I recently attended an ASE Teachmeet at the Think Tank . It got me thinking, where else would you find out how to:
- find an interactive periodic table from the Royal Society of Chemistry
- Paint a huge diagram of a heart on a big sheet to use as a teaching aid
- make a small revision book out of a piece of paper http://bit.ly/ZfLQbo
- join a network that review research in education methodologies, @bio_joe
- run a floating garden challenge to teach science in a global context
- use ipads to provide interesting learning experiences @syded06
- connect with STEM ambassadors
- Get support on teaching microbiology using UV light
…all in a couple of hours?
Teachmeets are great, informal occasion where you can meet like-minded enthusiastic teachers and pick up great ideas to integrate into your teaching . You also get a nice up of tea and chocolate biscuits :-). They occur in 12 different regions around the country. To find the one closest to you go the ASE website or contact your local ASE field officer. For the West Midlands Teachmeet contact Gaynor Sharp email@example.com .
Follow #tmase to keep in touch :-)
No Comments » | Add your comment
My friends and work colleagues would tell you that I ‘m just not that good with technology. I got a new phone recently and when I posted the photo to the right on my facebook account (which I have to say I am proud that I know how to do!) the comments would confirm that.
So when I was asked by Think Global to present a webinar for them on ‘Integrating global learning into STEM’ I must admit my initial reaction was – what me? Really? As well as being flattered to be asked of course. The very lovely (and I have to say much younger, which i am convinced must have something to do with her less technophobic nature) Amy West convinced me it would all be fine so I took a deep breath and went for it!
I have to admit it was not as difficult as I originally thought to set up, although that may have been because Amy did most of the work! When the day finally came I just took a deep breath, followed instructions and off we went. To my delight it all worked well. In fact, more than that I got a real buzz from being part of something new. OK, so the sound quality wasn’t brilliant, but it worked and enabled me to talk to teachers I wouldn’t normally have been able to reach. Something my friends and family will also tell you is I just love talking about Practical Action and our education work so anything that gives me a platform to do that is good by me.
It didn’t end there however. After the event there was another technology challenge…how to share the webinar presentation with others. There was a lot of info on the presentation I thought others might be interested in and I wanted to share it. So with the help of colleagues here at Practical Action I learnt how to change a presentation into a YouTube video – how cool is that!
So, I am feeling really pleased with myself for trying out new technological things and actually getting to grips with them. Hope you enjoy the resulting video below.No Comments » | Add your comment
Students show David Cameron their ideas of how science and technology can be used to improve lives of the poor at the Big Bang Fair 2013
Students at Ursuline Academy had an experience of a lifetime at the Big Bang fair in March. The Science Angels were one of just two teams interviewed by David Cameron when he visited the Big Bang Fair. In his speech captured in the video clip below the Prime Minister said that ‘ it is important that students make that connection between what they study in the classroom and real lives…the problem you want to solve in the developing world’.
I joined the students on the second day of the fair where they won and the UKFT Textile edge prize and another group of students from the same school won the Shell Prize for sustainability in the National Science and Engineering competition. They were presented with their prestigious awards from the Big Bang at the Award ceremony. Both groups were also proud to achieve their silver CREST awards.
Both teams used Practical Action’s Global CREST challenges materials as inspiration for their projects. The material provides students with support in using real life problems in the developing world to work on for their CREST awards . It gives students starting points for projects and links to Practical Action’s technical briefs as support material. The Sustainables were looking at materials suitable for housing in Bangladesh whilst the Science Angels focused on solutions to help grow crops in Kenya.
As well as an amazing achievement for Ursuline Academy I think it is great recognition of Practical Action’s Global CREST challenges which were launched just over a year ago.
No Comments » | Add your comment
The recent (2011) census in Nepal revealed that 82.78% of people have access to improved drinking water supply. The figure is satisfying as it indicates crossing the MDG target and approaching the national target of universal coverage. However, there is a big question mark in the quality aspects. Water is a good solvent; it’s often called a universal solvent as many substances are easily dissolved in. Therefore, there is always risk of water contamination. It’s thought that most people are not aware about impurities in water and just judge water with their senses like sight or smell.
