A Root must Touch Soil to Grow

in #educationlast year

Forming a new form of Volunteer

Enter Kristen Grauer-Gray – our tireless leader. For half-a-decade she trained Liberian teachers on how to bring classrooms to life using local, affordable materials. She wrote the 132-page "Hands-on Liberia" Lab Manual – a de facto Bible of science.
Kristen humbly sharing with us her successful starting tactics.
She trained countless teachers, then took it one step further and trained fellow volunteers to train teachers. She once crushed an industrial fuel barrel using atmospheric pressure – very nice! Collaborating with the Ministry of Education, she and others nucleated a new volunteer assignment; Science Lab organizer and instructor.

And what do they do?

Our mission was to revitalize hands-on learning in schools that already had established science laboratories. Most county capitals were fortunate enough to have well-stocked labs, primarily built and stocked through an NGO project in the mid-2000s. They looked nice, and even on paper they are impressive. To me, however, they reflect a major failure of foreign-aid initiatives in the region.

Money flows to the what and not the who. What do schools need and what can we give them instead of whose capacity do we build such that the schools can provide for themselves. Give a man a fish or teach him to fish? Many of these high-end labs became dusty vessels ripe for the looting.

With care, practical know-how, and re-bar-inforcement, these labs could foster intrigue among students who otherwise spent the day in front of one chalkboard. Thomas Varmah, the Chemistry teacher at Bopolu Central High School, recognized this. When I arrived in early September, he surprised me with labeled dilute acids and bases and stories of what worked in years past. Right then I knew he’d be the perfect co-instructor.
Our Science Lab in set-up mode - Maintained by Varmah

Putting our strong foot forward

Together we bounced from school to school handing out letters and inviting science teachers to attend our Saturday teacher training. We sent out frequency-modulated radio waves at 90.7 Megahertz to recruit educators in surrounding towns (sounds approximately 19-times cooler than “advertised on the radio”). Starting that weekend, the 7-week course covered topics from unit conversion to parallel circuits.

Our primary goal was to answer schools’ plea’s for guidance on how to teach the “Practical” sections of the West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). This comprehensive test – for which a pass is technically required to graduate high-school in Liberia – expects students to master the use of scientific apparatuses like pipettes and binocular compound microscopes. With only occasional exposure to chalkboard drawings of the sort, this is “practically” impossible.

Our secondary goal – which really acted as a vehicle for the first – was to enable science teachers to make their labs localized, interactive, and replicable. Varmah and I were impressed by the commitment of certain teachers, like Mulbah Massaquio, who showed up early each and every Saturday. At the same time, we were disappointed that others preferred to hit the Palm Wine station early on their days off. Understandable, seeing as many taught at two schools on weekdays just to put rice in the pot.
Participants prepare soil samples for chemical analyses of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, and pH

A sample of another Saturday session’s objective is seen here:

Participants will measure the extension of springs with varied applied forces to determine the spring constant using Hooke's law. Successful participants will use coordinate graphing to aid in their discovery. Participants will then observe locally collected plant samples to differentiate between monocotyledons and dicotyledons, then draw a specimen using the WASSCE drawing format.

Putting it to Use

The final Saturday was the participant's first chance to apply what they practiced. In groups of two they designed and presented lessons on familiar lab experiments to school principals, the county education officer, and a reporter from the Voice of Bopolu frequency-modulating station. We checked in with the trained teachers, observing what portions or ideas they carried back to their classrooms. Young teachers showed the most immediate changes in their style and use of teaching aids. It’s hard to know if any lasting impact was made without periodic monitoring. This is one of the more frustrating facets of Peace Corps service – to plant trees under whose shade we may never sit.
Trained Teachers presenting to special invitees. School Principal, Mr. Shariff, in Black garb

STEM Club with the Youths

Another dedicated group of learners were those in our STEM Club. We met weekly to run experiments, collect atmospheric measurements, and engineer with Legos. In Liberia, every organization must have a motto. And the motto must start with “Motto:”. Ours was the brainchild of the precocious Ezekiel T. Doe; “Motto: Our future is in our Hands”. Most of the time it was dirt or plastic bricks in his hands, but we got the idea.

