Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Story of our School

David Gido, is a young teacher who decided 2 years ago to open a preschool for very low income kids, many of whom are orphans or live with single moms.  He started a one room school but soon, many families began to see his school as the only viable education solution for their kids.  Students as young as 3 began to walk great distances to attend David's school and he was forced to look for a second location for his school. So, David hired a couple of his teacher friends paying them from his own salary.  He soon was forced to rent a larger space to create the second location and Making a Difference Foundation Tanzania (MDFT) Primary School was born.

MDFT is located in Arusha, Tanzania.  In Tanzania, most parents are expected to pay school fees, school uniforms and school supply.  This often makes it impossible with an average income of $500 per year.  We have 2 locations, about 100 students and 5 teachers.  Our students range between the ages of 2 and 7 years old and we want to bring the love of gardening and growing their own great foods to kids even that young.

Making a Difference Foundation Tanzania Primary School Building (we have 3 classrooms here).  This is the location of our first Flood Garden.
Not only do we want to teach preschool-third grade but we would like to have our student stay finish their undergraduate careers in our school.  The only way that we will know if our Flood Garden learning model is effective in providing a better education for our students, they really need to stay with us.

THE PROBLEM: The laws of the land do not allow us to teach children older than 7 years on rented property so we are working hard to be able to buy a property were we can expand our school.  

OUR NEED: Our dream is to buy one or two acres with enough space to build a larger Flood Garden for the children ages 8 to 18+!!! 

Friday, January 20, 2012

What does that do?

Looking into the mouth of a big Tilapia fish at Cecilia's farm (Flood Garden 2)
It is amazing to observe young children discover how stuff works. You can almost see giant cartoon question marks bouncing off their heads.  It is even cooler to watch them talk to each other to try to figure things out.  They throw out crazy questions, come up with hilarious theories, they question those theories, giggle, argue....Then, one of them gets brave enough to touch, or smell or taste and then to the others' amusement or horror, half of their theories are quickly thrown out and replace by facts.  Then, through a series of dares, they begin take stuff apart, ask more questions, make more theories, laugh....and test stuff to see if it will break. Through play, their questions are slowly answered by the proof they see in front of them. If they are not satisfied, they question someone they perceive might have a better answer.  So by the time you get the proverbial "why?" question, chances are that child has done some "research" of her own, because your answer will seem to always be followed by more questions.

If this scene took place in a science lab and the kids were adults, we would be observing  a team of scientists doing their thing.  In a real research lab, scientist set out to learn more.  However, the conventional classroom seems to have become a stage to show off how much the teacher already knows..... hhhmmmm.....

So how do we create an environment that re-creates the learning opportunities of a research lab but is grounded on the realities that comes with engaging rambunctious primary school students??

In Arusha, most people do not have access to science laboratories not to mention workable labs in schools.  However, we are surrounded by the world's best lab. Using the outdoors as the ultimate classroom is super exciting way to provide an affordable school laboratory.  However, it is a bit scary because we have to begin from scratch.

We plan to experiment using learning stations in and around the flood garden.  The teachers will provide a brief introduction to the students.  But instead of choreographing the learning process as in the traditional model, the teachers will leave prepared clues for the the students to discover on their own.  The students will be able to supplement the classroom lessons at the learning stations in small groups or on their own. It will be interesting hear their observations and classroom discussions with their teachers.

We are totally stealing ideas from Maria Montessori and others ed visionaries.  We cannot afford all the cool comforting organic Montessori learning tools but we can adapt their best ideas and use our resources more effectively.

We are also lucky to only have 100 children in our care so that we can really control this prototype and collect data in a reasonable way.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Environmental Awareness

Adding whimsy and decorative touches to one's garden is not an affordable concern to most members of our community. Recyclable goods are sometimes hard to come by because people have so little.  Our students come from very humble backgrounds but there is still a lot to learn from the little they have

We aim to teach our students to be intensely aware of their environment.  To do so, we have decided to use rubbish items to add whimsy to our Flood Garden.  The items will not only beautify our space but will also be used in lessons and in our learning stations

David got a hold of some tires today and when buried in the ground, they seem to resemble a swimming dragon. I can imagine that the students will soon name this "dragon" and it will also become a place to exercise their imagination.  They will be able to swim with and ride this dragon, sleigh it to save the princess or fly to  many adventures.

