Eric Mintah and Luise
Luise, Johan Martin Kramer and a student practicing for the Christmas play.
Two weekends ago I decided to start an essay contest for Form 1 and Form 2 (Grades 7 and 8). We had been doing the same old things in class – ICT (Information and Communications Technology) theory and then practical application of that theory in the lab. I was bored and perhaps the students were bored as well. I felt the need to spice things up for my last month teaching in Ghana.
The other reason I wanted do a contest is that I still wanted to take some kids to the Vodafone Internet Cafe. My original plan was to take all of Form 2 in groups of 10. So many of you generously donated for that cause but between collecting the money and implementation of the plan things changed. In late June I learned that SBIG was going to donate an internet router to BASCO. Through discussions with them, the staff and my donors it was decided that the money I collected would be used to finance 6 months of internet access. This way students from BS 1 (grade 1) through Form 3 (grade 9) can all benefit from internet access. I was a bit disappointed because I thought it would be a blast to take the kids to an internet cafe for the first time, so I came up with this smaller and more manageable plan.
In the first class about the contest I gave the rules.
1) All work must be original
2) Topic: ICT tools are making the world smaller
3) You must submit
4) Write 5 or more paragraphs.
The prize would be an all expenses paid trip to the Vodafone Internet Cafe in Koforidua for four students – the top two girls and the top two boys. They would have two hours on the internet where they would sign up for an email.
The rest of the class was devoted to brainstorming. I gave them the topic “ICT tools are making the world smaller.” I explained brainstorming to them then we brainstormed on the topic together in class. I removed the rule that you must raise your hand before talking. First one or two answers were given. I wrote them on the board, and then the free for all started. Ideas were flying around the room and I could not catch them all to put them on the board.
Then we evaluated the ideas from the brainstorming session and made a list of ideas they could include in their essays. They wrote them down and handed them in for me to correct spelling. I know many of you will laugh at me correcting spelling but I had a dictionary!
Form 1 decided to attack the theme by talking about three ICT tools and some in Form 2 decided on a different approach. They picked three ways communication happened in a village and would show how ICT tools made the whole world able to communicate as if it were just a small village.
The next class I discussed writing a outline to help organize their thoughts. This concept was hard for them to grasp. I think some of it could have been my unfamiliarity with teaching English. I am sure a JHS English teacher would have a whole arsenal of weapons attack the subject with but alas I only had my one thought that an outline will help you get organize your ideas. As I learned after the next class, for many of the students the outline played no role in their first draft essays.
Last I collected their first drafts and edited them. The next class I handed back the edited essays and the students rewrote them during class period. We both liked this method. I think the kids liked the individual attention I gave them when they came to have my notes explained and I liked the idea that they would finish the essay in class, thus assuring they would do the final paper!
Werner, one of my German friends, helped me select the winners. And I announced them after lunch in Form 1. Form 2 is still in the process of writing.
In the next post you can read about Form 1’s visit to the Vodafone Internet Cafe on Thursday 7 July.
During the first week of this term I received a schedule for the term. The schedule said that students would vacate on April 8th. Well, I have been in Ghana long enough to know that this is only a soft suggestion, ANYTHING could happen in the three months until then. So I didn’t start planning my trip to the Upper East yet.
Fast forward to March 22, to morning assembly where we were told that the exams that were supposed to start on Thursday were postponed. I had been wondering because we didn’t have paper nor toner to print the exams my German friends and I had typed for the past week. Students who hadn’t paid their school fees for the 2nd term were sent home to get them. I assumed so the school could have money to buy paper and toner.
Since the school was pretty much empty and those students who were there were working on the farm I decided to do something productive. I would travel to Cape Coast and visit New Life Orphanage for Peace Corps. When I told the headmaster my plan he said he thought that exams would start on Monday the 28th.
The urge to know when classes would end was because If I wanted to travel I must get a signed Volunteer Leave Request Form (VLRF) to Accra at least a week before I was to travel. I figured I could stop in Koforidua on my way back from New Life and send a form to Peace Corps then.
While traveling back I found out from Werner that we would not have exams the week of March 28 but students would work on the farm that week and then exams should start on April 4.
During the week there was no sign of toner nor paper to print the exams. They arrived around 11 pm on Friday night when Pastor Segie came to lead the all night prayer session. Most of the exams were printed over the weekend but we still wondered if exams would begin on Monday the 4 because the headmaster didn’t return to campus until late Sunday night.
Well exam did begin on Monday. Hip Hip hooray! I went to Koforidua on Tuesday planning to fill out the electronic form and send the signed one on to Accra via the Kumasi sub office. Much to my dismay when I opened the electronic form it was a PDF that could not be edited.
Knowing PC wanted notification of my travel a week ahead of time I sent an Email to my boss and to the head of security telling them of my travel plans. When I got back to BASCO, late that afternoon, PC called me. My boss, Mary, said they needed the form before I left. I explained my problem with the PDF. As I had a MOCK exam to proctor on Wednesday and my ICT exam on Thursday I told her I didn’t think I could get to Kof before Friday.
The next day, Wednesday, I went to collect my ICT exams only to discover that the printer had run out of toner and the ICT exams had not been printed. Just a little frustrating because fi anyone had told me on Wednesday morning or even Tuesday that my exams weren’t printed I would have gone to Kof and printed them myself. As it was it was too late to go.
