Science Fair!

So usually I write and over analysis this or that about Peru, but I got to do something really cool this past week: judge at a colegio (secondary school) science fair. Now, you might think ‘What’s so cool about shitty teenage science projects?’ and this might be true to some extent except that many of the kids had been working on their project for at least a month, which is a pretty big time commitment. As well, leading up to the big event, some of the groups came up to me and asked for advice about a number of things: namely recycling, trash management, and solar power. And having helped my homestay sister for a (failed) biodigestor –that she researched and decided to do, and then asked me if I knew anything about it – I was excited to see what all was going to be presented.

Of course, nothing starts on time. I show up at 9 and everyone’s still blowing up balloons, and the other judge hasn’t showed up. About 10 or so, things got underway with the national anthem, some opening remarks, and the introduction of the judges; a science professor from Casa Grande (the closest big town to Sausal) and then yours truly. After a few cheers and jeers, we were off to see each class’s chosen project.

The professor and I spent the next two hours making our way around the colegio checking out all the work the kids but into their projects (I took some pictures, but since I’ve become useless at using the internets due to the cerca 1995 AOL connection we have in my town, expect pictures in December 2011). Obviously, some were more elaborated than others. Major themes included organic products, using local plants for nutrition, reusing/recycling, and solar energy;

+’Natural’ perfumes and soaps
+ Organic pesticides (using peppers and spices)
+ Solar oven
+ An oil candle made out of all recycled materials
+ Solar water heater
+ Recycled materials: dresses and jewelry
+ How to prevent the bubonic pest

Beyond just doing the project, the students had to create a poster presentation including a research question, hypothesis, step by step guide, purpose for research, etc. While each group needed to develop certain aspects of their presentation and information a little more, I was impressed with the quality and design with many of the projects, design and intentions. Especially so since some of these technologies (solar oven, solar water heater, recycled materials projects) are being pushed by organizations focusing on sustainable development.

It seems somewhat ridiculous or no more than a novelty to see these projects in powerpoint presentation and project idea manuals, but to see the students applying many of these ideas independently (while I served as a consultant, I never gave instructions on what to do) was inspiring. The solar water heater, for example, is something we’re experimenting with in the sierras and in Ica, as well as applying the technology to heat houses.

Lastly, as many volunteers have seen, the education system is weak in Peru. Students mainly learn by ‘teach and preach’ models, copy and memorization with very little practical application or creative thinking. To elaborate a project over 1-2 months is not something expected of the students as well. And while some projects fell through, ideas and projects weren’t fully developed, this science fair was a good step to motivate the students to keep pushing forward. And talking with the science professor who organized all of this, it looks like for a first time around the students did well, and he plans on repeating the science fair next year. Can’t wait!


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