Full of Energy

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Joey Orlando, Director of Nerdy Marketing

July 9, 2014

We have been chock-full of energy here in Bamako at the Colonie de Vacances STEM. Today marks my fourth full day in Mali and second full day with the students. So far this week at the camp we have focused on energy. We introduced the students to alternative energy methods such as hydropower, wind power, and solar power. We dived in deeper and explained how energy forms are transferred into electrical energy: solar energy from the sun being captured via a photovoltaic cell, kinetic energy in a raging river that can be captured by a turbine and turned into electrical energy, and kinetic energy in the wind and how it is also transformed into electrical energy.

As a writing/brainstorming exercise, we challenged the students to think about current energy practices in their community, and how they could transition to renewable, clean energy sources. Students also drew pictures of how they would implement wind, solar, and hydropower in their homes.

We also discussed the concepts of magnetism and electrical motors. We put this knowledge into practice, having the students use the sun to power handheld fans they built using motors, paper, and photovoltaic cells. Two other activities that had the kids buzzing with excitement: protecting an egg from a 20ft drop, and building a compass out of a piece of metal, water, and a magnet.

“Do you think it is possible to drop this egg off the balcony (from the second floor) without it breaking?” we asked the students. The students all belted out “no way!”. We challenged them to build an “egg-protecting apparatus”, using only straws, cotton, tape, plastic bags, paper cups, and string. We built on concepts of air resistance and drag the students had learned during a previous unit on parachutes.

I noticed that one of our students had been carrying around a compass for the past few days so we decided to expand our lesson on magnetism to its application in navigation and geography. We showed the students that by magnetizing a small piece of metal and suspending it in a small bowl of water, you can make a simple compass that is just as accurate as a handheld compass or even the Compass app on an iPhone.

We have an exciting day lined up tomorrow as well! We are constructing cars that run solely on solar power. Our lesson will include discussion of the various components of an actual car and how each part contributes to making the car run. Field trips, of course, are enormously popular and this week the finale will be an excursion to the local dam to see hydropower in action.

Like kids everywhere in the world, our students are constantly talking about the World Cup. Several of the kids have bestowed the ultimate honor on their science journals by putting soccer stars on the covers. A few of the kids think I resemble Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo. As long as I don’t totally disillusion them once we venture onto the soccer pitch they may start putting pictures of Joey Orlando on their science journals soon! We decided to take advantage of World Cup fever and will have a lesson on physics and soccer followed by a game where Orlando/Ronaldo will either keep or lose his undeserved reputation.

The students are really inspired by the activities and challenges that they have undertaken. A lot of times they initially think that something can’t be done, like making a compass using water and a wire, or dropping an egg 20 feet. But using simple materials, brainstorming, and some ingenuity, they are so excited when they succeed!

The camp has been full of energy, we’ve taught the students all about energy. and the students themselves are full of energy. To further top off their energy levels, we had birthday cake for Christina’s 10th birthday! Afterwards, the students were so energetic that we decided to take a quick break from geography and showed them the traditional game of “Duck Duck Goose”, which they loved!

My time in Bamako has been very busy so far, but certainly well spent. It is quite hot here (during the geography lesson we also explained to the students why the North and South Poles are colder and why it is hot here in Bamako), but in Mali, like the saying goes, “when it rains it pours”. The storms are absolutely beautiful, the thunder and lightning is intense, and the winds from the storms are a welcome refreshment from the heat. I’m doing my best to soak up every little bit of the experience – the place, the weather, the kids, the camp, in my short time here in Mali and to make as much of an impact on the kids as I possibly can.