Monday, July 27, 2015

Teaching the Basics

Sorry for the break in updates. I was recently joined in my electrical work at Twende by a Kenyan engineering student from Kenyatta University named Odawa. We have been continuing our work in educational programs, and this week we taught two workshops at two different schools in Arusha.
The workshop itself was a very simple lesson in voltage, current and resistance. We used a 9V battery and a couple of resistors to light up an LED, observing the difference in brightness when the resistors are connected in parallel and in series. For the primary students, this was enough of an introduction. 

They were really excited to see the light come on when they made the connection. For the secondary school students, we wanted to take it one step further and teach them a little bit of soldering. We purchased a few soldering irons and some protoboards from the local electrical store, and created a few diagrams explaining the layout of protoboards. We then guided them through the process of heating up the solder and making connections on the board. It was at this point that a pipe burst in the back of the classroom, and water started shooting 4 feet in the air like a geyser. Needless to say, this was a little distracting but we proceeded as if the back of the classroom was not slowly filling up with water while the teacher found some people to help stop the leak. The students managed to stay focused, and finished the soldering project, which involved a battery, LED and a potentiometer. With the finished product, they were able to control the brightness of the LED by turning the knob, something that they really enjoyed playing with. The students who finished the project early then started helping their friends. It was great to see that they were able to apply their newfound knowledge and help their classmates.

The teacher was very happy with our work, and asked us to come back next week! We are now talking about ways to bridge the gap in teaching electronics. I’ve found that the basics of teaching LED circuits and ohm’s law is pretty straightforward, but to do anything else is sort of a big step. We’re hoping to bridge the gap with the solar charger we’ve been working on, which isn’t very complicated and mostly consists of a voltage divider, capacitor, solar panel and battery pack. We’ve settled on a design that works, but it is fragile and we are frequently having to resolder broken connections. The components are also a tad expensive, especially the rechargeable batteries. Having a solar power bank is very useful, so it could potentially be worth it if we can find a way to make it more rugged. In the meantime, we are looking into other simple projects that people can learn something from, and ideally will be something they can take home and use.

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