Pride through Science – A Positive Story from the 2013 Butha Buthe District Science Fair
Amidst the challenges and grind of working in a rural secondary school, some things that just manage to happen better than you could expect!
One experience that I blogged about previously was the national science fair, and this is a follow up, one year later with students who continue to blow me away.
Qholaqhoe and Butha Buthe High School students (the town magnet school) at the district science fair.
Qholaqhoe High Schools 2013 Science Projects
- Time Conversion Wheel by Tsepo Majoro (Maths Project – 1st prize) – Tsepo constructed a project to convert time from Lesotho to anywhere in the world. The project has two circles connected in the middle by a pin. The inner wheel has 24 lines labeled with the time from 0 hours to 24 hours. The outer wheel has the city and country that corresponds to the different times. The inner wheel can be turned to the time in Lesotho and all other times will be shown. The project idea came from a Science Wizardry for Kids book that my parents had sent sometime last year.
- Improved Lens With Light by Selepe Matli (Working Models – 1st prize) – Selepe took his project from last year that he took to the national science fair and continued to improve it. Last year it was an electronics project but the judges told him it should be in the working models category. The project is a magnifying lens that has been wired with lights and gears to adjust the height of the lens and the lighting from below a stage and an above light. The project is put together with an elaborate scheme of metal wire to create gears and move the pieces. This year Selepe added pieces to make on/off switches for the lights and dimmer switches from pieces he took from an old television and speaker box.
Improved Lens project from last year’s national fair (missing improvements but still gives the idea)
- FM Radio by Selepe Matli (Electronics 1st prize and top overall fair score) – By taking pieces from many other electronics Selepe wired together a device that allows him to broadcast a radio station. The project uses a device called a modulator which is what we know as an fm transmitter (possibly used to play your ipod in the car) and commonly used here by taxis to play music from a flash drive. The modulator is rewired and connected to an amplifier. The amplifier is also connected to a cd player (to play the stations music), a rewired microphone (so that the dj can talk on the station), and a rewired phone (to allow listeners to call the station). This isn’t really a HAM radio as it may sound but more taking many old electronics and reconstructing them to make a radio station. The modulator broadcasts the music, phone call, or voice over for a short distance. To extend the range, Selepe created a second modulator connected to a small FM radio and powered by a phone battery to rebroadcast the sound after the initial signal would die about 50 m away from the station.
Selepe with his FM Radio project at the district fair
Two form A (8th grade) students also created projects for the fair one a traffic light and the other a maize grinder. The maize grinder didn’t make it to the fair because it was too big, maybe next year!
Near the end of the science fair a student from a magnet school in town came up to me and said.
“Sir!, how are you? Did you see the projects, we are improving, can you see Basotho making electronics projects?”
I said. “Yea man, Basotho are smart! It’s only that we usually don’t have a lot of materials, but that is my student and he is brilliant. I couldn’t make that project.”
“Yes sir, we are improving!”
This might not seem like that incredible of a conversation but when you consider the circumstances it becomes something bigger. First, students from Qholaqhoe are from a poor rural school with few of the resources that many of the competing schools have. Our pass rate is lower than almost all of the other schools at the fair. Second, Selepe is from a poor family and all of the electronics he has to make his project are junk that people gave him because it wasn’t working. However, regardless of these challenges, Selepe proved to students even from the wealthy schools that Basotho are smart and that is incredible!
Selepe with a hoard of interested students surrounding his FM Radio project all day
It is a great feeling when you work really hard on something and you get to see someone who deserves it succeed. Maybe you have to be a parent or a teacher to experience this.
- Students would come to my house on the weekend and after school to work on their projects.
- We stayed after school many days and came to school on two school holidays to put together the reports and posters.
- We held a funny day and charged all the students 1 rand not to have to wear their uniform and organized a performance of funny dramas and songs performed by students to raise money to pay for the students to go to the fair. Many of the students who participated in the quiz and projects can’t even afford to pay the 30 rand ($4) for the taxi to the fair.
- Me and one other teacher organized everything for the fair, food, transportation, and students, none of the other science teachers at my school are really interested.
- With the district science teacher association I wrote a proposal to that they distributed to local businesses to get donations. We got notebooks and math sets from the supermarket that were given to the winners, certificates from the book shop, and trophies from a hardware (they weren’t there yet but hopefully they will come) for winners of each category.
- Caitlin, Kyle, and myself, spent most of the two days at the science fair doing all of the grunt work of organizing judges and recording scores. Without us I don’t know how they would ever finish these events.
After the prizes were given out and we were waiting two hours for our taxi to arrive, Tsepo came up to me and gave me the biggest hug and said “I’m so happy it’s like I could cry!”
Last year they forgot to announce the electronics project winners and Selepe texted me that night after we got home and was upset and told me he couldn’t sleep because he had worked really hard and didn’t know if he got to move on. This year when we got home I texted him to remind him (sorry for the Basotho text language):
Remember last year you smsed me that you couldn’t sleep. Not this year you will sleep well! Great effort, you have much to be proud of! You had the highest score of any category and age.
Thnks Sir! I aprct. Its lk im mvng on the atmsphr over the ozone layer. I fl GR8!
For them it is now back to the national science fair in August and in Selepe’s case a chance to move on to South Africa. Since last year I have seen their confidence grow and seeing them go back to the science fair as veterans and sweep the categories and be proud of themselves and their abilities was one of the most fun things I’ve done here. I don’t know how I am going to say goodbye to them in six months and I’m already thinking of ways I can continue to help them when I leave. They are special kids and they can grow up to be great people.
We got home at 9 pm after a 3 hour taxi ride with students dancing and singing and the taxi driver bouncing the brakes to the music. School trips in Lesotho just aren’t the same!
Qholaqhoe teachers dressed up for funny day!