My name is Teni and I’m a PhD student at Stanford University. As I mentioned in my previous post, this summer I joined the Hidden Road Initiative organization to travel with a group of volunteers to a remote village in Armenia, named Shvanidzor. Our goal was to teach different skills and topics to ~60 K-12 students from Shvanidzor and neighboring villages. I taught health and sanitation in the context of biology, with two other members of the health class team, Michael Abassian from UCLA and Julieta Arakelyan from American University of Armenia. We were super excited and grateful to be able to use Foldscopes in our class thanks to the generosity of Manu Prakash and the Foldscope team.
We taught 4 classes each day of the same topic to 4 different age groups, and we tried to include some foldscope projects with most lessons. Our foldscope-involving lessons included sanitation, nutrition, and genetic/phenotypic variations. I will share our experience with Foldscopes below.
On the first day of classes, we surveyed students about whether they enjoyed learning about biology. Most students, especially those in the older age groups, responded in the negative. So it took us a few days to gain their trust; they realized that we were not trying to force them into liking the subject. And I think foldscopes had a big role in the process. It seemed like students were bored with textbook biology, so we prepared field notebooks for them out of colorful paper and asked them to write or draw their observations in it. Our goal was to simply remind them to explore their surroundings and be curious. With time, they became thrilled with the discoveries they were making with Foldscopes and would hurry to show us what they had found.
The eldest group of students (ages 14-18) prepared the scopes. That was quite fun on its own! It took about 45 minutes to build 17 scopes. Students had to wait until the next day to actually learn how to use the scope. They could not wait and were curious to know how the scopes work.
In the afternoons, we had elective lessons and for a few days we had microscopy as an elective. The microscopy electives were not structured around any specific topic, so that students could freely explored their surroundings. These lessons were most effective because students who were truly excited about the scopes joined us. I should mention these were students that opted to join the microscopy class instead of dance, music, sports, games or arts. We gave some of the most enthusiastic students their own individual foldscope, which came with the responsibility of knowing how to use it well and passing on the knowledge to their instructors and peers (in Shvanidzor and neighboring villages).
One of the challenges we faced was sticking the magnets to different types of phone cameras. We also tried finding live organisms in the water, but because they used constantly running irrigation water in the village, we could not find a still pond, and so it was difficult to find live organisms in them. Sometimes we had difficulties finding or seeing the samples. Most days the weather was quite hot (~110F), and lack of air conditioning made some younger students lose patience and run away to play with water.
Another challenge was working with 15-20 students at a time. This size was great for allowing students to wander around and explore on their own, but it is a little difficult to help everyone if they are new to the scopes. I’d say groups of 3-5 students would be perfect.
Here, I attached some photos that show how much the students loved using foldscopes. Some of them revealed their amazing observation and drawing skills. Others managed to trap live insects under the coverslip and described their movements under the scope. Some took a few paper slides home to prepare samples and brought it in for next day’s class. An 8 year-old ran out of slides and prepared her own paper slides at home ( see image below) !
In my next few posts, I will attach images/movies that the students took with foldscopes during class hours or electives.