Working with the NASA GLOBE program, the STEM club students measured temperature, barometric pressure, and precipitation, uploading the data on GLOBE web interface. Their favorite, perhaps a universal favorite, was Legos. Whether building the tallest wind-resistant tower or strongest load-bearing bridge, their ears were split by smiles.
Three STEM club scholars installing the GLOBE rain gauge - Edwin Ballah, Edward Siryon and Ezekiel Doe from left to right.


I have just read your post and I am speechless. Really! I am so happy to see this. I can't really comment more, but feel free to imagine the nice smile on my face.

I am actually quite close to the topic as I myself try to do something good for Africa (through the African school for particle physics).

I just say WOW once again!

If your smile is anything like the smiles on the faces in Liberia then I can imagine it quite well indeed!

That is great - thank you for the work. Physics was a tricky course to teach in my schools as foundational mathematics were severely lacking. I did find, however, that they understood things well if they could see them. One day I had students pair up and time each other pacing 50 meters, then calculate speed from that real data. It stuck!

Those students are usually amazing in terms of good will (much stronger than most Western students).

The first time I lectured at the ASP school was a complicated experience for me. I was supposed to provide an introduction to quantum mechanics, special relativity, gauge theories and quantum field theory. On slide 1, I have a question about the Greek letters (one of the student didn't know what the letter 'mu' was). Then later on, another student started to ask a lot of very deep question on quantum disentanglement.

Such a gap in levels makes teaching really tough!

That's a great observation. I had the same issue. For my case, I consciously decided to teach to the upper-middle level students to maximize the utility of the class. Hard to do a side-by-side test, but it felt right.

I am sure those issues will be alleviated with time. It is just hard at the time of the "investment", i.e. now :)

Are you still there?

That is true. All good things take time.

Are you still there?

Actually, we had to leave several months back. I wrote a post about it here.

Oh I missed that post (I was quite away during the last 10 days). I will read it later today!

Keep up the good work. Is WASSSCE going to hold this year in the face of this pandemic?

Thanks! Part of me wishes I could be there right now, if you see my most recent post you will learn how the next month unfolded. It appears that the WASSCE is indefinitely Suspended as of March 22nd, 2020. Students will have more time to study, but we all know that it's hard to be efficient with unstructured time.

Thanks for your contribution to the STEMsocial community. Feel free to join us on discord to get to know the rest of us!

Please consider supporting our funding proposal, approving our witness (@stem.witness) or delegating to the @steemstem account (for some ROI).

Please consider using the STEMsocial app app and including @steemstem as a beneficiary to get a stronger support. 

It was great to meet Thomas Varmah during our visit and see the laboratory. Here's a photo I took of you and Varmah at the school:

Varmah and Josh in the chemistry lab

Why are you upvoting all your comments? Self- voting is frowned upon in hive.

Well I see a few realistic options for realizing some return on my voting power:

  1. curating other accounts content either by my own browsing or via a curation trail.
  2. upvoting my own comments, with the caveat that I don't post spam comments
  3. selling my excess voting power via bid bots

I view 3 as quite damaging to the network and its ability to curate good content. I delegated to bid bots on Steem, but have not yet done that on Hive. I already do 1.

So what about 2? I don't see any reason why I shouldn't upvote my own intelligent posts. First, it's an incentive for me to participate on the network, and I think if you read all my content you'll see my participation is above average in terms of quality and contribution to the network.

Also I've invested in the power, and now I should be able to use it. I think it's best if I'm transparent about self-upvoting rather than hiding it via sock-puppet accounts or through bid bots. Since there's no good technical solution to prevent self-upvoting (or disguised variations of it), I think we should accept self-upvoting of quality content.

Do you see things differently?