A survey conducted by Practical Action in six urban poor communities of mid-western Nepal (Bardiya) in 2009 showed that drinking water is contaminated chemically (ammonia, phosphate, iron and arsenic) and biologically (presence of e-coli). Nevertheless, 89% of respondents in the survey were happy with the quality of drinking water. It was also found that 98% of people didn’t practice any water purifying methods before consumption.
Many people in the developing world – 35% of people in Nepal (census 2011) – rely on tube wells or hand pumps for drinking water. Mostly tube wells extract water from the first aquifer or ground water up to 20 feet. It’s seen that ground water sources in such cases are easily contaminated because of the lack of appropriate management. In many cases in Bardiya, a small pond of stagnant water forms near tube wells. In such cases how can quality water be expected? Further, it is found that water handling and storage is also an issue.
No doubt, water is life, but we need to consider both quantity and quality. Some simple steps like education on water quality, low cost household water treatment options, platform improvement for tube wells, grey water management and proper water handling can make a big difference in water quality that ultimately leads to a healthier life.No Comments » | Add your comment
My trip up north, as I have always shared, comes with many lessons for me. This time I had a personal objective. My mission was not just to pick peculiar aspects of the Cushitic culture but to learn a word or two. The ‘classes’ were random. All my acquaintances were my teachers. They all wanted to teach me a word or two. The daring ones ensured I sang along to their satisfaction. I enjoyed their enthusiasm.
At the Mora geel
Among many new lexicons I managed to comfortably take home with me was the word mora geel. Mora geel is a place where camels are sheltered. It is the same place where camels are milked. It was easy to memorize since I was leading a team of videographers to document Practical Action’s innovative camel milk project in Mandera County. And in our numerous trips to capture the moods, the changes, interview locals and filming the environment in general, I noticed that a lady milking a camel’s stubby udders at sunrise is not a novelty, but a daily chore to get milk valued by their tribe for generations.
So how do I say I want camel milk, I asked? Cano geel ayan raba said my teacher.
To them milking of camels is not only an act of work, but an integral part of the local culture and heritage. The milking itself has its own rules. Two teats are left for the calf, while the other two are milked-out for the family. The milk is either consumed fresh or sour.
This arid region in northern Kenya, like much of the greater horn of Africa, has in recent years been hit with less predictable and more intense droughts. Many pastoralists have lost their mainstay – livestock. The changing weather condition has not only led to loss in thousands of livestock but it has also hindered cow’s milk production. However, the value of the camels has been boosted. Milk and meat from the animal now enjoys the highest prices in the market, both nationally and internationally.
Although camels are more expensive to buy than cows, they are cheaper to keep and their milk fetches more on the market. Camel milk is said to be three times as rich in Vitamin C and is known to be rich in iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins,” according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s website.
According to Viola Sugut, Practical Action’s project officer, “Camels produce milk all year round and produce when other livestock stop or die from dehydration. This ensures a steady income for the family. Businesses have also been established selling camel milk and other milk products like yoghurt and sweets. This has generated a lot of interest among local women and other women are looking at the Bulla women’s group and seeing that they can also just come out and participate in business,” she explained.
The women milk traders have found their niche says Sugut. The women’s business model has proved to be successful. The hope is that camel milk will continue to empower women, feed their families and change lives in Mandera.No Comments » | Add your comment
If you were hoping for an environmental twist on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, I would move on now. But if you’re interested in how communities living in the cloud forests of Peru and Bolivia are beginning to experience the fifty shades of green forest that their ancestors once enjoyed, then read on.
For many years, settlers have lived in areas of the forests also inhabited by the Awajun, the indigenous communities. Renting land from the Awajun, the settlers’ preferred method of farming was to clear away the forest and plant seasonal crops to feed their families until the quality of the soil was so depleted that it was no longer productive. The families then had to move on. This was clearly not sustainable and led to conflict with the Awajun, whose land no longer had any value.