Werner said we could try to print with a little shake, rattle and roll! So we went to the lab and turned on the batteries that can power the computers for an hour. The battery was beeping like crazy because other people had used them that day. It was very frustrating. We managed to get 7 pages printed then the batteries died. To me it was a mixed blessing. I think the beeping would have made me mad.
I managed to find an old VLRF and filled it out. The headmaster signed. Now when could I go fax this. Is there even a fax machine in Koforidua?
In the middle of this frustration the PC Security Officer called me and said I must not move (travel) until they received the form. I am afraid I snapped something like “You have been to my site. It’s not easy to get out of and I don’t have a PC car to take me to Kof and back in a jiffy.” He wondered why i didn’t have time if classes were over. I explained that although classes were over we were having end of term exams and I needed to be there to proctor and to mark my exams.
Later in the evening, when the generator was on, Werner printed the exams.
On Thursday morning I awoke ready to give my exam and had reluctantly decided to try to go to Kof after the exam. It meant paying for taxi fare (12 cedis) both ways to the junction because after 10 am it’s too hot to walk the 3km to the junction.
At 9:30 I walked to my class and saw the agriculture master writing on the board. He turned and told me my exam had been rescheduled to 12:30. No chance to go to Kof today. I just went back to my room. Took a beach book and read so I would blow my stack.
On this morning I discovered that we should have our papers marked and the grades in the assessment books by the end of the day. So now the plan is to go to Kof on Saturday.
I like to plan ahead I am happy to comply with Peace Corps rules. I certainly don’t want to be sent home because I left site without notifying my APCD. As things changed and were unconfirmed at my school my stress level has risen. I can say that I will really be ready to go the Upper East and have a vacation.
10 April 2011
Yesterday I went to Kof. I had not hope that I would be lucky enough to find a fax machine without tramping all around Kof. First, I stopped at my favorite copy center but they did not have a fax nor a scanner. He directed me to another nearby business center. Yeah! they had a scanner. They would scan my form for 30 pesewa. Yes. Then I could email it.
I am packing this morning and planning on starting my trip tomorrow. But who knows that could change. I’ll let you know.
Got up early this morning and started marking the Form 3 MOCK BECE (Basic Education Certificate Examination). The BECE will be given April 11 – 18. The results of this exam will pretty much determine if and where a student will go to High School.
Our students took the 5th set of mock exams this week. They will take tests in 8 subjects. Let me try to name them all – Integrated Science, Maths, English, Twi, Social Studies, Religion and Moral Education, ICT, Technical Arts and Agriculture. Oh that’s 9.
I was happy with the results.Through out the term I have kept an Excel spreadsheet with their results from each mock. I compared the results of each mock with the first one. There were 5 As(80-100 is an A in Ghana). At least 10 students increased their marks by 20-36 points and many more gained 10 – 20 points. Less than 10 students lost points
As happy as I was with the students results I was equally frustrated with the exam itself. The school purchased a set of mock exams created by Ghana Education Service (GES). In the set were 50 question papers, 50 answer sheets that can be corrected by computer and the answers to the test for the teacher.
The answers for three multiple choice questions were wrong wrong wrong! On two more questions I could have argued for two of the answers as correct. On the essay questions students were asked to name three advantages of the Internet. The answer sheet listed uses of the Internet. Last the students were shown an Excel spreadsheet. They were asked to calculate the numbers for the population of Ghana in regions. They were actually told to do the math and not to write the excel formulas to calculate the sums. What made me crazy is that I repeated at least a billion times that I don’t want the answers when we work with Excel but I want the formula. The purpose of Excel is to let the computer do the math for you.
I was not a classroom teacher in the US. I never dealt with standardized test that end so I don’t know if there are errors on standardized tests in the US as well but it sure made me tear my hair out. The other problem with the wrong answers is that Ghanaians respect authority (too much from my American point of view), and the mark on the test is so important that sometimes my counterpart will want to teach the wrong answers. We argue and I think my brassy American attitude convinced him that the students needed to know the right answers regardless of the test or what the authorities said.
Before I returned the test I wrote a small congratulations note to each student who had improved his/her score by more than 20 points and for the A and B students. This is SOP for me but I had begun to wonder if the students appreciated it until the midterms this year. One boy from Form 2 came to me and said “Madam I had an 85 on my paper and so did Christopher but you wrote “Excellent Work” on his and but not on mine.
All of this took me until 3:00 pm. I had taken a bath in the morning but the day was hot and muggy and I wanted one before I took a nap. Drats no water. So I took 3 500 ml sachets of drinking water and emptied them into my bucket and took a sponge bath in my room. It’s nice to rinse the heat of the afternoon off before laying down. I have been taking a sponge bath in the evenings as well. Then I have the fan so my damp skin feels so cool as the fan blows over it. Who needs an air conditioner!
The day was steamy I used three hankies to wipe my brow etc while I was marking my exams but just as I lay down a small breeze came through the windows. Then the breeze turned into a wind and by 5:30 pm the cloud cover had dampened the heat of the day.
As I write now it is raining. I can hear the rain falling gently on the roof and rustling through the leaves in the forest outside my window.
We have had rain 5 out of 7 days this week. I think the rainy season is back – Hip hip hooray!
To add icing to the cake Werner is back from a two week vacation with his Auntie and Brother. Werner is one of the German volunteers. We have bonded over books and movies.
All is well at BASCO.