Andrew Snyder, 126 YinD
Sanook, mai? Was it fun? Sanook Mak! Soooo much fun! This is probably the most important question and answer whenever we do a project or activity in our communities. Sometimes our activities have kids running around and laughing, sometimes they work as a team to accomplish a goal, and sometimes they are just enjoying the opportunity to learn a new sport or activity with their American friend.
Whatever the case, as PCVs we are often looking for creative, fun and innovative projects to take back to our sites. Here is where the work of the Technology for Development (T4D) committee comes in. Maybe you have heard of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) projects but are not sure what they are or how you might start one. Perhaps you have been asked to, or are interested in implementing some project-based and problem-based learning activities. If you can relate to any of these situations, T4D would like to share two upcoming initiatives; Hour of Code activities for your community in December, and a Girls’ Empowerment Camp in early 2017 hosted by students and faculty from Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University.
Earlier this year I had an opportunity to introduce a free and web-based computer programming activity, Hour of Code, to schools in my community. The idea behind Hour of Code is very simple: Introduce students of all ages and abilities to computer programming through puzzles based on popular games, shows or movies. Participants start with simple goals and as they progress, the puzzles get increasingly more difficult. This year, one of the goals of T4D is for every PCV site to include at least one activity from the Hour of Code during Computer Education Week, 5-11 December 2016. We recognize that some of you may not have experience with coding or are unsure how and where to start, so we are currently hard at work creating lesson plans for you to use, as well as helpful keyword lists for each puzzle in English and Thai. We will distribute these resources via the wiki closer to the event, but we encourage anyone interested to start looking around code.org to check out what the website and Hour of Code activities have to offer.
This semester we began a partnership with professors from the Faculty of Education, Educational Technology and Innovation Program at Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University to begin an English, Technology and STEM project for 3rd and 4th year university students. This collaboration came about after a brief guest lecture on the Hour of Code and STEM activities in the classroom, which led to discussions about possible future activities and an exchange of project proposal ideas. As the students progress through the project timeline they will receive hands-on training of basic computer programming concepts, prepare lesson plans, and practice teaching with their peers. In later stages, they will learn how to incorporate life skill activities into their teaching and camp facilitation. All this will lead up to the Girls’ Empowerment Camp early next year. To date, 57 students have been selected to participate in the initial project and have completed several courses in computer programming concepts. They will begin assisting weekly guest lectures on computer programming and Hour of Code activities during the months of September and October, and they’ll serve as Thai speaking technical support for your counterparts during the Hour of Code event in December. The feedback from the students and faculty has been overwhelmingly positive and they are looking forward to sharing the Hour of Code activities with their peers. In fact, the response has been so overwhelming that Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University has requested we increase the original goal of introducing 200-250 students to Hour of Code to over 700 students from the Faculty of Education!
The final piece of the project is a Let Girls Learn based Girls’ Empowerment Camp focusing on technology. The objective of Let Girls Learn is to give girls opportunities to improve their chances of success and continue learning. Girls are historically underrepresented in computer science and other STEM fields, and as Volunteers we have the potential to reach hundreds of students and link them to computer science and STEM activities and opportunities. Together with a renewed focus on providing a solid foundation for future activities in PCV communities, the Girls’ Empowerment Camp aims to expose and inspire Thai girls to use technology in a fun environment, and in a way that is engaging and easy to learn. The main feature of the camp will be introducing students to Scratch 2.0, a block programming language very similar to the Hour of Code activities. Additionally, we hope to create a community of students who will share and collaborate as they learn and try new projects and computer programs. With help from teachers and Peace Corps Volunteers we will start preparing participants to become leaders of computer clubs in their schools and communities. There will be games, life skills activities, and all around camp fun with university students serving as councilors and facilitators. We look forward to continuing to develop ideas and cannot wait to see what great things will happen both during and after.
This is an exciting time to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. The Let Girls Learn initiative has opened many new opportunities for PCVs to participate in camps and other activities geared towards increasing Thailand’s technological development. The T4D team is excited about moving out from behind the scenes and being a more active part of these activities. Peace Corps worldwide is also engaging more with technology and sharing ideas with Volunteers about how they can utilize tech in their communities and projects. As we continue to grow and learn from each other and from other Peace Corps countries, we cannot wait to see what you may dream up and complete in your communities. We invite you to start thinking about technology, STEM, and the Hour of Code events, as well as other ways in which you can give your students the opportunity to play, learn and grow through technology.