Working with the Awajun and settlers, Practical Action researched how the forests used to look, using local knowledge to identify the diversity of plants and trees (hence the fifty shades of green) that once grew naturally in the area. Using this knowledge, we worked with the communities to find ways of recreating the cloud forests while still providing them with a realistic living. An agro-forestry system was devised, which ensures that areas of indigenous forest are conserved for future generations, while at the same time communities are able diversify their crops, for eating and selling. I love the diagram below, illustrating simply how by working together, the Awajun and the settlers really can bring ‘fifty shades of green’ back into their lives now, and for future generations. It’s also a partnership beyond the cloud forest communities – we have been able to achieve this because of the partnership with three great Foundations: Innocent foundation, Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation.
No Comments » | Add your comment
Although I have been very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Kenya and Sudan to visit our projects, I have not visited all of Practical Action’s countries of operation. I have hundreds of colleagues who, sadly, I have not been able to meet in my three and a half years working for Practical Action. We communicate through email and Skype, and although these technologies promote good working relationships, nothing beats having a real conversation in person.
So last week it was a real joy to meet one of Practical Action’s most dedicated project workers, Nazmul Islam Chowdury, from Bangladesh. Nazmul is currently visiting the UK as part of our work campaigning for more political action, leadership and funding for the fight against climate change.
Nazmul is truly inspirational. We speak at length about the Pathways from Poverty project which he manages in Bangladesh. This ambitious project, one of the largest in our history, endeavours to help 119,000 of the poorest women, men and children in rural areas of the country to take the first step to a life beyond poverty.
Many families here are achingly poor, and have been impoverished for generations. Their poverty is not just a shortage of money with which to buy things. It means starvation, dirty water, ill-health, inadequate shelter, limited access to education. It is the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together.
At the beginning of the Pathways from Poverty project, people had lost hope of things ever being different or better. Nazmul’s assurance that, within 12 months, communities would have enough food to overcome their hunger was met with huge suspicion. That suspicion only intensified when Nazmul shared his idea of a beautifully simple farming technique, sandbar cropping, which could secure food for life. “People thought I was mad!” he says.
Floods in Bangladesh don’t just destroy homes and lives when they arrive; they also leave a crippling legacy when the waters subside. The ‘char’ – the silted sand plains that the floods leave behind – are too infertile for even the most skilled farmers to tend. Nazmul’s idea was to simply dig holes in the sandy plains and fill them with manure, compost and then plant pumpkin seeds. Within seven days the pumpkin seeds start to germinate fresh green shoots. And hope springs once more.
“I remember one woman in particular who was so delighted with her pumpkin harvest. She told me ‘I’ve fallen in in love with this. Before I hated spending time in the field because it seemed so futile. Nothing grew. But now I want to spend all my time tending to my crop of pumpkins. I’ve never seen so much food. This technology is helping us to grow food in the sand. It’s a dream.’ Listening to stories like this makes me feel immensely proud of the sandbar cropping technology. I think it is the best example of ‘small is beautiful’.”
The Pathways from Poverty project is already having a huge, transformational impact on the lives of some of Bangladesh’s most desperate people.
I ask Nazmul what drives him, and am so inspired by his response:
“I feel a great sense of responsibility to the Bangladeshi people. Everyone pays their taxes. And those taxes have paid for my education. I feel it is my duty to pay people back. I use this philosophy to inspire my team. I want to see people in my country enjoying their lives, not spending every moment worrying about their survival, about their children’s survival. We may never be rich like the Americans. But I want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to earn what is sufficient for life. Everybody in the world has the right to food, shelter, and education, healthcare. These are the basic rights and choices.”
