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Discovering the Science of the Kenyan Environment

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The education outreach team is developing curriculum and relationships that are crossing the ocean and furthering the impact of science education in both Indianapolis and Eldoret, Kenya. Dr. Brian Plankis, faculty member of IUPUI's School of Education, is working closely with Elizabeth Johnson (CEES Education Coordinator), her team of interns, and CEES Director - Dr. Pamela Martin, to help establish these relationships. Small groups of Indianapolis school kids in 3rd through 8th grades are connecting with their peers in Eldoret via video connections. The effort is funded through a partnership with Dow AgroSciences. 

There are now six schools involved in our program, three in Indianapolis and three across the Atlantic, with students eager to experience science in their school yards through investigative, technology-enhanced programs. Additionally, the students are eager to learn more about their peers as they share their science experiences via internet video chatting. 

The first pair of sister schools to connect in this manner was Paramount School of Excellence and Border Farm Primary, and the topical conversations have been enjoyed by both the children and adults on each end of the connection. Topics of interest include what foods are eaten, how each student gets to school, how far they travel, weather and climate, and what subjects they study. During one conversation, students at Paramount modeled their winter garb - to the laughter of students in Eldoret.  Delays in school starting due to cold temperatures helped to reinforce the difference in seasons and climate between the two locales.

As spring nears and relationships develop, the discussions will move away from daily life in each country and center around projects being conducted in each school's farm. The first tasks for students on both sides of the Atlantic will be using technology and their observational skills to map the resources of the school yard.

Paramount, located in the Brookside Park neighborhood just northeast of downtown, has several agricultural amenities, including a large vegetable garden, flock of chickens, native edible garden, milk goats, and an aviary. Border Farm is located on the outskirts of the city of Eldoret, and has a large, productive vegetable farm, or shamba, in which the students take the primary responsibility of tending, and which helps feed their community.  Educators at both schools quickly realized similarities between their school grounds.

Another pair of sister schools recently making their first connections are SENSE Charter School in Fountain Square and Kandie Primary, situated just outside the center of Eldoret. The Discovering the Science of the Environment outreach team has been working with Dr. Plankis and the SENSE after school science club on a project since last fall to create a certified wildlife habitat on their school grounds. SENSE club members have used Vernier LabQuests to measure light intensity in the future habitat location, taken on site measurements to calculate material needs, and researched native plants and animals on iPads. Kandie students have learned to use similar technologies and methodologies on Dr. Plankis' recent trip to Kenya, and will be connecting with SENSE students soon to discuss findings. The trajectory with this relationship is for each group of students to share data about their school grounds and discuss the similarities and differences in native ecosystems.

The third partnership is between Joyce Kilmer Academy, located near the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, and Central Primary School located in the heart of Eldoret. In the science lab at Joyce Kilmer, the DSE team has had the pleasure of working with the 3rd-6th grade students and teachers for two school years.  We have also delivered various programming in the school's garden which contains several raised beds, fruit trees, and a pond. Central Primary boasts a beautifully landscaped school yard that students helped create and continue to help thrive by watering, weeding, transplanting, and pruning as the seasons dictate. This connection, too, will be developed along the topics of science, technology, and environment.

The schoolyard investigations and reports this spring and summer, which will be followed by a teachers' professional development workshop with additional training on the technology, will lay the ground work for project based investigations when school resumes session in August 2015. Teams of students at each of the six schools will prepare a project plan and apply for small grants to carry-out their school yard projects. The students and staff at Paramount and SENSE are already in the beginning stages of developing science projects unique to each school so that the students can share progress and scientific findings related to agriculture in their respective environments.

In addition to the rich cultural exchange that is inevitable with global student communication, some of the overarching goals of this endeavor include raising interest in science education and career paths, increasing confidence in science vocabulary usage, deepening scientific knowledge, and increasing the usage of and familiarity with technology. It is expected that students in Indianapolis and Eldoret will equally share in the benefits of these connections since each student, Kenyan or American, has something unique to offer one another.  We appreciate the funding from Dow AgroSciences that is making this project possible.

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