Trouble is, other may not think your comments are intelligent. Even if they are, why they should be rewarded? Option 3 do not exists on Hive thankfully. There shouldn't be any bid-bots in hive. If they exists we WILL destroy them.

Yes I do see it differently. Many have invested a lot more than you (including me). So if we all go voting our comments at 100%, that will be abuse of this common reward pool. Not to mention, it is a poor short-term vision for the project.

Sticking to option 1 is the only way to go.

if we all go voting our comments at 100%, that will be abuse of this common reward pool. Not to mention, it is a poor short-term vision for the project.

I agree that self-upvoting does undermine the curation potential of the network and is a clear failure mode of the Hive incentives. As is vote selling. I fear that your downvote initiatives will ultimately fail to prevail against strong protocol incentives for self-upvoting and vote selling.

Ultimately, I think we need more intelligent protocols for rewarding content, like weighting voting power by reputation / quality rather than just vests. One thing I do as a scientist is think of mechanisms for rewarding good scholarly content. Therefore, I'm excited to see how far your can push curation in productive directions with anti-abuse initiatives.

Let me know how I can help.

Now in closing, I'm going to upvote my own post here because I think it's intelligent, original, and took time to create. I also upvoted your comment for the same reasons. I tend to upvote comments on posts (by others) at rates far greater than average on the platform. So yes, I am guilty of self-upvoting, but hopefully you can judge my contributions as part of a larger picture of positive contribution.

And I would downvote the same, for the reason that I disagree with you taking that reward from the pool. As per the white paper of this project, this is perfectly withing by rights and abilities. I appreciate the discussion, but I do not think this warrants any rewards from the pool. Since this is DPOS, and my stake is higher than your, my downvote will nullify yours. I love your passion for science. I am a scientist myself, so I am sure we will enjoy our future discussion. Thanks!

I agree with @jrcornel's comment from the discussion you two had:

And yes, everyone should vote their own post. If they don't think it's worth their own vote, they probably shouldn't post it.

I don't see why this wouldn't also apply to comments? I think the litmus for whether to remove rewards for comments should be whether the rewards clearly exceed the value of the content. And I think you ought to give broad leeway for others having a different perception of value than yourself.

Anyways, as long as you're hounding me, I'll have to stop self-upvoting, since it'd only be wasting my voting power. I just hope that doesn't diminish my interest in contributing to the Hive platform.

Or an alternative would be for me to be split up my power amongst several smaller accounts that engage in voting rings, vote selling. I worry your hard efforts will only spawn undetectable self-upvotes and rewards abuse.

Your comments are quite interesting. I must apologize that I don't know you or your work that much. I didn't get any time to do any research as someone forwarded me your details regarding self voting.

Let's make couple things clear. Your thought on jrcornel is perhaps slightly out of context. But I will address it briefly. That discussion was regarding abuse of reward pool on this blockchain which I and many others like me try to protect and prevent.

Getting back to your comment on "hounding" ... I have no intention of doing that. Seems like you are a talented individual and you are generating valuable content. So I do not see any conflict.

I am not sure where is the comment voting idea came from, but generally most people here do not vote their own comments. Normally comments are short. But there can me cases where people self-voted comments to make them visible.. even I did that on some rare cases. However, generally it is not done. Others can vote your comments.... that’s perfectly fine.

I appreciate the discussion here.

However, and as you can probably guess, I am also not keen on the self-voting of comments. Your actions were brought to my attention by this post:


As you can see, you stand out like a sore thumb and rate highly amongst those rewarded by their comments. With Hive, we have a new opportunity to promote good behaviors and I think that voting on the comments of others will in time attract people to your content, likely with votes in return.

Well I see a few realistic options for realizing some return on my voting power...Also I've invested in the power, and now I should be able to use it...