As I listen to Nazmul’s words, I feel so immensely lucky to work with such visionary people who are so committed to challenging the numerous injustices in our world. Practical Action is an organisation, but our good work is only possible because of people – our committed team of project workers, the people with whom we’re working who revolutionise their own lives, and of course, you – the lovely, wonderful people who support us.No Comments » | Add your comment
On Tuesday this week I attended a conference in London sponsored by DFID, the Omidyar Network (set up by the founder of the on line shopping empire eBay) and WIRED magazine. The topic of the conference was the use of new communications technology (social media, mobile phones and the web) to promote open government, transparency, participation and development. It was a high profile conference with a video message form the UK Prime Minister and a speech by the new UK Secretary of State for Development Justine Greening. More information on the conference itself can be found at www.openup12.org or on twitter at #OpenUp12 . DFID is clearly interested in this area and used the occasion to announce a new $50m fund created together with USAID and SIDA called Making All Voices Count to support the development of web and mobile technologies in developing countries that can empower citizens.
At the conference there were some interesting examples of social media being used to promote transparency. The Ushahidi platform which was initially developed after the violence of the 2008 Kenyan elections was one. It allows individuals to post information by SMS, MMS or via the web about election irregularities, intimidation, violence etc. to create a real time map of problems that is available on line and which can be used to force government to take action. Ushadhidi has since been used in the Ugandan and Congo elections and in various disasters including the Haitian earthquake. The Ushadhidi platform (and another simpler version called crowdmap which can be set up and used in a few minutes) are open source and can be downloaded and used for free and have the potential to be used for non-emergency situations as well where you want large numbers of people to contribute to information that could be displayed on a map (for example – latest market prices for tomatoes at different town centres or the location of broken water points or villages without electricity connections). There was also an interesting presentation on the use of Facebook and Twitter in Nigeria to co-ordinate political protest.
One thing that struck me during the many presentations and discussions was that, just as in the real work, in the digital world there are many technology injustices. For example, depending on whose statistics you believe, in Africa, out of a population of over 1 billion people, somewhere between 400 and 750 million people have access to a mobile phone. But the cost of use, the level of connectivity, and the availability of electricity to recharge phones means that 90% of those people use less than 1 MB of data a month (in comparison the average data consumption in Europe and the US is between 150 and 400MB per person per month). This means most people are not really able to use the technology to access and exchange information beyond the most basic level.
It also means that when we are talking about a new wave of political engagment through the use of social media, be it during the “Arab Spring” or the co-ordination of political protests in Nigeria, we are talking essentially about political engagment by a relatively small ‘middle class’ urban group, who has the connectivity and who can afford the telephone bills. There is a danger, as one participant of the conference noted during a question, that we overestimate the power of social media to change the balance of power and give voice to the marginsalised. Its use (at least at the moment) is just as likely to simply accrue more power and voice to those who already have it.
There is also a digital technology gender injustice to contend with as 300 million more men than women have access to mobile phones world-wide.
Practical Action is certainly not Luddite in its approach to new technology. Around the world we are increasingly using social media and the web in our programme work, most obviously in Practical Answers, where we see the use of the web and YouTube videos in Latin America to provide information to farmers, podcasting in Peru, Zimbabwe and Nepal to get recordings out beyond the reach of the internet, SMS messaging for agricultural help lines in Nepal and Bangladesh, and mobile phone networks being used to provide advanced warning of floods in Nepal.
But we need to remeber that social media technology alone is no panecea and cannot, without other parallel action, overcome the more fundamental causes of poverty. You can’t join a twitter protest campaign if you live in a place that has no electricity to charge your phone!No Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve just finished the first part of Practical Action’s European speaker tour on climate change, having visited Germany and the Czech Republic.
In both countries I was talking about our adaptation work in Bangladesh, including our ‘Pathways from Poverty’ project.
Despite Bangladesh being one of the poorest and most climate affected countries in the world, many other countries could learn a lot from the way it has adapted to the increasing floods and other climate related disasters caused by climate change.
