Science, Exploration, Education, and storytelling using foldscopes in rural Kenya.

This project is funded by National Geographic’s COVID-19 Remote Learning Emergency Fund for Educators Grant.

School closures due to COVID-19 brought significant disruptions to education across the world. The crisis exacerbated pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children – those living in poor or rural areas – to continue learning at home or in school. 

Pollen grains were observed using a foldscope+phone.

It was during these trying times that National Geographic sent out a proposal call for  Covid-19 Remote Learning Emergency Fund for Educators. This call targeted educators designing innovative ways to bring the world to students and help them bridge their personal experiences to a more global perspective on critical issues. Other areas of focus included using the power of science, and geography to help educators bring environmental justice and exploration among others. 

Our application was under the leadership of our co-founder Michael Mumbo, an Educator with a background in Mathematics and IT. He developed an interest in Wildlife and Mathematics while facilitating mathematical modeling for animal motion during the annual Kenyan Maths Camps for high school students. As one of the beneficiaries of this grant, it was a huge milestone for us to work in promoting the explorer mindset to teachers and learners. 

Edutab Africa team while on a visit to Mt Mtelo Ecolodge in West Pokot, Kenya.

The main focus of our project was to design 10 learning resources that would help bring the world of microscopy to students using simple easy-to-use paper-based microscopes. It aimed to help them bridge their personal experiences to a more global perspective on critical issues such as understanding the role of microorganisms in the ecosystem in ways that foster exploration, curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. We did this by providing students with direct access to the microscopic world using a flexible and easy-to-use Foldscope developed by Prakash Labs and developing curricula together with primary and secondary school science teachers. We worked with teachers and learners drawn from 8 schools in Trans Nzoia, West Pokot, Kakamega Counties in Kenya, and 1 community resource center in Kakamega.

While designing instructional resources for physical or virtual learning for this project, we anchored our resources design and learner guides as we take into consideration the National Geographic Learning Framework and the  Geo-Inquiry concept to help with promoting the explorer mindset in learners. 

Implementing this project during a pandemic brought interesting perspectives on how science could help solve global challenges, more so when taken out of the conventional science labs. Working with teachers, communities, and learners in primary and high school in the instructional material development process saw everyone reflect on obvious and yet complex concepts in nature. For example one of the resources was focused on Introduction to Infectious Agents in water which demonstrated microbial biodiversity that exists in water and its relationship with the ecosystem. 

Freshwater is necessary for human life to thrive.

Throughout the implementation of this project either in teacher training, material development, or interactions with learners there was a rich enthusiasm for the learning journey. For example, a teacher at St John Fisher’s Mbuinjeru Secondary School in Embu County is now using foldscopes to unlock the unseen worlds.

“This kind of exploratory learning enabled by the use of these portable microscopes has helped to teach and learn Biology in a manner that generates curiosity and inquiry. This is a good step towards helping unlock undreamed futures in the world of STEAM.”

Ephantus Mutiga-Biology and Chemistry teacher at St John Fisher’s Mbui Njeru Secondary School, Embu.
Curious learners observing specimen using foldscopes.

With the development of the learning resources, we now aim to disseminate these lesson plans and continue working with teachers to incorporate more exploratory microscopy activities into curricula in an engaging and immersive way. We also intend to grow educational activities that will help grow a community of explorers in Africa that use inexpensive resources such as Foldscopes that bring joy into learning.

To learn more about the project and access additional learning resources visit this site.

Photography by Patrick Njoroge.