepts and content to the Kenyan and Daraja Academy school context.  How might scenarios also be included within a flipped classroom construct so that students can continue in this specific application of tested concepts?

How is technology used by teachers and students in and outside of the classroom? One of the teachers used the Bible on his phone for the CRE class.  This was the only use of technology that I saw in today’s classes.  How could some of the instruction be augmented by technology?

I also enjoyed that the administrators are trained teachers and participate in the teaching of classes.  I saw one class by the principal of the school on business.  Is this a personal application?  A response to the need for such a resource?  Part of the Daraja Academy belief in communal responsibility and familial nurturing practices, even in the classroom space?

One common practice in each class was having the date in the same place and writing the topic for the day beneath it.  Is this a Daraja expectation?  How do the topics/lessons align to Kenyan or local regional educational standards?  As a private school, what guidelines does Daraja have when it comes to attaining certain standards and objectives?

How might each Form build towards a PBL unit that crosses disciplines?

In one class, the teacher drew what the students could expect in practicals/lab.  How could such expectations be indicated through the use of technology in a more visual way?  Video?  Flipped classroom experiences?   Recorded lectures?

Later, after classes and during lunch, I spoke with Jason about seeing the curriculum materials for WISH and also about the stories of the students and my experience today, the patterns and connections I have seen for PBL and ed tech usage.  I’ve never met an administrator of a school who knew every students’ name, story, place of origin, and more. He and Jenni are totally invested in Daraja, and soon, I think all of Kenya will be as well.  There is a major TV program coming to campus in addition to, on the day before, the soon-to-be graduates of the school doing a teaching campaign on river pollution in the local town center.

And in the afternoon, we (I met another volunteer, Anita) were taken on a tour with Jason and Stephen of the local area.  Just off the road zebras, elan, warthogs, giraffes, cows … and a few convoys of the British military, which seemed strange to me, but Kenyan terrain in this area is similar to other areas of the world (like Iraq and Afghanistan) so they come here to train, even using a land preserve owned by Princeton University.

I have a LOT to think about, a lot of questions.

Nearpod could be a great use for this context.  Excited to talk to Dennis, the IT person and computer teacher, about this and other uses tomorrow.  I’m also meeting with teachers in the afternoon.

I’m also thinking about my next book of poetry and how Kenya might be a great terrain to study and know as inspiration.

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