In Germany, I presented our project at a major conference in Bonn from 1-3 November called ‘Dialogue Towards Transformation’ organised by our project partner, Germanwatch. The conference was attended by 140 NGOs from 22 countries around the world including both developed and developing nations.
It highlighted the synergies and tensions which exist between climate change and other subjects such as food security, energy and poverty reduction. This is also one of the issues addressed in Practical Action’s new five-year strategy from 2012-2017.
One of the major talking points at the conference was the need for NGOs or Civil Society to agree on development priorities in the run up to the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals. There was also a lot of debate about the extent to which NGOs can really influence international negotiations like the Rio plus 20 conference and the global climate change talks or whether our job is to build a mass movement outside these processes calling for change.
Like the UK and Bangladesh, flooding is the major climate impact in both the Czech Republic and Germany. Just two years ago, flooding there and in Poland killed nine people and resulted in over 1,000 having to be evacuated from their homes.
Despite the recession and the EU bailout, Germany continues to be a leader in climate change and promoting the green economy. In contrast in the Czech Republic there is still a lot of scepticism about climate change among the public and politicians and their current President, Vaclav Klaus, is a well known climate sceptic. The Czechs also have one of the highest carbon dioxide emissions per head of population in Europe due to their heavy industry and car manufacturing.
To highlight the issues, I spoke to business studies and social geography students at two universities in Prague and also to international development students at Olomouc university. The debates were organised by our Czech partner, Glopolis. Before my presentation I asked all the students how many of them thought climate change was real and was happening now. Only about half put their hands up.
So a major challenge for the Czech NGO movement in the next few years will be to transform public and political opinion in relation to climate change. This was the subject of a round table debate I attended with many of the Czech Republics, leading NGOs and a representative of their Department of Energy and Climate Protection. We agreed an important opportunity to do this will be the publication of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2013/14. This is likely to contain a wealth of evidence that many of the extreme weather events like flooding both in Europe and Bangladesh can now be directly linked to climate change.
Our adaptation work in Bangladesh (promoting technologies like floating gardens, sand bar cropping and duck farming) was well received in both Germany and the Czech Republic. Many delegates, students and NGO staff came up to me afterwards and said that too often in the debate on climate change the voice of the poor isn’t heard and that policy needed to be much better informed by what is happening on the ground. Practical Action, with its wealth of experience working with the world’s poor and knowing what works in the field, is in a unique position to do both.
Among many of those I spoke to in both Germany and the Czech Republic there was strong agreement that adaptation must now go up the UN and the EUs agenda and that we need to see a far greater political and financial commitment to helping people in countries like Bangladesh adapt to a future in which once rare events like flooding become part of the everyday struggle for survival. One student I spoke to in Prague summed up the situation well when she said “Your work in countries like Bangladesh buys vital time for the world to adapt to climate change and gives the poorest people most affected by it a fighting chance of a future.”
The speaking tour now moves on to the European Parliament and then the United Kingdom before attending the climate talks in Qatar.No Comments » | Add your comment
On 30th October, some of our long-standing supporters have booked onto a Nepal project visit, to see our work in action. We are going to show them what a huge difference Practical Action is making, and help them to inspire their friends, families and colleagues. Come and check this blog regularly for their trip updates, pictures, diaries and videos.
November 1st Kathmandu • Improving living conditions for urban waste-pickers
November 2nd Kamadhenu • Gravity Goods Ropeways and Tuins to transport people, goods and livestock between elevated remote rural villages
November 3rd Chainpur, Bachhauli • Cattle resource centre • Grass Cultivation project • Dalit-focussed programme • Community library visit
November 4th Devghat, Sharadanagar, Nawalparasi • Urban scheme to improve water quality and sanitation • Early warning system for floods • Community meetings
November 5th Gorkha, Tanahun • Milk chilling centre • Farmers’ co-operative
November 6th Pokhara • Disaster Preparedness in Pokhara
November 7th Kathmandu • Meet Practical Action Nepal teamNo Comments » | Add your comment