It is a commonly held misconception that simply holding VP entitles you to a claim on a directly correlated share of the reward pool. This is simply untrue. Holding hive power only entitles you to inflation. Rewards are an entirely different beast, because of all the game theory surrounding them due to being a commons. Self-upvoting comments has been considered abuse by many, including myself, for as long as I've been on the platform(Steem, etc.). I hope you will stop on your own, but that will not stop me from disagreeing with your use of the reward pool, and expressing that disagreement with my downvote. You seem entirely reasonable, so please don't take it personally.

If you want to earn a respectable return on top of your share of the inflation, @ocdb and @curangel can provide you that along with directing the reward pool to actual blog posts.

It is a commonly held misconception that simply holding VP entitles you to a claim on a directly correlated share of the reward pool. This is simply untrue.

I agree.

If you want to earn a respectable return on top of your share of the inflation, @ocdb and @curangel can provide you that along with directing the reward pool to actual blog posts.

This is where I disagree. I think it's more valuable for me to create intelligent comments on topics I care about. And when I do this to also upvote those who interact with my comments as well as upvote my own comments. See my thoughts above, but it seems that far too few rewards go towards comments.

Since you and a few others have reached out, I will cease self-upvoting as a trial. My worry is that I will have less incentive to interact on Hive. Therefore, I'll also stop upvoting comments from users who engage intelligently with my comments. And a human brain will be removed from curation and replaced with more automated voting, with niche and peripheral content being completely overlooked by the reward pool.

I upvote users who comment on my posts but do not upvote my own save two exceptions:

  • Launching my comment past a bunch of spam because I feel it is important.
  • It has been hidden by a downvote.

While that is an intriguing argument, is it enough for me to apply a different standard than I do to everyone else who has a clear intent is to milk the reward pool for their 'just deserts'? You've stated your intent is different, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. Bear in mind that post HF 22, you have to leap past a rather large penalty for comment upvotes to be worth anything at all. While I am personally willing to take this hit in order to reward the comments of others, taking it to reward myself just seems wasteful.

We have a similar amount of hive power on the aggregate, so we are relatable in at least one way. Ask yourself this: At our level, should we seek to create value here or extract it? I believe that I stand to gain so much more long term by rewarding visible content, rather than I do some comment hidden under a post. That being said, I want to reward others for interacting with me, so I definitely see the value in incentivizing the comments of others.

You stand to gain so much more by looking at the bigger picture and somehow tapping into curation, while at the same time keeping this passion you have for interacting. Nobody can get you past your baser instincts of needing an instant reward for interacting with people but yourself. To me it seems like such a waste.

In any case, I appreciate your thoughtful response, and I am glad you are willing to try something different. I hope you can recognize the difficulty in applying different standards, attributing intent, and creating exceptions for something that is generally frowned upon.

Bear in mind that post HF 22, you have to leap past a rather large penalty for comment upvotes to be worth anything at all.

Can you explain? I searched a bit but couldn't find a good description of how HF 22 affected comment rewards.

You stand to gain so much more by looking at the bigger picture and somehow tapping into curation, while at the same time keeping this passion you have for interacting.

Is this because I benefit when Hive as a system becomes more valuable? I.e. the whitepaper argument that whales will do what's in the best long-term interest of the network rather than their own short-term self-interest?

Or because comment upvotes don't produce good curation rewards?

Or because self-upvotes on comments will be erased with downvotes?

When I look at the posts I'm supporting through curation trails, they tend to be content I don't care about. In fact, most of the posts I auto-upvote through trails offer little original content or provide something that's already available in a better format elsewhere on the internet. However, the comments and posts I manually upvote provide content that I personally care about and that are of high quality.

So I guess my bigger question is are we pushing users too much towards curation trails?


One memorable scene at the schoolhouse was when we approached and all the students were taking their exams.

Test taking at Bopolu Liberia High School

While precautions over COVID-19 had begun at travel arteries in Liberia, these test-takers are not seated apart for coronavirus. Instead, @jhimmel had implemented this seating arrangement outside classrooms to cut down on cheating! I guess Josh you were just ahead of the time.