Last week I got back from the US after attending OpenCon in Washington DC from 12-14 Nov. Arriving the day after the US election results came out, the mood in the capital was very somber as people were trying to grapple with what just happened. Even walking down the streets, I caught fragments of many conversations discussing the recent events. I also arrived on Veteran’s Day, and as I had some time to do a bit of sight seeing, I decided to walk along the Mall, and also to the end where most of the war memorials are located.
I arrived at a very misty, drizzly St Anne’s and was quickly transported back in time to the atmosphere the thick, refreshing mist used to create around the school, no matter the time of day. I hadn’t quite realised it was also the last day of school for the Matrics, but soon saw the evidence of the celebrations lying at the entrance to the foyer and paraphernalia dotted around elsewhere!
Last week I attended the launch for the “Post-School Access Map” at the Wits Business School, Johannesburg. The web-based resource that was launched gives information on opportunities and choices for after school, and has been developed by BRIDGE with funding and support from the Zenex Foundation.
I was inspired by how well the launch event was attended, with people from all levels within the education sector and many organisations and schools represented. It was a very focused event, which was great, as one can easily get lost and overwhelmed discussing the myriad of challenges in education, resulting in the discussion being diluted. But, the majority of the discussion was acutely focused on how to enable learners, and their support structures, to identify and pursue opportunities after school.
This is my forth post about the Natural Sciences training that we ran last year for subject advisors across the country. You can read more about the project goals and design (part 1), the programme and resources created (part 2) and how we assessed and exposed key misconceptions in the different knowledge areas (part 3).
At Siyavula, we believe in constantly asking for feedback from a group both during and after a workshop. What often comes to my mind when reflecting on feedback are examples from biology where one can get positive feedback loops and negative feedback loops. Both are necessary for a healthy individual or ecosystem. The same is true for any process where you want to constantly be tweaking, making adjustments, finding a balance between different needs and expectations and using the feedback to respond and evolve. Closing these feedback loops is crucial in developing a successful, sustainable, long-term process.
Open communication is also vital to building and maintaining a community of practice. By keeping the lines of communication directly open with your participants, and following up with correspondence, I believe you also help to build relationships which will last beyond the physical interaction at a workshop. This will have a long term benefit in creating a community that is willing to share and learn from each other. Following is a summary of some of the feedback that we received, via email and in the post-workshop survey, and some reflections on the success of the various sessions throughout the workshops. Personally, I also find it a consolidating process to write all of this down, which is why i have written these blog posts, as it allows me to reflect on my own experiences as well.
As part of conducting the Natural Sciences training, we were asked to conduct a performance analysis, both before and after the workshops, to assess the subject advisors’ content knowledge. I think one of the main reasons for wanting this was to have some way of assessing the “impact of the intervention”, and a data-based performance analysis is often what is looked to as the easiest measure of impact. However, we were at first opposed to doing this right at the start as I felt that it would not be the most welcoming approach to administer a test as everyone first walks in the door. I also felt it would not set the right tone for the rest of the training.
In this post I want to outline some of the details of how we structured the workshops, the different sessions we ran and the content we decided to focus on. We also created and used a number of openly licensed resources, which have all been made available online for anyone else to build upon and adapt for their own use. You can read more on the project goals and design in the first post here.
At the end of 2014, Siyavula was involved in planning, designing and conducting training workshops for the Gr 4-9 Natural Sciences subject advisors in all 9 provinces in South Africa. I coordinated the training project from our side and learned an enormous amount, from designing training workshops, to working with different stakeholders in the education system, to delivering training and teaching concepts, to working with a diverse team, and importantly, interacting with the subject advisors and building relationships across the country.
This blog post, and the few to follow, are reflections on the training, including how it was designed and conducted, our experiences, challenges we faced and recommendations for going forward with future, similar training programmes.