Dare to imagine a swimming dragon

We also want inorganic items in the garden to teach about what can and cannot be recycled.  It will be fun to watch the children bring rubbish that catches their eye to add as sculptures and accessories to the garden.  The entire neighborhood is a classroom now and we will have to make a treasure bag for each child to collect on class walks and on the walks to and from school.
There are a thousand teachable moments in a pile of trash...there is good trash, bad trash,   beautiful trash, "don't touch this ever again" trash, "put that in the compost pile" trash, "oh no, that is NOT trash" trash and more

David had this great idea to use empty bottles as sculpture pieces.  He found bottles of many colors. There are many lessons to be learned from glass, its components and uses. We would like to build a learning station around the bottles.  I would love to get ideas on the lessons we could create right using these bottles.

Learning from one's own environment is the only way to understand it enough to know if, when, what, why and how to change it.  Using the environment itself as a learning resource is a life long skill...

Here is a really cool idea from Learning Landscape for using recycled tires as a way to learn math through games.

When we get a bit more space, I would love to build the Learning Landscapes Math tire grid.  It really fits into our outdoor classroom learning model!!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Creating a Beautiful Space

this is a picture of some of the ornamental plants this little guy will help to plant today

We are planning to make the Flood Garden not just educational but also beautiful and inspiring.  Our budget is extremely limited so we have picked up some scrap materials and acquired some ornamental plants to beautify the space. We, ourselves, were inspired by our friend Cecilia to surround our environment with beauty.  Cecilia is an agriculture expert specializing in ornamental fish and plant farm and she will be a great source of professional development for the teachers.  Also, we will build learning stations in her farm for the older kids to work in.

David found a bunch of bottles and he is thinking of ways that he can use these bottles to accessorize the Flood Garden.

Our Fish Pond

We originally dug a very deep pond so we could house more fish.  However, the safety of the youngest children became a concern.  So now we have a mini-pond where we will be able to learn about pond science and Tilapia without worry.
We were also going to use a plastic pond liner.  However, a couple of elders came around and advised us to use bricks and water proof cement for our pond.

Getting advise from community members on how to build our fish pond 

So today, we leveled the land around the pond and planted some water weeds to get it ready to host our ducks and fish

Already, the kids cannot get enough! They are very curious about what we are doing and we cannot wait till they are the ones explaining to the community what we are doing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Too Good To Be TRUE!!!

 Today an elder from the community came by to share his expertise with fish ponds.  How cool is that?

 CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS???? Our animal homes are almost ready, our kitchen is almost done and our veggies are getting ready to harvest. 

Our duck apartment is almost ready.  We just have to finish the pool!!!

First Results!!

Today, we sold a bunch of veggies and with the profit, we bought an exercise book for this student!!! 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Our Students

This little guy is ready to discover and learn
Our littlest ones are 2 years old which is the time of their lives where they have become mobile enough to discover their surroundings.  We want to encourage their need for discovery rather than stifle that need inside a crowded classroom.

Our students come from an environment where the parents (mostly single moms, aunties or grandmas) are very busy trying to make ends meet.  They come to MDFT because it has an rare English immersion program which is not the norm in public schooling.  Parents also understand the special care and commitment that the MDFT teachers take with their children and the special education they will receive

By teaching them in the English language, they will have a better opportunity to find higher paying jobs within the hundreds of foreign companies currently investing in Tanzania.  In our Flood Garden learning model, they will also learn self-sufficiency which will prepare them to become job makers.

Could one of these girls be the one to discover the cure for  HIV/AIDS?
We are also very lucky to have a large number of girl students.  In Tanzania, girls with average to low education are second class citizens.  They will be subject to cultural submission and servitude to their husbands.  The lucky ones, might work for foreigners as menial workers and/or domestic servants.

Tanzanian women are a the biggest unseen force in the every day economy of their country and in their families.  They provide the day to day services that most take for granted.  They are the image of small commerce in the markets and streets.  I often wonder what would happen to the economy of the entire continent, if African market women went on strike for the month or even one day!! Food would be very hard to come by for most.

Even so, women are only expected to earn enough to get by but never enough to get ahead.

At MDFT, we want to use our Flood Garden as the ultimate science and social lab to encourage inquiry from the earliest age.  We want to challenge with the sometimes mindless repetition of conventional education and create a system where students learn to question their environment.  Questions lead to better understanding and better understanding leads to innovation.
5 year old Vanessa helping David create our fish pond to study water biology
Higher level mathematics are usually reserved for kids much older than those at MDFT. However, creating an outdoor classroom culture will allow us to introduce concepts like probability through game play, gardening and laughter.

Could this really be math homework?
Our students will probably never get an expensive education in city private schools or abroad.  They might never have access to the latest digital technology to resolve day to day issues.  However, we plan to teach them to learn from their current environment so that they will be the ones to improve it, even at a very early age.