Today was the second day at the Malambo School. The first two hour session of the day I spent teaching math to 7th graders. The lesson covered how to find the area and perimeter of rectangles, and how to measure lengths with rulers and tape measures, as well as the different units of measurement in the metric system. The goal was to help the students take the conceptual knowledge learned in our lessons, and turn it into practical use because we would be building a fence in the second two hour session. The first example and explanation of how to find the perimeter was quite unclear, and none of the students were able to grasp the concept. This made teaching them harder and I had to backtrack and try to make them forget what was first taught to them. It took a while and I had to explain in many different ways, some of which were more appealing and easier to understand to different students. At about the same time however, there was a breakthrough, and all of them mastered the concept of finding the perimeter. I have been thinking about the level of ability in these students, and although English is their second language, and therefore class is harder for them, math is universal and they all know enough English to understand what I am trying to say if not every single word. I really feel bad for these kids whose ages range from 12-14, firstly because in America most 14 year olds are in 8th or 9th grade, and secondly because what they are learning in math is pretty standard 4th or 5th grade math in America. Because of the lesser quality of or access to education in this area, the kids have been set back, and have to work much harder to catch up. The teacher clearly was a little bit lazy from seeing what they previously knew because they might understand how to do a type of math problem, but not understand why they take the steps they do in that type of problem. When he first took a stab at teaching them perimeter, he just tried to drill the formula into their memories, as opposed to truly explaining each part of the formula, so even if they forget the formula, they can figure it out again. For me, that has always been what math is, not purely memorization, and it makes me sad that because of their situation and a fair bit of bad luck, they truly do not receive the same education and resources to learn as I do.
However, in the second session I was really impressed by how they were able to work together, using the measurements of the boundary for the fence that we took earlier, to start building the fence. They applied what they knew about area and perimeter to the rectangular fence, and were able to figure out what the area and perimeter of the fence shape was. It was apparent how much the kids wanted to learn and use what they learned. Interacting with the kids was very fun, although some of the physical work got strenuous! When doing technical work on the fence, I found it very interesting how we could communicate on what to do, where to put the wire and such, without speaking. Although it is extremely cliche to say, this activity really reinforced my belief that no matter what nationality you are, what language you speak, or your socioeconomic background, we Americans and Zambians, and everyone in the world, truly are one people.
Oscar B., Sidwell Friends School