Monday 4.26.10

Today I gave a 4 hour “taller”, or workshop, to about 90 students covering physics, chemistry, biology, and ecology. The topic: “Functions of Plants”. I covered physics so they could understand positive and negative charges and therefore atoms. I covered atoms and elements so they could understand molecules. I covered molecules so they could understand cells. I covered cells so they could understand photosynthesis. I covered photosynthesis so they could understand the differences between plants and animals. I covered plants and animals and other living and non-living beings so they could understand how they all work together in an ecosystem. Overall, I tried to explain to them that a healthy ecosystem is one in which all components work together. It was all on powerpoint but I had lots of really fun experiments and demonstrations to do, however, nobody in Guatemala is really into being participatory so they didn’t turn out like I had planned. This is the information I went over

Physics: the study of mass, energy, and forces. Mass is the measure of quantity of material, energy is the ability to do work, and force is the changing or modifying of an object. There are forces that attract and forces that repel, like magnets.

Chemistry: the study of the properties and interactions of materials. Elements are the basic units of matter and can form bonds with other elements, based on the electrons they have, to form molecules.

Biology: the study of living beings, there are 6 kingdoms of living things. The cell – cells are the building blocks of life. There are a few differences between the cells of the 6 different kingdoms as well as differences in cells within an organism that do different jobs. Parts of the Plant – the roots, stem, leaves, flower, and seed all have different jobs. Photosynthesis – plants get energy from the sun and make sugar and oxygen. They use water and carbon dioxide in this process. Animals eat the sugar and use the oxygen and in return make carbon dioxide. Reproduction – all living things reproduce. Seeds of plants are similar to the eggs of chickens because the egg provides the nutrients to the growing chicken like the seed provides nutrients to the growing plant before it can produce enough leaves to sustain itself. Plants in an Ecosystem – Plants work together with animals and non-living matter to sustain themselves and each other. There is a delicate balance between all participants and the study of these interactions is called Ecology.

Ecology: the study of ecosystems and how living and non-living things work together. Everybody is part of an ecosystem; everybody has needs that somebody/else meets and everybody should do their part to meet the needs of others. Death and decomposition is a natural part of life and an important part of ecological cycles.

This all seems so basic to me, though it took me nearly four hours to explain it all, and I doubt more than a handful actually understood even the basic points of what I was trying to get across. How I see it, I can jump into composting from here. I explained a little bit about monocropping and how only planting one crop year after year depletes the soil of nutrients, but everybody here in my town monocrops: maíz. Or maíz and frijoles (beans). Some people plant potatoes and there are a few fruit trees, but the majority of the people just plant corn and beans. I tried to explain that through composting we can replace a lot of these nutrients through adding nutrient-rich compost to the dry soil. Making this compost is easy, rather quick, and best of all we have all the materials we need right here! This is another taller for hopefully next week or the week after.

The funniest part of the charla: I brought in a hard-boiled egg and an avocado to show how fruits (seeds) and eggs are similar because they are both the reproductive parts of the plant. I chopped the avocado open with my knife, then I took the knife to the egg. The students had no idea it was hard-boiled so they all gasped and were quite stunned while watching what I was attempting to do. We all had a good laugh when I showed them that I did not in fact make a mess on the table and that the egg was actually hard-boiled.

The most educational part of the charla: I attempted to demonstrate how molecules are made by giving a few students (oxygen atoms) 6 beans (electrons) and a few other students (hydrogen atoms) 1 bean (electron) and telling them: “oxygens, you want 8 electrons and you’re probably going to have to share some of your electrons with other atoms” and “hydrogens, you want 2 electrons and you’re probably going to have to share also”. I gave them about 5 minutes to work it out, all the while asking other students in the audience if they wanted either 6 electrons or 1 electron to help the others with the process. Finally one oxygen figured out that if he shared his electrons with 2 other hydrogens he would have 8 and I left it at that. I then asked the students if anyone knew what that molecule was called. No response. When I told them “agua” they looked at me like I was crazy. I think it was very confusing for them to think of these abstract concepts of atoms and molecules and electrons as something they actually use every day and know well. But that’s the whole idea. To show them how science explains what happens in daily life, how it can be important to them if they choose to let it, and that the world functions logically and in a predictable manor and they can use this to their advantage if they learn a little basic science.

The most frustrating part of the charla: Lack of participation. That’s it, that was the only part that was frustrating. I would call on volunteers for various experiments or demonstrations and I nearly had to drag each one out of their seat to get them to participate. At the end of each section, each science, I asked each one to write one question they had about the class, science, or anything else relating to what we had been talking about. I asked for volunteers to read their questions…no takers. I then called individuals out to read their questions…they just shook their heads. “Did you write a question?” “No.” I asked a bunch of others the same question and received the same response. It’s one thing to be shy and not want to participate in a silly gringa’s experiments, but to not be doing assigned work; to be so lazy that you cannot even write one simple question in 5 minutes, that’s just poor management on the parts of the other teachers.

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